Orthodox Daily Devotional December 16-22
Colossian 3:When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
**More from the Orthodox Study Bible.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (5: 14, 15). One of the great prophetic themes of the Old Testament concerning the promised Messiah is that the Father would send His Son “to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” (Lk 4: 18; see also Is 49: 8; 61: 1). The ministry of Christ was one of numerous healings of “all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of disease” (Mt 4: 23). In addition, Jesus healed darkened hearts and minds as He released people from demonic oppression. Like their Master before them, the early apostles participated in God’s work of healing as well, attributing their miracles to the risen and ascended Christ. “Jesus the Christ heals you,” Peter told a newly restored man who had been bedridden for eight years (Acts 9: 34). St. Paul identified healing as a gift of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12: 9). Thus, the New Testament foundation was established for the healing ministry to be a part of the sacramental life of the Church (Jam 5: 14, 15). Healings throughout history. The Orthodox Church has never believed or behaved as though the gifts of the Spirit or the healing miracles of Christ have somehow passed away. Did not Jesus promise, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (Jn 14: 12)?
Healing, cont. St. Ireneaus, writing at the close of the second century, speaks of miracles in his day: “Some drive out devils . . . some have foreknowledge of the future . . . others heal the sick through the laying on of hands . . . and even the dead have been raised up before now and have remained with us for many years.” The writings of other Church Fathers speak often of miracles within the Church. Quite widely known are the supernatural healings Christ performs through St. Seraphim of Sarov, an eighteenth-century Russian monk. He was blessed with the gift of healing during his lifetime, and even after his departure many people have been restored to wholeness at his graveside. The practice of the Church today. To this day, the Orthodox practice of prayer for the sick follows the New Testament instruction of St. James. The Orthodox Church has a special service of healing, which may be performed at any time. The presbyter prays for the ill person, anointing him with oil and saying, “O Lord Almighty, Healer of our souls and bodies, who put down and raise up, who chastise and heal also, visit now in Your mercy our brother or sister, N., who is ill. Stretch forth Your arm, which is full of healing and health, and raise (him/ her) up from this bed, and cure this illness. Put away the spirit of disease and every malady and pain and fever. And if (he/ she) has committed sins and transgressions, grant remission and forgiveness, because You love mankind.” As Orthodox Christians we pray, neither commanding God to heal nor doubting His ability to heal, but pleading for His promised mercy on all who are ill.
Even as believing Christians, we must not take the outcome of God’s final judgment for granted. In every Divine Liturgy Orthodox Christians pray, “For a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ, let us pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy.” Romans 2: 2– 16 describes God’s judgment, showing how we can prepare ourselves for it. God’s righteous judgment will be: 1. According to truth (2: 2, 3): Nothing is hidden from God. He sees everything and knows the truth about each of us. One of mankind’s great self-deceptions is to say, “Who sees us?” (Is 29: 15) and think there is no judgment. 2. According to impenitent hearts (2: 4, 5): An unrepentant or hard heart despises God’s goodness, treasuring up the wrath of God at the judgment. A repentant heart, on the other hand, is grateful for God’s patience and abides in Christ, practicing a lifetime of repentance, which produces confidence before Him at the judgment (1Jn 2: 28). 3. According to our deeds (2: 6– 15): The “doing good” referred to in 2: 7 is not an attempt to gain merit with God. Rather, it is the unity of intentions with actions, faith with works. Even unbelievers are rewarded for good works, apart from spiritual understanding (2: 14, 15). But note the following: (a) “Doing good” means seeking God’s glory (2: 10), not our own glory; God’s honor, not our own honor; the eternal reward of immortality, not reward here and now. “Doing good” is seeking first the Kingdom of God (Mt 6: 33). (b) Good intentions alone, or faith without works, will not save (2: 13). Simply to hear and not do is religion without reality. Those with true faith, “the doers” of the truth, practice virtue from pure and repentant hearts (Jam 1: 21– 27).
God’s Judgement cont…
(c) “By nature” (v. 14) people are inspired by and cooperate with God’s grace. Therefore, good deeds are natural to us, whereas evil deeds are contrary to nature. Because we all fail, we need God’s mercy (3: 9– 19). The presence of God’s law in our conscience (2: 15) condemns anything we do contrary to true human nature. Therefore, even Gentiles— people not under the Law of Moses, those who do not know of Christ— have an internal law from God, the natural law written in their hearts, according to which God will judge them. Melchizedek, Job, and the Ninevites are Old Testament examples of non-Jews judged to be righteous. Jews, then, have two laws from God— the Law of Moses and conscience— and are accountable to Him for both (2: 12). (d) Those who are condemned choose to reject God. There is no automatic, fated condemnation: God’s just judgment of us is based on our exercise of free will. Although sin impairs our powers, it does not destroy God’s image in us or our free will. 4. By Jesus Christ (2: 16): In the day of judgment we are not judged directly by God the Father, whom we cannot see, but by the incarnate Son whom we do see, Christ Jesus (Acts 17: 31; see Jn 3: 16– 21, 35, 36). Christ will judge on the basis of the light He Himself has given to each of us (Jn 1: 9) and our response to His light (Jn 3: 16– 21). “The secrets of men” (Rom 2: 16) are “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4: 12).
The Virgin Mary:
For two thousand years the Church has preserved the memory of the Virgin Mary as the prototype of all Christians— the model of what we are to become in Christ. Mary was truly pure and unconditionally obedient to God. The tradition of the Church holds that Mary remained a virgin all her life (see note on Mt 12: 46– 50). While lifelong celibacy is not a model for all Christians to follow, Mary’s spiritual purity, her wholehearted devotion to God, is certainly to be emulated. Mary is also our model in that she was the first person to receive Jesus Christ. As Mary bore Christ in her womb physically, all Christians now have the privilege of bearing God within them spiritually. By God’s grace and mercy we are purified and empowered to become like Him. The honor we give to Mary also signifies our view of who Jesus is. From early times the church has called her Mother of God (Gr. Theotokos, lit. “God-Bearer”), a title which implies that her Son is both fully man and fully God. As His Mother, Mary was the source of Jesus’ human nature; yet the One she bore in her womb was also the eternal God. Therefore, because of her character and especially because of her role in God’s plan of salvation, Christians appropriately honor Mary as the first among the saints. The archangel Gabriel initiated this honor in his address to her: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Lk 1: 28). This salutation clearly indicates that God Himself had chosen to honor Mary. Her favored status was confirmed when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was then six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth greeted Mary with these words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1: 42, 43). And Mary herself, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the honor that would be paid her throughout history: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1: 48). In obedience to God’s clear intention, therefore, the Orthodox Church honors Mary in icons, hymns, and special feast days. We entreat her, as the human being who was most intimate with Christ on earth, to intercede with her Son on our behalf. We ask her, as the first believer and the Mother of the Church, for guidance and protection. We venerate her— but we do not worship her, for worship belongs to God alone.
Parables are stories in word-pictures, revealing spiritual truth. The Hebrew and Aramaic words for parable also mean “allegory,” “riddle,” or “proverb.” The Scriptures, especially the Gospels, are filled with parables— images drawn from daily life in the world to represent and communicate the deep things of God. Parables give us glimpses of Him whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways (Is 55: 8, 9). The truth communicated by Jesus’ parables, however, is not evident to all who hear them. The listener must have spiritual ears to hear, and even then not all have the same degree of understanding. Thus, Jesus’ statement that “to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Mark 4: 11) may be translated, “. . . all things come in riddles.” Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 6: 9, 10 (Mt 13: 14, 15) does not mean He used parables to blind the people or to lead them to punishment. On the contrary, it demonstrates that the people are responsible for their own lack of receptivity: having grown dull and insensitive, they are unwilling to accept the message of the parables. As the mission of Isaiah in the Old Testament was to open the eyes of Israel to see the acts of God, so the parables of Jesus are intended to open the eyes of His hearers to the truth and lead them to produce the fruit of righteousness. Parables challenge the hearer and call for faith to perceive the mysteries of the Kingdom. Insight into God’s Kingdom does not come simply through an intellectual understanding of the parables. Spiritual enlightenment is essentially a communication of faith in the Person, words, and deeds of the Lord Jesus Christ.