Thursday, March 9, 2017

Faith Comes First

Today is the Feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastia and the Church allows for an “extra” Presanctified Liturgy. I take this as an excellent opportunity to remind you that as Orthodox Christians our goal is to keep the Holy Traditions of the Church as primary. During the Great Fast, the only “regular” Divine Liturgies are scheduled on Saturdays, Sunday or on the Feast of Annunciation. So today, even though it is a feast, we do not celebrate a regular Liturgy since that would be considered too much of a celebration.

In recent years I have encountered many “otherwise faithful” people who depart easily from the Holy Traditions of the Great Fast to celebrate various events. It seems to me that many people act as if it is impossible to keep the fast for more than a few days. Many behave as if their birthday or anniversary cannot be celebrated in a Lenten manner. What is Lenten manner?

Just like the Church offers the Presanctified Liturgy during the weekdays of the Great Fast because a regular Liturgy is considered too celebratory, we should learn to celebrate other events in our life in the same fashion. So if your birthday or anniversary or other important days happen to occur during the Great Fast, consider the Holy Tradition of the Church. Here’s an example. The Feast of Saint George is delayed if it occurs during the Great Fast. Instead it is celebrated on Bright Monday, the day after Pascha. Let’s face it, we reschedule celebrations all the time for other less important reasons. How many times have you said, “We’ll celebrate your birthday next weekend,” because you have to work the actual day? Well if we can move a birthday from Tuesday to Saturday so we don’t miss work, why not delay it until after Pascha so we can attend Church? Is work more important than Church?

If you must celebrate your birthday during the Great Fast, I invite you to keep the fast and character of Great Lent. Instead of going out dancing, stay home and enjoy a quite family night talking or building a puzzle. Rather than going out for prime rib, try a new health food restaurant and enjoy a healthy (and Lenten) salad with grilled shrimp. In this way, you will be keeping the special event in perspective while still remembering that your faith comes first. Orthodoxy is a way of life, and it about time we start living it.

Here are the readings for today:
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 12:1-10 (RSV) - BRETHREN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father.
 Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16 (RSV) - The Lord said this parable, "The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen."

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