The Apostles Fast

We are about 11 days away from the conclusion of the Apostles Fast. Of course, unlike any other fasting season on the Calendar, 11 days doesn’t really have meaning since this is the one fast that does not have a set number of days. This year, the Apostles Fast began toward the end of May, so 11 days means that we are over halfway done and there isn’t much left to it. Of course, in some years, this fast only lasts 2 days, and others have been longer than Lent.

It concludes on the Feast of Peter and Paul on June 29th. But outside of that, it is really a mystery. Unlike Nativity, Dormition, or Lent, this fasting season doesn’t exactly end on a day of any particular significance. In fact, it is not even one of the 12 solemn feasts. It is a day of Obligation for those in the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburg, and it may be in other Greek Catholic sui iuris churches as well, but if you look at the Eastern Orthodox, the fast just ends on that feast day.

It is a mysterious fast, because unlike Nativity or Lent, this fast doesn’t come from pious preparation for a major feast. Yet, early Christian texts show that this was indeed one of the original fasts celebrated. And the reason? “After feasting from Pascha to Pentecost, it is only proper that we fast while our bodies are refreshed.”

Yet, upon further research, I found that the Apostles fast used to not end on June 29, but actually on August 15. Yes, the Apostles Fast and the Dormition Fast were originally 1 long fast. For whatever reason, it was decided to cut July out and just have it as a regular season.

SOOO, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, CANTOR?

I know that previous section seems to provide information without really providing anything else, but one thing to take away from this is that the Early Christians thought it was important enough to have a post-pentecostal fast, and that the Church Fathers for over 1500 years decided that it was worth keeping on the Calendar. Yet, for some reason, this seems to be one of the most unpopular fasts. By unpopular, I am not saying that people don’t like it. Rather, people don’t even care enough about it to even do it.

No one really knows why they are fasting during this time period, as it is not in penance or in preparation. It is essentially a fast for the sake of fasting. But despite what some may be thinking, that actually is NOT a pointless endeavor. In fact, we fast every Friday from meat as a minimum. Why? The western mentality is that they are fasting because that is the day Christ died on the Cross, and they are crucifying themselves with Christ. I assure you that despite what you may think, that is not the reason. The cross is actually not something to take sorrow over but is actually our victory over sin and death.

Rather we fast on Wednesday and Friday because the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday, and the Christians while not wanting to fast with the Jews, wanted to continue the practice. Wednesday was chosen because it was the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday was chosen because it was the day of the Crucifixion.

“But I thought you said we didn’t fast because of the crucifixion.”

We do fast in penitence as well as better equipping our bodies to resist sin. We, however, do not fast as a way of beating ourselves up for being the ones responsible for making Jesus die on the cross.

Likewise, the apostles fast should be for us a means of turning away from sin, not because we are preparing for a feast, but because we have feasted and are thus better equipped to fast for the sake of our souls.

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The evil of abortion

Abortion is condemned by the Catholic Church as an intrinsic evil. Unfortunately, many heterodox sects have given permission to perform the act. Examples include: United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Lutheran Women’s Caucus, and many more.

The LDS teaches: “The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when: Pregnancy results from rape or incest, A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth … Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.

(Source: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/official-statement/abortion).

According to the Mormon website MormonDNA “The LDS Church has no official statement on when life begins, although obviously it is sometime between conception (including the moment of) and birth.”

The former Southern Baptist Convention President W.A. Criswell himself stated: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

When examining these statements, it is clear that they are heretical and gravely erroneous. Let’s consider the first point:

1. When does life begin?

The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception. ‘‘Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable’’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2270-2271).

Therefore, there are no in betweens as the Mormons slightly suggest. Life also does not start at the moment of birth, which is an erroneous statement of W.A. Criswell. If this is the logic we are going to go by, then both camps must explain why St. John the Baptist leaped in the womb of Elizabeth in the presence of Mary and baby Jesus.

“And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost”. (Luke 1:41). Surely, this wasn’t a dead clump of cells moving. This was a living being, and one of the greatest saints of all time.

They must also explain the following verses: Job 10:8, Psalms 22:9-10, Psalms 139:13-15, Isaiah 44:2.

2. Emotionalism

Notice how both camps emphasize feelings in order to determine what is morally acceptable and what isn’t. This is dangerous since our feels are not always correct. “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it?” – Jeremias ‭17:9‬ ‭

The Church Fathers on Abortion:

St. Basil the Great wrote in his First Canonical Letter, Canon 2: “The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events, if we regard it as done with intent” (374).

St. Jerome, Letter 22 to Eustochium (396), said: “Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world, laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ, but also of suicide and child murder. Yet it is these who say: ‘Unto the pure all things are pure; my conscience is sufficient guide for me.’ A pure heart is what God looks for” (13).

The Council of Elvira in Spain (305) decreed two canons forbidding the sacraments to women who committed abortion: “If a woman becomes pregnant by committing adultery, while her husband is absent, and after the act she destroys (the child), it is proper to keep her from Communion until death, because she has doubled her crime” (63). Canon 68 reads: “If a catechumen should conceive by an adulterer, and should procure the death of the child, she can be baptized only at the end of her life.”

Council of Ancyra (314): “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them [from Communion] until the hour of death” (29)

Another early text is the Epistle of Barnabas: “You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion, nor shall you destroy it after it is born” (19). This also shows that the earliest Christians forbade abortion.

In the second century, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote in the Paedagogus (2.10.96): “Women who resort to some sort of deadly abortion drug kill not only the embryo, but along with it, all human kindness.” This passage supports our translation of the Didache by mentioning the use of drugs to induce abortion.

In 177, Athenagoras of Athens wrote in the Supplication for the Christians: “And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder?”

Is the priest ‘turning his back’ on the people?

There is a common myth that has spread throughout the Latin Church, and unfortunately in Latinized Eastern Catholic Churches, that claims that the reason why the priest used to pray “facing away from the people” was so that the congregation would not feel worthy to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Therefore, Vatican 2 came to change that in order to fulfill its request to have “active participation.”

While we will not cover the details of what “active participation” truly meant in its proper context, we will give details in regards to why the Church originally prays facing Eastward.

It is Biblical: All throughout scripture, it is suggested that we pray towards the East. Examples from the Old Testament include Ezekiel 43:4 in where he saw the glory of God coming from the East:

“And the glory of the Lord came into the house, by the way of the gate looking eastward:”

In ancient Jewish worship of the New Testament, it was commanded that the ancient liturgy which prefigured the eternal Divine Liturgy of the New Testament face East:

“And if the prince should prepare as a thanksgiving a whole-burnt-peace-offering to the Lord, and should open for himself the gate looking eastward, and offer his whole-burnt-offering, and his peace-offerings, as he does on the sabbath-day; then shall he go out, and shall shut the doors after he has gone out.” (Eze 46:12).

Therefore, the Church is continuing in the practices of it’s Jewish heritage. Not only that, it is also facing East to face Christ Himself.

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27)

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Mat 2:1-2)

“…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Note: Christ Ascended on the Mount of Olives, and when He returns, He will be on a cloud coming from the East. (Luke 21:27).

You may be asking: “But didn’t Jesus face the apostles during the Last Supper, the very first Divine Liturgy?” In response, the ancient Jewish tables all had dinner on the same exact side to provide access for the servers, therefore Jesus sat on the same side as the Apostles.

St. John Damascus further explains in Book IV, Chapter 12 why we pray towards the East:

“It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the Mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West.

So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland.

Moreover the tent of Moses had its veil and mercy seat towards the East.

Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East.

Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon, the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward.

Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him.

And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven; as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.”

GUEST POST: Persecuted Church in the Philippines!

Tonight, we will be having the privilege of sharing with the public a writing by a faithful Catholic within the Philippines. For those who are not aware, the Church in the Philippines is being persecuted. This year we have not only witnessed a bombing of a church by a suicide bomber, killing parishioners, but we have also witnessed the slaughtering of priests; Fr. Richmond Nilo being the third one in six months this year. Therefore, for safety reasons our guest asks to remain anonymous. His writing in which he has shared with us will be posted via our admins. We ask you to please keep our guest and the Church in his country in your prayers.

From the Byzantine Commemoration for the Living: “Save, O Lord, and have mercy on the old and the young; the poor and the destitute; the orphans and the widows; those in sickness and sorrowful, misfortune and tribulation; those held captive or in exile; and on those of Your servants who suffer persecution for Your sake and for the orthodox faith, especially (insert here: our brothers and sisters in the Philippines and throughout the world); and on all those who have asked for our prayers or are in need of our prayers, unworthy though we are. Visit, strengthen, comfort, and heal them, and, by Your Power, quickly grant them relief, freedom, and deliverance.”

Our guest of honor now speaks:

The beautiful country of the Philippines is about to commemorate the 500th year anniversary of the arrival of the Christian Religion this 2021. For centuries, the Catholic Religion has been the bulwark of the Philippine Society since 1521. But from time to time, the people in the Philippines and the Spanish colonizers began to neglect every plead of the Church.
During the time of the Spanish colonizers, the Spanish government here in the Philippines has neglected the plead of the Church to end the slavery of the Filipino people in the first Synod of Manila. Many heroes in this country were Freemasons seeking the destruction of the Catholic Church. But the only time in history, where in the Filipino people actually listened to what the Church has said was during the time of dictatorship in our country. By the shepherd’s voice, the Filipino people have successfully done a peaceful way of gaining freedom. But this was not the happy ending we awaited.
Many storms were actually going nearer to the spiritual ship we are sailing. Liturgical Abuses began to spread in our country and even until now we are still experiencing such horrible acts. We thought our struggles only ends with this Liturgical Abuses, but we were wrong. The Masonic influence in the Philippine Government has began to work slowly. Recently, the Philippine Government has allowed the amendment of the RH Law which promotes birth control. Though it didn’t include abortion, still it has gone against the teachings of the Church. The Church has stood against this decision but the people never listened.
In today’s society here in the country, the Catholic Church is now seen as a mere institution and not the way of belief. The current President of our country has been so enraged to the Church due to our stand in opposing Extra-judicial Killings to any person suspected of drug addiction. Many disgusting things that we have heard from the mouth of the President against the Catholic Religion. Blasphemies to the Pope, to the deceased priests, to our Catholic teachings and to God were coming out from his mouth. And what surprises us, was the series of priests being murdered in just a span of 6 months. And even our beloved Honorary Catholic Faith Defender Priest, Rev. Fr. Richmond Villaflor Nilo (who was scheduled to debate the heretical sect ‘Iglesia Ni Cristo’) was not spared from these incidents. Our Church in the Philippines has been persecuted both Externally and Internally, from the Outside and the Inside of the Church. We ask your prayers brethren so that our country the Philippines would not end up being the same with most western societies who have forgotten the Lord.

‘The Liturgical Year according to The Byzantine Tradition’ by Byzantine Seminary Press

“The liturgical year is a system of yearly church celebrations by which the faithful repeatedly relive the salutary mysteries of their salvation. In the liturgical year Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to live with us, to teach us, and to lead us to our heavenly destination.

The liturgical year, like a beautifully painted iconostasis (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 14), again and again places before our eyes Christ’s sublime work of redemption in order to keep us intimately united in our Divine Redeemer. It inspires us and gradually forms a living Christ in us “until we become perfect man” (Eph. 4:13). It is indeed “a year of grace”, a year of God’s favor.

1.

The Church follows the computation of time according to the civil calendar year. However, in the Byzantine rite, the liturgical year begins on September 1st, while the Western Churches begin their liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent.

The Byzantine Church inaugurated the first of September as the beginning of the liturgical year in honor of the victory of Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337 A.D.), over his adversary, Emperor Maxentinus, in 312 A.D. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was constantly exposed to persecution. But with Constantine’s victory, as attested by St. Ambrose (d. 397 A.D.), the Church began a new life.

The liturgical year in the Byzantine Church ends with the feast of the Beheading of St, John the Baptist (August 29), with whom the Old Testament also concludes. The New Testament, liturgically symbolized by the New Year, begins with the preaching of Our Lord, as indicated by the Evangelist; “After John’s arrest Jesus appeared in Galilee, proclaiming the good news: – The time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Hence the liturgical year is often referred to as “a year of salvation.”

The liturgical year is inaugurated by the message of the Prophet Isaiah, which Jesus applied to Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news, to announce a year of grace (favor) from the Lord” (Lk. 4:16-19). In this way the beginning of the liturgical year symbolizes the beginning of the New Testament, inaugurated by the preaching of the gospel (good news) in the Person of Jesus Christ, Anointed One of God.

2.

From the earliest Apostolic times the Christians were convinced that they must celebrate the saving work of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by recalling the salutary mysteries of salvation on certain days of the year. The starting point was the weekly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday. Thus Sunday for Christians became – The Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), supplanting the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Every week on Sunday the Christians commemorated the Resurrection of Christ by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, referred to by the Acts as “the breaking of bread” (Acts 20:7). The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, compiled at the turn of the first century, admonished the faithful: “On the Lord’s Day, after you come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist” (14,1).

The early Church, commemorating the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday, did not neglect the yearly commemoration of the glorious event and, from the early days, celebrated the Feast of Easter with great solemnity. As a matter of fact Easter became the core of the liturgical year and was referred to as “The Feast of feasts and Solemnity of solemnities.”

3.

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In the early centuries there arose a heated controversy as the date of the celebration of Easter. The question was finally resolved at the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) when it was determined that Easter had to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday, following the full moon after the spring of equinox. According to this rule, the earliest date upon which Easter can be celebrated is March 22, and at the latest, April 25. But it always must be on Sunday.

Since the date of Easter changes from year to year, the Sundays, the holy seasons and the festivals that depend on Easter form the so called – Cycle of the Movable Feasts. The Movable or Easter Cycle begins four weeks before Lent with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, and serves as a liturgical preparation for that Holy Season.

The Great Lent, in preparation for Easter, starts on the Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.13). The sixth Sunday of Lent, called Palm Sunday in commemoration of Christ’s solemn entrance into Jerusalem (Jn. 12:12-19), introduces us into the Passion or the Holy Great Week, during which we relive the sufferings and the death of our Lord, endured for our salvation. Then, on Easter Sunday, we suddenly burst into the joyous celebration of Christ’s glorious Resurrection.

On the 40th day after Easter we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, commemorating the Ascent of our Lord to Heaven. (Lk. 24:50-53). Ten days later, i.e. on the fiftieth fay after Easter, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the Church was solemnly inaugurated. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.3).

Pentecost is followed by the series of 32 Sundays, indicated by successive numbers, the first of which is called All Saints Sunday. The Easter Cycle of the movable feasts ends with the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost, known as the Sunday of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10).

4.

The second cycle which influenced the formation of the liturgical year is – the Cycle of the Immovable Feasts, at the center of which we find the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, celebrated since the turn of the fourth century, on the 25th of December (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.5). These feasts are called – immovable because, unlike the feasts of the Easter Cycle, they fall on the same day of the month every year and their date never changes.

Eight days after Christmas, on January 1, we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision and the naming of the Child Jesus, as indicated by Scripture (Lk. 2:21). On Febuary 2, forty days after Christ’s birth, we solemn commemorate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 12). The Feast of the Annunciation, known in the early days as the Conception of Our Lord, is observed nine months before Christ’s nativity, that is on the 25th of March.

One of the most ancient feasts of this cycle is celebrated on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ’s Divinity at His baptism, commemorated by the solemn Blessing of the Water on that day (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.9). Then on August 6th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.18). Finally, on the 14th of September we commemorate the finding of the instrument of our salvation by St. Helen (d. 333 A.D.), as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 8).

Thus, our Church, through the annual celebration of the Lord’s feasts, repeatedly unfolds to us the riches of Christ’s merits and salutary graces.

5.

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In celebrating the mysteries of our salvation we cannot exclude the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos), since she played an important role in the economy of our salvation. And we are happy to know that precisely the Byzantine Rite is characterized by its high esteem and veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Already at the beginning of the liturgical year, on September 8th, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, sine Mary’s birth signaled “the beginning of our salvation” (cf. Sticheria of Litia). In connection with Mary’s birth, since the eighth century, we celebrate the Feast of the Conception of the Mother of God, recently referred to as the Immaculate Conception. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 36).

At the beginning of the 10th century the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God was introduced which with time became a great inspiration to the Ruthenian people in their filial devotion to the Blessed Mother of God (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 1). Since the 8th century we also celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple. (November 21st).

There are several minor feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the liturgical year ends with the oldest Marian feast, the Dormition, known in the Western Church as the Assumption. It is solemnly celebrated to the present time of the 15th of August (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 11).

6.

The Church Fathers also included the commemoration of many Martyrs and other Saints in the liturgical year. The II Vatican Council reminds us that the Martyrs and Saints, being “raised to holiness by abundant graces of God and already in possession of their eternal salvation, sing constant praises to God in heaven and offer prayers for us” (cf. Decree on the Liturgy, n. 104). By celebrating the passage of the Saints from the earth to heaven, the Church also proposes them to us as so many examples of genuine Christian living.

The veneration of the Saints has a similar purpose. This began in the first century, first the Veneration of the Martyrs and then of the Apostles. Soon other Saints were added. Between the fourth and fifth centuries the veneration of the Saints became a general practice, ceding the first place of St. John the Baptist (after the Blessed Mother and the Angels), in view of Christ’s testimony: “There is no one greater than John!” (Lk. 7:28). The Saints usually are commemorated on the anniversary of their death, since the departure of those “that died in the Lord” (Romans 14:8) was considered by the Christians as a day of birth to a new and happy life with God.

The liturgical year is indeed a year of grace and our sanctification, keeping us in close union with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The liturgical year helps us to become more and more Christ – like, it molds Christ within us. In a word, through the liturgical year Jesus Christ continues to live among us, He continues to teach us, He continues to lead us toward our eternal salvation.”

(Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 35 – With Ecclesiastical Approbation, August 1986 , Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh PA 15214). 

Troparion For The New Year (September 1st):

O Maker of all creation, under whose control are the seasons and the years, being Our Lord, bless the blessings of the year with abundance and, through the intercession of the Theotokos, preserve our country and the people in peace, and save us. 

Vatican II On The Liturgy:

“Holy Mother Church believes that it is her duty to celebrate the saving work of her Divine Spouse by commemorating it devoutly on certain days throughout the course of the liturgical year.” (n. 102).

The Feastdays Of Obligation:

  1. The Nativity of Our Lord (Dec 25); 2. The Epiphany (Jan 6); 3. The Ascension of Our Lord; 4. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29); and 5, The Dormition of the Blessed Theotokos (August 15). 

Apologetics 2:2 – Matthew 6:5-8 and Prayer.

Disclaimer: The commentary below was inspired by the Orthodox Study Bible.

When examining this scripture verse, here are some things that must be taken into account.

1. The Hypocrites miss the spirit of prayer, which is an intimate, personal communion with God that leads to the vision of His Glory. ( 1 Co 2:9).

2. Christ does not condemn the use of many words per se, but teaches that the words must express desire for communion with God. Therefore, it is vain repetition (pointless prayers without with the intention of having true communion with God) that are useless. Had repetition of prayer been condemned itself, Jesus would have not instructed us to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, nor would Luke 18:1 suggest to pray always; in addition to 1 Thess 5:17 demanding that we must “pray without ceasing.” In fact, the Book of psalms has many phrases in which we’re very repetitious! For example:

In Psalm 108 (109) King David continuously asks God for mercy. Verse 21: “Bless You, O Lord, O Lord, deal mercifully with me for your name’s sake, For Your Mercy is good.” He continues in verse 26: “Help me, O Lord my God; save me according to Your Mercy!” These are just a couple verses of the many examples of true repetitious prayer! (In fact, the continuous calling upon God’s mercy is exactly what we do when we pray the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Churches).

3. True prayer is not telling God what He already knows and then telling Him what to do about it (a common practice we all unfortunately have done or continue to do), nor is it praying in-front of others to look pious. (I.E. worldly praise, the “reward” that the Pharisees got.) Rather, true prayer is (1) Humble. (I.E. “Go into your room” in Verse 6), (2) Personal. (“Pray to your Father”, Verse 6.) (3) Sincere. (“Do not use vain repetitions, Verse 7).

Apologetics 2:1 – Biblical Proof for the Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy of the Church is absolutely identical to the liturgy celebrated by the Old Testament Jews. Considering that the Old Testament was a prefiguration of the Church, it shouldn’t be surprising to see many corresponding elements.

For example, when comparing the Divine Liturgy to the Liturgy of the ancient Hebrews, it is evident by its nature that both liturgies have a Priest to celebrate a sacrifice for the remission of sins. In Leviticus 5, the Bible says:

“And he shall give them to the priest: who shall offer the first for sin, and twist back the head of it to the little pinions, so that it stick to the neck, and be not altogether broken off. And of its blood he shall sprinkle the side of the altar, and whatsoever is left, he shall let it drop at the bottom thereof, because it is for sin. And the other he shall burn for a holocaust, as is wont to be done: and the priest shall pray for him, and for his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.”

As stated above, the Old Testament was a prefiguration of the New Testament since Christ the Messiah has not yet come. This is why St Augustine, in his holy wisdom, explained it best when he stated: “The New Testament is hidden in the old, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New.”

Given that Jesus Christ has come to fulfill the law, (Matt 5:17) the sacrifice of animals are no longer necessary. Instead, we celebrate the sacrifice that Jesus has done for us on the Cross for the remission of our sins (Hebrews 9:12), in addition to also celebrating His Resurrection. This explains why we have an altar in our churches. The sacrifice is done when the priest says the words of consecration to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus; also known as the Holy Eucharist. (John 6:52 , Luke 22:19-20). This was celebrated every Sunday in the early Christian Church. (Acts 20:7).

Not only do we see the continuation of a sacrifice in the New Testament Church, but we also see the continuation of the use of Incense. The use of incense symbolizes both the presence of the Holy Spirit and the rising of our prayers to heaven. (Rev 5:8, Rev 8:1-5, Psalms 141:2). This can be seen within ancient Jewish worship as well.

Leviticus 2: 1-13 mentions how one must properly make a grain offering when it says: “Now if a soul should offer a gift for a grain offering to the Lord, his gift shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense of it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take it from his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. Then the priest shall put it on the altar as a memorial (emphasis added), a sacrifice of sweet aroma to the Lord … and when it is presented to the priest, he shall bring it to the altar …”

Other examples of this can be seen in Num 17:3-15, Tobit 8:2-4 , Songs of Solomon 4:6, WSir 39:14, Mal 1:11, & Isiah 6:1-6. Being that Jesus Christ, our Lord, is also a priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), this explains why the Magi have offered Jesus Incense as a symbol of His Divine Priesthood. (Matt 2:11).

In conclusion, we can see that the New Testament Church is the continuation of the ancient Jewish religion since Christ the Messiah has come! May Christ our Lord be Glorified unto ages of ages, amen!

The Rich Man Who Walked Away

This parable is probably the most striking to me. I’ve heard this parable, along with many others, a lot throughout my Christian journey. I heard this as a Protestant, I heard this as a Roman Catholic, and I hear it now as a Ruthenian Rite Catholic. It is a parable I will hear at least once every year. But why does it strike me?

We all know the story from Matthew 19:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The thing is that every single pastor I had ever met had focused on one thing. That the guy was too greedy to follow Jesus. He liked his possessions too much to even seek after eternal life. Every sermon or homily I ever listened to was a scoff-fest. We would all listen disapprovingly, and then the pastor or priest would lay into his greed. And I agreed with them. The man knew what he had to do and rejected it to keep his possessions. Most sermons never called on US to change but rather chastized “the rich” in our society who choose money over God.

Then, one Sunday, the priest of my parish read the gospel and began the homily. This homily stands out above all of his other homilies since he had the tendency of putting me to sleep. He was so boring and I could predict what he was going to say. “Gospel was about this and that and this relates to the eucharist because blah blah and in the eucharist we can…” But on this day, his rhetoric was somewhat different. I remember snapping out of a daydream (I was 16 at the time) and he said “here is a man who’s observance of the commandments could put all of us to shame.” And that statement struck me. We were so busy accusing him of greed that we ignored the part where he had never broken a commandment. His issue wasn’t greed. If he was greedy, he’d have been violating the commandment to not covet. In fact, he obeyed the law to “love his neighbor as himself.” This means that he was even GENEROUS with his possessions and gave some things away to help others.

He was more righteous than the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t chastise him for deception or for only following the letter. Jesus recognized in him a genuine heart that wanted to serve Him. But he was too attached to the world. He helped the poor, but he also enjoyed his money. He liked the licit pleasures of this world too much. He figured he could serve God while maintaining a comfortable standard of living. Even after the man walked away, Christ didn’t condemn him. Christ said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. After the disciples noted the impossibility of that statement, Christ said that with God, it is possible. Essentially, it is possible, but it will be very difficult. But Christ can save him.

The ironic thing is, that all of us scoffing at him are essentially in the same situation. Everyone reading this has access to an internet browser, probably lives indoors, and probably hasn’t genuinely faced starvation. Even more ironic is that everyone scoffing at the churches I went to all had cars and owned homes. Some had 2 cars. Some had fancy cars. Some had fancy homes. Then they come to church and hear the Gospel messages. And when they (myself included) heard this call to give up EVERYTHING, they make excuses to why it doesn’t apply to them. And guess what. They are NOT wrong. Nowhere does Christ say that owning property is a sin. No saint has ever said that rich people can’t get into heaven. There have been some really well-off people who have been canonized. In fact, many Popes who went on to become saints lived in a very luxurious Vatican. They spent their days sitting on a papal throne, being carried about the streets like a king.

The issue isn’t a question of sinfulness but rather of theosis. We can begin our transformation now or after our death. It’s going to happen sooner or later. The difference is that it is easier for us to do it while alive since we can use our bodies to help perfect our souls, but while dead, it is a lot harder to purify our souls without a body. That is why it is said that being present at a single liturgy in life will benefit one’s soul more than hundreds of liturgies offered for them after death. That is why it is hard.

But financial possessions aren’t the only thing that tethers us to this world and prevent our theosis. What about family or friends? What about our desire to be successful? What about our education and careers? Every person, unless they are a monk or nun who has literally given up everything and has no possessions, spending their days at a monastery praying and helping others, is that rich young man. We have to give up even our relationships with our family and friends if we want to be someone who follows Christ directly.

That is the purpose of that parable. Many of us are that rich man, unable to part with our possessions, while still upholding the commandments. And this parable is actually a message of hope. Even though we can’t part with everything to cut ourselves off from the world, God says that it will be hard, but not impossible for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Church teaches that those who repent and try to seek after Christ will be saved. And for those of us who never get around to abandoning all of our possessions to enter into monastic life, maybe as we go through purgatory in the next life, we will realize how foolish we were for holding on to something that we were destined to lose anyway.

 

Technology in the Liturgy

If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it is the placement of projector screens in churches. This hasn’t really occurred in the East as much as it has in the West. But why is it an issue? Is it that we should be opposed to new technology? We have books, and some of us have pews, and those didn’t exactly exist when the Christ founded the Church, so that argument is out. (Plus, I would be hardpressed to find a Church that didn’t use a heater or A/C – or electric lighting). It isn’t technology that I dislike.

The issue is about what is in the front of the Church. In our Byzantine Catholic Churches, we have beautiful icon screens, which really convey the sacred nature of the place that we are in. Those images, along with the candles, really set a prayerful climate. It is a climate that is meant to put us into a different time period so that we can fully place ourselves into the liturgy. Church has always placed us in the past, even back in 33AD! The first liturgy, the Last Supper, celebrated by Christ Himself, occurred in concordance with a Passover Seder, which called its participants back to the Exodus. Every Liturgy looked to the past as well as forward to the Second Coming. That is why our Churches have maintained the same sacred architecture that it had since our victory over the Iconoclastic heresy.

In the West, after the Second Vatican Council, the architecture of their churches was changed to reflect their “meal theology.” Essentially, the Eucharist is a communal meal of “we and God” and so they changed the architecture of the Church to reflect this. Age old designs, such as the Church being shaped in the form of a cross, or the Church representing a ship on the way to heaven was thrown out to be replaced with a semi-circular concert hall to reflect the meal in the “here-and-now.” The Romans previously had too much of an emphasis on the Sacrifice of the Cross (to the detriment of the focus on the Resurrection – in my opinion. Others may say that you can never be too focused on the cross) but now the sacrifice is denied almost completely in this architecture. It becomes less about worshipping God and more about having a good time in God’s presence. You must acknowledge the Cross in the liturgy, but you must remember the resurrection as well.

With this change, there was a lot of empty space created. In one corner, tabernacles were stashed aside. Towards the front, there was nothing next to the sides of the crucifix. No icons, no paintings, not even statues. While in the past, Roman Churches would have side altars with statues, now there is nothing. With this, the Church also realized that they didn’t have much money left over after “renovations,” so things such as vestments and decent hymnals became something the local churches had no interest in investing in. And with technological advancements, they solved two of their problems. They could eliminate the blank space as well as the need to buy books by placing projector screens in the churches. While this may be a very utilitarian solution, imagine coming into a church to pray. Towards the front (which all the pews face), there is a very un-ornate altar table with a crucifix (if you’re lucky- if you’re unlucky you get one of those weird resurrection crucifixes). You might get some statues, but that’s about it. Then you see two blank projector screens. The tabernacle is off in the corner. If you are lucky, there are kneelers in front of the tabernacle. These new churches are not very prayer-friendly.

Thankfully, I do not anticipate this ever becoming an issue in our Eastern Catholic Churches. After all, where would they go? Icon screens cover up the majority of the front, if not all of it. They simply do not have a place to go in our worship – and that is a good thing.

We do have technology in our churches, and that is also a good thing. The air conditioning, the books (yes books are technology), the lights are all things that make it easier to focus on prayer. And that is what technology should do in the Church: focus us in our prayers to God.

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

A lot of people ask this question. However, the thing they forget to do is ask themselves this first: What is Prayer? After all, if we don’t know what something is, we can’t know it’s purpose. Prayer, in its simplest definition, is communication to a spiritual entity. We pray to angels, saints, and God. Here, we must draw a distinction. There is a difference between prayer and worship. All worship is prayer, but not all prayer is worship. Worship literally means to give worth. So we worship (in the literal sense) God, Mary, the angels and saints, and even anyone we respect and admire.  However, our understanding of worship is an action in which we give to recognize one as a Supreme being. So, using our colloquial understanding of the word, we would say that we worship God, glorify Mary, praise the angels and saints, and honor those around us who we respect and admire.

Prayer can be broken down even further into: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplications (abbreviated ACTS). This leads into the purpose. We adore God just for the sake of His goodness. We pray to express sorrow for sin and to beseech forgiveness. We give thanks to God for his great goodness. The last is supplications. A lot of people question this aspect. After all, there have been cases where areas were threatened with destruction, but since everyone prayed for deliverance, God delivered them. Then, there are cases where Christian areas were wiped out by natural disasters or by murderous psychopaths. Some people say that the more people praying for something, the more likely God will answer the prayer. Sometimes, that is the case, sometimes it isn’t. And we don’t always get what we want.

A lot of times, we treat God as a cosmic Santa Claus to give us whatever we want and whenever we want. We pray for people to not die, we pray for storms to be averted, we pray to win the lottery, we pray for other people to convert, etc. We forget that His plan is sometimes nonsensical to us.

So, sometimes our supplications are answered, sometimes their not. So why ask? We have an inherent need to be in total communion with God. Our created purpose is for worship after all. It is by telling God all of our cares, even when we know what we want won’t occur, that we fully trust in Him. Even Jesus prayed to God the Father and wasn’t given what He asked. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, but not My will but Yours be done.”  See, here we see a perfect model of supplication. We pray for what we want and for deliverance from what may occur. But we accept God’s will regardless.