Monday, March 6, 2017

The Great Fast is a Gift

Yesterday was a joyous celebration throughout the Orthodox Christian world. Churches in every village and city declared the triumph of Orthodoxy with processions of Holy Icons, some even exiting the Church for public processions. Here in America the day is often celebrated with Pan Orthodox Vespers during which faith and clergy from all Orthodox Christian jurisdictions gather as a sign of solidarity in the ancient and true faith of Orthodoxy.

Today we begin our second week of the Great Fast leaving the joy of the Sunday of Orthodoxy behind us. The still much of the Great Fast ahead, I would like to draw you attention today to the reading from Genesis, specifically the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. For many Christians in the West this verse is completely misinterpreted as God’s punishment for disobedience. In the spirit of yesterday’s Feast of Orthodoxy, we should always strive to read the Scriptures from the Orthodox Christian point of view. In this light, I invite you, maybe even for the first time, to read this passage not as God punishing humanity but saving humanity. Let me explain.

If our ancestors had eaten from the Tree of Life in their fallen state, they and by extension we, would be eternally fallen. As an act of salvation, God expelled our ancestors from the Tree of Life, until such time as He had healed the fallen condition. Now through the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ, we can now live eternally reunited with God through His incarnation. The Great Fast is a time for us to reorient our attitude and appreciate our relationship with God as a gift rather than punishment. Start with this...the Great Fast is a gift, not punishment. I invite you to spend this week with salvation in your sights. It really helps.

Here are today’s readings...
Old Testament Readings: Isaiah 4:2-5:7 (RSV) - In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.  And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, every one who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.  Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy and a pavilion.  It will be for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.  Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He digged it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.  What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?  And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.  I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!
 Genesis 3:21-4:7 (RSV) -  And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.  Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever"- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.  Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD."  And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.  In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."
 Proverbs 3:34-4:22 (RSV) - Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.  The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching.  When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me, and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Get wisdom; get insight.  Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.  The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.  Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her.  She will place on your head a fair garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.  I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.  When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.  Keep hold of instruction, do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.  Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil men.  Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.  For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made some one stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.  But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.  The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.

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