Paschal Message of His Grace, Bishop David
The Happy Tomb
By the Right Reverend David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
“O happy tomb that sheltered the sleep of the Creator! * You have become the divine treasure of life; * this was done for our salvation, and we praise him: * Blessed are you, O Lord, for you save us.” Ode 7 verse, Holy Saturday Matins
In the Matins of Holy Saturday we read, “O happy tomb that sheltered the sleep of the Creator.” Truly, this is a valid statement of where we find ourselves at the moment in time. We stand before a blessed, and happy tomb that hides the sleep of the Christ for our salvation. Aside from Christ, the tomb is a dark and damp place of death. It is where we place the bodies of our loved ones as they decay and return to the earth. As the Scripture says, “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.” The tomb left us with an empty feeling, there was no praise of God and no love for man from the tomb, only a silence, for the dead do not speak.
But the death-resurrection of Christ has changed all of that. By his becoming the first-born of the dead, he breaks the bonds of hell and restores mankind to a path that leads to the heavenly kingdom. The tomb now becomes “the divine treasure of life”, as the verse tells us. It is this divine treasure because it now contains, if only briefly, the Savior of the world, the victor over hell, death and the devil. As St. John Chrysostom says in his famous Paschal Sermon, “It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.” So the tomb is place of encounter where that which was previously a sorrowful place now has become the happy tomb of divine treasure.
For everyone who has lost a precious relative or friend, the time from their passing until they are placed in a grave is extremely difficult to bear. Without the understanding of what Christ has done for us, we take on an unbearable grief and we are wrapped up in a grief that nothing can ease or give us comfort. But standing on the cusp of the resurrection on Holy Friday evening, with the body of Christ before us in the tomb, we know that life is but a few hours away. Even as we sing the Lamentations of this night, we are given the first clue of what is to be on the following Sunday. Already in the Canon and in the Alleluia verses, we are speaking of what is to come. Our grief shall be turned into joy, and death no longer holds its sway over us. All because Jesus Christ is turning the tomb from a place of death to a treasure of heaven.
On this Holy Pascha, I pray that you all will receive the joy of the resurrection in a new way, that your mourning is turned into joy because of the Happy Tomb. Let Christ bring to you the promise of everlasting life that he worked so hard to achieve for us. Let us be renewed in our life and spirit with the glad tidings of the resurrection. May we behold the Divine Treasure in our life then proclaim to others the Good News. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
+ David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
Homily on the First Sunday of Lent
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In John 1:43, Jesus says to Philip, “Follow me.” A few versus later Philip says to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” This passage comes as Jesus is calling together His Disciples. They are repeated to us each Sunday of Orthodoxy as we come to the end of the First Week of Lent and celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy and the restoration of the Holy Images to the Church. As we receive these words once again, they serve to remind us of our own calling to be the Disciples of Christ to our generation.
Just as Nathaniel was skeptical about the Person of Jesus, we are surrounded by people who are no less skeptical of Him. The difference is that no one is asking if anything good can come out of a certain city, it is now asking if anything good can come out of a church. And we should be truly humbled by this idea, for in truth and all humility we cannot say that it is not a valid question.
St John of Damascus says an image is many things, but in his Third Apology on the Holy Images, he says that “all images make real and perceptible those things which are hidden.” As man is the visible image and likeness of God, Himself, man’s purpose is to “make real and perceptible” God to those who do not know him, and therefore cannot see Him. Thus we are all called to a high and noble position in all of creation as the only life created by God to be like Him in as many ways as possible. No other created living being has this identity, only us. St John also goes on to say that these images “are a source of profit, help and salvation for all, since they make things so obviously manifest, to enable hidden things.”
Our calling, then, as living Icons of God, is to be the source of revealing that which is hidden in God to all of mankind. If ours is to “follow” God and claim to be like him, even the word “Christian” means to be “like Christ”, then it should follow that as we seek to have others “come and see”, we should be aware of what we are showing them.
Icons are painted (the Greek word used here is ‘grafo’, which means both to write and to paint), in a specific manner with the Iconographer being required to paint in the manner of his teacher, never being permitted to introduce “new” ideas to the Icon yet always painting in his own manner from the way he/she has learned while an apprentice. Certain colors, even the types of paints, are controlled and guarded. The kind of board to use, the canvas properly prepared, the content and size all falling under a process that is centuries old. And the Iconographer’s own preparation, the prayer and fasting needed before one even begins, all followed and maintained with each stroke of the brush. And for all this, the Iconographer remains anonymous, never putting his name on even one completed work, no matter how many there may be produced, or how many churches bear his/her work. The Iconographer may be well known and in demand, but the mention of the name is just one more way in which oral tradition is again manifested.
So it is for us, we have all been called as followers of Christ, to reveal Him to others, to be living Icons of God. The Living Bible has a wonderful way of saying it, “So God made man like his Maker. Like God did God make man; Man and maid did he make them.” [Gen. 1:27] Yes, we are made like our Creator and should be that image to others, we need to be like Him.
So what will others see if they come? Will they see the image of God? Will they see love? Will they see compassion and caring? Will they see how we love each other? Will they see us working together in love for a common goal or improvement for either the church or community? St John of Damascus says we are “encouraged to desire and imitate what is good, and to shun and hate what is evil.” Hate and desire seem like the wrong human conditions to be using during Lent, but how else can we act within this image without the appropriate feelings? But it is better to use them for God than for our personal satisfaction. We should desire to please God and love our neighbor and not desire to be pleased in a selfish way by others. We should desire to seek those who need care and love instead of wanting others to care and love us in the weakness of our human desires. We should hate evil and not others who disagree with us. We should hate those actions that cause evil in ourselves and others, envy, gossip, jealousy, covetousness, and any action that causes harm or sorrow in others.
We our only question should be, when we look at an Icon can we honestly say we are looking at our own image, or the image of someone unlike us. It is within our ability to choose.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ Bishop David
Sowing Our Tithe
A Homily on II Cor. 9:6-11
By Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska
Today you heard St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, telling them the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. What is it about the Corinthians that caused St. Paul to talk to them this way? What point is he trying to make to them? Were they farmers that needed to grow more crops? Were they rich financiers from which he wanted money? We know that St. Paul had so many problems with the Corinthian Church that his two of his longest Epistles are written to them. Corinth was a city free from persecution, it had pagan temples, its Christians were weak spiritually; they were surrounded by people of greed, lust, drunkenness, polytheism, freethought and divisiveness. In short, it wasn’t that different from the land we live in today.
St. Paul had asked them at different times to help raise money for the suffering church in Jerusalem. Because of its status and freedom, it was also wealthy and capable of helping others, if taught to do so. So it is that we have this revealing passage on his thoughts on the relationship between giving and God’s response.
It is simply stated, but true. It is stated in a way that shows the relationship between the giving and receiving in Faith, and it tells us how it is to be done by all of us.
When we give to God, we are not just giving something away. We are not exchanging one type of bounty for another. We are not doing something because we are looking for a reward, although we could, in reality be doing all of these things. St. Paul makes it clear we should be doing so with real joy, cheerfully, because we want to, and for no other reason. Orthodoxy does not believe in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, the belief held by many of the televangelists that if you give them what they ask you will be highly rewarded in a financial way. If fact, St. Paul is careful to present his idea about giving in a way that demonstrates the way our Creator has always operated in relation to his creation.
He uses the term “sowing”, a farming term related to how a farmer plants his seeds to collect a crop in the fullness of time. As anyone knows who has ever been around farming, your yield from the seeds you plant is directly related to the quantity of seeds you put into the ground. In a given area of ground, a farmer knows how many pounds of seeds he needs to have a good crop yield. He also knows that if he skimps on the seeds, he’ll be looking at a poor harvest, but if he plants liberally, his chances of a bumper crop are much greater.
But the farmer also knows that it is not just the amount of seeds he puts into the ground, it is type of soil, the amount of rainfall, the warmth or coolness of the climate all are factors in the outcome. We may ask what has this to do with giving money to God? We find the answer in the further explanation that St. Paul when he states everyone has to give as he “purposes in his heart”, meaning as he intends to give because he has looked at all the needs around him and made a good choice. Its not just in giving the money away, its giving it away for the right reasons at the right time. And even more than that, it must be done cheerfully. In other words, we should receive joy in the act of giving.
When the farmer plants his seeds in the spring, he has no idea how wet or dry the summer will be, nor how warm or cool the weather will be, all he knows is that each time he did this in the past, he received his crops in their time. He realizes that if he lets the seeds remain in the sacks he will have no crop, he has to put his faith in the way God works, the way the seeds, the soil, the water and the wind work together to receive his reward in its time.
All of this brings us to our current situation we find ourselves in. God has given all of us a great amount of “seeds” for our benefit. We can use them however we want, we received it freely for one reason, we are citizens of Alaska. Nowhere else in the United States is there such an act of honor placed on its citizens. We didn't put the oil in the ground, nor did we create the oil companies that harvested the oil, we didn’t even formulate the system from which we receive this bounty. Only our act of being born, or moving to, Alaska made this possible for us. We can be thankful for a good governor, like Jay Hammond, and a legislature that had the foresight to make this possible, but in the end, it is almost entirely an act of God that has given us this gift.
So, seeing how little we have actually done to receive it, should we not be willing, with joy in our heart, return back to God a portion of what we have received? Is it not in our interest and for our own benefit that we should be willing to over back to God from this seed that is ours to plant for our own future, the same way that our state planted those first oil revenues as seeds for growth, so that they would multiply and make this blessing possible?
Beloved, with joy in our heart, let us plant the seed of faith, and do so not grudgingly, but cheerfully, so that we will be able to see the fruit of our efforts in due time. Let St. Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians be his prayer for us, and “May He who supplies the seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the sedd you have sown and increase the fruits of your won righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship - Fairbanks
His Grace Bishop David with the Fairbanks Orthoodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) following PreSanctified Liturgy as St. Herman Church in Fairbanks.
What follows is a posting on FaceBook by the Dean of the Kuskokwim Deanery and Rector of St. James Church in Napaskiak, Fr. Vasily Fisher. It is well written, concise, and to the point. I pray we all heed his words and pledge a tenth of our PFD to our local Church.
Greeting in the Lord!
Today, and soon we all, will begin to be blessed with a free gift which is given to us each year, the PFD. It is a gift that we do not work to receive. It is a gift that is a blessing from the State of Alaska, and a blessing from God.
This is a rather touchy subject to write about but we need to remember that as Baptized Christians, tithing is what we do. Tithing is part of who we are. The scriptures speak of giving back to God that which is His. If we are Christians, we tithe. It's that simple. We give to God out of the joy of our hearts, give back to God with thankfulness for all the blessings He gives to us.
2 Corinthians 31.5 - "As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruit of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything."
Leviticus 27.30 - "Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord."
We all as baptized Christians tithe: Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Readers, Choir, those who work in the church, and all laity. We all give back to God ten percent of what He blesses us with. It is an opportunity to feel the joy of giving back to God with faith and love. In this day and age, it is God who we must remember first, for the sake of our loved ones and our children, so that they too may know the true JOY of giving back to God as Abel did in the old testament.
Genesis 4:3-5 - "In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell."
Let us all joyfully give as Abel did, in thankfulness and prayer because that is who we are - Christians who give back to God. ALL of us. From this joyful giving our loved ones and children WILL learn about the joy of giving back to God. Glory to Jesus Christ!