Thursday, January 7, 2016

Learning from the Church Calendar

Today’s Gospel Reading: John 1:29-34 - At that time, John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."
The day after the Feast of Theophany the Church commemorates the Synaxis of Saint John the Baptist, the Prophet and Forerunner. You can always tell what the Church teaches about a saint or feast by the way the calendar fluctuates. For example, yesterday was the Feast of Theophany and even though it was a Wednesday, it was a fast-free day. Compare that with the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, another of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, but if the Feast happens to fall on a Wednesday or Friday, the fast is only lightened (fish and oil are allowed) but not eliminated. There are many other ways to understand the Church teachings by interpreting the services used to celebrate the feasts. Take notice of the Scripture readings and hymns and you will better understand the expression of the Church.

For example, since today the Church honors the memory of Saint John the Baptist, who lived a life of total humility and always turned attention toward God rather than himself. It speaks volumes that the Church highlights a Scripture reading in which John the Baptist positions himself was not even knowing who Jesus was until AFTER the Baptism. YET.....moments before actually baptizing Jesus, he said, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” (Matthew 3.14) It seems clear that John the Baptist knew who Jesus was. They were cousins after all. So was this false humility?

There was never any false humility in John the Baptist. In today’s reading, true to form for the Baptist, our attention in turned toward God’s revelation of Jesus rather than John’s rank. We can be assured of John’s greatness by focusing on the words of Christ Who said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11.11) What better way to celebrate the greatest humble man than to emphasize God’s revelation rather than his greatness! The Church is filled with examples of such nuances in the services and calendar of the Church. In this new year I encourage you to make more effort to pay attention to the Church calendar and learn from the choices the Church has made in our celebrations.

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