I was blessed this week to visit a newborn, thanks Nicholas and Anna and Glory to God! Happy Father’s Day!!! Well I couldn’t help noticing how tiny she is. It caused me to reflect on my own children back when they had tiny little hands and feet and I know watch my grandkids with tiny little hands and feet as they become more and more independent. It is a process of needing help with everything and then becoming able to fend for themselves. Everything that we want on this Earth can possibly be in our grasp, in a matter of time. And in that thought we have our Gospel reading today reminding us that this life has limitations and we better quit grasping the world and focus our attentions and efforts on what comes next after this life, and the welfare of our families!
And so it is with our Christian walk. There is one true path to communion with God. It is in the church where the Apostles taught us how to become more like Christ. Here in the wild west of Christianity, where mostly faith alone has been allowed to guide people towards Christ, is a reflection of our independence, and not our dependence on offering up ourselves as a living sacrifice. However, we Orthodox are part of an ancient faith tradition that instructs us on a proven path. It is the fullness of the Christian faith. It is a true teaching on how to become more Christ-like! It is a path of sainthood. Keep practicing!!
A big part of that process is our prayer life. We certainly remember all of our brothers and sisters in our prayers. However, here at church, the names being sent back to the altar need to be only Orthodox. This week, Bishop Luke of Syracuse reminds us of that difference and cautions us to not practice renovationism and ecumenism in Orthodoxy. He directs us to Fr. John Boddecker, a professor at Jordanville Seminary who writes: “The Holy Fathers have seen the diskos as an image of the Heavenly Kingdom and the Church where our Lord reigns with all His saints. Because of this, the Church has only ever included in her commemorations at the Proskomedia those who are fit to receive of the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood and who may hope to have a share in the Heavenly Kingdom. Therefore, while we certainly must pray for our loved ones who are outside of the Church, during the Divine Liturgy we only commemorate the Orthodox living and departed.
Concerning this, our Father among the Saints, Symeon of Thessalonica, one of the greatest liturgical theologians of our Church’s Tradition, says the following: “There is no place here on the diskos for unbelievers, let alone for the heterodox. ‘For what communion, does light have with darkness?’, since, Scripture says, the angels will separate out the evil from the midst of the just. Therefore it is also not at all right for a priest to make an offering for a heterodox or to make a commemoration of him; neither is he permitted to do so for those openly sinning and unrepentant. For the offering is to their condemnation, just as it is also for the unrepentant who receive communion of the awe-inspiring mysteries, as the divine Paul says.”
The particle of the one improperly commemorated at the Proskomedia before the Liturgy, by being placed in such close proximity to the Lamb, which will become Christ, and on the diskos, imaging the heavenly kingdom, is like that man who sought entry into the wedding feast of the Heavenly Bridegroom without the proper wedding garment and so was expelled. And not only this, but as St Symeon also points out, “the particle that is placed near the eucharistic Bread, when that becomes the Body of Christ in the course of the Liturgy, the particle too is immediately sanctified. And when it is placed in the Chalice, it is united with the holy Blood. That is why it transmits divine grace to the soul of the one for whom it is offered. So a spiritual communion takes place between that person and Christ. If the person commemorated is among the godly, or those who have sinned but then repented, that person receives the communion of the Holy Spirit invisibly in his soul.” Here again, we must keep in mind the warning of St Paul about the risks of improper reception of the Eucharist: “29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body,” (I Corinthians 11:27–32) and recognize that it is not fitting that we should commemorate at the Proskomedia those who, either because they are outside of the Church or because they are living in unrepentant sin, would be unfit to receive from the Chalice themselves in the course of the Divine Liturgy, were they in attendance.” (https://orthodoxlife.org/ecclesiology/against-commemoration-heterodox/)
Well in the course of the liturgy, we pray for everyone in the church and those outside the true faith, but we do so in generalized form in our litanies. The paper list on the candle stand where you add names needs to be only Orthodox names. These names are read during the augmented litany and then we carry those lists over to the table of oblation where we read those names again during the preparation of the Lamb, at the next liturgy. You however can also remember everybody by name through the course of the service and certainly light a candle for them. You can fill your commemoration books with everybody’s name you want, put a dollar in your book and place in our basket in the narthex. This dollar goes into the priest fund where it is used to help the needy. And in our commemoration books, we do separate those practicing the Orthodox Faith and those on a different path. But all those names are read sometime during the course of the liturgy in the altar.
We also find a prayer in our Jordanville prayer book a pray for the apostates. That is for those who have left the ancient Orthodox faith. This is a particularly sad prayer for me and I think this Gospel reading this morning speaks directly to this condition. Something or someone has become more important than God! (Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30) They have allowed Eden to inspire their ability to chose their paths, and will surely fail and most certainly blame God for their failures. Everything in their lives will be a mess, a garden full of weeds.
On this day in America we honor our fathers with prayer and our precious time. We celebrate what a father is, not the poor lost soul glorified by follywood, but one who is detached from the world and clinging to the cross with all that he is. Our goal as a father is someone who puts his family ahead of his own needs, he asks forgiveness when he is wrong, he shows humility in his actions and his words. And most of all, he puts God first in his daily choices and brings his family to church. He prays together with his family and he loves his family as Christ loves the church! (Ephesians 5:25) We fathers will keep working to stay on that path! It is an active arena of choices, the forbidden choice of Eden, or the presence of God. Our future depends on how successful we are at rooting Christ deep into our children’s being. Choose wisely, be saintly!!