"...Send Down Your Holy Spirit Upon Us and Upon These Gifts Here Offered"

           (Epiclesis, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) 


     One of the crescendos of the Divine Liturgy is the calling down of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Spirit descends as invisible fire consuming our sins, enlightening our minds and sanctifying our offering.

     From a broader perspective, the descent of the Spirit is not limited to the celebrating clergy and the offering of bread and wine, which rest upon the altar. Nor is the Liturgy limited to the work of the people of God but is a divine-human endeavor.  The Spirit descends upon the entire gathering of all con-celebrants, clergy and laity, transforming the gathering of Christians into the living body of Christ i.e. the Church.

The Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel

Scripture readings for the feast were Genesis 28:10-17; Revelation 12:7-12; and John 1:47-51)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The feasts of the Church are always challenging us to experience reality as something more than what our senses can perceive and what our minds can comprehend. Celebrating the Feast of St. Michael together with all the bodiless powers of heaven, we are invited to enter a reality which extends beyond the physical including the parameters of time and space. The celebration of the angels affirms the multifaceted dimensions of created existence. Therefore, the feast beckons us to take those initial steps into a fuller reality - a richer reality - where we enter into a con-celebration with the immaterial powers of heaven praising and worshipping the One God in Three Persons.

Paschal Letter of Father Robert Arida

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The mystery we are about to enter, the mystery which is the very foundation of our life has always stood against the currents of secular culture. Within our own social context, Christ’s three day Pascha -- his voluntary death, burial and resurrection – appear in sharp contrast to what has been characterized as either a “death denying culture” or a culture that perceives death as a “natural” stage of human existence. On the one hand the fear of death has spawned an industry that attempts to dull its painful sting. Health, beauty and youth form a triad that defines the very purpose of human life. On the other hand “death” is brought into the philosophical and religious forums which hold up the laws of nature or the immortality of the bodiless soul as the resolves to calming the impending dread of the inevitable. In these forums, death is acknowledged as a “natural” phenomenon that is to be accepted and celebrated as the culmination of one’s life. These and other perceptions of death blur our understanding and distort the fundamental reason of why we embrace and celebrate the Lord’s Pascha.

Holy Week 2007: Matins of Holy Thursday

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the past I have pointed out some of the temptations that accompany wonderful liturgical cycle of Holy Week. One of these temptations is to limit the temporal scope of this cycle to the past.  When confinement to the past becomes the only point of reference the services we celebrate are reduced to high drama which ultimately have no real existential impact on our lives personally and corporately as the Church.  These services are not a re-enactment of events which cannot be repeated.

Palm Sunday

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If we look closely we will see that all the gospel accounts of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem portray the event as anything but triumphal. Why? In the past I have spoken to you about the atriumphal entry so hopefully we can get through this question quickly and move on to other details and questions. 

And He Shall Come Again!

(This sermon was delivered at The Memorial Church, Harvard University, on January 9, 2000)


Fundamental to Christian faith and life is the expectation of the Lord's coming again. Indeed, Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, written in the mid first century, describes the celebration of the Eucharist which climaxes with the Aramaic exhortation Maranatha, Come Lord! Careful linguistic analysis of this term shows that within the context of the Lord's Supper there is the strong sense that Christ's coming again is both an event to be anticipated as well as a present reality. 

A Meditation on the Canon of Saint Andrew

The Canon of St. Andrew is interwoven with two complementary strands. There is first the historical strand, in which St. Andrew skillfully uses the history of salvation as the foundation for his hymn of repentance. It is the loving and compassionate God, who reveals himself through his saving acts and who calls the listener to repentance. It is the triune and tripersonal God who reveals to the listener that the work of salvation continues here and now. Indeed, the Lord himself reminds those who accuse him of breaking the law for healing on the Sabbath that “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5:17). This ongoing work of God forms the second strand of the canon which calls us to personal repentance and to acknowledge how we stand and respond to God’s healing activity.

A Meditation on Time

September 1 marks the beginning of the Church’s new year.  More often than not it is a day that usually goes unnoticed.

That a new year begins points not only to a means by which time is measured but also to the importance of time as the context in which we live and die.  We are in time, we are of time, we are surrounded by and bear the effects of time.  From a chronological perspective we have a beginning and an end.  Usually we recognize the importance of time when recalling events or persons either of the present or the past.  We celebrate events of the past and present as we contemplate and often hope and dream about the future.  Time provides the context in which we acquire our identity as persons through the struggles and sufferings we endure in forging relationships with those around us and with God. Time is part of creation.  It is created by God and therefore it is good.

Power Perfected in Weakness

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

These words of Saint Paul stand as a great challenge to all of us claiming to be disciples of the Lord. They are words spoken to the Apostle by Christ himself. They are words that identify the man of Tarsus as an authentic apostle sent out into the world to proclaim new life in the crucified and resurrected Christ. 

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: John 4:5-42

There are two reasons why I want to draw your attention to the end of this gospel reading. First, the end is usually what is most fresh in our minds. Second, it is the end, specifically the last four words that hold the entire reading together.

Now what are these last words? They are words confessed by the Samaritans of Sychar which proclaim Jesus as the "Savior of the world" (Jn.4:42). This title, given to Jesus by the Samaritans, does not appear anywhere else in the fourth Gospel. What is especially significant about this title is that, during the time of Jesus' public ministry, it had a very strong association with the emperor. Thus, within the broad spectrum of Roman citizens, it is Caesar who is savior. In part, this is so because Caesar is the builder of aqueducts bringing water and therefore life to the Romans. It is also Caesar who builds roads, which help bind together citizens both near and far. And it is Caesar who, by his army and navy, protects and maintains the peace and prosperity of the empire.

That the Samaritans acknowledge Jesus as "the Savior" helps to heighten the tension between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. On the other hand, the title "Savior" points to the time when Jews, Samaritans and the Gentiles will be formed into one new nation under the headship of Jesus.

To claim that Jesus is the exclusive Savior places Caesar himself beneath the authority of the Lord - a position no Roman emperor before St. Constantine would ever conceive of accepting. As for the union of Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, it is Jesus who reveals that he is the one who draws all people to himself so that all can worship the Father in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23).

Here we need to keep in mind that this true worship will take place neither on Mount Gerizim -- the center of Samaritan worship -- nor in Jerusalem (Jn,4:22) - the center of Jewish worship. Jesus speaks of worshipping the Father in "spirit and truth" to the woman at the well, not only to remind her of the spiritual collapse of the Samaritans who had alienated themselves from Israel and whose worship had been corrupted by the idolatry they had borrowed from their Gentile conquerors, but to emphasize that God's new, eternal and universal kingdom that was foretold by the prophets is in the process of being fulfilled in himself. Consequently all kings and all nations are destined to bow to the divine/human Savior.

As the Savior of the world, Jesus is establishing the new and everlasting Jerusalem characterized by true worshippers. The new Jerusalem is a present reality. "The hour is coming and now is ..." (Jn.4:23). By showing the woman at the well that he is the anticipated Messiah of the Jews and Samaritans (Jn.4:25ff.), Jesus also reveals to us in every celebration of the Eucharist the new Jerusalem. In this context we are drawn under the headship of the crucified and risen Savior. In this context we are recipients of the living water of Christ's true doctrine proclaimed and sustained by the Holy Spirit. In this context of the Eucharistic gathering, the feast of Pentecost continues. In this context the fountain of immortality overflows from the altar table and spreads to all who in baptism have put on the New Man, Jesus Christ. This is why we can sing with great joy and power the ninth irmos of the Paschal Canon: "Shine, Shine O New Jerusalem the glory of the Lord has shown upon you. . ."

What transpires in the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman regarding worship "in spirit and truth" cannot be confined to one place and time in history. Worship "in spirit and truth" is a: cosmic reality that proceeds from time into eternity. Thus, Jesus stands before the woman at the well as the cosmic Christ. He shows himself as the one to whom the Spirit leads all minds and hearts yearning for the truth.

From this perspective Jesus does not seek to establish a new religion. By announcing that-the hour of "spirit and truth" has come, Jesus declares himself as the fulfillment and perfection of all religion - of all worship - which either precedes or follows him. For this reason, the Church as the body of Christ must never be distracted from its missionary task to draw the world into itself making every one and every thing new. But this missionary task can only be fulfilled when, in "spirit and truth," those in the Church confess with one voice that Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior of the world.


Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida


Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Barrenness and prophesy are two interconnected themes which permeate the feast of the Baptist’s nativity.  Elizabeth’s barrenness is used by God to reveal his love for the entire creation.  This divine love, expressed in divine power and glory, enables the cousin of the Virgin to conceive.  The conception and birth of St. John points to the termination not only of the barrenness of Zachariah and Elizabeth but also that of cosmic barrenness.  Sin and death had rendered the creation incapable of nurturing and sustaining life.  For the reign of death, traced back to Adam’s fall, aborted all life which was destined from all eternity to abide in the bosom of God.


Today we celebrate and bear witness to the unfolding of the creation’s renewal now affirmed in the birth of John the Baptist.  Previously bound to death, the creation begins to reflect its true identity.  From the barrenness of Elizabeth emerges the forerunner of the one who is life. 


Celebrating the nativity of St. John should be an expression of our thanks to God who has delivered us from the horrible barrenness of death, which not only robs us of our biological existence but strives to impair and ultimately smother the creative powers of the mind and heart.  Consequently, human creativity, now imbued with hope and life, is urged on by divine love to transcend its inherent limitations.  Finding its highest expression in true worship human creativity is joined to divine life.  The human person and his unique energy gradually, through ascetic effort, achieves harmony with the divine energy and hence the unfolding of the eternal ascent into the kingdom which is to come.


As members of the body of Christ, we are endowed with a prophetic calling.  We are to proclaim and to show that the barrenness of creation has been filled with life.  In the midst of desolation, God has brought John, the greatest of prophets, to prepare the way of the Lord.  Like St. John, we are to continue announcing the prophetic word which awakens the creation from the barren slumber of sin.  Like St. John, we are commissioned to lead an anxious and searching humanity to repentance by which it is drawn into the embrace of the Life Giver.


St. John prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah.  His call to repentance and baptism formed a faithful remnant that awaited the coming of the Messiah.  It was this remnant that helped to provide the human component of the Church.  Now we are responsible for continuing the call to repentance, which leads to the baptism of water and the Spirit.  This is the baptism that enables humanity to become one with the sacred Passover which takes us from death to life.  This is the baptism that compels us to prophesy the Lord’s glorious second coming.


The feast of the Baptist’s birth affirms the victory of regenerated and transfigured life.  New life emerging from the barrenness of sin and death is the joyous core of our feast.  Here is the beginning and end of the Church’s mission to and for the world.



Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida


The Parable of the Sower

"Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away. "(Luke 8: 18) 

Saint Luke, like Saint Mark, connects this reading with the parable of the sower. It is this parable that provides an important key to understanding the difficult verse I am highlighting. 

The parable of the sower reveals God's love for all people. His word - and therefore his eternal Son - is not withheld or hidden from anyone. However, the universality of God’s love is not always recognized. In part, this is so because of the way a key passage of the parable is translated into English. We hear Jesus telling his disciples that they have been given to know the "secrets" of the kingdom of God. As for those outside the circle of disciples, the word of God remains intentionally veiled in parables (cf. Luke 8:9ff). 

A more accurate translation of the Lord's response to his disciples would be that they have been given to know the "mysteries" of the kingdom of God. Unlike the term "secrets", mystery is charged with a dynamism that describes the interaction between God's word and the listener. Our Lord uses parables not to hide himself or to veil the saving power of his word. Our Lord uses parables to engage his audience and to challenge the audience to enter in dialog with him. 

Jesus uses the parable of the sower to show that God's love is not denied anyone. Through his incarnate Son and Word, God calls all to new and transfigured life. Through his incarnate Son and Word, God offers mercy and forgiveness to all who heed the call to repentance. Yet, the parable of the sower teaches the audience - teaches us - that the word of God must be cared for. Indeed, God is generous with the dissemination of his Word. But the recipient is responsible for its care and handling. The incarnate Word is given to both the Jew and the Gentile. But it is up to the Jew and Gentile to properly hear the Word and then to receive it and finally to enter its inexhaustible mystery. 

To us has been given to know the "mysteries” of the kingdom of God. The word we hear from the Gospel is the Word of God who takes upon himself the sin of the whole world (cf. John 1:29). The Word of God offers himself to us. His word calls us to draw near and to enter new and eternal life. This begins by entering the mystery of his death and resurrection through baptism. Yet, it is precisely at this juncture that we must heed how we hear. For unless the Word of God leads us to repentance and places us in the ascetical arena where mind and heart, soul and body turn from death to life we will not be able to enter the kingdom of God. Unless the mind and heart are opened and willing to change, the words of our Lord will not initiate us into a life of ceaseless renewal and ascent. Without a mind and heart struggling to repent, the Word himself, freely given to us will be taken away. And this will happen not because of God's desire but because we refused to cultivate and nurture the sown Word. 

The living Word of God speaks to us in our own language. How we hear God's Word determines how we relate to the one who has taken on the form of a servant for us and for our salvation. To hear the proclaimed word is to hear him. To receive his word is to receive him. Making his word our word changes us "into his likeness from one degree of glory to another..."(2Corinthians 3:18). 

The Word of God has now offered himself to us. He has spoken to us. Through mutual encouragement and exhortation may we hear his voice not allowing the noise of vain cares and ill will to distract us from entering the mysteries of the kingdom of God.



Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida

Self-Emptying Love of Saint Nicholas


Celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas, we are to ask ourselves what makes the archbishop of Myra so popular. Indeed, the popularity of Saint Nicholas cannot be disputed. He is venerated not only by Christians but also by Muslims. Within the weekly cycle of liturgical services, the Church asks for his intercession before the throne of Christ on every Thursday.  For many western and eastern Europeans - and also for some Americans - the exchanging of gifts is associated with the feast of Saint Nicholas. And children of virtually every race and religion hold on to an image-sometimes a caricature-of a mysterious person who annually brings gifts to their homes. 


Who is Saint Nicholas? He has left neither theological treatises nor personal correspondence. Very little is known about his family and upbringing and though he is said to have participated in the first ecumenical council, convened in Necea in 325, his name is not listed among the attending bishops. 


On the one hand, so little is known about Saint Nicholas. Yet on the other hand, we recognize his face and celebrate his life of pastoral care rooted in his fidelity to the Gospel. As an image of humility, his personal life remains very transparent. But as the humble one called by Christ to be pastor, servant, teacher, intercessor and protector of the innocent, the memory of his ministry is indelibly inscribed on the minds and hearts of the faithful. 


It is only because of the self-emptying love of Saint Nicholas that we can come to know him. The kenotic love of Saint Nicholas enables him to draw near to each of us. He spared nothing in order to help and to edify his flock. His love for the needy coupled with his love for the catholic faith enabled him to literally save those in his care from falling into sin. As pastor and therefore as theologian Saint Nicholas shows us how love and truth form an inseparable bond. Thus, the generosity of Saint Nicholas and his caring love for his flock was fueled by his love for sharing Christ. Saint Nicholas was keenly aware that without the crucified and risen Christ, who is both God and man, his ministry would bear the fruits of ignorance and heresy. Without the Christ of the Gospels, Saint Nicholas knew he could not be able to guide his flock into new and eternal life. 


Like the Apostle Paul, Saint Nicholas knew that fidelity to the true faith and therefore fidelity to Christ maintained the unity of the Church. From within this life of truth and unity Saint Nicholas reminds us that we have been called to a new manner of existence. We have been called to "attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... [and] to grow up in every way into him who is the head... "(Ephesians 4: 13-15). 

By making himself transparent - by using his ministry to bring others to Christ - Saint Nicholas continues to find a place in the minds and hearts of the modern Christian. Celebrating his feast, we have the opportunity to transcend legend and caricature. By celebrating his feast, we are offered the blessing to gaze upon the face of the venerable shepherd of Myra whose ministry brings the gift of Christ our Savior into our lives. 



Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida

Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What we have heard this morning from the Gospel according to Saint Mark brings us to a crescendo in the text. How so? Just prior to this pericope Jesus announces for the first time “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again” (8:31). And just prior to this announcement, this first prophecy of His death and resurrection, Jesus asks His disciples: “ ‘Who do men say that I Am?’ And they told Him: ‘ John the Baptist, and others say Elijah and others one of the prophets.’ He asks them: ‘But who do you say that I Am?’ Peter answers Him: ‘You are the Christ.’ And He charged them to tell no one about Him” (8:27-30).

Peter’s confession and the Lord’s prophecy of passion and resurrection help us to understand more deeply this morning’s reading about the cross. There are three conditions of discipleship that are given to us in this morning’s reading. The first condition is self- denial. But this term, self-denial, is often understood as depriving oneself of those things in life that give pleasure and security. We would have a better understanding of self-denial if we went back to the Greek verb aparneomai, which can also mean “to disown.” Therefore to be true disciples of Jesus Christ we must first disown ourselves. We must first recognize that we are not masters of our own lives. 

By disowning the self we are able to express our loyalty to Christ. What Jesus tells his disciples, what Jesus is telling us, is that if we are his disciples, if we are the ones who are loyal to him then we will follow him even to where we would not wish to go. This is certainly the lesson Jesus imparts to Simon Peter. Once the disciple has established an oath of loyalty based on self-less love the Master declares: “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.” (John 21:18-19). 

Loyalty is the second condition of discipleship that expresses a willingness to struggle against all that would compromise our relationship with the Lord. Loyalty based on the disowning of the self is a type of martyrdom that manifests the third condition of discipleship - kenotic love. Jesus empties himself in order to take the form of a servant. Christ Jesus empties himself to be born in the likeness of a man (see Phil.2:5-11) who takes upon his shoulders our sin and mortality. We disown the self, we take up the cross and pledge loyalty to the Master in order to be filled with his very life. To disown the self entails the process of being liberated from the bondage of self-love. Ultimately it is self-love that keeps us from following the Savior. Belonging to the self prevents us from belonging to Christ. Self-love prevents us from taking up his cross and making it ours. As with Simon Peter, kenotic love keeps us on the path of the cross, which may someday lead us to shed our own blood for the sake of our Lord and his gospel. 

“Disowning the self” is a very difficult concept let alone a very difficult act. We live in a culture that focuses on the self. We live in a culture that thrives on selfishness. We have to be careful not to give the impression of being unpatriotic, but let us never forget that the engine of capitalism exists to serve the self. We are in a culture that thrives on consumption. And we are the ones who are the consumer. We take, we possess, and so often we waste. We live in a culture where the ego, the self, is idolized. Everyone and everything exist for this idol to remain as the center of the universe. 

Therefore when we hear this Gospel, we have to feel its sting. We have to feel its prodding. We have to be able to discern its great challenge, because it is saying something to us that is absolutely contrary to the ethos of our culture. It is proclaiming something absolutely antithetical to how our culture functions. It is presenting to us the good news that tells us that life comes not from consumption, not from selfishness, but from disowning the self, so that the One Who is Life and Light can possess us. Unless we are willing to give up the self, unless we are willing to disown ourselves, we will continue to be filled and nourished by the fallen world bound to sin and death. 

To disown the self enables us to see that the cross is not a symbol of defeat or shame, but is in fact the very sign of victory, the victory over sin, the victory over death. To follow the Lord, to follow the Master as good and faithful disciples, as good and faithful students brings us – as I tried to express last week - to the knowledge that goes beyond reason, the knowledge which brings us into the very presence of God, the knowledge which in truth permeates us with the very divinity of God.

The Lord tells us to deny, to disown, the self. Where else do we hear this term “denial” or the disowning of self in relationship to the passion of the Lord? In the courtyard of the high priest Peter denies the Master three times. Now in order to try to present or try to feel the impact of this term “disowning” or “denying” let us reflect on what Peter does. The disciple who confesses Jesus to be the Christ is the one who by his denial disowns his Master. He turns away from his Master. He renounces his Master. So Peter’s denial is not merely, in this case, lying to the people around him. By denying his master he disowns him – he turns his back to him. And as Peter is doing this he enters a state of great suffering while encountering a great internal crisis.

Now we are compelled to ask ourselves if, like Peter, we have disowned our Lord, having confessed again and again with our lips that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

The answer is clear. No one here can say that he or she has not denied or disowned the Master. Our acts, our thoughts and our priorities have exposed us. He who is the very foundation of life is so often placed on the periphery of life. This morning’s Gospel calls us to wake up. It is especially pertinent to those who will be baptized, because it is telling the catechumens “Beware!” because if your catechumenate is real and if the parish you will be part of will sincerely take up the cross of Christ, then you and your community will stand contra mundi. For only when the body of Christ is against the world can it exist as an offering for the life of the world. We are called to look upon the cross, displayed in the center of the nave, and discover who we are. For this cross is the very word of discipleship. It is the word that calls us to disown the self. It is the word that beckons us to follow the One Who is Truth even if this leads to our own martyrdom. It is the word that proclaims to us as the body of Christ and to the world that we follow the path that takes us into that great Passover, the Passover of the Lord, the Passover of death to life. 

As we sing hymns about the cross, as we venerate the cross, and as we gather here to celebrate the Lord’s Eucharist, let us make sure that the word of the cross is truly our word. As the body of Christ we are given the great responsibility to show that what is considered shameful, what is considered to be a sign of weakness, what is considered to be absolutely irrational in the eyes of the world, is the transfiguring power and glory of God. We have the responsibility to show that the irrational conditions of discipleship lead to new and eternal life with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.



Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida

Sunday of Orthodoxy (On Icons)

Sunday of Orthodoxy (On Icons)

 In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On March 11, 823, the first Sunday of Great Lent, the second wave of iconoclasm came to an official end.  In the great church of Hagia Sophia, the necessity for the icon was made known to the Christian Church.  


The question I want to raise today is why do we have icons?  Keep in mind that week after week, service after service, we enter and leave the temple venerating the icons.  We bow before icons, we light candles before them and we also carry them in procession.  Why do we do this?


The icon exists first and foremost because of the incarnation.  God became man; the invisible, incomprehensible, uncircumscribable God takes on our human nature, and as a result he is depictable, he is visible, he is circumscribable in time and space.  


There were two waves of iconoclasm that affected the life of the Church.  The first wave began in the 8th century and came to an end in 787, with the convening of the Second Ecumenical Council; the second wave began in the beginning of the 9th century and came to an end in 843.  For about 100 years Iconoclasm literally made its mark on the Church with the removal, especially in Constantinople and the areas surrounding the great city, of the icons from the churches.


Because God has become a human being the Church has icons. Through the icon and its veneration the Church proclaims and reveals its fundamental faith in the Incarnation.  Because of the Incarnation, matter plays a significant role in the salvation and transfiguration of the human person and therefore the entire universe.   Listen to the words of St.  John of Damascus.  He wrote during the first wave of Iconoclasm from the monastery of Mar Saba in Palestine.  And though he was not directly involved in the persecutions, he is considered one of the great defenders of the icon.  He writes in his first Apology, “In former times, God, who was without form or body, could never be depicted.   But now, when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter to work out my salvation through matter.” 


The icon proclaims that God has become a man so that we, created in His image and likeness, might be saved and transformed.  By taking on matter God puts an end to the tension and therefore the polarity between the created and uncreated.  The termination of this polarity includes the restored harmony between the material and the spiritual.  This is so because the depictable Son and Word of God has taken on the entirety of human nature - body, soul, mind and sprit.  Consequently the harmony of opposites is restored in the very person of Jesus Christ.  The uncreated and created, the immaterial and material form a theanthropic union in the person of the God Man.  And in turn this union, perfected through the Lord's death, burial and resurrection, impacts the entire universe.    


The icon stresses that we believe and confess Jesus Christ to be the Son of God who became incarnate for us so we might be saved.  We confess this every time we chant or recite the Symbol of Faith.  The icon witnesses to the dynamic between incarnation and salvation.  But this dynamic can only be generated within the context of the ascetical life. As we enter Great Lent we are reminded that all that we do from an ascetical perspective - from an ascetical vantage point - is done neither to negate matter nor to stress the polarization between matter and spirit.  Great Lent reminds us that the ascetical life never ceases if the material and spiritual components of the human person are to function as one. The tragedy of sin, the horror of sin, is that it divides the human person. Sin polarizes matter and spirit, which results in a psychosomatic schism that destines the human person to disintegration and ultimately death.  God has taken upon Himself matter, which includes all of human psychology, to end this polarity and to heal the human person.  Thus every icon, whether it be of a man or woman, is a depiction of an ascetic - a Christian athlete - who in Christ strives to restore personal wholeness and harmony.  Every icon regardless of gender reflects the person of Jesus Christ through whom we come to know and do the will of the Father. 


One of the great defenders of the icon during the second wave of Iconoclasm was Saint Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople.  He refers to those attacking the icon as those who seek to destroy the unity of the body of Christ.  His words can apply to us in that if we are not seeking that unity of matter and spirit, the body of Christ becomes divided; the body of Christ ceases to be the temple of the Living God.  Listen to his piercing words as he addresses the Iconoclasts: “By attacking the icon, the good will of the Father has remained without resolve, the cooperation of the Spirit has been ineffective, and the apostolic preaching has been quenched.”  When we are unable to see that these images in lines and color reveal to us the restored human being, and when we are not moved to see that we - our flesh and spirit - are called to be the most brilliant and glorious reflection of the Triune and Tri-personal God, then everything that is given to us is squandered.  The good will of the Father is without result, the cooperation of the Spirit is ineffective, the apostolic preaching - what we hear, what we see, what we are trying to proclaim - is quenched.  


By celebrating this feast of the restoration of the icon we have the opportunity to see that while the icon has an essential role in proclaiming and revealing the Gospel there is another restoration that must also take place in the Church.  There must be the restoration of the human person, which is an ongoing ascetical struggle. We can have the most beautiful images, but if we personally and corporately fail to seek and behold the beautiful face of the Savior, all that has been given to us is squashed and wasted.  So as we celebrate the restoration of the icons, we as Orthodox Christians have to make that basic, fundamental commitment to walk on the path of righteousness, that ascetical path which puts an end to all divisions, all schisms, all polarities.  By walking on this path, we become evermore whole, evermore righteous, permeated by the uncreated light of God Himself.





Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida




“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15, Forgiveness Sunday)

In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew these words immediately follow what is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.  It is the Lord’s Prayer - the prayer Jesus gives to his disciples - that identifies the user as one who is bound to the very person of the Savior.  The link between the Lord’s Prayer and discipleship becomes especially clear in the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  There, the disciples of Jesus ask that he teach them to pray just as John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray.  The response to this request is the prayer that has been on most of our lips since childhood.  Thus, to recite, to chant or to sing the Lord’s Prayer ostensibly identifies us as the disciples of the Lord.  We are his followers – we are his students who have been entrusted by our Master to continue his ministry here and now.

The words that begin the Gospel reading for Forgiveness Sunday echo, as well as, bolster the Lord’s Prayer.  They teach us that forgiveness is vital to the very ministry of the Lord.  Consequently, the very affirmation of God being our Father, the presence and coming of his kingdom, the giving of the bread of immortality which we receive at every Divine Liturgy and the ongoing struggle to overcome the temptations of the evil one are confirmed by the personal and corporate act of forgiveness.


Unless we can forgive and unless we can ask to be forgiven, we show ourselves to be false disciples of Jesus Christ.  For the disciple who cannot forgive is burdened with a heart of stone – a heart that has not converted, a heart that is unable to extend the word of life and love to the other. When we are unable to forgive we stand alone and apart from the cross of the Savior which, for the Christian, is the very symbol of universal forgiveness and reconciliation. The inability to forgive draws us into the darkness and bitterness of anger.  In turn, the heart of stone seeks to advance evil a step further by sowing the seeds of doubt and mistrust which grow into an interpersonal dynamic which moves towards avoiding or undoing the bonds of mutual communion.


The one who forgives is also the one who asks to be forgiven.  But to ask for forgiveness requires introspection and therefore an awareness of the self. Seeking forgiveness presupposes that we acknowledge our sin as well as Christ’s call to repentance.  Without repentance our offering of forgiveness sinks into the quagmire of self-righteousness and pride. Ultimately, this kind of spiritual elitism is not interested in forging the bonds of mutual love and communion.  Rather, it seeks only to place oneself above the other.  Without repentance we remain alone in a grave dug by pride, fear, faithlessness and arrogance.  Only when we repent – only when we can draw near to God and to one another - are we raised from this grave that precedes our physical death.


Soon the Church will offer us the gift of Great Lent.  To appreciate this gift we must encourage one another to be faithful disciples of the Lord.  To receive this gift, which brings us to the very core of the Gospel and identifies us as true followers of the crucified and resurrected Christ, we are to forgive as we seek forgiveness from God and each other.  The act of forgiveness and the act of seeking forgiveness makes present the healing and transforming love of God.  It is this love which Christ brings into the world. And it is this love we are to reveal and offer through the act of mutual forgiveness.



Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida


The Prodigal Son

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best known of the parables of the Lord.  It has inspired literature, it has inspired the composing of operas and it has made an impact on the psyche of the culture. Yet all this familiarity, as I've said about other parables, can make us numb. This familiarity can make us become distant from the power of this parable. 

There are three themes that are joined together are this brilliant, masterful parable of the Lord. They are the themes of life, exile, and rebirth. Here we need to remember that as we draw near to Great Lent we should not forget that it developed into a period of preparation for those catechumens who were to be baptized on Pascha.  So these themes of life, exile, and rebirth are strongly connected to the theme of baptism.  I want to stress to our catechumens that this morning's parable provides a clear commentary on the mystery of baptism as precisely a passover from exile - from darkness and death to light and life. 


The father is Life.  It is clear from this parable that he is the one who is not only the financial support of his sons but also the very source of their life.  In fact, when we think of this parable, we easily overlook the fact that it is based on the father and not only on his two sons.  It begins, “A father had two sons.”  This is extremely important since St. Luke is conveying to us that the action that takes place in the parable flows from and returns to the father.  He is the life and light of his sons.  He is the one who loves his sons and embraces them, making all that is his theirs.  All that is the father's is freely given to his sons.  He is their life and they are his image and likeness.  The father is life and yet his younger son wants to leave him.  This son asks for his inheritance before the death of his father so he can cash it in and live on his own.  This leads us to the theme of exile.  It was not unusual for a father to divide his estate among his children before he died.  However, it was unusual for a beneficiary, in this case the younger son, to cash in his inheritance and leave his benefactor.  Liquidating his assets and leaving his home, the younger son treats his father as if he were already dead.  By leaving his father this young son imposes upon himself exile - exile from light, exile from life.


Let us also not forget that there are two sons in this parable and both are prodigals.  The older son who stays also sends himself into exile. How?  The younger son takes his inheritance and leaves.  The younger son treats the father as if his father were already dead.  The older son stays with the father, yet he cannot see that what the father has is his.  He cannot enjoy what the father has, and though he is obedient, though he listens to the command of his father as the text tells us, this son is also in exile.  He distances himself from his father. He stands apart from light and life.


How else are these exiles revealed?  Not only does the younger son leave his father, treating him as if he is dead, but he squanders the money he receives from his inheritance. He wastes what ultimately comes from his father. The older son, while he does not squander or deplete what the father has given him, is nevertheless unable to see that what belongs to the father also belongs to him.  That which the father has establishes a union or communion with his sons.  The younger son squanders his inheritance and therefore breaks communion with his father.  And the older son, while keeping his inheritance, cannot enter into communion with his father even though they live under the same roof and share the same table.


Space is an important feature of this parable.  The younger son is spatially removed from the father.  He physically removes himself from light and life.  The older son, while near to the father, is not able to enter into that light and life which the father freely, lovingly pours out upon him. 


And what about rebirth?  The younger son finds himself among swine.  He would be happy to eat what they eat.  No one gives him anything.  He is alone with the beasts.  As a Jew, there could be nothing worse than to be in the presence of swine and to have to care for them.  He comes to himself, he comes to the point of repentance, and this repentance - this change of mind - leads this younger son back to life.  Repentance is a change of mind, but not only the change of mind; it is also a change of direction.  There are two words in Greek that express these ideas.  The first, “metanoia”, is more commonly known.  It refers to a change of mind.  But there is another word, “epistrepho”, which refers to a physical change of direction.  The young son not only changes his mind but also his physical orientation and makes his way back to the father, rehearsing how he would repent before the one who is his light and life. 


The son returns, the father runs to him, and as I mention every time we speak about this parable, this action of running is the sign of the father’s indissoluble love for his son.  A father who had been treated as if he were dead would not have run to his ungrateful son.  A proud and powerful Semitic father would defend his name and his pride.  This father, Our Father, God the Father, runs to his child and embraces him.  And he who was in exile, he who was dead, the one who was apart from light and life, is given new life. That’s why the vesting of the son - putting a new robe on him, placing a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet - this vesting, just as the vesting in Baptism, is the sign that new life has been bestowed upon this son.  New life has been given to the exiled.  New life has been given to the one who treated his father as if he was dead. 


Now what about he older son?  Like the Pharisee of last week's parable, the older son did everything that was correct.  But even while doing all that is correct, even while obeying the commandments of his father, he remains apart from his father.  This older son remains distant.  He has no connection with his father because he cannot enter the reality that the father offers him, although that reality of light and life is before him day after day.  The love of the father is never withheld from him.  The light of the father embraces him day after day, but this son who stays at home and obeys the commandments of his father remains removed.  His exile from his father also leaves him isolated from his brother.  Remember how he speaks to his father?  "This son" - not "my brother" but rather "your son" - is being given a feast.  “The one who has wasted everything that was yours now celebrates, while I, who have stayed here, who have worked for you, who have obeyed your commandments, never had such a feast.”  The older son's hard heart prevented him from seeing that the feast he speaks about had always been his!  It had always existed with the very presence of his father who is his light and life.


Now what about us?  This parable has a connection not only to those who are preparing for baptism.  It has also something to say to we who are already baptized.  Here we are together in the house of our Father; here we are in the temple of the God who continually pours His light and life upon us.  We are His children; we are the ones He has brought from non-existence into being.  We have to ask ourselves, not only as we approach Lent, but also continuously, “do I treat my Father as if He were dead?  Do I truly appreciate, do I truly apprehend, the gifts He has given me - the gift of new life, the gift of being grafted onto the death and the resurrection of His Son, the gift of participating in this banquet of immortality - gifts which have been freely given to us?  Do I see with the eyes of faith the gifts I have received?  Or am I like that older son who while being in the house of the father cannot assess, cannot apprehend, cannot rejoice, cannot celebrate, and finally, cannot be thankful for all that has been given to him?  Thankfulness comes from love. The young son returns, and the father shows his love.  The son’s love is expressed in his repentance.  The tragedy of this parable is with the older son.  Does he reach a point when he realizes that what he is saying to his father was foolishness?  Does he come to see that in spite of obeying the commandments and being faithful to the tasks that have been given him he utters nonsense before the father?   For the father has never abandoned him!  He has never rejected his son nor has he ever withheld his love from him!


We are in the house of the Lord and are now being compelled by the words of the Lord to see what kind of relationship we have with our Father.  We are compelled by this parable to see that even if we are distant, this distance can be overcome, for we are always being called by our Father to draw near to him!  The younger son comes to himself, he repents, for he is able to repent, knowing that his father is for all eternity his father.  Likewise with us, we can repent, we can change our minds and our direction and return to the One Who never ceases to love us.  Exile is self-imposed, separation from God is self-imposed, being placed in darkness and death is self-imposed.  The parable calls us to arise, to move toward the Father and to truly enter into that banquet of new and eternal life.





Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida

The Publican and the Pharisee

It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of us are familiar with this Gospel reading. We can identify it as one of the readings leading us into Great Lent. The reading itself offers us an important key to understanding its meaning: the Lord says at the end of the parable that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” There is another key, which is given to us in the verse that immediately precedes the reading for this morning: the Lord addresses this parable to some “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” To utilize these keys, to take advantage of these “book ends” that offer us insight into this parable, we need to think very carefully, very clearly, about the attitude of these two men.  


The first question we need to ask is, what is the flaw, or more specifically what is the sin, of the Pharisee? Of course the easy answer is “pride.”  But do not answer “pride”.  Our hymnody repeatedly draws our attention to this sin. Yet the parable compels us to delve deeper in order to understand what it is precisely that makes one prideful. What is it that deceives one into thinking that he is above others? As you are thinking about this question, I want to offer you some more food for thought that comes from St. Maximus the Confessor. As usual what he has to say is very dense and requires as much concentration and attention as does Holy Scripture.  Listen to what he says: “Virtue exists for the sake of truth, but truth does not exist for the sake of virtue. Thus he who practices virtue for the sake of truth is not wounded by the arrows of self-esteem. But he who pursues truth for the sake of virtue does harbor the conceit which self-esteem generates.” St. Maximus is offering us another key to this parable that is read year after year and which is as familiar to us as our telephone number. And yet, because of that familiarity, it can easily slip through our hands like a bar of soap, or like sand going through our fingers. Virtue exists for the sake of truth, but truth does not exist for the sake of virtue. 


Let’s now go back to the sin of the Pharisee. What is it? The Pharisee enjoys congratulating himself.  Consequently he lacks inner vision.  He is unable to see himself as he actually is.  Vision plays a very important role in this parable. But impaired vision is not the only defect of the Pharisee. As he recites his prayer, he is using words that he in fact cannot hear.  For if he was able to hear he would have discovered what nonsense was being uttered.  I use this term “nonsense” based on what we will be hearing in a few weeks from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.  In the Wednesday section of his Canon, St. Andrew refers to this man as “congratulating himself”, and then points out he utters “other foolish things”. He cannot see and therefore he cannot see himself; he cannot see God, and he certainly cannot see the Publican who is standing behind him. He cannot hear because he is unable to be attuned to the One who seeks to speak to him, that is, God Himself. The Pharisee’s inability to see and hear prevent him from entering that living, vital, saving dialogue with God.  He is a man cut off from himself; he is a man who, having raised himself above others, sees his behavior as the measure of his worth. He sees his behavior, and we can draw in here again this word “virtue” as that which sets him above the others. 


Now this raises a very serious issue for us as we are gathered here celebrating this Eucharist because for us (here we have to use St. Maximus again) truth does not exist for virtue, virtue exists for truth. The whole approach to behavior in our Church is not related to virtue. How we behave and therefore how we understand ethics and relate to one another and the entire creation is not driven by virtue but by truth.  Why?  Because truth for us is not a concept, it is not a philosophy, it is not an ideology, and it is not a system. Truth is the very person of God. Virtue exists for truth either as a way to being open to the living Word of God Who desires to be heard, Who desires to be seen, and Who desires to be embraced. Or truth itself is reflected in our behavior. Thus we behave the way we do based on our relationship with God Who is The Truth.


So as we approach the time of Great Lent, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that it is the time when Christians strive to be better. If this is our approach, we are missing the gift that the Church is always offering us not just during Lent but all the time. The Church is offering us the Triune and Tri-personal God; the Church is offering us the One Who is Life, Light and Truth. He is the one who calls us to draw near.  Think of what we heard this morning in the autobiographical notes St. Paul shares with Timothy. Paul’s struggles, his sacrifices, his steadfastness, his vigilance, all stem from his desire to be in communion with The Truth. All that he is stems from his relationship with the One Who is Truth. So let’s be very clear here. Virtue is important, but it must stand in its proper place.  It must never usurp The Truth.  It must never become a substitute for The Truth. Virtue discloses the depth of our contact and unity with The Truth. Should virtue supercede The Truth we fall into that hell of blindness, deafness, and hard heartedness. With the displacement of Truth by virtue our behavior becomes the false standard and goal of life.  St. Maximus reminds us that when truth exists for virtue the relationship with God ceases to be a concern. Christ is reduced to a name with little if any significance to our lives while our virtuous accomplishments are forged into the idol of “truth.” This morning’s Gospel is calling us to see that faith in Christ offers us salvation, while works do not.  And St. Paul in his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians is echoing this parable of the Lord. Faith in the Lord, faith in the One Who is Truth gives us life.  From this life flow the virtues and at the same time all the virtues become drawn to this life.


Now what about the attitude, the posture of this man in the temple? He is erect, he is one who is because of his virtues satisfied with himself. He is in the temple of the Lord, and yet he cannot enter into the reality of the temple. Here I want to share with you part of a conversation I had some years ago with Metropolitan George Khodr, one of the most esteemed bishops of the Patriarchate of Antioch. We were taking a walk around Beacon Hill. We were talking about many things - politics, literature, the pastoring of homosexuals, life in Lebanon during the civil war, and Christianity without Christ. He had just finished an article precisely with that title - “Christianity without Christ.” To illustrate this type of Christianity he spoke about a priest of his archdiocese. This priest was brilliant. He knew theology better than most.  He knew how to use his beautiful voice to enhance the beauty of the divine services. He was an aesthete and so he appreciated what is beautiful and harmonious. This priest knew the Typicon from beginning to end, and yet woven into his life was a tragic strand that bound him to hell.  His many accomplishments and talents were ends in themselves that prevented him from entering the divine reality that was opened to him day after day. This is the tragedy of the Pharisee.  He is in the temple of the Lord, he is in the presence of the Lord, but he cannot enter that reality, he cannot see it, he cannot hear it, he cannot feel it, he cannot be part of it, because he has closed himself off through his “virtue” and through his pride.


The Publican has the posture of one bent over. He cries out “Have mercy!”  He is not the measure, he is not the rule, of behavior.  The Publican knows himself, and because he knows himself he is aware of God’s presence.  Standing before The Divine he yearns to see, to hear, and to embrace the Living God.  Seeking The One who is The Truth, he confesses, “Have mercy on me!”  Because the Publican seeks after truth, he is able to repent, he is able to confess, and he is able to return to his home as one who is justified in the eyes of God. 


So as we prepare to enter into this period of Lent, we have to begin to clarify our vision, to unclog our ears, to soften our hearts. There must be no heart of stone among us who celebrate the Lord’s Eucharist. We must be open to the One Who is Truth, because He is the One Who gives us life, He is the One Who offers us His death and Resurrection, He is the One Who is in our midst now, Who has endowed us with His Kingdom which is to come.





Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida