Sunday, April 20, 2008



Behold, I make all things new

MATTHEW 21:1-44
The Entry into Jerusalem

(Sermon at Matins for the feast.)

....Matthew's account of the entry into Jerusalem is a powerful testimony of the great changes which are about to take place. In every detail of this chapter we see a transition from something old to something new. But perhaps we should rather say that we see the passage from prophecy to the fulfilment of that prophecy.
....Brothers and sisters, we enter into Jerusalem together with Christ. Christ will enter into the city, riding on a colt of an ass — on a small donkey — and He will ascend to Mount Moriah where the Temple stands, to purify the Temple. But this is not the first time a great revelation took place in this manner, for Abraham also ascended to Mount Moriah, together with Isaak on the colt of an ass. The only-begotten son of Abraham and Sarah — the foundation of the Holy Nation — is taken by his father on a saddled donkey, to the site where Jerusalem would stand, to the Mount of Moriah, even then a sacred mountain, to fulfil the word of God and to offer his only-begotten son. Abraham also fastens the wood of his sacrifice on the back of his son Isaak, as Christ in a few days will carry the wood of His Sacrifice upon His back to another mount.
....Today, we see the connection between the Old Testament prophecy and the fulfilment in Jesus Christ. For as Abraham — the father of the Holy Nation — took his son, the foundation of the Holy Nation to offer him according to God's command, so now the Only-Begotten Son of God the Father ascends into Jerusalem and up to the Mount of Moriah to proclaim the holiness of the Temple, and to prepare for His Own Sacrifice, in order to found the new nation called after Him. Isaak could not be a satisfactory sacrifice, for God did not desire a human sacrifice, but He desired to establish the Holy Nation in a spirit of obedience and also in a spirit of prophecy. For, as He established the Holy Nation as a testimony of His relationship and love for mankind, so His Only-Begotten Son would establish the New Covenant — the New Church, the new nation called after Himself, in order to reveal His co-suffering love with mankind, in order to redeem mankind from its bondage and his fall.
....Today, our Lord Jesus Christ enters into Jerusalem and the people come out because of the miracles that He has worked, and some, perhaps even with understanding cry: "Hosanna! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!" Yet, that same crowd a few days later would cry out with malice, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
....Why is it that Christ chose a colt rather than riding on a full-grown beast? It is because He was establishing something new, because the colt had not been ridden and the full-grown beast was a type of the Old Testament — the colt, a type of the New, that Christ Himself was now ushering in. Our Lord Jesus Christ, coming into the city and ascending up to the Mount of Moriah does something seemingly uncharacteristic — He goes into the porch of the Temple where the money-changers, who, in the exchange of money, daily swindled the pilgrims and those who had come to sincerely worship. Others sold the animals that were necessary for sacrifice, but at an extortionist rate and they were robbing simple and innocent pilgrims. But why is it Our Lord comes only at this time into the Temple and overturns the tables of the money changers and merchants? Because He is revealing to us something that He will again reveal with the fig tree. Now He comes into the Temple proclaiming again that the Holy Nation had fallen into a completely worldly mode of thought and forsaken its first love — the love of God — that Israel had again rejected the Prophets who had come to speak and proclaim the word of God. They had fallen into a more worldly mode of existence, forgetting the spiritual and remembering only the political, forgetting the aspirations and remembering the ambition, forgetting the Heavenly Kingdom and focusing upon an earthly kingdom. In truth, they did not desire a Heavenly King but they desired an earthly king; they did not desire a Saviour to grant them everlasting life, they desired a conquering tyrant to conquer and destroy their enemies. As He finished purging the Temple, many people came to Him to be healed, and the masses of healings struck the scribes and the Pharisees and the lawyers, probably with fear and certainly with envy. They came to Him and spitefully said, "Don't You hear what these people are saying? `Hosanna, blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord,' `Hosanna, the Son of David,'" They were enraged with Him that He allowed the people to call Him the Son of David, because they knew that they were proclaiming Him to be the Messiah. Christ only answers, "Truly, and have you never heard it said, `Out of the mouths of babes and suckling has He perfected praise?'"
....You see, brothers and sisters, how easy it is to forget, to misunderstand, to twist the meaning of the Holy Scripture when one has a worldly mode of thought instead of having a spiritual way of thinking and approaching it. Now Christ departs from the city. On the following day, he returned again into the city. As He approached Jerusalem, He sees a fig tree growing, and He approaches it, knowing full well that it didn't have fruit. But He approaches it, and seeing that it had no fruit He cursed the fig tree and it withered up quickly. The meaning of this action that Christ took in order to teach His disciples, was that the old Israel no longer bore the fruit of the Covenant. It no longer bore the fruit of its spousal relationship with God; it no longer proclaimed God and His word to the nations round about. And now it was withered and dried up, and would be replaced by a new tree which would bear fruit.
....The disciples marvel that the fig tree had withered up so quickly, and this only strengthened their faith in the supernatural powers of Jesus Christ, although yet they did not understand the fullness of His Person and the fullness of what it was He was about to accomplish. Still, they could rejoice in the Lord where others would abandon Him. Well did Avvakum say, "Though the fig tree shall bear no fruit... yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in God my Saviour." For Avvakum had also foreseen the withering of the fruit of Israel, and that the field would go fallow and no longer produce.
....And now Christ enters another time into Jerusalem, and the lawyers, once more wishing to tempt Him, ask Him: "By what authority are You doing these things?" For they desire either a confession with which they might catch Him, so that they might accuse Him of blasphemy and put Him on trial, or perhaps even some genuinely desired to know. But our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing the maliciousness of their hearts, instead of answering asked them a question: "Answer Me one thing, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The preaching of John — was it of God or of man?" They being devious and sly reasoned within themselves, "If we say it was of man, the people might stone us because they hold John as a prophet. But if we say it was of God, they will say, `Why did ye not hearken to Him?'" They said, "We cannot tell." And He said, "Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things." For had He told them that it was of God, they would have become angry and instead of listening and instead of searching the Scriptures, instead of seeking to know and to understand, they would have used His words to accuse Him, as later indeed they did.
....It is possible for each one of us to know what is right and yet to choose to do what is wrong, because of our passions, because of the condition of our heart, because of our egotism, our self-centredness and our self-love. So also now, though they might have known — those who proclaimed that they were the lawyers and the keepers of the Law — that they ought to search and to try to find and to see whether the words of Christ were true and whether the miracles that He did had actually been done, and to have examined the example of the life that He proclaimed before them. And yet we know that so many times, when the prophets spoke the truth to them and truly proclaimed the word of God, they were despised and hated, and many of them were stoned to death, and some were driven out of the cities; because the people did not wish to hear those things which censured their conscience, and which exposed the darkness of their hearts to the Light of God's Love and word. So it is now with the leaders of Israel — the Light of God's word shone forth from Jesus Christ and to some it was a joy, warmth, an illumination. But to those whose hearts were turned towards evil, it was a burning fire which pierced their hearts with a flame that ignited their conscience with malice, and with anger and with envy.
....Let us not pause at this reading, brothers and sisters, but continue on to the parable which follows. For in the parable that follows, Christ once more informs us that we are passing from the old into the new, and He is informing us that those who actually do the Will of God are the children of God, that those who actually follow after the word of God and obey Him with love are truly the sons of Abraham. Whether or not they were born according to the flesh sons of Abraham, they have been born according to the faith, according to love, according to obedience as the children of Abraham. For now He speaks a parable, and He tells us that a man who had two sons came to the first — the eldest — and said, "Son, go and work in my vineyard." And he answered and said, "I will not." But afterwards he repented and he went anyway. And to the second he came and said, "Go and work in the vineyard," and this son said, "Yes, I'll go." But then he didn't go, he lied to his father. "Now which of the two did the father's will?" And they said, "Well, the first one." And Jesus said unto them, "Truly I tell you that the publicans and the harlots will enter into the Kingdom of God before you." He said, "John came to you in the way of righteousness and you wouldn't believe him, but the publicans and harlots believed him. And you, when you had seen it did not repent afterwards, that you might believe in him." Now, what is He telling us here? Even those who might have had a promise, even those who were sons of the household, if they did not obey the Father and behave as members of the household, would be cast out. But those who were not members of the household, yet responded with love and obedience to the word of God — these would be accounted as His children. And the power of repentance is so boldly proclaimed here, because the publicans and the harlots, when they heard the preaching of John were touched to the heart and their conscience was opened and they repented and tried to correct themselves and struggle to have an inner transformation, just as Zacchaeus had done when he saw Christ from the sycamore tree. Those who felt that they were the children of the promise agreed that they would go and work in the vineyard of God, but in fact they did not, and consequently they would lose the promise and the promise would be given to those who would bear fruit. So again, we see this transition from something old to something new, that there is a change taking place in the whole order of God's relationship with mankind.
....And now, a much more damning parable — He speaks about a certain householder who planted a vineyard, and prepared it to bear fruit, and when the time came, he let it out to those who would lease it, and then he went away on a long journey. Now the people who leased the vineyard would have to give a certain portion of the fruit to the owner of the vineyard, and that was how they paid the lease. So at the time when the fruit should have been ripe, the owner of the vineyard sent his men to collect his share of the fruits that were owed to him, and the people who leased the vineyard beat these servants and cast them out, and some of them they even killed. Here of course Christ is talking about the Old Testament prophets, because He established Israel, as it says in one of the Psalms: "...this vineyard which Thou hast planted with Thine Own right hand, establish it, O Lord." And this refers to the prophets that He sent to constantly correct Israel and to ask Israel to bring forth the true fruits of charity and the kindness toward other human beings that the prophets proclaimed, to care for the widows and the orphans, to genuinely care about other people, and to care about those who had nothing. To care about humanity was an integral part of their relationship with God, and He sends the prophets to try to call the people round, to understand this and to fulfil their obligation this way. But they despised the prophets and would not listen to them. And then he says that the lord of the vineyard afterwards sent his own son saying "They will reverence him." And when they saw the son, they decided to kill him, so that they could take possession of the vineyard. Here, He is speaking precisely about Himself, and that God, having sent the prophets, and the prophets not being listened to, now He sends His only Son, saying, "They will reverence Him and they will listen to Him." And they kill Him, and cast Him out because they do not wish to hear His words.
....Then Our Lord speaks to them something that they understood very clearly, and very profoundly: "Did ye never read in the Scripture the stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our sight. And whoever shall fall on the stone shall be broken, but on whomever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." And the chief priests and Pharisees understood very well that He was speaking of them, and they were enraged and decided at that moment, that they wanted to kill Him.
....Let us hearken to these things and to this Gospel, because this Gospel was written for us, we are the husbandmen now, the ones who have leased out the vineyard. And Christ now also sends to us prophets and priests and teachers, and the word of God in the Scripture and the Divine Liturgy. If we do not hearken to them, if we do not render to God the fruits of our love, both for Him and for our neighbour and for all of humanity, then we will also be cast out and destroyed. The stone will also fall on us and grind us to powder. Christ Jesus is now preparing His disciples and all those for His Crucifixion and His Resurrection. And now, during this Holy Week which is approaching, let us also with fear and trembling, pass through these terrible days of Our Lord's suffering, that we might rejoice — with great joy — in His Resurrection. That we might render unto Him the fruits of love and of charity, and to the care for our neighbours, and to the care for mankind; that we might be gathered into His vineyard and inherit that vineyard in the fullness of time.
....Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has called us to Himself, and let us respond with joy, and understand how easy it is to turn away from Him toward a worldly way of thinking — to drive out His prophets, and above all that holy prophet which He has implanted in each one of us — our conscience. To hearken to our conscience as to a holy prophet, and to receive the word and to receive our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ — crucified, risen from the dead and ascended into the heavens — into our hearts, that we might experience that Paradise within our hearts already, and that we might not be cast out, as those who of old rejected Him when they saw Him face-to-face.

(Sermon on the eve of Holy Monday, The First Bridegroom Service)

....Yesterday, we marvelled at the raising of Lazarus. This morning we entered into Jerusalem with our Saviour and heard the cries of the people, "Hosanna...." We ascended Mount Moriah with Him as He purged the Temple precincts and we wandered together with the Apostles at the pronouncement against the fig tree. This evening we stand waiting for the Bridegroom, as we will for the following two evenings.
....Let us examine together this segment of Matthew's Gospel that we might bring all these mysteries together. Let us discover why Holy Week begins with the Bridegroom services. How do all the events fit together in Christ's revelation?
....Let us recall that the Covenant between God and Israel was a spousal relationship, not a treaty or legal agreement. To this all the prophets testified. How many of the prophets were scorned or even killed for proclaiming the truth? God has been the ever-faithful Bridegroom and Israel the unfaithful Bride. This is why the holy prophets used spousal language in their attempts to restore Israel.
....Now, instead of sending emissaries to recall Israel to the fulness of the Covenant, the Bridegroom Himself has come, moved by His Own co-suffering love for mankind. "He came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him."
....Christ did not enter Jerusalem as a triumphant king. He entered rather like a humble bridegroom coming in procession. As the Covenant was a spousal relationship, the Temple was the bridal chamber. It was here that Israel came to consummate her spousal relations, it was here that the banquet of the sacrifice was symbolically offered to God, a type of wedding feast offered to keep Israel faithful and maintain her bond with God. Now the Bridegroom appears and finds His bridal chamber defiled. "It is written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer,'" for prayer is the manner in which the earthly Bride communes with the heavenly Bridegroom.
....The problem was not that an essential service was being provided. People coming to the temple from afar needed to exchange money and they needed a place to purchase their sacrifices. The problem was that extortionist prices were being charged, and members of the temple clergy were profiteering. Moreover, this business was being conducted in the very precinct of the temple.
....A little later, Christ will explain all these things in His parable of the wedding feast. It yet remains, however, to explain the connection between the chastising of the fig tree and the purification of the Temple of the Bridegroom. Mark tells us that it was not the season for fruit to be found on the fig tree (11:13). Why then would Christ expect to find any? Surely this is a parable of another sort. Israel was more than a fig tree. The Bride should have expected to be fruitful to the Bridegroom and, moreover, to have recognized Him and received Him with joy. Does He not answer our question when He says that the Lord will come in an hour when He is not expected (24:42). Indeed, this is the very theme of our Bridegroom Services: "Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watchful..." Truly, the fruit of the fig tree was not season and the harvester was not expected, though for Israel there should have been no such limitation. Nor should there be for us, as our beloved father Paul, as if recalling the fig tree, admonishes Timothy, "Be alert both in season and out of season." Like the fig tree, if we do not keep watch and pray, we will find ourselves spiritually withered up and dead from the roots up when the Bridegroom comes. We know all too well from the parable of the wedding feast, that if we are not ready to enter in when He comes, there are yet others who can take our place as we are left outside in darkness — in darkness even while the light shines upon us.
....Therefore even as Paul cried out, "We are ambassadors of Christ and we beseech you on His behalf, become reconciled with God," so now I also beseech you on behalf of the heavenly Bridegroom. Take these Bridegroom services fully to heart. Lay aside all earthly cares and every frail human excuse. Watch and pray and be always in season with the fruits of pure love and sincere faith that your soul may rejoice at the sound of the Bridegroom's voice, and so that you may take your appointed place at the everlasting spiritual banquet in the Kingdom.


MATTHEW 22:1-46
Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh.
"He came unto His own, and His own received him not" (Jn.1:11).
(Sermon on the eve of Holy Monday, The Bridegroom Service)

....It is not only Christ Who is referred to as the "first-born" of God. In the Hebrew Scripture, Israel is also referred to as the "first-born." Israel was called and chosen by God to be a testimony among the nations to the oneness and sovereignty of God. Through the Holy Prophets, we understand that the Covenant was understood as a "spousal relationship" rather than a legal agreement. This metaphor makes it clear that the relationship between God and Israel was to be one of love and trust, not one of bondage and coercion. Separation from God always ended in defeat, destruction and death; union with God produced hope, peace and life. God is the only source of life and the source of all true hope and peace.
....In the parable of the vineyard, the lord of the estate has sent his servants to require the fruits of his land. We understand that the fruits of the vineyard which God has planted are love, trust, and obedience based in love and integrity, and the witness of the vinedressers to the world. The Lord has sent His servants, the prophets, to teach and to admonish that the nation offer such fruits of their lives to the Master. Many of the prophets were driven out, others were killed. Finally, the Master sends His own Son.
....The "Son" is the Incarnate God. He has come to His own, to His bride, Israel, and the leaders of the nation, so far from receiving Him, plot how to kill Him.
....While this parable and the revelation it offers is leading us into Holy Week, let us not waste our energy recriminating the Pharisees while the parable may well apply to each of us. Let us assimilate this Scripture to our own lives and bring it to life in our own experience. We also must react in some way when we are called to account for our stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. If we have become truly followers of Christ, He has promised to plant a vineyard of paradise in our hearts. Having accepted that promise, we have become responsible to render to Him the fruits of the grace and love that He has bestowed upon us. Let us all, therefore, take this parable as if it had been spoken of us. Has He not set the conscience in our minds to call upon us for the fruits of His grace and the faith that we have professed? Shall we seek to stone our conscience and silence it? Has the Divine Scripture not been given to us as God's servant to speak to our hearts and call upon us to render to God that which is God's, and to show forth the fruits of the faith, love and righteousness to which He has called us? Let no one think that this parable was spoken to others, but let each one of us accept it as a calling to our own hearts and respond to the Master by rendering to Him the fruits of His vineyard in due season, and not seek to drive out His servants and even to kill the presence of Christ in our hearts. It is not only that we will be called to account for what we have betrayed and misused, but that we shall suffer so great a loss as to be eternally inconsolable.

72 MATTHEW 22:1-14
The Bridegroom Services of Holy Week
Behold the Bridegroom Cometh in The Middle of the Night

... And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call those who were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
...Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the rest took his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them.
....When the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
....So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
....And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
....Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
....For many are called, but few are chosen.

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