St Luke the Evangelist

St Luke the Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St Luke the Evangelist.

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Who was Luke and what do we know about him?

St Luke wrote the third and fifth books of the New Testament-the eponymous Gospel according to St Luke, and The Acts of the Apostles. Evidence that the Church has held to this view reaches as far back as the middle of the second century-to put it another way, we know that with a hundred years or so the Church recognised Luke as the author of these books and there is no evidence which postulates an alternative author.

Luke was a Gentile: St Paul says this in Colossians 4 vv 10-11, 14

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. … Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.

This comment has traditionally caused commentators to conclude that Luke was a Gentile. If this were true, it would make Luke the only writer of the New Testament who can clearly be identified as not being Jewish. Luke is also identified as a doctor.

Noticeable in his writings is the “I and we” passages in the Acts of the Apostles. These are understood to indicate that Luke was an eye witness to what was happening in St Paul’s life at the time. Due to the fact that these sections begin when St Paul arrives at Troas, it has been suggested that Luke was a resident of that town. According to the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel According to St Luke (the edition we have dates from the 4th century but probably contains material from the Second Century):

Luke, was born in Antioch, by profession, was a physician.[9] He had become a disciple of the apostle Paul and later followed Paul until his [Paul’s] martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84 years.

It is likely that the Birth Narrative in St Luke’s Gospel came from direct contact with Mary, the Mother of God. We might glean this not only from the tenderness of the way Luke reports the Birth of Christ, but also because there is a persistent Church Tradition of close contact between Mary and Luke. Luke is by tradition, the very first writer of icons-the very first one was of Mary holding the Baby Jesus.

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Luke is also the writer of the icons known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Vladirmir. He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.

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Tradition is a concept which some people, even Christians are wary of. During the Medieval Period, the relics of St Luke were taken to Venice. In 1992, Metropolitan Ieronymous of Thebes and Lavathia-the area where St Luke was originally buried, asked the Archbishop of Padua (whose diocese covered the Church where the relics lay, if he would return some, at least, of the relics so that St Luke could be laid to rest where he was originally buried. (Just out of interest, Metropolitan Ieronymous is now the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece-the chief hierarch of the Church of Greece)

One of the results of this request was that scientists did a survey of the relics and confirmed that they were those of an individual of Syrian descent who died between 416 BC and AD 72

Once again Science confirms the Truth of Christian Tradition, the question then remains, why do people continue to question Church Tradition?

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Praying for the Departed

Praying for the Departed

Recently a friend of mine sent a link to an article in a Scottish newspaper about a Church of Scotland parish that was still receiving a grant of money originally authorised by King Robert the Bruce (he of the spider fame) to pray for the soul of his dead wife, one Elizabeth de Burgh.

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The first thing that fascinated me was that this money was still being paid after 700 years (although what was originally Five Scottish Pounds is now down to £2.10). It was being paid to this kirk, not by the heirs of Robert the Bruce-whoever they are-but by the local council as an annual bequest. Now I have often seen mention of families who have paid for churches and monasteries to sing a requiem or a mass for the souls of departed family members and I have often wondered if these people are still being prayed for as many of the requests were “in perpetuity”. Over the past five hundred years or so, monasteries have largely disappeared from our landscape and Church attendance sadly diminishing, with church choirs, as a consequence, not being so popular.

The second thing that interested me was that this kirk actually had had a service in which they prayed for this late Queen of Scotland, and also a long list of other people connected with the church who had also died. I myself was brought up Congregationalist-which in Village England in the 1950s and 60s was the nearest thing you had to a Presbyterian Church-my mother was actually Presbyterian as were her parents who had both hailed from Aberdeen. But I cannot recall anyone suggesting that we have a prayer service for those who had died. We might have a commemoration service to honour those who had died in the war, but we never, as I recall, prayed for their souls.

As a student of Early Church History and as someone who enjoys the services of the Ancient Church, I was pleased to hear that even the Presbyterian Church-anti-episcopalian fruit of The Reformation, that movement which split the Western Church into a thousand and more pieces in the sixteenth century-and indeed still continues to do so-should have begun to take on practices of the Church of the First Millennium. As an advocate of Ancient Church practices, I have to admit to a degree of smugness-may God forgive me.

But why did the Early Church pray for those who had departed this life? And, I wonder why has that practice stopped (at least in Western Church)? CS Lewis, in his great book “The Screwtape Letters” (if you haven’t read it, please rush out and beg, borrow, steal or buy a copy (well may be not “steal”-you know what I mean)), says that “The Church is like a mighty army in battle through space and time.” If that is true, and I suspect it is, then the Church does not just consist of those who are on Earth but also those who have departed this life. And we need to pray for each other.

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Hang on a moment”, I hear you cry, “doesn’t Holy Scripture say that it is given unto man once to die and after this The Judgement?”, Yes it does, it is Hebrews chapter 9 v 27. But, it is an assumption that Death and The Judgement happen, straight on, one after the other-after all God lives in eternity, where there is no time and there are a couple of interesting references in Holy Scripture that God may have more things for us to do after we have (to quote the Bard of Avon) “shuffled of this mortal coil”.

The first is in the Old Testament, it is 2 Maccabees 12 v 42, 46 where it is said that Judas Maccabeus “sent to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering” saying at the same time “that it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.”

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Whoa!!” I hear my Protestant Readers say, “1, 2, 3 Maccabees are not part of the Old Testament.” Well actually they are not part of Western Old Testament, but they are part of the Orthodox Old Testament. The Old Testament used by the Western Church is based on the Hebrew Massoretic Text, whilst the Orthodox Church uses the Greek Septuagint for its Old Testament. The Septuagint has several other books not included in the Hebrew text-the Books of Maccabees being three of them.

The other verse is in the New Testament and the words come from the lips of Jesus Himself. Matthew 12 v 32:

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

will not be forgiven him…….in the age to come.

So it would appear that even in the Age to Come there is a necessity for seeking forgiveness.

There is a story of the Abba Macarius who said, ‘Walking in the desert one day, I found the skull of a dead man, lying on the ground. As I was moving it with my stick, the skull spoke to me. I said to it, “Who are you?” The skull replied, “I was high priest of the idols and of the pagans who dwelt in this place; but you are Macarius, the Spirit-bearer. Whenever you take pity on those who are in torments, and pray for them, they feel a little respite.” The old man said to him, “What is this alleviation, and what is this torment?” He said to him, “As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us; we are ourselves standing in the midst of the fire, from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the other’s face a little. Such is our respite.” The old man in tears said, “Alas the day when that man was born!” He said to the skull, “Are there punishments which are more painful than this?” The skull said to him, “There is a more grievous punishment down below us.” The old man said, “Who are the people down there?” The skull said to him: “We have received a little mercy since we did not know God, but those who know God and denied Him are down below us.” Then, picking up the skull, the old man buried it. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection:Macarius the Great, 38. )

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Clearly then it is the teaching of Holy Scripture and the Teaching of Holy Church that not only are there consequences for actions after we leave this earth, but also that we on earth are able to influence by our prayers the situation not only of those who live on earth now but also those who reposed.

As a young Christian I was encouraged to “keep short accounts with God”, when I discovered the sacrament of confession, that “keeping of short accounts” became simultaneously easier and also harder. Easier because I could arrange confession on a regular basis, harder because now I had to confess to God in the presence of a priest. Prior to this my confession had been a few words muttered into my pillow before sleep overtook me. Now, as I spoke to God, a man was listening who had been there the last time I had confessed and he could check that the things that I had confessed of last time, I had truly repented of.

But what happens if a person dies without a confession of sin? The Beloved Disciple tells us that

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn 1 v 9

The implication is that if we do not confess our sins they will remain unforgiven-hence the need for a regular confession.

The Church Prayers for the Separation of Body and Soul deal with this, asking God to forgive any sins the person has committed-including those that they were too embarrassed to mention in Confession. But, the reality is that whilst many people do die in their beds-we regularly pray that God will “give us a Christian end to our lives and a good answer before the Judgement Seat of Christ”, sadly there are many who do not.

Hence the need to pray for them, that God in His Mercy will have mercy on them and forgive them all their sins and to quote the Orthodox Service of Memorial for the Departed (The Panakida)

Give rest O God to Thy servants and establish them in Paradise, where The Choirs of The Saints and The Righteous shine like the stars. Give rest O Lord, to Thy servants who have fallen asleep and, and overlook all their offences.”

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St Thomas, Apostle of the East and Patron Saint of India

St Thomas

Today is the Feast Day of St Thomas, well known but perhaps little known!

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In Scripture

St Thomas was one of the Twelve Apostles: but he was not one of the inner circle: the Inner Circle consisted of Peter, James and John, those whom Jesus took with Himself when He ascended the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17 vv1-9) Having said that, of the Remaining Nine, Thomas is one we probably know most about.

Thomas is talked about mostly in John’s Gospel. The first time we hear about him is in Jn 11 v 16, when hearing that Lazarus had recently died, the apostles do not wish to go back to Judea, where some Jews had attempted to stone Jesus. Thomas however challenges them:

Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (OSB)

He speaks again in Jn 14 v 5: there, Jesus had just explained that he was going away to prepare a heavenly home for his followers, and that one day they would join him in that place. Thomas reacted by saying,

Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (OSB)

Jn 20 vv24-29 tells how Thomas was skeptical when he first heard that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the other apostles, saying,

Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (OSB)

But when Jesus appeared later and invited Thomas to touch his wounds and behold him, Thomas showed his belief by saying,

“My Lord and my God”. (v.28) (OSB)

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Jesus then said,

Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v 29) (OSB)

Note that Thomas was the first one to confess Jesus as God-we always think of him as “Doubting Thomas”, but in fact He was the first of The Twelve to recognise Jesus for Who He was: God Himself.

Feast of the Dormition

The next time we hear of Thomas is in the story behind the Dormition of the Mother of God. Mary, being made aware that she will repose in three days time, asks the Angel Gabriel, who has informed her of the impending event, to arrange for all the Apostles to meet her one last time. All arrive in time, except Thomas, and she dies. When Thomas does arrive he wishes to venerate her holy body. When the Apostles try to do this, they find that her body has disappeared-in fact it has been taken to Heaven by Her Son. If Thomas had not have been held up, this would not have been discovered and we would know little of this miracle, one of whose lessons is to show us that Christ will return and take us to be with Him in Heaven. Those Christians who have died physically will have their bodies resurrected on that day and taken to Heaven.

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The Apostolic Ministry of Thomas

According to the Tradition of the Church Thomas worked as Apostle in the region to the East of the Roman Empire. Eusebius, the great Church Historian who died in 340AD, quoting Origen, says: “When the holy Apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over all the world, Thomas, so the tradition has it, obtained as his portion Parthia (India)” Eusebius also remarks that “Judas, who is also called Thomas” has a role in the legend of king Abgar of Edessa (Urfa), for having sent Thaddeus to preach in Edessa after the Ascension (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiae 1.13; III.1; (please note that St Ephrem the Syrian also recounts this legend.)The apocryphal Acts of Thomas, sometimes called by its full name The Acts of Judas Thomas: (2nd/3rd century (c. 180–230) gives an account of Thomas’ time in India/Parthia. The gist of the story is that the Apostles cast lots as to where they should go, and to Thomas fell India. Thomas sold himself as a slave to a man called Habban. Habban took Thomas to a king called Gondophares, the ruler of Indo-Parthia as an architect and carpenter. The journey to India is described in detail. After a long residence in the court at Taxila, Thomas ordained leaders for the Church and left in a chariot for the kingdom of Mazdai. According to the Acts of Judas. Thomas, the Kingdom of Mazdai, in the Southern India, was ruled by King Misdeus. There, some Greek Satraps, who were descended from Alexander the Great, were vassals to the Indo-Parthian King, The king Misdeus was infuriated when St. Thomas converted his Queen Tertia, son Juzanes, sister-in-law princess Mygdonia, and her friend Markia. Misdeus led St. Thomas outside the city and ordered four soldiers to take him to the nearby hill, where the soldiers speared St. Thomas and killed him. A believer called Syphorus was elected the first priest by the believers, after Thomas’ death, while Juzanes the prince became the deacon. The names Misdeus, Tertia, Juzanes, Syphorus, Markia, and Mygdonia suggest Greek descent or Hellenised Persian descent. During the rule of Vasudeva I, the Kushan emperor, the bones of St. Thomas were transferred from the Mylapore to Edessa.

Although these facts are not scientifically verifiable, the evidence is that Thomas did work in this area, so it is likley that this account may be a good guide to the actual events in the life of St Thomas. Experiemce has also shown that Church Tradition, when tested by “modern scientifc methods” is usually confirmed as accurate.

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Indeed the Church outside of the Roman Empire, to the east, by tradition, was founded by St Thomas.

The Church of the East

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The Church that Thomas founded eventually stretched from Edessa on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire into Asia, with churches in Beijing (or Peking as it was known then), possible into Japan and Sumatra. During the period known to Europe as the Middle Ages, this Church was the largest local Christian church in the world. Sadly it suffered under the various upheavals in Asia, and especially in China and its influence waned-it never had to influence that the Church in Western Europe had, but co-existed with other religions for many centuries. Eventually it became confined to South West India (Kerala), the Iraq-Iran area and part of Kurdistan. During the Second Gulf War, Iraqi Moslems who up until then had been restrained by Sadaam Hussein, turned on the Ancient Church of the East, as it was known in Iraq, believing them to be fifth column controlled by America and decimated them.

Today the Church of the East, whose principle Patriarchate was at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, is a shadow of its former self.

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May God answer the holy prayers of St Thomas and once again build His Holy Church from Edessa to Beijing and beyond into all of Asia

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Pokrov-The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

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The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, known in Church Slavonic as Pokrov (Покровъ, “protection”), and in Greek as Sképē (Σκέπη), is a feast of the Mother of God which is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches-that is to say, it is not a Church Feast found in the Western Church. The feast celebrates the protection afforded the faithful through the intercessions of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). In the Russian Orthodox Church it is celebrated as the most important solemnity after the Twelve Great Feasts. The feast is commemorated in Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole, but by no means as fervently as it is in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

The Slavic word Pokrov, like the Greek Skepê has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos. It is often translated as Feast of the Intercession.

Despite the fact that this Feast is not found within the Western Church, the Pokrov icon may be related to the Western “Virgin of Mercy” image, in which the Virgin spreads wide her cloak to cover and protect a group of kneeling supplicants, and was first known from Italy from about .

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The Church of St Mary, Istanbul-Blachernae

According to the Eastern Orthodox Sacred Tradition, this appearance of Mary, the Mother of God, occurred during the 10th century at the Blachernae church in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) where several of her relics (her robe, veil, and part of her belt) were kept. On Sunday, October 1 at four in the morning, St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ, who was a Slav by birth, saw the dome of the church open and the Virgin Mary enter, moving in the air above him, glowing and surrounded by angels and saints. She knelt and prayed with tears for all faithful Christians in the world. The Virgin Mary asked Her Son, Jesus Christ, to accept the prayers of all the people entreating Him and looking for Her protection. Once Her prayer was completed, She walked to the altar and continued to pray. Afterwards, She spread Her veil over all the people in the church as a protection.

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St Andrew turned to his disciple, St Epiphanius, who was standing near him, and asked, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” Epiphanius answered, “Yes, Holy Father, I see it and am amazed!”

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According to the Primary Chronicle of St. Nestor the Chronicler, the inhabitants of Constantinople called upon the intercession of the Mother of God to protect them from an attack by a large Rus’ naval force (Rus’ is now Russia and the Eastern Ukraine and was still pagan at the time). According to Nestor, the feast celebrates the destruction of this fleet sometime in the ninth century. The story is that the people marched around the walls of Constantinople bearing the icon of the Mother of God and praying for her help and in answer to their prayers and those of the Mother of God, the enemy fleet was destroyed.

An icon of the Virgin Mary praying, surrounded by people, was said to be kept in the Blachernae church.

A more up-to-date version of the story concerns the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. This siege lasted two and a half years, from September 1941 to January 1944. Stalin who ruled Russia at the time was a great persecutor of the Church, but to ensure he got maximum support from all Russian people, he lifted his opposition to Christianity, and in fact began to work with the Church in Russia. One of the ways that this was manifest was that the Soviet military provided a plane which carried an icon of The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God and the Archbishop of Leningrad, which flew around the besieged city whilst a choir sang The Akathist to the Mother of God, which was the hymn that the choir in Constantinople sang as their copy of The Icon of the Protecting Veil of Mother of God. Although Leningrad very nearly fell to the Nazis, history records that in fact the invaders were eventually repelled.

Some readers may wonder about Christians who have gone on to their Heavenly Rewards praying for those of us on Earth.

The Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament says this:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

This is chapter 12 vv 1 and 2. Now in context it is talking about the Old Testament saints, but earlier on , the writer of this epistle, again talking about the Old Testament Saints has this to say:

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

(Chapter 11 vv 39 and 40)

These verses clearly tell us that the Old Testament Saints need the New Testament Church to be made perfect, so it is not an unreasonable conclusion that in that Crowd in Heaven cheering the New Testament Church on, are New Testament Saints, one of whom is Mary the Mother of God. It is also not an unreasonable assumption to make that whilst the saints are cheering the Church on that they turn to God the Father and pray for us, asking Him: “O Lord, have mercy on your people who are called by Your Name.”

The Conception of the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John

The Conception of the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John

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The other day, the Orthodox Church celebrated the Conception of John the Baptist. What a strange thing, you may say, to celebrate. But as you know that event is recorded in Holy Scripture-Luke 1vv 5-25

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’[b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” OSB

Now St Paul, writing to St Timothy say this:

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3 v16 (OSB)

Now I suspect what St Paul was originally referring to here is the Old Testament, as most of the books which we include in the New Testament had probably not yet been written when St Paul wrote to St Timothy, but nevertheless, the Apostle sets a standard which we should apply also to those books which later on were canonised by the Church as Holy Scripture.

Having said all that, I now wonder when it was that you last heard, or if you are a preacher, last preached on the subject of John’s Conception?

After all, it is in the Bible and we know what St Paul said about All Scripture………!

Let us consider what the Bible tells us.

(Before I start, a question for you to consider: why is John the Baptist the”greatest of all the prophets” (Matt 11 v11)?)

One of the things the Bible tells us is that Elisabeth was six months pregnant when Mary conceived Jesus in her womb (Luke 1 v 26), so clearly Jesus is six months younger than John-which is why we celebrate John’s conception now-three months before Christmas (The Feast of the Nativity of the Son of God). This means then that John was born on June 25th-six months before Jesus.

This then teaches us the didactic importance of the Church Calendar. Feasts and Fasts are put there at significant dates to help us to undertstand that the events of the New Testament occurred in history-to use an old fashioned phrase, at the meeting point of space and time.

So why is this important/ Those of you who familiar with Orthodox Worship will know that Orthodoxy has little regard for time. Why is that? Well, in his epistle to the Church in Colossae, St Paul tells us that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Col ch 2 v 6). It means that we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. When we celebrate the Liturgy, it is like being in heaven, and in heaven there is no time, so when we are celebrating, the Orthodox forget time and concentrate their worship on God (the first occasion that the reality of this hit me was when I was visiting a monastery on Mount Athos, the semantron sounded at 3am and we all fell out of bed for the Vigil and the Liturgy which began at 3.30am. At 7.30am we emerged from Church for breakfast, having spent the last four hours in worship to God. An interesting lesson!

So if our worship is meant to be timeless, why this apparent obsession with time with the conception and births of John the Baptist and Our Lord? God lives outside of time, He wants to draw us to Himself and He did it by breaking into and restricting Himself by time. It is an indication of how much God humbled Himself that He, the One who Created the Universe, the One whom the Apostle tells us holds all things together, subjected Himself to the limitations of time. It is part of His kenosis, His Emptying, that St Paul talks about in Philippians chapter 2 that means that one day soon, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And why was John the Baptist the greatest among the prophets? He was the one who baptised the Christ and by doing so started the final countdown to Calvary and the Dawn of Redemption.

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Alms Giving

 

Alms Giving

 

 

After talking about pray and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord then goes on to discuss the subject of alms giving. Of course the most obvious way of “alms giving” may be in terms of hard cash, but can also refer to using skills, lending equipment and a whole host of other activities.

 

 

Let me be clear, all organisations need money to function. At one period in my life I was involved in politics and, amongst other things, was chairman of the local constituency branch of the party I was a member of. I seemed to spend most of my time as chairman going around raising money to finance party activities, so when people complain about churches asking for money, I just wonder how else they expect a church to function. Some years ago I was in Greece, and certain of the local villagers in the area I was staying in, were complaining about how much money the Church had. What they had conveniently forgotten was that their recent ancestors-their parents and grandparents-were the victims of the notorious Exchange of Populations in 1923 between Greece and Turkey when so many people suffered due mainly to the anti-Christian policies of the Kemalist Government in Ankara. When the Greek speaking (or rather Turkish Christian ) people had arrived in Greece, they were given farm land to make a living . This land had been Church land up until then. Similarly when the economic crisis hit Greece a few years ago, it was the Greek Church which had provided food for those who could not afford to buy any.

 

 

The love of money, the Apostle wisely tells us, is the root of all evil.

 

 

According to the Church Fathers, God gives riches to those whom He chooses to give it, but like all gifts from God, it is given with certain responsibilities attached. The Church Fathers make it clear that God expects the wealthy to use their wealth to support the poor. From this the Fathers make it clear that the Church has responsibility to care for the less well off in society. The Fathers had thought hard about wealth, because it seemed from a cursory reading of the Gospels that rich people could not enter Heaven. Ultimately they decided that if a person had money he or she should be careful how it was spent-not wasted but used to help the poor. Of course St Antony the Great was an exception to this rule-after hearing the Scripture read in Church one day, he set about selling all and following Jesus, by doing that he became the founder of monasticism.

 

 

So how are we handle giving in our Christian lives? Statistics tell us that 75% of British people give to charities every year. Since the time of The Reformation, the state has tried, with varying degrees of success, to care for the vulnerable and needy in society-this role had been provided by the Monasteries up until then. Clearly there are charities today which work in caring and needy areas which sometimes the state, for various reasons, cannot support.

 

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But what should the Christian support? The easy answer is of course to say, leave it up to the conscience, but Jesus watched people putting money into the coffers of the Temple and approved of it. In the story of the Widow’s Mite, He commented that the other people had put in out of their wealth, but what He did not do was criticize or condemn them for giving to the Temple-perhaps one of the lessons to be learned from this is that Our Lord watches over us and sees what we do with our money! (By the way, the Widow’s Mite is not an excuse to be parsimonious with our giving-the Widow gave all she had, for most of us that is the equivalent of selling everything we have: car, house, clothes, possessions etc, adding our pay cheque, savings, investments etc and then giving them all to the Church, I wonder how many of us could cope with that challenge?)

 

 

So perhaps then our first responsibility in giving as Christians should be to the Church, in particular our local Parish, but the question always is, how much? As we pointed out, the Widow’s Mite was financially everything she had. Now it is easy to “spiritualise” this and say that she gave everything to God,for her of course, it wasn’t just a “spiritual” act-we know from Our Lord’s remarks that she went home with her children-maybe to a rented room or house, with some furniture in, so it was her finances which God had touched.

 

 

It is normal during the Liturgy to take the offering (and, please, it is an “offering”, ie something we give to God of our own volition, not a “collection” which has the ring of being compulsory, we give because we want to give) just after the Creed and the Epiklesis. Someone once asked why it was done then, after all at that point, our hearts should be concentrating on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, not thinking about filthy lucre. For those of us who have come to Orthodoxy via Protestant roots, one of the hard things for us to shake off, is the separation between the spiritual and the material. Protestantism gets very close to Gnosticism in its rejection of things material, but for the Orthodox, by Christ taking on flesh from the Virgin Mary, He blessed the material world in a way it had never been blessed before. Hence when we come to consider Our Lord on the Cross we should be always aware of not His Deity but also His Manhood, and so at that key point in the service,we should consider, not only Christ’ sacrifice and what it cost Him, but what in turn it costs us to belong to God. In short, if God has not touched our pockets, He has not touched our hearts.

 

 

The question then is how much should we give? It is very popular in some circles to suggest a tithe-ie a tenth of your earnings. Old Testament Scripture is referred to, to support this amount . However, a study of the Old Testament shows that the Israelite was expected to give more than ten per cent. When the cost of various offerings are added up, the final amount is closer to a third! Interestingly enough, very close to the full amount that most developed countries demand from their citizens in tax when all tax receipts-both direct and indirect-are added up!

 

 

Having said that, a tenth is not a bad figure to aim for. But, and it is a big but, it is something to aim for, not a legal requirement. As we have continually said, God offers us these opportunities to prove Him and receive His blessing, and it is up to us to take advantage of it.

 

 

Nowhere in the New Testament is it spelt out how much a person should give, just that God expects him to give. The Church Fathers saw giving as a way of atoning for sin, a way of sharpening prayers. Clearly Our Lord links prayer, fasting and alms giving together in the Sermon on the Mount, so no doubt the Church Fathers were right in their approach. Perhaps all of us should begin to consider our finances, how much God has blessed us, and how much we should return to Him in thanks giving for His blessings to us.