Daily Devotional for January 30 – February 6
**We will begin a series on the Gospels with commentary from Archbishop Averky*
Luke 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which [a]have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having [b]had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
The preface of the four Gospels can be regarded to be the first four verses of the first chapter of Luke, in which the Apostle speaks of the careful study done for everything that he writes and describes the purpose of writing the Gospel: to know the firm basis of the Christian teachings. To this end, the Apostle John the Theologian adds in the 31st paragraph of the 20th chapter of his Gospel “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name.”
As can be seen from St. Luke’s preface, he undertook the writing of his Gospel because by that time there had appeared fairly numerous similar works but lacking in authority and unsatisfactory in substance. He also regarded it as his responsibility (from his desire to reaffirm in the Faith one “sovereign Theophilus” and, at the same time, all Christians in general) to write an epistle on the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, carefully checking all the data from the words of “eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.” Because he was, apparently, only one apostle of the seventy disciples of Christ and therefore could not be a witness to all events — such as the birth of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, and the meeting of Christ in the temple — he undoubtedly wrote a significant part of his Gospel from the words of eyewitnesses; that is, on the basis of tradition (here we can see the importance of tradition, which is rejected by Protestants and sectarians).
The foremost and most important eyewitness to the very early events of the Gospel’s history was surely the Holy Virgin Mary. Saint Luke specifically notes twice that she kept the recollections of all these events, retaining them in her heart (Luke 2:19 and 2:51).
There can be no doubt that the pre-eminence of the Gospel of Luke over other writings that existed before his is found in that he wrote only after a thorough examination of facts and the strict sequence of events. This pre-eminence over other writings is shared by the other three Evangelists, as two of them — Matthew and John — were of Christ’s original twelve disciples (they themselves were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word) while the third, Mark, wrote from the words of Christ’s closest disciple and an assured eyewitness and close participant in the Gospel’s events — the Apostle Peter.
The purpose given by St. John is seen particularly clearly in his Gospel, which is full of jubilant eyewitness of the Lord Jesus Christ’s divinity. But naturally, the other three Evangelists also have the same goal.
Prayer: We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee, for by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.
John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [a]comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That[b] was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His [c]own, and His [d]own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the [e]right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me [f]is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”
16 [g]And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten [h]Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
While the Evangelists Matthew and Luke write of the earthly birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, St. John begins his Gospel by expounding the teachings about His pre-eternal birth and His incarnation as the Only Son of God. The first three Evangelists begin their narrations with that event as a consequence of which the Kingdom of Heaven received its beginning in time and space, while Saint John, akin to an eagle, soars to the pre-eternal basis of this Kingdom, observing the eternal existence of Him Who only in “these last days” (Hebrews 1:1) became a human being.
The second person of the Holy Trinity — the Son of God — is named by John as “the Word.” At this point, it is important to note and remember that the Greek word “logos,” unlike the corresponding word in Russian, doesn’t only mean the spoken word but also thought, reason, and wisdom expressed by word. Consequently, the naming of the Son of God as “the Word” means the same as His being named “Wisdom” (see Luke 11:49 and Matthew 23:34). The holy Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:24 calls Christ “the Wisdom of God.”
O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.
Commentary on John 1 continued…
Undoubtedly, the teachings about “God’s wisdom” are expressed in the same sense in Acts (see especially the wonderful text of Proverbs 8:22-30). After this it’s strange to insist, as some people do, that St. John derived his teachings on the Logos as if from the philosopher Plato and his successors (such as Philo). St. John wrote about events that were known to him from the Holy Books of the Old Testament — and also about that which, as a beloved disciple, he learned from the Divine Teacher Himself, as well as what was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.
“In the beginning was the Word” means that the Word is co-eternal with God. What’s more, St. John explains further that with respect to His existence, the Word does not separate from God, and consequently It is of one essence with God, and finally, he directly calls the Word God: “and the Word was God.” Here, the word “God” was applied in Greek without any article, giving rise to the assertion by the Arians and Origen that the Word is not the same God as God the Father. However, this is simply a misunderstanding. In reality, this hides a most profound conception of the distinction of the three countenances of the Holy Trinity. The use of an article in Greek indicates that the dialogue is about the same subject as that just spoken of. So if in saying “the Word was God,” the Apostle had used the same article and said “o Theos” in Greek, the result would have been the incorrect idea that the Word was the same as God the Father, Who had been referred to just before. Consequently, in speaking of the Word, the Evangelist calls Him simply “Theos” indicating by this His Divine quality, but also at the same time underlining that the Word has an independent hypostatic existence and is not identical to the hypostasis of God the Father.
As Blessed Theothylact notes, in revealing to us the teachings on the Son of God, St. John calls Him Word and not Son, “so that we, having heard of the Son, did not think in terms of passion and carnal birth. He called Him the Word, so that you would know that as the word is born from the mind without passion, so is He born from the Father without passion.”
The words “all things were made through Him” are not meant as though the Word was only an instrument in the creation of the world but that the world originated from the Primal Reason and Primal Source of all existence (including the Word Himself) — God the Father, through the Son, Who by Himself is already the source of everything that began to exist (that was made), only not for Himself and not for the other countenances of God.
But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Commentary on John 1 continued…
“In Him was life” — here the meaning of the word life is not to be understood in the ordinary sense but as a spiritual life that induces intelligent creatures to strive toward the cause of their creation, toward God. This spiritual life is obtained through the path of communion and unification with the hypostatic Divine Word. Consequently, the Word is the source of genuine spiritual life for any intelligent being.
“And the life was the light of men” — has in mind that this spiritual life that emanates from the Divine Word enlightens a person with a full and complete guidance.
“And the light shines in the darkness . . .” The Word that presents light of genuine guidance does not cease to direct them amid sinful darkness, as the light is not absorbed by darkness: Those who persist in sin have preferred to remain in the darkness of spiritual blindness. However, “the darkness did not comprehend it” — did not restrict its activity and dissemination.
Then, in order to join the people who abode in sinful darkness with His Divine light, the Word undertook extraordinary measures: John the Baptist was sent, and, finally, the Word became flesh.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” — “there was” as stated in Greek is “egenetos” (“became”) and not “inos” as enunciated about the Word; that is, John “came to being,” was born at a point in time and did not exist eternally like the Word, Who Himself “gives light to every man coming into the world.”
The world did not recognize the Word, even though it was obliged to Him for its existence. “He came to His own,” i.e., to His chosen people of Israel, “and His own did not receive Him” — of course not everybody.
“But as many as received Him” with love and faith, “He gave the right to become children of God.” That is, He gave them the beginning of a new spiritual life, which, like a physical one, also begins through birth — although the birth is not from carnal passion but through a higher power, from God.
“And the Word became flesh.” Here the understanding of the word “flesh” does not mean the human body alone but the whole, complete person — in the same meaning as the word “flesh” is often applied in the Holy Gospels (e.g., Matthew 24:22). That is, the Word became a complete person, at the same time not ceasing to be God. “And dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth.” It must be understood that grace means God’s goodness, as the gifts of goodness from God, revealing the access to a new spiritual life for humanity, i.e., gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Word that dwells among us was also filled with the Truth — complete guidance in everything that concerns the spiritual word and spiritual life.
“And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” The Apostles actually saw His glory in the Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension to Heaven — glory in His Teachings, miracles, works of love, and voluntary self-abasement. He is — the “only Son of the Father,” for only He alone is the Son of God in essence, by His Divine nature. These words point to His immense superiority over God’s sons and children through grace, the faithful that are mentioned above.
Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, [c]his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you [d]these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Prayer: O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins. O Master, pardon our iniquities. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Commentary 1 on the Angel and Zacharias
This section tells of the appearance of God’s Angel to the priest Zacharias during a service in the temple. The Angel foretells the conception and birth of a son to Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, who is to be called John and who will be great in the sight of the Lord, and speaks of Zachariah’s punishment, in the form of muteness, for his disbelief.
King Herod (mentioned here) was by birth an Idumean (an Edomite), son of the Antipater who, at the time of Hyrcanus, last in the dynasty of the Maccabees, had authority over Judea. Herod received his title of king from Rome. Although he was even a proselyte, the Judeans did not regard him as one of their own, and his rule was such that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah,” after which the Messiah should appear (see the prophecy of Genesis 49:10).
The priests were divided into twenty-four divisions, among which Abijah headed one. Zacharias belonged to this division. Elizabeth also came from an ecclesiastical background. While they both were outstanding in their genuine righteousness, they were without children. This was regarded by the Judeans as God’s punishment for sinning. Every week, a divine service was conducted in the temple by each division (twice a year). With that, the priests allocated responsibilities among themselves by casting lots. Zacharias’ lot was to perform the censing of the temple. That’s why he entered the second part of Jerusalem’s temple — called the Holiest of the Holy or the sanctuary — where the incensory altar was located. At the same time, all the people were praying in a specially designated open area, a courtyard, of the temple. Having entered the sanctuary, Zacharias observed an Angel, and a great fear gripped him because according to Jewish understanding the appearance of an Angel foretold of impending death. The Angel calmed Zacharias, telling him that his prayer was answered and that his wife will bear him a son who will be “great in the sight of the Lord.”
Prayer: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3X)
Commentary 2 on the Angel and Zacharias
It is difficult to suppose that Zacharias with his righteousness, being old and at such a solemn moment of the religious service, would have been praying for a son. Apparently, as one of the finest people of that time, he prayed to God for a swift coming of the Kingdom of the Messiah — and it is precisely this prayer that the Angel said was answered. And here his prayer received its high reward: not only is his sorrowful infertility resolved, but also his son will be the Forerunner of the Messiah, whose coming he had waited for so intensely. His son will surpass everyone in his extraordinary, strict abstinence and from birth will be filled with particular, blessed gifts of the Holy Spirit. The son is faced with the task of preparing the Judean people for the coming of the Messiah, which he does with sermons on repentance and the reformation of their lives. He diverted toward God many sons of Israel who honored Jehovah formally but had distanced their hearts and lifestyles away from Him. To accomplish this, John will be given the spirit and strength of the prophet Elijah, to whom he will be likened by his fiery zeal, strictly ascetic life, sermons on repentance, and exposure of iniquities. He will have to call the Judeans from the abyss of their moral decline, returning into the hearts of parents the love for children, and to confirm thoughts of the righteous in the minds of those resisting the right hand of God.
As he and his wife were too old to hope for an offspring, Zacharias did not believe the Angel and asked him for a sign as proof of the authenticity of his words. In order to dispel Zacharias’ doubts, the Angel enunciates his name: he is Gabriel, which means God’s power, the same that brought the good tidings of the time of the Messiah’s coming to the prophet Daniel, having indicated the time with “sevens” (Daniel 9:21-27). For his disbelief, the Angel inflicts him with muteness and apparently at the same time with deafness, as all future communications with him are with signs. Normally, censing continues for a short period so that the people started to wonder: why is Zacharias lingering in the sanctuary? However, no sooner had Zacharias appeared and begun to gesticulate, that the people realized that he had a vision. It is remarkable that Zacharias did not cease but continued to fulfill his turn at serving at the temple — right up to the end. After he returned home, his wife Elizabeth did indeed conceived a son. For five months she hid this from fear of disbelief and ridicule from the public, while her soul rejoiced and thanked God for lifting the denouncements of her. The conception of John the Baptist is celebrated on the 23rd of September.
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have Mercy on me a sinner.