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Monday, October 27, 2008

Pentecost

Before posting the notes on Acts 2, I decided to place our lesson on Pentecost from last year first. This provides much of the background material to understand some of the significance of what is happening in Acts 2.

As the name Pentecost indicates (pentekoste), this second of the great Jewish national festivals was observed on the 50th day, or 7 weeks, from the Paschal Feast, and therefore in the Old Testament it was called "the feast of weeks." It is but once mentioned in the historical books of the Old Testament (2Ch 8:12,13), from which reference it is plain, however, that the people of Israel, in Solomon’s day, were perfectly familiar with it: "offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the set feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles." The requirements of the three great festivals were then well understood at this time, and their authority was founded in the Mosaic Law and unquestioned. The festival and its ritual were minutely described in this Law. Every male in Israel was on that day required to appear before the Lord at the sanctuary (Ex 34:22,23). It was the first of the two agrarian festivals of Israel and signified the completion of the barley-harvest (Le 23:15,16; De 16:9,10), which had begun at the time of the waving of the first ripe sheaf of the first-fruits (Le 23:11). Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, therefore fell on the 50th day after this occurrence. The wheat was then also nearly everywhere harvested (Ex 23:16; 34:22; Nu 28:26), and the general character of the festival was that of a harvest-home celebration. The day was observed as a Sabbath day, all labor was suspended, and the people appeared before Yahweh to express their gratitude (Le 23:21; Nu 28:26). The central feature of the day was the presentation of two loaves of leavened, salted bread unto the Lord (Le 23:17,20; Ex 34:22; Nu 28:26; De 16:10).* The size of each loaf was fixed by law. It must contain the tenth of an ephah, about three quarts and a half, of the finest wheat flour of the new harvest (Le 23:17). Later Jewish writers are very minute in their description of the preparation of these two loaves (Josephus, Ant, III, x, 6). According to the Mishna (Menachoth, xi.4), the length of the loaf was 7 handbreadths, its width 4, its depth 7 fingers. Le 23:18 describes the additional sacrifices required on this occasion. It was a festival of good cheer, a day of joy. Free-will offerings were to be made to the Lord (De 16:10), and it was to be marked by a liberal spirit toward the Levite, the stranger, and orphans and widows (De 16:11,14). Perhaps the command against gleaning harvest-fields has a bearing on this custom (Le 23:22).

Also, in the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law to Moses and thus the creation of Israel.

In the new covenant of the Messiah, the passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection, the "exodus" of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the "new law," the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ. It is the recreation of Israel.

On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah. For this reason the fiftieth day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.

Just as the OT Jews offered the First Fruits of harvest to God, Christ fulfills this OT feast by becoming the First Fruits of the resurrection.

*In Orthodoxy, we use leavened bread for communion rather than unleavened bread. The Eastern church has always done so and there has never been a concern for using the exact type of bread as used at the Last Supper. The OCA site states: "Christ "leavens" our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to "recreate" or "reproduce" a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord's command." I do have to wonder if the use of leavened bread at Pentecost may account for the original usage of leavened bread. Comments are welcome on this point

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Acts 1 - Intro & Ascension

The notes on Acts are merely comments that were made in our Adult Class at St. Michael Orthodox in Louisville. They are in no way comprehensive, and no substitution for reading the text. When posting them online, I will try to pretty them up a little so that they are more comprehensible than the notes I would use while teaching.

In effect the book of Acts is Luke part 2. This becomes apparent when comparing the introductions of both books. Luke addresses each to a person named Theophilus. The identity of the man is unknown, and some surmise it was a catechumen in the early church or because it means “lover of God” the name could refer to a generic new Christian or catechumen.

Luke was a physician and traveling companion of Paul; so many parts of the book are first hand accounts. He was a Gentile and is the only Gentile writer in Scripture

The book was written n the 60’s. We can determine this because he neither mentions the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 nor mentions the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.

The epistle is read right after Pascha, and throughout the Paschal season. By dong so, the Church teaches us the implications of the Resurrection or the first fruits of the resurrection of Christ in the world.

4. Promise of the Father – Holy Spirit

9. Chrysostom sees the clouds in the ascension as a fulfillment of Ps 17:10-14 ; 96:1 & 2

9-11. The Ascension is an integral part of our faith, and it is as necessary to our salvation as other events in the life of Christ. For in the Ascension Christ becomes enthroned and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ brings human nature to the very throne of God—to the presence of the Father. Because of this man can know have access to communion with Father because man’s nature sits at the right hand of the Father. Now that man’s nature has been deified, he is able to dwell with God eternally. Thus it is only after the ascension that the HS can come because only then is mankind able to receive the HS in fullness.

The way the icon of the Ascension is written, it becomes hard to see if Christ is coming or going. This is intentional because just as he departed He will come, and He is eternally present with us.

Replacement of Judas 15-26

20. Ps 68:26

20b. Ps. 108:8 - The whole Psalm speaks of the unbelieving Judas and is prayed at the Thrid Royal Hour on Holy Friday.

-the word office here is episcopos, from which we get our word bishopric.

23. Matthias: The Holy Apostle Matthias was born at Bethlehem of the Tribe of Judah. From his early childhood he studied the Law of God under the guidance of St Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3).

When the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the world, St Matthias believed in Him as the Messiah, followed constantly after Him and was numbered among the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord "sent them two by two before His face" (Luke 10:1).

After the Ascension of the Savior, St Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles (Acts 1:15-26). After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthias preached the Gospel at Jerusalem and in Judea together with the other Apostles (Acts 6:2, 8:14). From Jerusalem he went with the Apostles Peter and Andrew to Syrian Antioch, and was in the Cappadocian city of Tianum and Sinope. Here the Apostle Matthias was locked into prison, from which he was miraculously freed by St Andrew the First-Called.

The Apostle Matthias journeyed after this to Amasea, a city on the shore of the sea. During a three year journey of the Apostle Andrew, St Matthias was with him at Edessa and Sebaste. According to Church Tradition, he was preaching at Pontine Ethiopia (presently Western Georgia) and Macedonia. He was frequently subjected to deadly peril, but the Lord preserved him to preach the Gospel.

Once, pagans forced the saint to drink a poison potion. He drank it, and not only did he himself remain unharmed, but he also healed other prisoners who had been blinded by the potion. When St Matthias left the prison, the pagans searched for him in vain, for he had become invisible to them. Another time, when the pagans had become enraged intending to kill the Apostle, the earth opened up and engulfed them.

The Apostle Matthias returned to Judea and did not cease to enlighten his countrymen with the light of Christ's teachings. He worked great miracles in the Name of the Lord Jesus and he converted a great many to faith in Christ.

The Jewish High Priest Ananias hated Christ and earlier had commanded the Apostle James, Brother of the Lord, to be flung down from the heights of the Temple, and now he ordered that the Apostle Matthias be arrested and brought for judgment before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem.

The impious Ananias uttered a speech in which he blasphemously slandered the Lord. Using the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Apostle Matthias demonstrated that Jesus Christ is the True God, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, Consubstantial and Coeternal with God the Father. After these words the Apostle Matthias was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and stoned.

When St Matthias was already dead, the Jews, to hide their malefaction, cut off his head as an enemy of Caesar. (According to several historians, the Apostle Matthias was crucified, and indicate that he instead died at Colchis.) The Apostle Matthias received the martyr's crown of glory in the year 63. (from OCA website)

Barsabas (Justus): January 4 St Justus, called Barsaba, a son of St Joseph the Betrothed, was chosen in place of Judas, together with Matthias. He was a bishop and died a martyr's death at Eleutheropolis. He is also commemorated on October 30 (from OCA)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Christianity in Ethiopia


The most that many Christians know about Christianity in Ethiopia is Deacon Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Some may be familiar with the Queen of Sheba's brief encounter with Solomon in the OT, but this is as far as it goes. Ethiopia was one of the first countries to embrace Christianity en masse, and it was partly due to the Eunuch's witness.

Our parish has a significant population of Ethiopian Christians, and because of this I have had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to their culture and piety. This past year our parish supported an orphanage in Ethiopian. One of our parishioners, Meskerem Eshetu, visited the orphange on behalf of the parish. Being native to Ethiophia, Meskerem decided to spend more time in Ethiopia and visit the holy sites that she had wanted to visit since a child.

This upcoming Sunday, October 26 at 9:30 am, Meskerem will be doing a presentation in our church hall on the orphanage as well as the history of Christianity in Ethiopia.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Dynamic Horologion and Psalter

Yesterday I found a wonderful prayer resource on the web. It is called the Dynamic Horologion and Psalter. For the non-Orthodox, the Horologion is the service book for the prayers of the hours which includes: Vespers, Compline, the Midnight Service, Matins, First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour & Ninth Hour. You can click on the service and the site will give you the service with the daily variable prayers and commemorations in place as well. There are multiple options available such as choosing particular Psalms, the current Kathisma (daily Psalm section), and daily Troparion/Kontakion (short chorus like prayers).

The designer of this work provides the following qualifications:

"Please note, this Horologion is not a complete Orthodox service book. Although it provides access to the normal weekly hourly services for non-feast days, it still lacks many features including the following:

  • Canons and Akathists such as Sunday Midnight and the Akathist to the Mother of God.
  • It currently ignores the feats/alleluia days and Lenten services.
  • It does not contain the Typica or a Lectionary.

Some of these things are in the works, but others are not planned at this time. Please report any bugs, typos, suggestions, comments, or criticism to the email listed at the bottom of the page. You'll have to put email address together by running it all together and replacing the "dot" with a "." and the "at:" with an @. Unfortunately due to spam, measures like these are necessary to prevent email address harvesting. Thank you and peace be with you!

Purpose:

This site was created for busy Orthodox Christians who for various reasons are forced to be online for long periods of time, but who still want to be able to incorporate the Psalms and hourly prayer services into their daily prayer life. As such, the dynamic Horologion will automatically display the current prayer service as read when a priest is not available (i.e. a reader's service) and/or the current kathisma for whatever time it is, while still allowing you to manually view the services if you want to view the services for the day at any time. So if you just wanted to read say, Matins, you can get the Matins service for the day at anytime during the day.

For more information about the Horologion, Psalter, or this site, please click on the navigation links on the left."

This is an excellent resource and for those who use a PDA could make this liturgical resource extremely practical.

http://orthodox.seasidehosting.st/seaside/home

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sword in the Fire is back

I became a little lazy with the blog, and I am really backed up on Church School notes. Currently we are going through Acts, so I am going to try to get the notes caught up for Acts, and then go back to the previous lessons missed. By tagging the posts you could click on the tag and get everything in the category. So even if my chronological posting is off, one could still see all the notes together.

Here's a thought for the day that seems appropriate considering the blog title:

As at the rising of the sun over the horizon the shroud of darkness is removed from the face of the earth, so that it shows itself in all its beauty, so likewise when the love of Christ shines forth in the soul and the veil of the old nature is taken away, the light of Christ shines forth in it, and the hidden things that were not visible before are now seen by it. And as iron when placed in a fire has the fire pass into it to become one substance with it, the iron united with the fire assuming its likeness and colour, no longer appearing in its former aspect, but becoming like the fire, because they have become absorbed in each other and have become one, so it is when the love of Christ has come into the soul as a living fire which burns away the thorns of sin from the soul; it becomes one substance with him and he with it; then the soul which was old, becomes new; dead it comes alive; and the likeness of its own nature is changed into the likeness of God. And now everything it see appears to it as the likeness of God (for it is granted to created beings to behold the works of God spiritually), and it becomes absorbed in love for all humankind, so that if it could it would let itself perish, so that all humans might live.

St. John of Apamea

H/T Thicket & Thorp

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