We Live Righteously Because it is God’s Will

On the third Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent, we read the well-known story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of St Luke.  In his homily, below, Fr James Graham reminds us to pay attention also to the Dutiful Son, who felt entitled because he followed all the rules, but also sinned against his father because he lacked gratitude and compassion.

Join us for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday at 9:30 AM.

WE LIVE RIGHTEOUSLY BECAUSE IT’S GOD’S WILL

Homily for the Second Sunday of the Triodion

1 Cor. 6:12-20                                                          Luke 15:11-32

Prodigal2     Everybody knows the story of the Prodigal Son.  Even the phrase “Prodigal Son” has become a sort of cliché.  We sometimes call a disobedient child a “prodigal son,” and a wasteful, ungrateful twenty-something is almost certain be be labelled a “prodigal son.”

     And when we hear or read this Gospel story, probably most of us identify with the Prodigal Son.  Maybe we don’t think so much of ourselves as greedy, wasteful, and ungrateful like him.  Instead, we concentrate on how his Father loved him and forgave him and celebrated when he came back.  We like to think that God, our heavenly Father, will treat us in the same way.

     However, we can’t expect or count on God’s forgiveness unless we actually recognize our sins, acknowledge our sins, and repent of our sins.  Notice that the son, when he comes back, tells his father:  “I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

     We read this Gospel passage at this time of year, just before the beginning of Great Lent, to remind ourselves not only of God’s great mercy and forgiveness, but also of our sinfulness and need to repent.

     And there’s another thing we have to be reminded about:  our obligation and need to be grateful for what God has given us and to rejoice when sinners repent and return to God.

     This is the message of the other brother.  We don’t talk about him very much, and we don’t like him very much, probably because he is too much like ourselves.

     We might call him the Dutiful Son instead of the Prodigal Son.  He always worked with his father, he never disobeyed, he never asked for anything.  It seems that he thought of himself as righteous because he always followed the rules.

     But he was not joyful, he was not grateful, he was not concerned about his brother’s troubles.  And when his father welcomed back his prodigal brother, and forgave him, and celebrated, the Dutiful Son was resentful.  He threw a little tantrum because he was jealous  and thought he didn’t get the attention he deserved.  His father had to remind him, “You are always here with me; everything I have is yours.  But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

     That’s what we need to keep in mind all the time—especially when we might start feeling self-righteous about always following the rules, coming to church faithfully, fasting, contributing to charity, and so on.  We don’t do these things—we don’t live righteously—so that God will love us and reward us.  We live righteously because it’s God’s will; it is what we are created to do.  And we have to work at it every day.  There is sin in the world and every day the devil is trying to lure us away from God.

     The Prodigal Son and the Dutiful Son were both lured into sin, even though only one of them physically went away.  Our relationship with our Father has to be not only close but also loving, not only dutiful but also grateful, not only individual but also shared.  We all have to come back to our Father, who is with us always and has given us everything.  And we all have to give thanks and praise and glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever and to ages of ages.  Amen.

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Bulletin for 5 Feb 2023 – Sunday of the Prodigal Son

SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON

When God created everything in the Book of Genesis the Sacred Writer tells us that He saw that everything was good. The problem is not creation but rather the way that we make use of it. Unfortunately, we can make bad choices as the Prodigal Son in today’s Gospel.

One of his problems was that he put too much importance on the body, to the point that pleasure of the body was more important than health of soul. He let material things take too greater a part in his life.

St Paul in his Epistle reins us in telling us that although things are permitted they are not always beneficial. The body has legitimate demands, man does live on bread; but the soul too needs to be cared for. All the more so, since at baptism we are made members of Christ’s body and we have a calling to be Temples, sacred places where God dwells and His Goodness permeates bringing others to see the work of grace in us.

Turning to the Gospel we can see that the Prodigal did not treat his body as sacred; he debauched and defiled it. He had no respect for himself and as a result he ended up in the company of pigs who were better fed than him.

This parable is well known to people. Perhaps it is the most well-known parable of them all? There is much to contemplate in the image put before us. All three main characters show their personalities and traits.

Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal Son

Art has over time tried to penetrate an aspect of the story. We can think of Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. This was in fact the image used by the Roman Church in its Jubilee Year of 2000 calling Catholics back home to the Father. The painting has fine details: we see what a wretch the son had become dressed in rags smothered by his Father’s embrace. Rembrandt tried to show something of the Father, and if you look closely you will see one hand rough and covered in callouses – the hand of a man; and the other hand soft – that of a woman. He tried to seize the ‘feminine’ part of God. He thought that the soft hand would show an aspect of who God the Father is. It was not what we might expect from modern art, it was simply his way of telling us something of the Father who tells us in the Prophet Isaiah Ch 66 and elsewhere, that He has a mother’s care for us.

News of the parish: Again, I regret that there really isn’t much to tell you as I have essentially been sleeping a lot and quite tired. The effect of the chemo is different on each person and it appears to be finally hitting me. I do pray! I have blessed some of the homes and will gladly bless more houses.

This coming week I will have more chemotherapy on Wednesday and Thursday. Hence, there is a mitigated schedule. Further, Abouna James has graciously agreed to cover for me and preach. Please be gentle with Abouna next Sunday February 12th! I am taking this one easy as the fatigue is cumulative. I am grateful for Fr James’ help over the past few months being ever ready to preach when this allows me a bit more time to attend to other things.

Please pray that the process of eviction goes smoothly. As I write today (Friday) an eviction notice will be served today or tomorrow. There will be a five day grace for the squatter to vacate the premises. The devil knows how to time things, so please pray this doesn’t get ugly in the middle of chemo. To this end, I ask the men of the parish to approach me so that we will have the necessary manpower if things get difficult.

  • House Blessings: Please sign up for a house blessing and a visit. This is an important part of being part of the parish. It will be for all of you a chance to see me and chat and talk of your ideas and also to get your homes blessed with the newly blessed Theophany Water. Please sign up!
  • Sunday Collection: Last week’s collection amounted to $ with 35 in attendance at Liturgy.
  • Sunday Hospitality: please sign up and cover a Sunday for hospitality, there are a few spaces available.
  • Prayer requests.  Marion Williams recovering from illness, Darlene Jansen and the recently deceased: Martha Andrews, Richard Szabo & Robert Raines. Amy our Cantor who is a little under the weather. Prayers have been asked for the Pro-Life pregnancy centers and to end the injustice and horror of abortion. Additionally, some have asked for prayers for family crises, and for those seeking employment among many intentions passed on to me. I also ask for prayers for a prisoner I have followed 16 years who will soon enjoy freedom. Pray that he find employment and support as he will be free soon. Please also pray for the following: Fr. Michael, Fr. Marcus, Fr. Chris, Fr. Randall, Fr. Michal, Fr. Patrik, Fr Christopher, Fr Theodore, Sr. Patricia, Margaret, Gary and Ingrid, Margaret, Slawomir and Oceana, Becky, Alexis, Curtis, Ronald, Jeannine, Taylor, Lorrie, Frances, Alex, Leroy, Michael, Thomas, Carol, Michael, Jennifer, John, Elizabeth, Judy, Ruth, Dimitri, Christie, Viktoria, Emily, Margaret, Patricia. Nadezda, Dan, Doug S. Murin family, Aisha, Faustyna, John, Maia, Najwa, Nadia, Fabin, Nazmin, Barbara, Trish, Shalom World, Jesse, Charles, Monica, Matt, Jackie, Tim, Edward, Don S, Monica S, Pineda family, John, Kazu.

Liturgical schedule 

Feb 5 Sunday

8:30 am Confessions         9:30 am Divine Liturgy

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Tone 2         Reader: Richard

Feb 7 Monday

5:30 pm Divine Liturgy

Theodore Great Martyr

 

Feb 12 Sunday

8:30 am Confessions         9:30 am Divine Liturgy

Meatfare Sunday

Tone 3 Reader Victor

Feb 16 Thurs

5:30 pm Divine Liturgy

Theodore the Recruit (Feb 17)

 

Feb 18 Saturday

9:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy

First All Souls Saturday (transferred from Feb 11). All Holy Ascetics

 

Feb 19 Sunday

8:30 am Confessions         9:30 am Divine Liturgy   

Cheesefare Sunday and Forgiveness Vespers after hospitality (about 11:30 or 12

Tone 4 Reader Richard

For Confession, please call Fr. Christopher for an appointment, or come 30 minutes before or after scheduled services. If you desire Spiritual Direction then please see Fr Andrews for an appointment during the week so as to allow everyone an opportunity on Sundays for Confessions. Please consider those traveling from long distances.

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The Publican and St Ephrem Teach Us How to Pray

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Triodion–the four Sundays immediately preceding Great Lent.  The Gospel for today is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  In his homily, below, Fr James connects the prayer of the Pharisee with the Jesus Prayer and the Prayer of St Ephrem (whose feast was yesterday, 28 January).

Join us in prayer and celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 9:30 AM on Sunday, and stay for fellowship afterwards.

THE PUBLICAN AND ST EPHREM TEACH US HOW TO PRAY

Homily for the Sunday of the Pharisee & the Publican

2 Timothy 3:10-15                                  Luke 18:10-14

Icon of St Ephrem

Illustration of Ephrem the Syrian, from a 16th-century Russian ms. of the Slavonic translation of John Climacus and Ephrem’s Homilies

    Today, 29 January, we celebrate the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, the first of four Sundays on which we prepare for Great Lent.  And yesterday, 28 January, we celebrated the feast of our Holy Father Ephrem the Syrian, whose prayer for humility is central to our Lenten observance.

     In today’s Epistle reading, St Paul writes to Timothy, “You have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, and my suffering.  . . .  All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . . Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed . . . knowing how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that instruct you for salvation.”

     And in today’s reading from the Gospel according to St Luke, we hear the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, in which Jesus contrasts the proud, self-righteous Pharisee with the humble, self-aware Publican.  A society that judges people by their social position, job status, and education would expect the Pharisee to be justified and the Publican to be disregarded.  But God sees things differently.  God looks for the right attitude—reflected in behavior, not boasted about in words.

     The Publican’s prayer—“God, be merciful to me, a sinner”—is obviously the basis for the well-known Jesus Prayer:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The Jesus Prayer is the essential prayer of monastics—monks and nuns—in our Eastern Church, but also stands at the center of the spiritual practice of all the faithful.  It sums up our relationship with Christ, affirming Him as our “Lord” or master, identifying Him as “Son of God” or Second Person of the Trinity, acknowledging Him as the source and dispenser of God’s soul-and-body-healing mercy, and admitting that because of the fallenness of the world each of us is a “sinner” who needs that mercy.

     The Jesus Prayer helps us clear our minds of proud, selfish thoughts and to focus on Jesus, our Lord, God, and Savior.  It comforts us by renewing our trust in God, who is with us in hard times and easy times.  The simplicity and brevity of the Jesus Prayer make it easy to repeat often, either very attentively or almost unconsciously, and we can easily coordinate it with the rhythm of our breathing:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” as we breathe in, “have mercy on me, a sinner” as we breathe out.  When we say the Jesus Prayer over and over again, letting God work in us by opening our hearts and asking Him in, it can begin to “pray itself” in us, so that we are “praying always,” as St Paul recommends.

     We don’t know if St Ephrem prayed the Jesus Prayer.  He is best known for the prayer that we say so often during Great Lent:  “O Lord, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and inquisitiveness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.  Grant instead to me, your servant, the spirit of purity and humility, the spirit of patience and neighborly love.  O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my own sins and of not thinking evil of those of my brothers and sister, for You are blessed forever and ever.  Amen.”  St Ephrem’s prayer goes into more detail than the Jesus Prayer, but it conveys essentially the same message.

     We call St Ephrem the “Syrian,” but we should really refer to him as the “Syriac,” because he belonged to the Syriac or Assyrian Christian tradition, not the Byzantine tradition.  He is one of Christianity’s greatest theologians and Bible interpreters.  He lived in the 4th Century, from about 307 to 373.  Born in Nisibis, a town on the remote eastern edge of the Roman Empire, an area that is now south-eastern Turkey.  He studied with learned bishops, was ordained a deacon, and became a teacher and preacher.

     In 363, after the defeat of the Emperor Julian, the Persians took control of Nisibis and all Christians had to leave.  Ephrem moved to Edessa (modern Urfa), about one hundred miles to the west.  Ephrem continued his work, especially in defending the true faith against heretical teachings.  In the Byzantine and Latin West, his writings were not so well known, because he wrote in Syriac, but they were widely translated—into Greek, Latin, Armenian, and other languages.

     St Ephrem wrote theology in poetry—beautiful, heart-touching, philosophical but not dry.  The rhythms and images of his poetical homilies and other works made them memorable, singable, and popular.  Also, unusually for his time and place, he showed particular sensitivity to women’s faith and understanding.  He performed many charitable works, especially in times of famine.  In icons, he is usually portrayed as a monk, though he was not actually a monk, but he led a solitary, ascetic life of prayer and devotion.

     St Ephrem is almost a perfect example of St Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:  “Continue in what you have learned and believed—the sacred writings that instruct you for salvation.”  And that makes him to all of us a good example of how to lead lives of dedication, praise, and glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages.  Amen.

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