March 18, 2013

Returning to the Bible

If we have neglected reading the Bible, then this first day of Great Lent is a good time to reestablish that discipline and follow the calendar readings.  Over the next forty days they will take us through Isaiah, Genesis and Proverbs, and in that time we will find out again—if we ever forgot—why from the time of ancient Israel the scriptures are “More to be desired than gold…sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). I’m told that in some places when Jewish children are first introduced to the study of the Torah, they are given a drop of honey so that they will always remember that the Word of the Lord is sweet.

But they are sweet because they are true, not because we will always like what we hear. So in today’s readings we encounter not only the beauty of the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, but His untamed Semitic self who rips through our pious posturing and pretenses. 

Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:14-17)

Now is the time to do the difficult work of breaking bad habits and reordering our lives around the Lord and His ways. And He promises that if we do so, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

The Inauguration of Pope Francis

Watching the news of the papal election

Last Thursday the Holy Synod completed its very full schedule of work, but on Wednesday they took a short break to watch on line the unfolding events surrounding the election of Pope Francis in Rome as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. In the middle of the afternoon session a number of the bishops gathered around Archbishop Benjamin’s computer to follow what was happening in the Vatican. 

Archbishop Nathanael presided at Vespers that night and His Eminence noted that we as Orthodox need to pray for the new Pope as the most prominent Christian leader in a world that is often hostile to Christianity. Representatives from most of the Orthodox Churches will be present for the inauguration of Pope Francis tomorrow, and last Thursday the bishops agreed that the OCA’s delegation would be Metropolitan Tikhon and the Chancellor. Unfortunately for me, an unexpected glitch with my passport renewal meant that a quick change had to be made last Friday evening. So Father Eric Tosi, the OCA Secretary is accompanying His Beatitude. They left late last night from JFK airport and will be met in Rome as official guests of the Vatican.