Did He Stay or Did He Go?

great commission

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It is instructive to compare and contrast the closing scenes of Jesus’ earthly presence as they are presented in Luke/Acts and Matthew. The scenes are similar in that both depict Jesus’ final meeting with the group known as the Eleven (hoi Hendeka, Mt 28:16 and Lk 24:33). Connected with each presentation, likewise, is an evangelical mandate (Mt 28:19-20 ; Lk 24:46-47 ; Acts 1:8). In both cases the Eleven prostrate themselves before Jesus (prokyneo, Matthew 28:17 and Luke 24:52).

Another similarity is that both scenes take place on a hill.

These similarities, however, serve chiefly to highlight the differences between the two presentations. For example, the “hill” (oros) in Matthew 28:16 is found in Galilee, whereas Luke’s hill is, by implication, the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem (24:50).

The major difference between the two stories, however, has to do with what happens to the Lord. According to Luke, he takes leave of the Church and ascends into heaven, whereas in Matthew’s account he does not take leave of the Church. He declares, on the contrary,

“Behold, I am with you all days, even till the end of the world.”

There is not one word about his ascending. According to Luke Jesus departs; according to Matthew he stays. Which is it, then? Did Jesus leave this earth or did he remain here?

The later editor of Mark’s Gospel apparently sensed the point of this question. According to the final scene he added to the Markan account, the risen Lord both goes and stays:

“So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs (Mark 16:19-20; emphasis added).

One grasps the point made here if he reflects that this text twice calls Jesus “the Lord.” because his lordship is manifest in two ways: by his Ascension into glory and through his continued presence in the ministry of the Church.

Both aspects of Jesus’ lordship-in heaven and on earth-are conveyed in the opening lines of Psalm 109 (110):

“The Lord said to my Lord, / ‘Sit as My right hand, / until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.’ / The Lord will send the rod of your power out of Zion. Rule in the midst of your enemies.”

In the first assertion of this psalm, Jesus is enthroned in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. The next lines, however, speak of his “power” (dynamis) going forth from Zion, that is, Jerusalem.

This dual exercise of Jesus’ lordship is precisely what we find in the New Testament, where the Apostles, after they witness the Ascension, receive “power” (dynamis) when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 1:8).

The Church Fathers believed this to be the correct sense of the opening lines of Psalm 109. Justin Martyr, for example, explained the psalm this way in the mid-second century:

“And that God the Father of all would bring Christ up to heaven after He had raised him from the dead, and would keep him there until He subdues his demonic enemies, and until the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous, is complete. . . . Hear what was said by the prophet David. These are his words: ‘The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord will send to you the rod of power (hrabdon dynameos) out of Jerusalem; and rule in the midst of your enemies.’ . . . That which he says, ‘He shall send the rod of power out of Jerusalem,’ was a prophecy of the mighty word, which his apostles, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere” (Apology 45).

Justin perceives two icons of lordship in this psalm: The first is Jesus’ session at the right hand of the Father in heaven; the second is the extension of his scepter, his “rod of power,” in this world. In both places—triumphant in heaven and militant in this world—Jesus is Lord.

The reign of Christ in heaven is not separable from the evangelical mission of the Church on earth. St. Peter, in his first sermon, established the union of these two ideas, citing the opening lines of Psalm 109 as the basis of the Church’s message and summons to repentance:

“This Jesus God raised up, of whom we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he, himself, says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, / ‘Sit at My right hand, / Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. . . . Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:33-39).

The Centurions’ Intercessors

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

centurianAmong those sections that the gospels of Matthew and Luke-independent of Mark-have in common, almost all are directly didactic. That is to say, those sections almost invariably consist of the explicit teachings of Jesus, with no attention to events in his life. Those shared sections convey, for instance, the sort of material we find in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20-49). When, on the other hand, Matthew and Luke do tell a common story about Jesus’ life, Mark has that story too.

The clear exception is Matthew’s and Luke’s narrative of the centurion who sought healing for his cherished servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). As an account of a person beseeching the Lord on behalf of someone else, this shared narrative resembles other stories in the gospels, such as Jairus and the Syro-Phoenician woman praying for their daughters (Mark 5:23; 7:24-30), and another man and a centurion pleading for their sons (9:17; John 4:46-53). These are all accounts of intercessory prayer on behalf of loved ones, especially parents praying for their children.

Such stories surely had a great influence on the patterns of Christian intercessory prayer. We note, for instance, that the petitions in these accounts are addressed to Jesus. Although in Jesus’ specific teaching about prayer, the normal emphasis was on prayer addressed to the heavenly Father (Luke 11:2) in Jesus’ name (John 15:16), the emphasis is different in these particular gospel stories. One of their singular values is that they unambiguously answer a practical question that might arise among Christians, namely,

“If one of your children gets sick, is there some special Trinitarian protocol to follow, or is it all right just to take the problem right to Jesus?”

On the other hand, taking one’s problems “right to Jesus” is surely not to be understood in the sense of foregoing the mediating prayer of others. It is not as though the unique mediation of Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5) excludes certain saints from mediating on behalf of other saints, and these various gospel stories are the proof of it. In fact, it is the entire point and the whole business of the foregoing stories to validate such mediation. This is called intercessory prayer.

To see how this “works out,” let us return to the story of the centurion pleading on behalf of his servant. If we compare the differing accounts of this event in Matthew and Luke, we first observe that Matthew’s is the shorter and simpler version. In this account the centurion simply goes to Jesus, requesting that the Lord speak the commanding word, so that the servant will be healed. It takes only six verses.

In Luke, however, the story requires ten verses and is considerably more complicated.

First, the centurion himself does not approach Jesus directly. He sends some friends who will speak for him. Now this is interesting, because it introduces another level of mediation. The friends are interceding for the centurion, who is in turn interceding for his servant. We have here the beginnings of a prayer list, as it were.

Then, when Jesus starts moving towards the centurion’s home, the latter dispatches still another group of friends, who will speak the famous words that characterize this story:

“I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.”

It is surely significant that the centurion does not speak these words, deeply personal as they are, to Jesus directly. Others say them to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. In Luke’s version of the story, in fact, there is no face-to-face encounter of the centurion with Jesus at all. The centurion’s faith is conveyed by those he chooses to intercede for him.

Finally, in Luke’s version of the story, there is a striking parallel, surely deliberate, between this centurion and Cornelius in Chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these centurions send others to speak on their behalf, and in each case the one solicited-Jesus in the first and Simon Peter in the second-goes to respond to the need.

At this point the two stories form a contrast. The first centurion, wanting to spare Jesus the uncleanness of entering a gentile house, solicits his aid from a distance. In the case of Peter and Cornelius, however, the barrier between Jew and gentile has now been removed, and Peter comes to his home.

 

Matthew’s Portrait

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Edgar Allen Poe, in his penetrating review of Bleak House, remarked that no reader can comprehend the real wealth of that work in a single reading. Numerous shades of nuance, Poe explained, and dozens of subtle connections were woven so deeply into the fabric of Bleak House that their presence was not even suspected on a first reading.

On a second reading, however, the now enlightened reader knows what to look for; he will perceive treasures that eluded his attention the first time through. Innumerable lines will shine now with a new luster. Thus, concluded Poe, fully to grasp the meaning of Bleak House for the first time, the reader is obliged to go through it a second time.

One suspects here the presence of a permanent literary principle, namely, that any story truly worth reading is worth reading two or more times. Even little children seem to know this. I have never met a child content with a single reading of a good story.

Another test case for Poe’s principle, let me suggest, is the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

I have long believed that the Missionary Mandate received by the apostles in the closing verses of that Gospel is the best key to understanding it as a whole. That is to say, after reading Matthew all the way to its memorable ending, it is most instructive to take that ending as an interpretive guide and go back through the Gospel again, considering everything else in the light of it.

An easy way to do this, I suggest, is to reflect on Matthew’s Missionary Mandate with respect to structure, theme, and imagery.

First, in regard to structure, we observe that Matthew employs a method called inclusio, by which he begins and ends his work with a common element. Thus, the Jesus who is first declared in Matthew to be

“God with us” (1:23)

declares in the Gospel’s last verse,

“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (28:20).

Similarly, Matthew treats of baptism at both the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry. Following an inherited apostolic format that describes that ministry as

“beginning from the baptism of John to the day when [the Lord Jesus] was taken up from us” (Acts 1:22),

Matthew portrays the revelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit when Jesus is baptized by John (Matt. 3:16–17). Then, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus himself speaks of baptism

“in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (28:19).

Thus, the Trinitarian structure of baptism provides Matthew with the two end posts of his narrative frame.

Second, in regard to theme, Matthew finishes his work with the conversion of the world:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

This call to the nations (ethne) summarizes a motif found often in Matthew (cf. 12:18,21; 21:43; 24:14; 25:32). Even at Jesus’ birth, the Magi, personifying those nations, came to adore him (proskyneo—2:2,8,11). At the end, while his disciples are on the mountain adoring him (proskyneo—28:17), Jesus sends them out to make disciples of those very nations.

Third, with respect to imagery, we observe that the Missionary Mandate is given on “the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them” (28:16). In Matthew, the mountain is preeminently the place of authoritative revelation (15:29–30; 17:1–5; 24:3). Indeed, Jesus’ first major sermon in Matthew is delivered on a mountain (5:1; 8:1).

On an even earlier mountain, Jesus is portrayed as rejecting Satan’s offer to give him

“all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (4:8).

Those same kingdoms appear at last on Matthew’s final mountain, where the Lord sends out his apostles with the mandate to

“make disciples of all the nations” (28:19).

On Matthew’s first mountain, Satan offered Jesus universal power. On his last mountain, Jesus commissions the apostles to a universal evangelism founded in his own authority as the Son of Man prophesied by Daniel:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

Furthermore, this mountain, from which the nations (ethne) are to be evangelized, is found in Galilee (28:16; cf. 28:7), the very region that Matthew earlier identified as “Galilee of the nations” (ton ethnon—4:15). It was in that “Galilee of the nations” that Jesus began his own ministry (4:12), an early promise of the apostolic commission to extend discipleship to all the world.

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

Homily for All Saints of Alaska

by Dcn. Irenaios Anderson

Text: Hebrews 11:33—12:2; Matt. 4:25-5:12

Date delivered: Sept. 27, 2010

Location: All Saints Chapel, Kodiak, AK

+In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

“How long until we get there?”

Those of us who have driven children any distance are familiar with that question. However, it is no doubt one that was heard on that year-long journey from European Russia to Kodiak Island. It had been a difficult trip but one that would have eternal consequences.

On this day we commemorate the modern apostles who have brought and nurtured the Orthodox faith in Alaska. This day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the original missionaries from Valaam Monastery at Kodiak; they travelled around the world on the longest missionary journey in Christian history out of love for Christ. Among them we remember our holy father Herman, who provides us with an example of living a loving, Christian life. With them we remember St. Innocent—who nurtured the Orthodox faith among the Aleuts, Tlingits, and the Yakut people of Kamchatka—and St. Yakov, who preached the Gospel not only among his own native Aleut people on Atka but also spent his life bringing the Yupi’k, Athabaskan, and Tlingit peoples to the faith. Although our Church in this land is relatively young, she has provided us with the martyrs the priest Juvenaly and Peter the Aleut, who proclaimed the Orthodox faith not merely with words, but with their lives.

These saints provide us not only with a story of their lives of faithful service but also as examples of obedience to Jesus Christ, no matter the cost. In the end, they point not to the holiness of their own lives or the people they touched with the Gospel, but to Jesus Christ. Only in obedience to Christ will we discover the blessedness these saints experienced.

In the most quoted sermon ever given, we discover the life in Christ—revealed in the saints—as a guide to our own lives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The saints of Alaska didn’t have earthly wealth, but even more importantly were “poor in spirit,” being rich in humility and the virtues. While there are many examples of being humble, our chief example is our Lord Jesus Christ who,

“being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5–8).

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Instead of weeping tears over what they had left behind in Russia, or—in the case of St. Yakov—the loss of his home and the death of his beloved wife and father within one year, the saints of Alaska mourned over their own sins and lived a life of repentance.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Meekness indicates patience in the face of wrongs suffered. While we in Kodiak are more familiar with the difficulties the missionaries of the Valaam mission suffered at the hands of Baranov and the Russian-American Company, we must remember that St. Yakov lost his wife and father during his selfless ministry while enduring the physical suffering of ministering in a tent-church on the Yukon and Kuskokwim for 34 years, baptizing over 1300 people, and finally suffering the indignity of being summoned to Sitka to defend himself against false accusations. In the midst of this mistreatment, there was no sign of complaint, rather saying these personal losses were a call from God to even greater struggles.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. In a world ravenous for anything that feeds self-indulgent—and often self-destructive—appetites, the Saints’ desire was for God and his Kingdom. Because of their love for God, they left their homes and all that was familiar and comfortable to share that love with the people of Alaska. In doing so, a hymn from the Vigil of the feast declares:

“The saints are like comely trees in the paradise of Eden, their teachings like fragrant flowers, their acts like fruit on which our souls are fed and our spiritual hunger satisfied. Come, let us take refuge under their shadow; let us bless them, the crown and adornment of their land, an example and image of how to live.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. What greater way is there to show mercy than to bring people without the Gospel to the knowledge of Christ and His heavenly kingdom? These faithful servants of Christ showed people the power of the Gospel by their transformed lives. Here at St. Herman Seminary we are committed to training God’s people to serve the Church in Alaska in her continuation of the apostolic ministry begun by these saints. Again, the hymns of the feast call to us:

“Remembering their loving sacrifice, let us Orthodox believers in America and throughout the world dedicate ourselves again to the task they so nobly began, offering our lives in the service of Christ, as servants and laborers in the new vineyard entrusted to us. For indeed the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Let us beseech the Lord of the harvest to send into his Church worthy successors to these holy laborers.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Although St. Herman spoke with the angels on Spruce Island, all the saints of Alaska achieved the vision of God in this life. They purified their hearts through ascetic struggle and love of God, giving us an example of what it means to walk with God in all purity and piety, worshiping and serving him in holiness all the days of our lives. Our Lord calls us to this singleness of vision:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22).

Although one may think that this is primarily descriptive of the saints, but the Apostle John disagreed:

“Now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure (1 Jn. 3:2–3).

St. Isaac the Syrian notes that when the Holy Spirit makes the human heart pure, it is enables one to recognize the image of God in others. Then a person can reach his or her purpose in life: to see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. The great example of this beatitude is St. Yakov. By preaching the Gospel he brought peace to the Alaskan interior. Traditionally warring peoples became brothers in Christ, leading the Church to call St. Yakov the “true example of Christian piety, love, and unity” due to his living and preaching the Gospel of Christ. His ministry of bringing peace extends to this day, where many visitors to Sitka are drawn to humble grave of St. Yakov, where they say they experience a spirit of peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. While there were several attempts on St. Herman’s life, he shared the divine peace that was within his soul—that same peace that drew wild animals to him on Spruce Island, as the animals in paradise walked with Adam before the Fall. St. Yakov was a victim of slander, yet did not revile those who bore false witness against him. The missionary priest St. Juvenaly was killed while bringing the Orthodox faith to Alaska, and the Kodiak youth St. Peter the Aleut died defending his personal faith, his words being a clarion call to us today:

“I am a Christian, and I will not deny my faith.”

This commitment sprouted from the seed of the love of God, for truly, as we sing in the troparion of the feast of the martyrs of Alaska,

“in their devotion and love for the Lord, they willingly endured persecution and death for the truth.”

From those who died for our faith we learn how to live our faith!

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Like the righteous of the Old Testament and those listed in today’s epistle reading, the saints of Alaska bore up under false accusations, open hostility, and the threat of death. They encourage us to follow in their footsteps. While we may not face physical persecution or martyrdom, we are called to die to this world with its values and priorities. Our elder fathers and brothers in the faith truly were those

“of whom the world was not worthy.”

May we strive to follow their example!

While the Saints of Alaska—the holy Hierarch Innocent, Apostle to America; our Venerable Father Herman; Yakov, Enlightener of the Native Peoples of Alaska; and the Martyrs the Priest Juvenaly and Peter the Aleut—provide us with examples of fulfilling the Beatitudes in their lives, they also call us to follow in their footsteps.

But what are they calling us to do?

The Saints of Alaska encourage us to follow Christ, even as they did. This obedience will result in our lives being transformed as theirs were, being an example to those around us. By living a life out of love for God, we are called to express that love by loving our neighbor.

“Remembering the faith and love of the saints of Alaska, let us embrace one another, that with one heart and one mind we may confess and proclaim our faith.”

We also can emulate them by answering the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” being new apostles by re-evangelizing Alaska, answering the social problems of our communities—abuse, despair, suicide, etc.—with the only answer there is: our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

This primarily means being faithful Orthodox Christians, loving the Lord above all, and our neighbor as ourselves. This is the core of the lesson of the Saints of Alaska for us. They echo our Lord Jesus Christ: “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.” Amen.

Homily On Forgiveness

by Yako Pavilla

Text: Matt. 18:21-35

Date given: October 21, 2010

Location: St. Herman Seminary Homiletics Class

+In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Glory be to Jesus Christ!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, what is this parable about? The parable is about forgiveness. That is what we have to work on each and every one of us. If we have offended anyone, we must ask forgiveness and mean it with our whole heart.

Let us all ask ourselves: “Why did Jesus become man and take on our flesh? Why did Jesus undergo baptism and temptation? Why did he suffer and die upon the Cross?” Why? God is so merciful and loves His people that He sent His Only-Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

My brothers and sisters, see how merciful and forgiving our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is. He forgives us even when we call Him names, talk about Him behind His back, and even crucify Him.

“What you have done to the least of my brethren you have do it unto me,”

Jesus said.

We need forgiveness in our lives as clergy, spouses, as parents and children, as brothers and sisters. Where there if forgiveness there is love, peace, unity among the Church and its people, and above all there is God in the midst of us.

God never abandons us, even if we have been cruel to our brothers and sisters. Did He not say,

“I will not leave you orphans.”

And He gave us Jesus, His only Son, so we could have a chance to get to the kingdom of heaven. The servant was like the thief on the cross, asking Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. And Jesus said to him,

“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What a blessing it would be if He said that to each and every one of us.

If somebody offends us, is mean to us, just think that they are not only doing it to us. They are doing it to Jesus also, but let us be forgiving and pray for them:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Let us not be unforgiving like the first servant. Remember, as the Lord has forgiven us, so we in return are obliged to grant this gift of forgiveness to others.

Again, the parable is clear. Being unforgiving means to be unforgiven and spend eternity in hell, or the other way forgive and be forgiven. May God have mercy on all of us and number us among his flock, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Homily 58 on Matthew

by St. John Chrysostom

“And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.”

THAT is, to hinder their saying, “wherefore do we abide here continually,” He speaks to them again of the passion; on hearing which they had no wish so much as to see Jerusalem. And it is remarkable how, when both Peter had been rebuked, and Moses and Elias had discoursed concerning it, and had called the thing glory, and the Father had uttered a voice from above, and so many miracles had been done, and the resurrection was at the doors (for He said, He should by no means abide any long time in death, but should be raised the third day); not even so did they endure it, but were sorry; and not merely sorry, but exceeding sorry.

Continue reading Homily 58 on Matthew

Homily 57 on Matthew

by St. John Chrysostom

Matt. 17: 10

And His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the Scribes that Elias (Elijah)must first come?

Not then from the Scriptures did they know this, but the Scribes used to explain themselves, and this saying was reported abroad among the ignorant people; as about Christ also.

Wherefore the Samaritan woman also said,

Messiah comes; when He has come, He will tell us all things: John 4:25

and they themselves asked John,

Are you Elias, or the Prophet? John 1:21

For the saying, as I said, prevailed, both that concerning the Christ and that concerning Elias, not however rightly interpreted by them.

Continue reading Homily 57 on Matthew