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        TALK ON APOSTLE AND GOSPEL

 READINGS FOR 14 DECEMBER

SUNDAY OF THE FOREFATHERS

        11th DECEMBER 2008

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The birth of our Lord, the God-man Jesus Christ, consists of the greatest station point of the Divine Economy. It is the starting point of the earthly appearance of Christ and the beginning of his powerful and saving work for mankind. In his person, the divine and the human have been inseparately united. Thus the hope of man’s salvation begins to become reality. The significance of the event of the Incarnation of the Lord determines the status and importance of the Feast of Christmas. Christmas and Pascha comprise the two great poles around which revolve the whole ecclesiastical year. Pascha is the centre and foundation of the movable calendar and Christmas the summit of the fixed calendar. St John Chrysostom calls the feast of Christmas the Metropolis of the Feasts. The importance of the feast as it evolved from the fourth century onwards is shown by the preparation period which precedes the feast. The 40day fast similar to the Paschal fast, the many pre-feast hymns which are sung daily from mid November, hymns like the Christmas Katavasia “Christ is born give glory…” which are sung from 21 November and the pre-feast kontakion “Today the Virgin comes to the cave...” which is sung from 26th November until the eve of Christmas. But apart from the fast and the hymns which are elements that help the faithful prepare for the great feast, there are also two pre-Christmas Sundays which are the main elements of this preparation. Originally there was only one preparational Sunday which was later divided into two – The Sunday of the Forefathers and the Sunday before the Nativity.
The Sunday of the Forefathers is assigned for the 11th December or the first Sunday following this date. This year it falls on this Sunday the 14th December. Its main purpose is to show forth and honour Christ’s ancestors according to the flesh and especially the Great Patriarch Abraham. Thus this week’s readings are for this first pre-Christmas Sunday of the Forefathers. The Gospel reading assigned for this day is from St. Luke, chapter 14, verses 16-24 which speaks of the Great Supper of the Kingdom of Heaven where many from the east and west shall be invited to sit with Abraham and where the sons of the bridegroom – the Israelites shall be cast out, and the Apostle reading is from the Epistle to the Colossians chapter 3, verses 4-11.
Before hearing the reading I think is would be appropriate to say why this reading was chosen for this day because it doesn’t make any reference to the oncoming feast of Christmas. There are three points which formed the selective criteria:
1) The first is the verb to appear. The reading begins “When Christ shall appear”. Of course St. Paul is not referring to the first coming of Christ which had already taken place and was already a historical event, but when Christ shall appear in his second and glorious coming at the end of days. Thus here it is used to audibly impress in us the sound of his coming.
2) The second point is the practical context of the reading which perfectly applies to the pre-feast period, the spiritual preparation of the faithful for the oncoming great feast.
3) And three, it shows the union of the people in the renewed humanity- the Church- which Christ established with his saving work, and abolished the differences among the various nations that existed in the pre-Christian world.
Let’s now then hear the reading:

The reading is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians.
Colossians 3:4-11

Brethren, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

4)
Brethren, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians consists of only four chapters and can be divided into two parts- the first where he attacks the heresy of the Gnostics and the Second, the ethical and instructive part where Paul describes how the new man in Christ should be. This reading belongs to this second part. The new life of every Christian proceeds from only one unique event: the partaking in the death and resurrection of Christ, the faithful die and rise together with Christ. This fact, which, with the grace of God, every re-born Christian must live, constitutes the beginning and source of the new life. This life begins in the present world, with our Baptism and is hidden from the eyes of the world and only revealed to others, who with the power of faith, live with Christ. But the fulfilment and all the greatness of the life in Christ will be experienced not in this world, but in the Kingdom of God. The moment of entry and complete partaking of the divine life is the appearing of Christ, his second and glorious coming.
Christ is the life of the faithful; he is “our life” as underlined with emphasis by St. Paul. The union and communion of the faithful with Christ guarantees the possibility of true life, for as Christ himself said “I am come into this world that you may have life” and that he himself is our life. In the person of the God-man is found the beginning and the end, the reason and the purpose of all our lives. And when he will come again the second time with the glory of the Father with the holy Angels then we also will appear with him. And St. Paul tells us that we will also appear with him in glory. St. John the Theologian in his 1st Epistle says “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) Our hope then is that when Christ appears we may be found worthy to look upon his glorious face and that we will become partakers of his unspeakable glory. It is therefore, until that time, natural for Christians to prepare themselves: to live according to the calling that God has bestowed upon us. Whoever has his hope in Christ prepares to receive him, by cleansing himself from sin and by observing the life-giving gospel commandments. This is what Paul commends us to do in the following verse:
5)
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”
The King James Version is rather difficult to understand as it uses a rather archaic ecclesiastical language like the word concupiscence which means desire, but also, this verse is not an exact translation of the Greek, which is so straight forward and understandable that there is no reason why the translators had to make things so complicated. Covetousness means envy or jealousness for the possession of something belonging to someone else. The Greek is simply “Πλεονεξία” with is just plain greediness for worldly possessions. Inordinate affection in the Greek is the word passion which everyone understands. Translating from the Greek the verse should read:
Put to death your members which are on earth (in other words what is worldly in you), fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry”.
The entrance for someone into the Church is through Baptism which as already said means that we die and rise again with Christ, and which is our calling and possibility to live a new life. This involves putting to death the various passions which even after our rebirth in Baptism continual to manifest in our hearts, because as long as we live in this world we continue to fall under the influence of the evil one and the power of this sinful world. St. Paul commends us to put to death our earthly members, everything in us that is worldly. He calls parts of our bodies earthly, not because he doesn’t appreciate or puts down what God has created, but because these earthly members only have their energy and action on earth: in heaven they do not exist. To make sure that it is absolutely clear what he means, he continues to name five particular sins which are associated with the human body and which their death consists of the basic requirement for a Christian life of ethical cleanliness and sanctification of the body.

As the first sin of the flesh Paul mentions fornication. Uncleanness which is mentioned in other places with fornication is the ethical pollution, the infection which comes from the slavery of the human body to the unlawful appetite of the flesh. St. Basil observes that the various forms of carnal passions were taught to humans by the demons and that Holy Scripture, not wishing to pollute herself with the filthy and indecent names, used general names. Thus with the third term of Passion we should understand all sin in general. Evil desire is whatever is sown in man’s heart by the attractive and pulling power of sin. The adjective evil is used to differentiate the difference between the evil and good desire. As the last sin Paul mentions Greed, which is also characterized as idolatry. Greed is the uncontrollable attachment of the human heart to material goods of this world. The man who becomes subject and prisoner to the desire of obtaining and possessing more and more material goods, distances himself from God and devotes himself completely to his possessions, which take the place of God. Therefore Greed is like idolatry because the person becomes so attached to his belongings that he cannot bear to part from them. They are his gods that he worships.
6) “For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:”
Because of the sins that Paul has just mentioned he says that they invoke the anger of God. The children of disobedience to whom comes this divine anger are they that are oppressed by the passions he mentioned. He calls them the children of disobedience because they hold to these things not out of ignorance, but out of a wilful and conscious disobedience to the commandments of God. The wrath or anger of God, which St. Paul also mentions in other places, is in the future tense and will come in those last days.
7) “In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.”
After warning of the coming anger of God, Paul reminds the Colossians that they also in the past, when they still belonged to the order of the gentiles, before they came to believe in Christ, lived subject to the sins he mentioned. In our attempt to follow the Christian life with consistency it is beneficial to remember our period of life that we lived distant from Christ. This remembrance renews the contrition for our falls and protects us from not doing the same mistakes.
8) “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”
Having told the Colossians to put to death the sins of the flesh, now Paul gives then another set of five sins to put off from them as one would take off a dirty and ruined garment and toss it away. The first of these is anger. St John of the Ladder says that it is the remembrance of hidden hatreds and the wish for harm to come upon someone that provoked us. A similar passion is wrath which in fact means the same as anger and which St. Neilos calls a demonic movement. Malice or wickedness is resentfulness and vindictiveness, a dark passion which poisons the heart and therefore much heavier than the previous two. These three passions are associated more with the heart of man, the following two with the tongue. This comparison is of special significance because as the Lord himself taught us “the mouth speaks from the excess flow of the heart. The tongue of a good and pious man brings forth from the good contents of his heart, good and beneficial words. In contrast, the tongue of someone suffering from a wicked and malicious heart brings forth foul and wicked words. Blasphemy means the wicked, slanderous, insulting and abusive words aimed at those who by chance saddened or hurt someone. Similarly, the filthy communication out of your mouth or simply foul talk, are the dirty and obscene swearing words.
9-10) “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:”
Another sin which St. Paul commends us to avoid is lying to each other. In his Epistle to the Ephesians he again tells us to not lie to each other, but rather to speak the truth with our neighbours because as Christians we are all members of one another, members of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:25) Lying discredits love and undermines the trust which is the cohesive energy which joins together the members of the Church. Lying therefore is to be avoided by Christians. The putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new, which for Christians happened during their baptism, does not allow them to fall to the sin of lying. The old man and his deeds which Christians put off during baptism is the man who is held bondage to sin and distant from the saving grace of Christ. It is the same man who in other epistles Paul calls carnal. His deeds are those sins which Paul mentioned earlier.

The new man, is the man reborn through the baptism of Christ and is a new being, the man who Christ has set free from the bonds of sin and has made him capable of living with the power of the Holy Spirit and with his own life. But is doesn’t end here, in other words through Baptism a man is unquestionable reborn, but he still has to follow a path of spiritual progress and of continual renewal. Salvation in Christ and the God-inspired life is not permanently fixed and unchangeable, but rather evolves and to protect and increase spiritually it requires mans unceasing struggle. The new man continually renews the “according to the image of him that created him.” This passage from Paul could refer to the original “according to the image” found in Genesis, but I think that here it should be interpreted christologically. The original “according to the image” is realized only through Jesus Christ who is the true “Image of God”. (2 Cor. 4:4) Thus man is renewed through Christ and “according to the image of Christ”. We become as St. Paul say elsewhere “conformed to the image of the Son” of God (Rom. 8:29).
Man’s renewal according to the image of Christ is accomplished “in knowledge”. This phrase by Paul designates the result of this renewal, which is man reaching and having knowledge of God himself, and of knowledge of the mystery of his Gospel, in contrast to the old man who is in ignorance and whose mind is in darkness.
11) “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”
The people renewed in Christ constitute the new race of humans, which is the Church. In this new society every worldly difference, every discrimination, which is a result of sin, is abolished and a new order of unity is established which springs forth from Christ and unites all men. This is what St. Paul is underlining in this verse. In this new order of people in Christ “there is neither Greek or Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Discriminations that are abolished are Nationality or race – there is no more the acute discrimination between Jew and Greek, in other words between Christians who originally came from Judaism and Christians who came from the classes of the gentiles.

Thus religious differences no longer exist and there can be no discrimination between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Political and educational differences are also abolished. Barbarians were the nations that didn’t speak Greek and the Scythians were considered as the most uncultured and illiterate race. Thus barbarian and Scythian do not comprise a pair of opposite things as the previous pairs of Greek and Jew and circumcised and uncircumcised, but comprise of two similar categories which vary only in the scale of their barbarism. Social differences within the Church are also abolished. There is no difference between a slave and a free man, something which was very discernible and manifest in ancient societies. “…but Christ is all, and in all.” The source of unity for Christians is Christ. In Christ every kind of discrimination is abolished and through Christ we accomplish the true unity between us. Jew and Gentile, educated and uneducated, slave and free, everyone with our entry into the Church become members of the body of Christ and brothers of each other. Christ becomes for us everything and in him everyone is dignified and one nation.
That then is the Apostle reading for this week, let’s now hear the Gospel reading.
 

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke
Luke 14:16-24

The Lord said this parable: A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. For many be called, but few chosen.”
This parable of the Great Supper is appropriately assigned for the Sunday of the forefathers because when Christ spoke it he was directing himself to the Jews who believed that because they were the chosen people and descendants of Abraham then this guaranteed them of the promise of salvation. But here Christ wants to correct their misguided delusions and tells them that yes, they have the calling from God to partake of great things, but this calling is not enough in itself, it must also be accepted. The parable shows that those who at first had the privilege and high calling to sit at the great feast with Abraham were eventually completely shut out and others, who were not included in the first calling, are now invited to take part and enjoy the great banquet.
“A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:”
The man in question is God the Father who prepares a great supper which in spiritual terms is referring to the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is an image that this supper was still in the preparation period and was left on hold until the guests who were invited accepted the invitation. The Great supper is so grand, so magnificent that is it possible to satisfy millions of people. It implies the rich spiritual provisions of good things which God has made for the sustenance, the refreshment, the enjoyment and satisfaction of the poor souls in his kingdom. It is called a Supper which is the evening meal because in those days as it is still today, the evening was the ideal time for a great feast when people finished work and were able to relax, but also because the full enjoyment of the good things of grace in heaven are reserved for the chosen and given to them at end of the day of their earthly life.

Many were invited, in other words the twelve Tribes of Israel. They from among all the nations of the world were invited because they were a people special to God. The many can refers to everyone, but in reality it is only for the people of Israel, because this invitation represents all and every historic occasion of the divine calling to the Israelites. But this calling is also directed to every man and woman which the intention of establishing everyone as eternally blessed. The calling is identified with man’s calling to be holy because blessed and holy is one and the same thing. And this calling of God does not come about by some miracle or by some audible voice from heaven that we hear with our ears, but partly by the outward circumstances in our daily life, our acquaintances, our relationships, by reading or hearing something and something similar to these things and also partly from the interior state and disposition of our mind, our heart and our conscience and by some mystical voice in the depth of our heart where we hear God echoing the words “come, everything is ready”. What then awaits us if we also start to make stupid and unfounded excuses that we cannot come? None of those people invited shall taste of my supper.
“And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.”
His servant represents all those that God sent to his people and especially John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, who as St. Paul says “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and was sent to the Jews calling them through the Gospel to the eternal enjoyment. The hour of our calling by grace is appointed. “Come; for all things are now ready.” Behold Now is the day of our salvation. There are no extensions no prolonging even for a little while for as we are told, everything is ready. Come and do not postpone. Accept the invitation. If we close our ears and play deaf, the opportunity will pass us by and we will be eternally cut off from the pleasures of the heavenly supper. There can be no excuses for not being ready. Preparation was made to all on earth by God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have already been given many good things: forgiveness of sins, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and adoption as sons and heirs of the Kingdom of God. Christ has sent out the invitations through his Gospel and the Church. The Preparation therefore has been made and there can be no more delay for the Great Supper.
“And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.”
They were all of one opinion and one mind; they were not prepared spiritually to accept the invitation so made excuses to be released from what must have been a burden. We can even say that there was a conspiracy for everyone to make excuses. In human terms their reasons for being excused may seem plausible, but they lack seriousness. They only show the bad intentions of those invited. They were informed beforehand of this coming day and should have prepared. They should have put their businesses in order so that any other obligations would be done on any other day. In General these excuses represent all those things that distract us from leading a spiritual life: the care of worldly things like our work, our property, money, wife, children and everything else that take up most of our time that we leave no room to think of God or what will happen to us when we die. They also represent the various passions that people don’t want to be deprived of, thus they ignore the message of the Gospel for the enjoyment of this earthly life. People who have their hearts full of worldly cares have deaf ears so as not to hear the Gospel invitation.

In the case of the first excuse of having bought a piece of land and has to go and see it, this is an obvious exaggeration: he must have seen the land beforehand to then decide to buy it. Thus he could have postponed the new visit for another time. But one more thing is noticeably in his answer: he does not say Please have me excused, neither as in the King James “I pray thee have me excused” but as in the Greek “I ask you to have be excused” which lacks the respect of a polite answer.
“And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused”.
Five yoke of oxen must have been a fairly large buy. This man doesn’t use the pretext of the first man of being a necessity to go and see them and in fact shows that he couldn’t care less whether his excuse is convincing or not. It is worth noting that neither of the two are portrayed as acting illegal in any way. They are neither thieves nor crooks but obtained their possessions legally. But these possessions are shown that they become obstacles for the spiritual life and the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom when man’s heart becomes attached to them.
“And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
This third excuse is the strongest of the three because the excuse is based on the canons of worldly life and the young man is saying that he is prepared for the great supper, but according to the Law of Moses he cannot come. He is convinced that his excuse is indisputable. It is probably based on the law found in Deuteronomy which says: “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5) Thus his excuse is that he must first fulfil his God-given duty to his wife and then he will be free to attend to other things. This excuse shows the absorption of our time from family pleasures and comforts. Exaggerated attachment to our family can be an obstacle for us not fulfilling our duty to God. Christ also said: “He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
Adam’s excuse was “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (Gen. 3:12) Here the new groom is saying: “My wife is obstructing me from eating” but he could have attended the great supper accompanied by his wife, because surely they were both invited.
“So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things.”
The servant didn’t need to give an account of the negative answers, they were already known to God, but it is used to give a continuance to the parable and also because in earthly terms we would expect for a messenger on returning to give an account of the things for which he was sent to do.
“Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.”
The ingratitude of those invited and their contempt for God, for the Gospel and everything that he has done for them justly arouses God’s anger against them. The Supper is ready and cannot be postponed any longer, thus he tells his servant to go out quickly, not because his anger makes him impatient, but because he wants to put a stop to any more delays and possibly so that those invited might not have the time to change their minds. They had their change but turned it down, now they are cut off indefinitely.
The streets and lanes of the city refer to the public places where are usually found those without a descent home over their head. The poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind who gather where there are many people to beg for a living. Those who declined to accept the invitation were the High priests, the scribes and Pharisees and all those who had a high standing and were honoured by the people. Now it was the turn of those who were considered as outcasts of the city to be invited. But be careful that you understand that they were not invited to take the place of those who declined the invitation. They were not invited just to fill up the empty spaces. They would have been invited even if the others hadn’t declined: they also lived in the city and were also Jews and descendants of Abraham. Out of respect for their position the high priests and those who studied the law were invited first, and once they had taken their seats then everyone else would have been invited. Here it is worth noting that he doesn’t invite the merchants and the publicans, in other words the tax collectors, because they too would have been too absorbed in their businesses that their answer would have been like the first three “I ask thee to have me excused”.
“And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.”
The good things of the kingdom where not prepared in vain. Yes, we see that there were many that rejected the kingdom of God, but there were also a great many that with gratitude accepted. Even among the Jews, not all the high priests and scribes rejected to become members of the church. Many rejected the law and were cursed by their people and they became to them as the gentiles. But in God’s kingdom even the gentiles are invited. The “yet there is room” is to draw our attention to the following verse which is the order to the servant to go and extend his invitation to the gentiles and other nations and to all the world.
“And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
So now out of the city, out of Jerusalem and after the calling of the chosen people we see the calling of the gentiles. Compel them to come in does not mean to bring them in by force, but rather to compel them to put aside their false gods and bring them to faith of the one true God. Compel could also refer to men who want to enter, but hesitate through fear and cowardice that they might be rejected. The Lord seeing their hesitation orders his servant to compel them with persuasion to enter without fear. Persuade them to enter because God’s house is roomy enough for everyone and must be filled. And this will come about when the number of those invited is accomplished and when everyone who has been given to the Lord enters into it.
“For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. For many be called, but few chosen.”
None of these men” of course refers to all those that spurned and declined his invitation: The Jews who were not convinced of who Christ was and is, and all those who because of the cares of this world have left no room in their hearts for him to enter and give them a foretaste of the good things that await the believer in the kingdom of God.
The last line “For many be called, but few chosen” is not actually a continuation of the Parable. It is from the Gospel of St Matthew (20:16) and was pasted to the end of the reading. The reason is obvious. The Parable is an account of man’s calling to be a son and heir of the Kingdom of God. All are called, but not everyone listens or takes seriously this calling. Thus the last added line summarizes the whole parable and at the same time puts added stress and warning to make sure that we find ourselves among the chosen few.