"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 31 March 2018


Exultet in the Vatican 2013
Holy Saturday 2018

            “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” For some unknown reason the compilers of the Lectionary omitted that final verse of St Mark’s account of the Resurrection from tonight’s Gospel reading, ending as it does with those extraordinary and unexpected words, “for they were afraid.” How strange that the three women, who had been so brave until now and had even entered the tomb on seeing that the stone, which was very big, had been rolled away, should be filled with amazement and fear at hearing the message of the Easter angel, “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him.”

          Although the women eventually did tell the disciples and Peter what “the young man in the white robe seated on the right-hand side” had said, their initial reaction was one of terror and amazement and, in fear, they fled from the tomb. What would you or I have done? Jesus had often said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid,” yet they were still afraid and confused, especially after the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Now it looked as though the Resurrection would add to their fear and confusion. But the women weren’t simply afraid, they were amazed, for they realised that there was something more than a miracle here. Now, unlike the apostles, they had been faithful to Jesus even when he was taken prisoner, condemned to death and crucified. They had stood by at a distance as he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. It had been a rushed affair, that burial, so “when the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices with which to anoint him.” So it was that, “very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.” There they became the very first to learn of the Resurrection. Once their fears has subsided, they became the first to tell the apostles and the whole world that Jesus was risen from the dead.

The Church, this community of believers, is still here 2000 years on, because of what happened that first Easter sometime after sunset on the Sabbath and before sunrise of the first day of the week. From that moment, nothing could ever be the same again. The Angel of the Resurrection tells us tonight, “He is risen; he is not here.” Jesus, the source of all life, lies no longer in the tomb, but lives in our hearts through faith. In baptism we died with Christ in order to live with him. Do we recognise the living Christ within us? Do we see the living Christ in our neighbour? And is it possible for us to say with St Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”? St Gregory of Nazianzus expressed it like this: “Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with him. Yesterday I was dead with Christ; today I am sharing in his Resurrection. Yesterday I was buried with Christ; today I am waking with him from the sleep of death.”

On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you all a very happy and holy Easter. Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia. 
Orthodox Patriarch of Belgrade celebrates tye Saturday of Lazarus


Easter Sunday 2018 

            “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and he believed.” What did the other disciple see and believe? He saw nothing but an empty tomb with the linen cloths lying on the ground. At the end of the gospel we are told what he believed, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and that we have life in his Name. On that first Easter Day, the Beloved Disciple comes to faith in the risen Lord on the evidence of an empty tomb alone. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

            The joy and beauty of our Easter celebrations cannot alter the fact that the true significance of this day is far harder for us to appreciate than the meaning of Christmas or Holy Week. We believe that God stepped into our world at Bethlehem to become part of human history and this causes a ray of light to fall even on those who do not share our faith. Passion and death are also easy to understand. They reflect the world in which we live and our own experience of suffering. Much as we might avoid the thought, we know that death awaits us all and that one day we will succumb to a force far greater than ourselves. So we celebrate Holy Week, especially Good Friday, without difficulty, grateful that God has shared with us the anguish and pain of suffering and death. But Easter is different. In his resurrection, Jesus has not entered into the ordinary life of human beings; rather he has broken through its limitations and entered a new realm beyond our understanding. This is unknown territory. God leads us into a vast, uncharted expanse and encourages us to follow him. Since we are only acquainted with things on this side of the grave, there is nothing in our experience that connects us with the news that Jesus is risen from the dead.

            Easter centres on something unimaginable and, in human thought and language, inexplicable. The disciples’ doubts and confusion cry out to us from every page of the gospels, culminating in the words of Thomas, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” Then, like Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, there is their inability to recognise Jesus. Only when he is at table with them, are their eyes opened as they recognise him in the breaking of bread. One of the strangest features of the resurrection narratives is his unrecognisability. For the disciples, an encounter with the risen Christ begins as a meeting with a stranger and Jesus often condemns the inadequacy of their earlier understanding. Mary Magdalene thinks he was the gardener and asks where he has put Jesus. Rowan Williams writes, “Jesus is not what they have thought him to be, and thus they must ‘learn’ him afresh, as if from the beginning. Once again, John crystallises this most powerfully by presenting the disciples in their fishing boats, as if they had never known Jesus: they must begin again.”

Neither the disciples nor the evangelists, nor has the Church ever tried to iron out the differences between the various accounts of the Resurrection. The risen Christ was not a projection of the hopes of the first Christian community. The Resurrection of Jesus remains the greatest of all mysteries and yet it lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The Church has always translated the Easter message into symbols, which point to things that words cannot express. The Paschal fire and the Paschal candle, for wherever light conquers darkness, something of the Resurrection takes place. Water, which can be both life-giving and life-threatening, is blessed for baptism that we might die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We bless people and things with holy water in order to establish oases of life and hope in the desert places of our world. With the constant singing of Alleluia, we join in the song of the angels in heaven, “where every tear shall be wiped away and every sorrow and lament be ended.“


            Like the beloved disciple, we have seen and have believed. We do not ask to see more than an empty tomb and we must be content to recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread and hear his voice as he explains the Scriptures to us. Every day, encouraged by the celebration of the Easter mystery, we learn anew what it means to be a disciple of the Risen Saviour as we walk in faith. Faith is the greatest adventure there is, an invitation to go much further than we had anticipated or foreseen. It is a window that opens out onto eternal life. Jesus asks us not to be afraid, but to trust in him and follow him through darkness into light and from death to life. To Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, be glory and praise for ever. Alleluia. Amen.

(more to come)

Thursday 29 March 2018


The Cross – the One True  
Glorification of God

by Joseph Ratzinger 
(Pope Benedict XVI) 

Christ on the Cross, by El Greco (1585-95)

According to the account of the evangelists, Jesus died, praying, at the ninth hour, that is to say, around 3:00 P.M. Luke gives his final prayer as a line from Psalm 31: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46; Ps 31:5). In John’s account, Jesus’ last words are: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). In the Greek text, this word (tetélestai) points back to the very beginning of the Passion narrative, to the episode of the washing of the feet, which the evangelist introduces by observing that Jesus loved his own “to the end (télos)” (John 13:1). This “end,” this ne plus ultra of loving, is now attained in the moment of death. He has truly gone right to the end, to the very limit and even beyond that limit. He has accomplished the utter fullness of love – he has given himself. 
In our reflection on Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives in chapter 6, we encountered a further meaning of this same word (teleioun) in connection with Hebrews 5:9: in the Torah it means consecration, bestowal of priestly dignity, in other words, total dedication to God. I think we may detect this same meaning here, on the basis of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer. Jesus has accomplished the act of consecration – the priestly handing-over of himself and the world to God – right to the end (cf. John 17:19). So in this final word, the great mystery of the Cross shines forth. The new cosmic liturgy is accomplished. The Cross of Jesus replaces all other acts of worship as the one true glorification of God, in which God glorifies himself through him in whom he grants us his love, thereby drawing us to himself. 

The Synoptic Gospels explicitly portray Jesus’ death on the Cross as a cosmic and liturgical event: the sun is darkened, the veil of the Temple is torn in two, the earth quakes, the dead rise again. 

Even more important than the cosmic sign is an act of faith: the Roman centurion – the commander of the execution squad – in his consternation over all that he sees taking place, acknowledges Jesus as God’s Son: “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). At the foot of the Cross, the Church of the Gentiles comes into being. Through the Cross, the Lord gathers people together to form the new community of the worldwide Church. Through the suffering Son, they recognize the true God. 

While the Romans, as a deterrent, deliberately left victims of crucifixion hanging on the cross after they had died, Jewish law required them to be taken down on the same day (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Hence the execution squad had to hasten the victims’ death by breaking their legs. This applied also in the case of the crucifixion on Golgotha. The legs of the two “thieves” are broken. But then the soldiers see that Jesus is already dead. So they do not break his legs. Instead, one of them pierces Jesus’ right side – his heart– and “at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). It is the hour when the paschal lambs are being slaughtered. It was laid down that no bone of these lambs was to be broken (cf. Exodus 12:46). Jesus appears here as the true Paschal Lamb, pure and whole. 

So in this passage we may detect a tacit reference to the very beginning of Jesus’ story – to the hour when John the Baptist said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Those words, which were inevitably obscure at the time as a mysterious prophecy of things to come, are now a reality. Jesus is the Lamb chosen by God himself. On the Cross he takes upon himself the sins of the world, and he wipes them away. 

Yet at the same time, there are echoes of Psalm 34, which says: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” (Psalm 34:19-20). The Lord, the just man, has suffered much, he has suffered everything, and yet God has kept guard over him: no bone of his has been broken. 

Blood and water flowed from the pierced heart of Jesus. True to Zechariah’s prophecy, the Church in every century has looked upon this pierced heart and recognized therein the source of the blessings that are symbolized in blood and water. The prophecy prompts a search for a deeper understanding of what really happened there. 

An initial step toward this understanding can be found in the First Letter of Saint John, which emphatically takes up the theme of the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side: “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:6-8). 

What does the author mean by this insistence that Jesus came not with water only but also with blood? We may assume that he is alluding to a tendency to place all the emphasis on Jesus’ baptism while setting the Cross aside. And this probably also meant that only the word, the doctrine, the message was held to be important, but not “the flesh”, the living body of Christ that bled on the Cross; it probably meant an attempt to create a Christianity of thoughts and ideas, divorced from the reality of the flesh – sacrifice and sacrament. 

In this double outpouring of blood and water, the Fathers saw an image of the two fundamental sacraments – Eucharist and Baptism – which spring forth from the Lord’s pierced side, from his heart. This is the new outpouring that creates the Church and renews mankind. Moreover, the opened side of the Lord asleep on the Cross prompted the Fathers to point to the creation of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam, and so in this outpouring of the sacraments they also recognized the birth of the Church: the creation of the new woman from the side of the new Adam.


Good Friday 2018

            “What I have written, I have written.” It was Pilate’s last word. He had written the notice himself and fixed it to the cross; “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” For St Paul, the Cross was the answer to all his questions. Nothing else was needed: he could glory in the Cross of his Lord and Saviour, accepting all manner of suffering and hardship in the joy and confidence of being reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. The Cross is the work of the Father, who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. It is the work of the Son, who did not cling to equality with God but humbled himself, accepting death on a cross. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, in whom the Son offers himself to the Father and who is poured out by the Son, when “bowing his head, he gave up the spirit.” In the Cross, we come to know the love of God, which surpasses all understanding.

            Adam fell at a tree, yet by a tree he was saved. Eve was seduced at a tree, yet through a tree the bride was restored to her spouse. At a tree Satan defeated Adam: on a tree Jesus destroyed the works of the devil. At a tree God cursed man and through a tree that curse gave way to blessing. God exiled Adam from the tree of life: on a tree the New Adam endured exile that we might inherit the earth and know the joys of heaven. The Cross is the tree of knowledge, the tree of judgement and the tree of life. The Cross is the staff of Moses that divides the waters and leads us dry-shod through the sea of life. The Cross is the wood thrown into the bitter waters of Marah to make them sweet and life-giving. The Cross is the standard on which Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and on which Jesus is now lifted up to draw all people to himself.

            The Cross is planted on Calvary, and Golgotha is the new Eden. It is greater than Sinai, for the new Covenant is sealed in the Blood of Christ. On Calvary God reveals his Glory and speaks his final Word. It is greater than Mount Zion, the mountain of the Great King. It is the true Tabor, for the Transfiguration prefigured this moment when Christ is glorified and in him God is glorified. Calvary is the new Carmel, where the fire of God falls from heaven to consume with its living flame the altar of the new Israel of God, the Church, the Body of Christ made up of living stones. The Cross is the new ladder of Jacob, by which we climb to heaven, while Jesus is the new Bethel, the house of God, in which there are many mansions, where we shall live forever.

            The Cross lies at the heart, at the crossroads of history, “the twisted knot at the centre of reality”, to which all previous history leads and from which all subsequent history flows. The Cross reveals the ultimate meaning of life, where the love of God embraces the whole universe and redeems it in the sacrifice of Christ, our High Priest, who takes into his very being our sufferings and our sins, the tragedy of our fallen nature. The Letter to the Hebrews says,  “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering, but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.” The Bible contained in a single verse.

Pilate was a weak but stubborn man. “What I have written, I have written.” St Paul was a stubborn man, calling all things rubbish when compared to knowing Christ crucified, for the Jews a stumbling block, for the Gentiles madness, but for those who believe the very wisdom and salvation of God. Let us be stubborn in our faith. We worship you, Christ, and we bless you, by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

Great and Holy Friday:
The Cross
By Fr. Alexander Schmemann

From the light of Holy Thursday we enter into the darkness of Friday, the day of Christ's Passion, Death and Burial. In the early Church this day was called "Pascha of the Cross," for it is indeed the beginning of that Passover or Passage whose whole meaning will be gradually revealed to us, first, in the wonderful quiet of the Great and Blessed Sabbath, and, then, in the joy of the Resurrection day.

But, first, the Darkness. If only we could realize that on Good Friday darkness is not merely symbolical and commemorative. So often we watch the beautiful and solemn sadness of these services in the spirit of self-righteousness and self-justification. Two thousand years ago bad men killed Christ, but today we -- the good Christian people -- erect sumptuous Tombs in our Churches -- is this not the sign of our goodness? Yet, Good Friday deals not with past alone. It is the day of Sin, the day of Evil, the day on which the Church invites us to realize their awful reality and power in "this world." For Sin and Evil have not disappeared, but, on the contrary, still constitute the basic law of the world and of our life. And we who call ourselves Christians, do we not so often make ours that logic of evil which led the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers and the whole crowd to hate, torture and kill Christ? On what side, with whom would we have been, had we lived in Jerusalem under Pilate? This is the question addressed to us in every word of Holy Friday services. It is, indeed, the day of this world, its real and not symbolical, condemnation and the real and not ritual, judgment on our life... It is the revelation of the true nature of the world which preferred then, and still prefers, darkness to light, evil to good, death to life. Having condemned Christ to death, "this world" has condemned itself to death and inasmuch as we accept its spirit, its sin, its betrayal of God -- we are also condemned... Such is the first and dreadfully realistic meaning of Good Friday -- a condemnation to death...

But this day of Evil, of its ultimate manifestation and triumph, is also the day of Redemption. The death of Christ is revealed to us as the saving death for us and for our salvation.

It is a saving Death because it is the full, perfect and supreme Sacrifice. Christ gives His Death to His Father and He gives His Death to us. To His Father because, as we shall see, there is no other way to destroy death, to save men from it and it is the will of the Father that men be saved from death. To us because in very truth Christ dies instead of us. Death is the natural fruit of sin, an immanent punishment. Man chose to be alienated from God, but having no life in himself and by himself, he dies. Yet there is no sin and, therefore, no death in Christ. He accepts to die only by love for us. He wants to assume and to share our human condition to the end. He accepts the punishment of our nature, as He assumed the whole burden of human predicament. He dies because He has truly identified Himself with us, has indeed taken upon Himself the tragedy of man's life. His death is the ultimate revelation of His compassion and love. And because His dying is love, compassion and cosuffering, in His death the very nature of death is changed. From punishment it becomes the radiant act of love and forgiveness, the end of alienation and solitude. Condemnation is transformed into forgiveness...

And, finally, His death is a saving death because it destroys the very source of death: evil. By accepting it in love, by giving Himself to His murderers and permitting their apparent victory, Christ reveals that, in reality, this victory is the total and decisive defeat of Evil. To be victorious Evil must annihilate the Good, must prove itself to be the ultimate truth about life, discredit the Good and, in one word, show its own superiority. But throughout the whole Passion it is Christ and He alone who triumphs. The Evil can do nothing against Him, for it cannot make Christ accept Evil as truth. Hypocrisy is revealed as Hypocrisy, Murder as Murder, Fear as Fear, and as Christ silently moves towards the Cross and the End, as the human tragedy reaches its climax, His triumph, His victory over the Evil, His glorification become more and more obvious. And at each step this victory is acknowledged, confessed, proclaimed -- by the wife of Pilate, by Joseph, by the crucified thief, by the centurion. And as He dies on the Cross having accepted the ultimate horror of death: absolute solitude (My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me!?), nothing remains but to confess that "truly this was the Son of God!..." And, thus, it is this Death, this Love, this obedience, this fulness of Life that destroy what made Death the universal destiny. "And the graves were opened..." (Matthew 27:52) Already the rays of resurrection appear.

Such is the double mystery of Holy Friday, and its services reveal it and make us participate in it. On the one hand, there is the constant emphasis on the Passion of Christ as the sin of all sins, the crime of all crimes. Throughout Matins during which the twelve Passion readings make us follow step by step the sufferings of Christ, at the Hours (which replace the Divine Liturgy: for the interdiction to celebrate Eucharist on this day means that the sacrament of Christ's Presence does not belong to "this world" of sin and darkness, but is the sacrament of the "world to come") and finally, at Vespers, the service of Christ's burial the hymns and readings are full of solemn accusations of those, who willingly and freely decided to kill Christ, justifying this murder by their religion, their political loyalty, their practical considerations and their professional obedience.

But, on the other hand, the sacrifice of love which prepares the final victory is also present from the very beginning. From the first Gospel reading (John 13:31) which begins with the solemn announcement of Christ: "Now is the Son of Man glorified and in Him God is glorified" to the stichera at the end of Vespers -- there is the increase of light, the slow growth of hope and certitude that "death will trample down death..."

When Thou, the Redeemer of all,

hast been laid for all in the new tomb,

Hades, the respecter of none, saw Thee and crouched in fear.

The bars broke, the gates were shattered,

the graves were opened, the dead arose.

Then Adam, thankfully rejoicing, cried out to Thee:

Glory to Thy condescension, O Merciful Master.

And when, at the end of Vespers, we place in the center of the Church the image of Christ in the tomb, when this long day comes to its end, we know that we are at the end of the long history of salvation and redemption. The Seventh Day, the day of rest, the blessed Sabbath comes and with it -- the revelation of the Life-giving Tomb.

This is taken from the DRE publication Holy Week: A Liturgical Explanation from the Orthodox Church in America.

Orthodox Good Friday (Moscow) 8 mins.

Good Friday Procession on the Jerusalem West Bank

Orthodox Good Friday in the Middle East

Armenian Burial Service on Good Friday (an excerpt)

Reconsidering Christ's Crucifixion

Wednesday 28 March 2018

MAUNDY THURSDAY (more to come)

We celebrate Maundy Thursday together: first all the priests together with their bishop, then all the people together with their priest.  Here are two sermons preached by Pope Benedict on the priesthood and on the Christian Mystery as celebrated by the whole Church.   

How is this as a short, profound statement on the meaning of the Cross?

"Through his love, the Cross becomes "metabasis," the transformation of the human being into a participant in the glory of God. In this transformation, He involves all of us, drawing us into the transformative power of his love to such an extent that, in our being with Him, our lives become a "passage," a transformation. Thus we receive redemption – becoming participants in eternal love, a condition toward which all of our existence strives." 
I don't think I have ever heard a better explanation of why Christ died.
Chrism Mass 2018

 Holy Thursday. Chrismal Mass 
March 20, 2008 

Pope Benedict on the Priesthood

Dear brothers and sisters, each year the Chrism Mass exhorts us to return to that "yes" to the call of God which we pronounced on the day of our priestly ordination. "Adsum – here I am!", we said like Isaiah, when he heard the voice of God, who asked him: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am, send me!", Isaiah replied (Isaiah 6:8). Then the Lord himself, through the hands of the bishop, laid his hands upon us and we gave ourselves to his mission. Since then, we have traveled down various roads in following his call. Can we always claim what Paul, after years of a service of the Gospel that was often laborious and marked by sufferings of all kinds, wrote to the Corinthians: "Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged" (2 Cor. 4:1)? "We are not discouraged." Let us pray today that our zeal may always be rekindled, so that it is constantly fed by the living flame of the Gospel. 

At the same time, Holy Thursday is for us an opportunity to ask ourselves again: To what did we say "yes"? What is this "being a priest of Jesus Christ"? Canon II of our missal, which was probably composed in Rome before the end of the second century, describes the essence of the priestly ministry with the words that, in the book of Deuteronomy (18:5,7), described the essence of the Old Testament priesthood: astare coram te et tibi ministrare. Two functions, therefore, define the essence of the ministerial priesthood: in the first place, "standing before the Lord." In the book of Deuteronomy, this should be interpreted in the context of the previous dispensation, according to which the priests did not receive any portion of the Holy Land – they lived by God, and for God. They did not attend to the usual work necessary for sustaining daily life. Their profession was "to stand before the Lord" – looking to Him, living for Him. Thus, all told, the word indicated a life lived in the presence of God, and thus also a ministry in representation of others. Just as the others cultivated the land, from which the priest also lived, so he kept the world open to God, he had to live with his gaze turned to Him. If these words are now found in the Canon of the Mass immediately after the consecration of the gifts, after the entry of the Lord among the assembly gathered in prayer, then they indicate for us the standing before the Lord who is present; it indicates, that is, the Eucharist as the center of the priestly life. But even here its impact goes further. In the hymn of the liturgy of the hours that, during Lent, introduces the office of readings – the office that the monks used to pray during the hour of the nocturnal vigil before God, and for the sake of men – one of the tasks of Lent is described in the imperative: arctius perstemus in custodia – let us be watchful with greater intensity. In the tradition of Syriac monasticism, the monks were described as "those who stand on their feet"; standing on one's feet was an expression of vigilance. What was here considered as the task of the monks, we can reasonably view as being also an expression of the priestly mission, and as a correct interpretation of the words of Deuteronomy: the priest must be one who watches. He must stand guard before the relentless powers of evil. He must keep the world awake to God. He must be one who stands on his feet: upright in the face of the currents of the time. Upright in the truth. Upright in his commitment to goodness. Standing before the Lord must always be, in its inmost depths, also a lifting up of men to the Lord, who, in turn, lifts all of us up to the Father. And it must be a lifting up of Him, of Christ, of his word, of his truth, of his love. The priest must be upright, unwavering and ready even to suffer outrage for the sake of the Lord, as shown in the Acts of the Apostles: they "[rejoiced] that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (5:41). 

Let's continue now to the second expression, which Canon II takes from the Old Testament – "to stand in your presence and serve you." The priest must be an upright, vigilant person, a person who stands straight. Then, to all of this, service is added. In the text of the Old Testament, this word has an essentially ritual meaning: the priest was responsible for all of the acts of worship stipulated by the Law. But this acting according to ritual was then classified as service, as a task of service, and this explains in what spirit these activities had to be carried out. With the inclusion of the expression "to serve" in the Canon, this liturgical meaning of the term is in a certain way adopted – in keeping with the newness of Christian worship. What the priest does at that moment, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, is to serve, and to carry out a service of God and a service of men. The worship that Christ rendered to the Father was that of giving of himself to the end, for the sake of men. The priest must insert himself into this worship, into this service. Thus the expression "to serve" involves many dimensions. Certainly first among these is the proper celebration of the Liturgy and of the Sacraments in general, carried out with interior participation. We must learn to understand more and more the sacred liturgy in all of its essence, to develop a lively familiarity with it, so that it becomes the soul of our daily life. It is then that we celebrate properly, it is then that there emerges on its own account the ars celebrandi, the art of celebrating. There must be nothing artificial in this art. If the Liturgy is a central task of the priest, this also means that priority must be given to learning continually anew and more profoundly how to pray, in the school of Christ and of the saints of all ages. Because the Christian Liturgy, by its nature, is also always a proclamation, we must be persons who are familiar with the Word of God, who love it and live it: only then will we be able to explain it in an adequate way. "To serve the Lord" – priestly service also means learning to know the Lord in his word, and to make Him known to all those He entrusts to us. 

Two other aspects, finally, are part of service. No one is as close to his master as the servant, who has access to the most private dimension of his life. In this sense, "serving" means closeness, it requires familiarity. This familiarity also brings a danger: that our constant contact with the sacred might make it become routine for us. Thus reverential fear is extinguished. Under the influence of all of our habits, we no longer perceive the great, new, surprising fact, the He himself is present, that He speaks to us, He gives himself to us. We must fight without rest against this habituation to the extraordinary reality, against the indifference of the heart, recognizing always anew our insufficiency and the grace that is present in the fact that he delivers himself into our hands in this way. Serving means closeness, but above all it means obedience. The servant is under orders: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). With these words on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the decisive battle against sin, against the rebellion of the fallen heart. Adam's sin consisted precisely in the fact that he wanted to do his own will, and not that of God. The temptation of humanity is always that of being totally autonomous, of following only its own will and of maintaining that only in this way will we be free; that it is only through such limitless freedom that man can be fully himself. But in this very way, we pit ourselves against the truth. Because the truth is that we must share our freedom with others, and can be free only in communion with them. This shared freedom can be true freedom only if through this we enter into what constitutes the measure of freedom, if we enter into the will of God. This fundamental obedience that is part of the human being, a being that is not solely of and for itself, becomes even more concrete in the priest: we do not proclaim ourselves, but rather Him and his Word, which we could not have imagined on our own. We proclaim the word of Christ correctly only in the communion of his Body. Our obedience is believing together with the Church, thinking and speaking together with the Church, serving together with it. This always involves what Jesus predicted to Peter: 'someone else will . . . lead you where you do not want to go'. This being led where we do not want to go is an essential dimension of our service, and it is precisely this that makes us free. By being led in this way, which can be contrary to our own ideas and plans, we experience something new – the riches of the love of God. 

"To stand before Him and serve Him": Jesus Christ, as the true High Priest of the world, has conferred upon these words a profundity that was unimaginable before. He, who as Son was and is Lord, wanted to become that servant of God whom the vision of the book of the prophet Isaiah had foreseen. He wanted to be the servant of all. He depicted the entirety of his high priesthood in the gesture of the washing of the feet. With the gesture of love until the very end, He washes our dirty feet, with the humility of his service He purifies us from the sickness of our arrogance. Thus he makes us capable of becoming God's companions. He descended, and the true ascension of man is now realized in our ascending with Him and to Him. His elevation is the Cross. This is the most profound descent, and, as love pushed to the very limit, it is at the same time the culmination of the ascent, the "elevation" of man. "To stand before Him and serve Him" – this now means entering into his call as servant of God. The Eucharist as the presence of the descent and ascent of Christ thus refers, beyond itself, to the many ways of the service of love of neighbor. Let us ask the Lord, on this day, for the gift of being able to say once more in this sense our "yes" to his call: "Here I am. Send me, Lord" (cf. Isaiah 6:8). Amen

 Holy Thursday. Mass of the Lord's Supper 
March 20, 2008 

Dear brothers and sisters, Saint John begins his account of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples with especially solemn, almost liturgical language: "Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (13:1). The "hour" of Jesus has arrived, toward which all of his activity was directed from the beginning. John describes what makes up the content of this hour with two terms: "to pass" (metabainein, metabasis) and "agape" – love. These two words explain each other; both describe together the Passover of Jesus: cross and resurrection, crucifixion as elevation, as "passage" to the glory of God, as a "passing" from the world to the Father. It is not as if Jesus, after a brief visit to the world, were now simply departing and returning to the Father. This passage is a transformation. He carries with him his flesh, his being man. On the Cross, in giving himself, He is fused and transformed, as it were, into a new mode of being, in which He is now forever with the Father, and at the same time with men. He transforms the Cross, the act of killing, into an act of self-donation, of love to the end. With this expression, "to the end," John refers in advance to the last words of Jesus on the Cross: all has been brought to conclusion, "it is finished" (19:30). Through his love, the Cross becomes "metabasis," the transformation of the human being into a participant in the glory of God. In this transformation, He involves all of us, drawing us into the transformative power of his love to such an extent that, in our being with Him, our lives become a "passage," a transformation. Thus we receive redemption – becoming participants in eternal love, a condition toward which all of our existence strives. 

This essential process of the hour of Jesus is represented in the washing of the feet, in a sort of symbolic prophetic action. In it, Jesus displays through a concrete action precisely what the great Christological hymn of the letter to the Philippians describes as the content of the mystery of Christ. Jesus removes the garments of his glory, he girds himself with the "towel" of humanity, and becomes a slave. He washes the dirty feet of the disciples and thus makes them capable of participating in the divine meal to which He invites them. Exterior purifications for worship, which purify man ritually while nevertheless leaving him as he is, are replaced by the new bath: He makes us pure through his word and his love, through the gift of himself. "You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you," He will say to the disciples in his discourse on the vine (John 15:3). He continually washes us again with his word. Yes, if we welcome the words of Jesus in an attitude of meditation, of prayer and of faith, they develop their purifying power within us. Day after day, we are as it were covered with various forms of uncleanness, empty words, prejudice, partial and altered wisdom; a multifarious half-falsity or open falsity constantly infiltrates our depths. All of this obfuscates and contaminates our soul, it threatens to make us incapable of truth and goodness. If we welcome the words of Jesus with an attentive heart, these reveal themselves as genuine washings, purifications of the soul, of the inner man. This is what the Gospel of the washing of the feet invites us to: to allow ourselves continually to be washed again by this pure water, to allow ourselves to be made capable of convivial communion with God and with our brothers. Yet from the side of Jesus, after the blow of the lance from the soldier, there emerged not only water, but also blood (John 19:34; cf. 1 John 5:6,8). Jesus did not only speak, He did not leave us only words. He gives himself. He washes us with the sacred power of his blood, meaning his self-donation "to the end," to the Cross. His word is more than simple speech; it is flesh and blood "for the life of the world" (John 6:51). In the holy Sacraments, the Lord kneels down again and again before our feet, and washes us. Let us pray to Him that the sacred bath of his love may penetrate us more and more deeply, so that we may be truly purified! 

If we listen attentively to the Gospel, we can discover two different aspects in the episode of the washing of the feet. The washing that Jesus performs for his disciples is above all simply his own action – the gift of purity, of the "capacity for God" offered to them. But the gift then becomes a model, the task of doing the same thing for each other. The Fathers described this twofold aspect of the washing of the feet with the words "sacramentum" and "exemplum." In this context, "sacramentum" does not refer to one of the seven sacraments, but to the mystery of Christ in its totality, from the incarnation to the cross and resurrection: this totality becomes the healing and sanctifying power, the transformative power for men, it becomes our "metabasis," our transformation into a new form of being, in openness toward God and in communion with Him. But this new being that He, without our merit, simply gives to us must then be transformed in us into the dynamic of a new life. The totality of gift and example that we find in the pericope of the washing of the feet is characteristic of the nature of Christianity in general. In comparison with moralism, Christianity is something more and something different. Our activity, our moral capacity is not placed at the beginning. Christianity is above all a gift: God gives himself to us – He does not give some thing, but himself. And this takes place not only at the beginning, at the moment of our conversion. He continually remains the One who gives. He always offers us his gifts anew. He always precedes us. For this reason, the central action of being Christians is the Eucharist: gratitude for having been gratified, the joy for the new life that He gives us. 

In spite of all this, we do not remain passive recipients of the divine goodness. God gratifies us as personal and living partners. The love that is given is the dynamic of "loving together," it is intended to be a new life within us, beginning from God. We thus understand the words that, at the end of the account of the washing of the feet, Jesus speaks to his disciples and to all of us: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34). The "new commandment" does not consist in a new and difficult norm, one that did not exist before. The new commandment consists in a loving together with Him who loved us first. This is also how we must understand the Sermon on the Mount. This does not mean that Jesus gave us new precepts at that time, which represented the demands of a more sublime humanism than the previous one. The Sermon on the Mount is a journey of training in conforming ourselves to the sentiments of Christ (cf. Philippians 2:5), a journey of interior purification that leads us to living together with Him. The new reality is the gift that introduces us into the mentality of Christ. If we consider this, we perceive how far we often are in our lives from this new reality of the New Testament; how slight an example we give to humanity of loving in communion with his love. We thus owe humanity a proof of the credibility of Christian truth, which is demonstrated in love. Precisely for this reason, we desire all the more to pray to the Lord to make us, through his purification, ripe for the new commandment. 

In the Gospel of the washing of the feet, the conversation between Jesus and Peter presents yet another detail of the praxis of Christian life, to which we finally want to turn our attention. At an earlier point, Peter had not wanted to allow the Lord to wash his feet: this reversal of order, that the master – Jesus – should wash feet, that the master should perform the service of a slave, is completely in contrast with his reverential fear of Jesus, with his concept of the relationship between teacher and disciple. "You will never wash my feet," he tells Jesus in his usual passionate manner (John 13:8). This is the same mentality that, after the profession of faith in Jesus as Son of God, in Caesarea Philippi, had urged Peter to oppose Jesus when he had predicted his affliction and cross: "No such thing shall ever happen to you," Peter had declared categorically (Mt. 16:22). His concept of the Messiah involved an image of majesty, of divine greatness. He had to learn over and over again that the greatness of God is different from our idea of greatness; that it consists precisely in descending, in the humility of service, in the radicalness of love to the point of total self-abandonment. And we, too, must learn this over and over again, because we systematically desire a God of success, and not of the Passion; because we are not capable of realizing that the Shepherd comes as a Lamb who gives himself, and in this way leads us to the right pasture. 

When the Lord tells Peter that without the washing of his feet he would never be able to have any part in Him, Peter immediately and impetuously asks to have his head and hands washed as well. This is followed by the mysterious words of Jesus: "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed" (John 13:10). Jesus alludes to a bath that the disciples, according to ritual prescriptions, had already taken; in order to participate in the meal, they now needed only to have their feet washed. But naturally, a deeper meaning is hidden in this. To what does it allude? We do not know for sure. In any case, we should keep in mind that the washing of the feet, according to the meaning of the entire chapter, does not indicate a single specific Sacrament, but the "sacramentum Christi" in its entirety – his service of salvation, his descent even to the cross, his love to the end, which purifies us and makes us capable of God. Here, with the distinction between the bath and the washing of feet, nevertheless, there also appears an allusion to life in the community of the disciples, to life in the community of the Church – an allusion that John may have intentionally transmitted to the community of his time. It then seems clear that the bath that purifies us definitively and does not need to be repeated is Baptism – immersion in the death and resurrection of Christ, a fact that changes our lives profoundly, giving us something like a new a identity that endures, if we do not throw it away as Judas did. But even in the endurance of this new identity, for convivial communion with Jesus we need the "washing of the feet." What does this mean? It seems to me that the first letter of Saint John gives us the key for understanding this. There we read: "If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing" (1:8ff.). We need the "washing of the feet," the washing of our everyday sins, and for this we need the confession of sins. We do not know exactly how this was carried out in the Johannine community. But the direction indicated by the words of Jesus to Peter is obvious: in order to be capable of participating in the convivial community with Jesus Christ, we must be sincere. One must recognize that even in our own identity as baptized persons, we sin. We need confession as this has taken form in the Sacrament of reconciliation. In it, the Lord continually rewashes our dirty feet, and we are able to sit at table with Him. 

But in this way, the word takes on yet another meaning, in which the Lord extends the "sacramentum" by making it the "exemplum," a gift, a service for our brother: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14). We must wash each other's feet in the daily mutual service of love. But we must also wash our feet in the sense of constantly forgiving one another. The debt that the Lord has forgiven us is always infinitely greater than all of the debts that others could owe to us (cf. Mt. 18:21-35). It is to this that Holy Thursday exhorts us: not to allow rancor toward others to become, in its depths, a poisoning of the soul. It exhorts us to constantly purify our memory, forgiving one another from the heart, washing each other's feet, thus being able to join together in the banquet of God. 

Holy Thursday is a day of gratitude and of joy for the great gift of love to the end that the Lord has given to us. We want to pray to the Lord at this time, so that gratitude and joy may become in us the power of loving together with his love. Amen.
Pope Francis in the Chrism Mass & washing feet in the Regina Caeli Prison 

Maundy Thursday 2018 

“At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Simon Peter had questioned Jesus, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” The Bible is full of people who ask God why and how: Mary at the Annunciation, “How can this be?” or Moses before the burning bush, “What shall I say?” Throughout the Exodus, the Israelites kept on complaining against Moses and Aaron, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to this place, where there is neither food nor water?” At the time they did not know what God was doing, but later, in the Promised Land, they could to look back and begin to understand. They celebrated the Passover to show that they understood God’s plan and this understanding brought with it repentance and thanksgiving.

            At the Last Supper, the disciples couldn’t follow what Jesus was doing. What did he mean when he said, “This is my body; this cup is the new covenant in my blood,” when all they could taste and see was bread and wine? And all this talk of a Paraclete, who would lead them to the whole truth and give them power from on high? Now, at the end of the meal, here he was, washing their feet and telling them to follow his example. What could this mean?

            Caiaphas and Pilate, the High Priests and the Pharisees, the Roman authorities, the soldiers and the crowds, even Simon Peter and Judas and the other disciples, all those involved in the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, what could they have understood at the time? Jesus alone knew that his hour had come. Only later did they understand, beginning surprisingly enough with the good thief, who said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and the soldier, a Gentile, who was first to declare, “Truly, this was the Son of God”.

            After the Resurrection the disciples did begin to understand, but they weren’t easily convinced. Only at Pentecost were their eyes opened at last. Finally, they understood that he was Lord and Christ, the Saviour of the world and this understanding led them to repentance and thanksgiving and the urge to preach the Gospel. That is why we still celebrate Holy Week and Easter, why we celebrate the sacraments and come to church. Christians have come to understand, as far as we are able, the mystery of the Incarnation and of God’s ineffable love for Man.

            Tonight’s celebration reminds us that Christ wants us to follow his example. He wants us to show how perfect our love is. He wants us to serve others with humility and charity. He wants us to sacrifice our lives for others and not count the cost. We, of course, understand all this, but do we have the faith to do what Jesus asks of us? Have you ever thought what the world would be like if Christians were simply to follow the example of Jesus? Mind you, if you take up your cross every day and follow him, don’t be surprised if in the end you are crucified. “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

In the Ambrosian Rite there is a beautiful chant that is sung after the proclamation of the Gospel this evening. It says, “Today, Son of the Eternal God, you receive me as a friend at your wondrous banquet. I will not hand over your mystery to the unworthy nor will I kiss and betray you like Judas, but I implore you, like the thief on the cross, to receive me, Lord, into your kingdom.” Let us make this our prayer tonight.

Holy Thursday: The Restoration of Life as Communion with God

ON APRIL 16, 2009 BY FR. TED


St. Vladimir’s Seminary sent out those on their mailing list an excerpt from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book on HOLY WEEK.   The entire passage is beautiful, but I will quote her part extremely relevant to Holy Thursday and the commemoration of the Last Supper – the institution of the Holy Eucharist.   Unfortunately in Orthodox piety the Vespers-Liturgy which celebrates Christ’s instituting the Eucharist is often made a less important liturgical service than doing the Matins of Holy Friday with its 12 Gospel readings.  But it is in the Upper Room, in the washing of the disciple’s feet and in Christ saying the words of consecration that we are given to understand the sacrificial nature of His voluntary death on the cross.    Perhaps one day there will be the liturgical revival that will restore the services to their proper times and which will make the Vespers-Liturgy of Holy Thursday as central to Orthodox piety as it is to our theology.

God is Love (1 John 4:8).  And the first gift of Love was life.  The meaning, the content of life was communion.  To be alive man was to eat and drink, to partake of the world.  The world was thus Divine Love made food, made Body of man.  And being alive, that is, partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content, and the end of his life.  Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God.  Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God; transformed it into life in God and with God.  The love of God gave life to man; the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God.  This was paradise.  Life in it was, indeed, Eucharistic.  Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence, and man was the priest of the sacrament. 

But in sin man lost this Eucharistic life.  He lost it because he ceased to see the world as means of communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving.  He loved himself and the world for their sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life.  He thought that his hunger and thirst – that is, the dependence of his life on the world – could be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such.  But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning as means of communion with God; once they are not received for God’s sake, and filled with hunger and thirst for God; once, in other words, God is no longer their real ‘content,’ can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves.  And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires.  And he died.  For death is the only inescapable ‘decomposition’ of life cut from its only source and content.  Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death.    His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world; he ceased to be its priest and became its slave.  And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and ‘sat in the region and shadow of death’ (Matthew 4:16). 

But if man betrayed God, God remained faithful to man.  He did not ‘turn Himself away forever from His creature whom H had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy ‘ (from the Liturgy of St. Basil).  A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation.  And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God, who, in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of life.  And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted, and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God.  He rejected the basic human temptation: to live ‘by bread alone’; He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man.  And this perfect Eucharistic Life, filled with God, and therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who believe in Him, that is, find Him the meaning and content of their lives.  Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper.  He offered Himself as true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the truth Life.  And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine ‘take, eat…’ (for eating is life for man) comes now ‘unto the end’ with the Divine ‘take, eat, this is My Body…’ (for God is life for man).  The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

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