Seasons of the Church
(Seasonal Feast Days)
Most of the following listings are taken from the synaxarion found
in “The Prayer of the Faithful” Vol. 1, 2, & 3.
Diocese of Saint Maron, U.S.A.
Brooklyn, New York, 1982, 1984, 1985
SUNDAYS OF THE CHURCH
The liturgical year of the Maronite Church opens with commemorations in honor of the Church of Christ. The two Sundays of the Church, the Sunday of Consecration of the Church and the Sunday of the Dedication of the Church, although not directly connected with the Season of Announcement, the first of the liturgical seasons in which the life of Christ is reflected, form a fitting introduction to it. For these two Sundays teach us that the entire salvific mission of Christ today takes place through his Church.
The Old and New Testaments both use the term “corban” to indicate-something consecrated to the Lord. Quite often an object was anointed with oil and then considered holy or set apart for the Lord. In the Old Testament, priests, kings, the meeting tent and its furniture, and the Ark of the Covenant were all anointed and thus consecrated to the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is called the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. In the Church today, we still anoint catechumens, those being chrismated, the sick, priests and bishops, church buildings, and sacred vessels in order to set apart these people, places and objects as sacred, consecrated to the Lord.
In the Old Testament, the sacred object was the Ark of the Covenant. It was a symbol of the covenant between God and His People, as it originally contained the stone tablets of the ten commandments of God’s law. By means of the covenant, Israel was set apart as the chosen people, and Yahweh was to be their God. The Ark was the symbol of God’s personal and saving presence among his people. It was upon the Ark that the blood of atonement was sprinkled and it was before it that divine communications were received. As a sign of God’s leadership and protection for his chosen people, the Ark was carried before the army in battle.
In his prophecies, Isaiah refers to the servant of Yahweh as a “covenant of the people, a light for the nations.” This covenant of the people will establish justice on the earth, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners (Isaiah 42:4, 6-7).
Jesus, the Anointed One, is the New Ark. His sacred person is the place where the divine and human meet. He is the bearer of the good news. It is through the sacrifice of His body on the cross that sins are atoned for and His resurrection establishes an everlasting covenant between God and his people.
Through the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ, the Church has come into being and continues the mission of Christ in the world. It is now the Church which proclaims to mankind God’s saving love for the world.
The Sunday of the Consecration of the Church invites individual Christians to renew their personal consecration to the Lord and His Church, and to strive to realize God’s kingdom on earth.
Dedication of the Church
Originally there were four or five Sundays in honor of the Church during the maronite liturgical year. These celebrations were first observed in Jerusalem on September 12, 355, in honor of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection. Today, there remain only two Sundays: the Sunday of the Consecration of the Church and the Sunday of the Dedication of the Church.
No specific sanctuary or edifice is being commemorated, but rather the universal Church of Christ, the light of the world. The Church is the leaven which will save the world and guide it to salvation and perfection.
The celebrations in honor of the Church coincide with Jewish festival of the Dedication of the Temple (Hanukkah), which is also known as the Festival of Lights.
The origins of the Jewish feast of the Dedication of the Temple are found in a time of great persecution and heroism in Jewish history. The King of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) led a movement which intended to abandon the religious and cultural traditions of the Hebrews and adopt those of the pagan Greeks. Antiochus plundered the Temple treasury, suppressed Jewish worship and installed an altar dedicated to Zeus in the Temple.
Through the military successes of Judas Maccabee, the Temple was recovered, purified and dedicated in 165 B.C. (1Mc 4:36-60). In order to thank the Lord, the Feast of the Dedication was to be celebrated for eight days.
The Christian feast of the Dedication of the Church recalls that the Church of Christ, while constantly in need of purification, has conquered all false teachings and gods. The powers of darkness and evil have no power over the Light. It is through the Church that Christ’s salvific mission is accomplished in the world. For that reason, it is aptly called the “Light of the Nations” (Lumen Gentium, 1).
SEASON OF ANNOUNCEMENT AND BIRTH OF OUR LORD
The Announcement to Zechariah
First Sunday of Announcement
We begin the Season of Announcement, which is a commemoration of those events surrounding and culminating with the incarnation of Jesus. The season opens with the announcement to Zechariah that John, the Forerunner of Jesus, was to be born.
Mention of the Archangel Gabriel, whose name means “God is strong,” is found in the Old Testament. The Archangel appeared to the prophet Daniel and spoke of the end of time when God will come to judge his people. In the New Testament, the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah is an indication that Gabriel is completing his mission and that the final days have begun. Although almost two millennia have intervened since the birth of John the Forerunner, it must always be recalled that we are living in the “end times” — the fulfillment of all that has been promised.
Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, a descendant of Aaron, a member of the priestly caste. This appearance took place while Zechariah was fulfilling one of the priestly functions, the offering of incense at the Temple altar.
The prophecy of a birth of a son was not only good news for Israel, but also good news for the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth. For years they had been living under the curse of having no children. Gabriel now told them that Elizabeth, in her advanced age, was to give birth to a son. The news given to Zechariah and Elizabeth recalls the promise given to Abraham and Sarah: they too were childless, but were promised descendants.
Although he knew that nothing is impossible for God, Zechariah doubted the message. In order to bring him to belief, Gabriel gave him a sign: Zechariah was to be mute until the birth of his son. This sign given to Zechariah is intended for all of us. John the Forerunner is the link between the Old and New Covenants. With the coming of the Savior, the Old will be silenced and the New Covenant proclaimed. Filled with the Spirit, we cry out with Zechariah, “Blessed are you, O God!”
The early Fathers provided us with an interesting epilogue to this account. They taught that Zechariah was martyred because he refused to disclose John’s hiding place to Herod’s soldiers.
The Announcement to Mary
Second Sunday of Announcement
The second Sunday of the Season of Announcement commemorates the announcement to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God. The feast actually recalls two aspects of the same salvific mystery: the incarnation of the divine Word and the motherhood of Mary. For this reason, the feast was given different names according to the aspect which was being emphasized. With time, the incarnation of the Son of God was stressed on the feast of the Birth of our Lord and today’s feast became a Marian feast.
In addition to this second Sunday of the Season of Announcement, the Maronite Church celebrates the Annunciation on March 25th. The feast of the Annunciation appeared in the West, in Italy, during the fifth century, and was eventually adopted by the Maronite Church.
The great announcement to Mary, the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets, took place in the humble home of Mary in Nazareth. At the time, Mary was probably between fourteen and sixteen. Again it was Gabriel, the messenger of the end times, who brought the wonderful message to the young girl.
In many ways, the announcement to Mary can be compared to the announcement to Zechariah. Both apparitions took place during the day and both Zechariah and Mary were to be found at prayer. Mary, the Queen, is speaking with her Lord in her own home. It was necessary for Zechariah to go to the Temple and encounter the Lord in the holy of holies. When the angel appeared to Zechariah, he was described as “standing”. During the announcement to Mary, the angel greets her with signs of respect, gives her the good news and departs. He is not described as “standing”. The angel himself praises Mary, “You have found favor with God”.
In the name of all of humanity, Mary consented to be the instrument through which salvation was to be brought into the world. One recalls Eve, who consented to bring darkness and sin into the world. With Mary, the New Eve, salvation history is at a turning point. She is to be the “Mother of the Light”.
The Maronite calendar commemorates this feast twice during the year: today and on the Second Sunday of Announcement. Today’s feast goes back to the fourth century, when it was decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25th; the Annunciation was naturally celebrated nine months before. This is a great feast in both the East and the West since it recalls the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin.
May the prayers of the Blessed Virgin protect us. Amen.
The Visitation to Elizabeth
Third Sunday of Announcement
The third Sunday of the Season of Announcement commemorates another important event in the unfolding of the promises of God: Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.
After receiving such tremendous good news, Mary could have secluded herself in a life of prayer and contemplation. However, after the angel of the Lord had communicated the news of Elizabeth’s conception to her, Mary perceived it as the Lord’s will that she go to be with Elizabeth, and thus chose to share the divine life within her with another. Mary shared Jesus with others even before his birth. The fundamental task of an apostle is to share Jesus with others, and so, Mary is called the “Queen of the Apostles.”
Impelled by the Spirit of God, Mary left on a journey that required four days of difficult travel, especially for a poor girl such as herself. Yet, as the mother of God and our Mother, she was already concerned for the welfare of others.
When Mary encountered Elizabeth, the unborn infant in her womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Spirit and sang of the blessedness of Mary.
Mary is blessed, not simply because she was to be the Mother of God, but also because of her own personal faith. She heard the words of the angel and accepted everything that was to happen with humility. For this reason, she is blessed throughout the ages.
The hymn of Mary differs from that of Zechariah. Zechariah’s hymn is communal: he is proclaiming gratitude to God on behalf of all the people of Israel. On the other hand, Mary’s hymn is personal, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” She is humbly proclaiming the great things that God has done for her. In humility, the Virgin of Nazareth proclaims how great the Lord has made her by choosing her as the Mother of His Son.
The hymn of Mary announces a revolution which God will bring about through His Son. This revolution has a variety of aspects: it is moral (“He has confused the proud of their inmost thoughts.”); social (“He has deposed the mightily from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.”); and economic (“The hungry He has given every good thing, while the rich He has sent empty away”).
To be called by God for any task, brings with it a crown of sorrow and a crown of joy. God chooses us not for our own glorification, but in order to use us to bring about his kingdom. Like Mary, all of us should respond with humility and be grateful to God for choosing us as his instruments.
The Birth of John the Baptizer
Fourth Sunday of Announcement
The Church does not usually celebrate the earthly birthdays of saints, but rather their birthdays in heaven, namely the day of their deaths when they obtain their crown of glory. However, in the case of John the Baptist, we celebrate his earthly birth – his coming into the world to announce the Son.
John’s coming was filled with marvels. The angel announced his birth. Because of his doubt Zechariah was struck dumb. John leaped with joy in the womb of his mother when visited by the Virgin. He was sanctified at the time by the Holy Spirit. As soon as John was born, Zechariah was able to speak and sing the beautiful song of “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,” a hymn the Church continues to sing even today.
The angel predicted that many would rejoice at John’s birth and that he would be great in the sight of God, and holy, ascetic, and just before the people. He will bring many back to God. He will be the Forerunner of the Savior and return the hearts of parents to their children, and the unbelievers to the wisdom of the just. He will prepare for God a holy people.
The words of Jeremiah the prophet are applied to him:
“Before I found you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you a prophet to the nations. I appointed you… Say not I am too young. To whomever I send you, you shall go. Whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them because I am with you to deliver you. See, I place my words in your mouth. I set you over nations and over kingdoms to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plan… They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:3,7,10,19).
The prophet Malachi says, “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me” (Mk. 1,2; Lk. 7,27). This messenger is John the Baptist. He ended the law and the prophets and was praised by the Lord himself.
Some months before the Lord began his preaching ministry, John came out of his solitude and appeared near the Jordan River, as the Forerunner of the Lord predicted by the prophets. He impressed the crowds by his poverty, austerity of life, severity of preaching and the practicality of his exhortations. His ministry was quite successful. Many people came to him to receive his baptism and confess their faults as he announced the imminence of the messianic kingdom. He was so humble that he declared himself unworthy to untie the sandals of the Lord. “I have baptized you in water; he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). He will separate the sinners from the just.
When Jesus came to be baptized, John wanted to withdraw, saying that it was he who would be baptized by the Lord, but Jesus insisted. John said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and told his disciples to follow Jesus. When the disciples complained that Jesus was becoming more and more popular, John said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” He reproached Herod for his scandalous conduct and was put in jail. In prison he sent his disciples to Jesus. He wanted them to follow him and let Jesus declare himself as the Savior predicted by Isaiah. John was praised as superior to all the faithful of the Old Testament.
The Revelation to Joseph
Fifth Sunday of Announcement
Joseph, the spouse of Mary, lived a life of obscurity and devotion to him suffered the same lot during the first centuries of the Church. However, we find that Jerome praises his virginity; John Chrysostom spoke about his sufferings and his joys. It is said that Helen built a church in his honor at Bethlehem and a feast has been celebrated in his memory by the Eastern Churches since the ninth century.
The Maronite Church celebrates his feast on the fifth Sunday of the Season of Announcement and also on March 19.
From the day of the announcement of Gabriel to Mary and her virginal conception, three months had already passed. During this time, Mary kept silent. Although the consequences could have been disastrous to her reputation, she revealed the great mystery to no one, not even Joseph, her betrothed, or her relative, Elizabeth. She trusted in God and knew that he would reveal the great mystery in his own time and in his own way. The Lord did just this.
According to Jewish law, betrothal was equivalent to marriage. Even before cohabitation, if a man desired to leave a woman, he had to give the bride a written divorce. If the groom were to die, the bride was considered to be a widow. If the woman was found guilty of adultery, it was the duty of the man to repudiate her publicly (Deuteronomy 22:10-29; Leviticus 20:10).
Then Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he could not understand how something like this could have happened. Mary continued to be modest, kind and compassionate. Saint Jerome describes Joseph’s confusion. “Joseph, knowing the chastity of Mary and admiring what happened, hid in a silence the mystery he was unable to understand.” Just as Mary respected the mystery, so also did Joseph. However, he decided that it was his duty to send her away in silence, even though he would have to suffer. They would have to separate rather than unveil the mystery. The Holy Family began with this martyrdom of self in the face of God’s mystery.
God intervened in a dream, which Joseph did not doubt as coming from heaven. God told Joseph that Mary was pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. He also gave Joseph his role as the “father” of the family: “Mary will give birth and you will call him Jesus. This child will deliver people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). A great responsibility was given to Joseph and, like Mary, he accepted the will of God.
Joseph was called to be the humble servant of God, Jesus and Mary. He would do all his duties in silence. He would serve, protect, provide and die before even seeing a miracle. His entire life became one of love, immolation, sacrifice, work and self-effacement.
He would take Mary to Bethlehem, flee to Egypt, bring Jesus and Mary out of Egypt, look for Jesus in the Temple and die in silence. This was his mission, and he accomplished it because he trusted in God.
Joseph has often been compared to the Joseph of the Old Testament, the son of Jacob. As Joseph of the Old Testament saved Egypt and its neighbors, may the Joseph of the New Testament save the Church and all those who come to him, “Go to Joseph. He has the riches of the king! The king has entrusted to him the distribution of his goods!”
Sixth Sunday of Announcement
We find that there are two versions of the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament. One is in Matthew (1:1-17) and another is in Luke (3:22-38). The basic aim of any such list of descendants in the scriptures, is the connection of each era to God’s progressive plan of salvation which reaches its fulfillment in Christ.
The genealogy of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises God made to Abraham and David. One notes that there are four women, perhaps all gentiles, in the list. The inclusion of these women may serve to indicate that Jesus came to save all mankind and not just the Jews (Mt. 28:19). David, a sinner guilty of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:6), is also included in the list, thus indicating that Jesus, who was without sin, was fully immersed in the sinfulness of humanity.
The genealogy of Luke’s gospel is even more obvious in indicating the universal mission of Jesus. He goes back from Jesus, to Abraham, and all the way back to Adam, the son of God; thus he shows Jesus as the New Adam, who begets a new humanity.
The two genealogies are quite diverse in the personages included. In fact, they agree only on two names from David to Joseph. Matthew’s royal lineage supports his concept of messianic fulfillment while Luke may have been more authentic in tracing the line through Nathan. In any case, one finds that the theological purpose of the genealogies supercedes any consideration for factual accuracy. The intention of the lists is to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been prophesied in the Old Testament. The covenant that the Lord established with David will stand forever: “The Lord says that his covenant with David stands firm and he will make his posterity endure forever and his throne as the days of heaven” (Ps. 89:29-30).
Not only does the psalmist assure us that the covenant with David and his posterity will last forever, but Jeremiah the prophet tells us that one of David’s descendants will appear and rule as a glorious king:
“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The Lord our justice.”
For thus says the Lord: Never shall David lack a successor on the throne of the house of Israel, nor shall priests of Levi ever be lacking.
Micah tells us that the great king will come from Bethlehem: “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one for me who is to be ruler is Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1).
Isaiah tells us that the sign that will be given to the people is that the child will be born of a virgin: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall call him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
He also describes the Messiah, beginning with the statement that he will spring from the root of Jesse:
“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding.
A spirit of cousel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.
Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice and decide a right for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his lips (Isaiah 11:1-5).
The genealogies call us to trust in the salvific plan of God: all will be brought to fulfillment by the Lord in his own time and in his own way. In spite of difficulties, we are called to trust in the promises of the Lord. Jesus himself, the Son of the Father promised, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not” (Luke 21:33).
Birth of Our Lord
The Divine Liturgy in the Maronite tradition often mentions the title “Mary, Mother of the Light.” The opening prayer of the liturgy used to mention it every day. This title is rich in theological and spiritual significance and is indeed one of the treasures of the Maronite Church.
The image of light conveys a sense of joy, festivity, and life. Religion uses the image of light to express the notion of purity and the presence of God. Since light is the element which is proper to the divine Being, from ancient times the pagans adored the sun. At the end of December, the pagans celebrated a feast dedicated to the “unconquerable Sun.” In fact, on December 21st the nights, which had been becoming longer and longer, begin to shorten. The ancients celebrated this conquest of the light over the darkness.
When Constantine granted freedom for Christians to worship publicly it was appropriate to replace the celebration of the Unconquerable Sun, with the Rest of the New Sun of the world, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world (John 3:19).
The image of light is found throughout salvation history. The Aramaic Fathers of the Antiochene tradition teach us that creation is a preparation for the incarnation of the Son of God. All was created by the Father, through the Son.
Scripture tells us that the first thing that was created is the sun: it is the heavenly body which gives forth light, warmth and life itself.
The sun is the image of the Son of God because Christ himself is the light which comes from heaven. As a ray of light coming through a cloud, he appeared from the Virgin Mary.
When God created the world, he separated the light from the darkness and throughout the Old Testament, one finds the light and the darkness contrasted with one another. In the New Testament, there is a constant struggle between the light and the darkness.
The genealogy in the gospel account of Matthew describes the human ancestry of Jesus and, as such, lists the sinners whose sins Jesus had to bear. This is the side of darkness in the spiritual realm. Saint John describes Jesus as coming from God, light from light: “I have come to the world as its light to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark” (John 12:46).
The account of the birth of Jesus contains the image of light throughout. The shepherds saw a great light, “The glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). The Magi saw a brilliant star in the skies, and followed it (Matthew 2:9-11). The shepherds said, “let us go”, and the Magi said, “we saw a light and we came” (Luke 2:15; Matthew 2:2).
Throughout the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we find the image of light used to express his divinity. His baptism was a true revelation and, as such, a great enlightenment. During the transfiguration, Jesus was surrounded by light (Matthew 17:2-5). When Jesus did die on the cross, darkness came upon the earth (Matthew 27:45) and the soldier, standing at the foot of the cross, was moved to say, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
The resurrection itself was blinding light (Matthew 28:2). The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is described as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). Upon seeing a great light and being thrown from his horse, Saul came to believe (Acts 9:3). While in prison, Peter saw a bright light and was freed from his chains (Acts 12:6).
Just as the shepherd and Magi saw and followed the light, we who have seen the Light must follow. Jesus told us, “Walk while you have the light” (John 2:19; 5:34; 12:35-36). This feast of the Birth of Our Lord, the Light of the world, should be an incentive for us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
“The night shall be no more. They will need no light from lamps or the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light and they shall reign forever” (Revelation 22:5).
The infant Child of Mary and Joseph has been wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manager — there is no room for them in the inn. If we were to see the Child, we would not perceive him to be any different than any other infant: he is hungry, he cries, he sleeps. Yet this Child is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). This infant is not simply endowed with special gifts or even filled with grace — this Child is God.
This is the mystery of the incarnation: Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Our minds boggle at such a mystery. We find it hard to believe that Word of Yahweh, the all-powerful God of the Old Testament, is personified in this helpless Child. But this is our faith.
The mystery of the incarnation challenges us to set aside our own categories about the nature of will of God and to concentrate upon the person of Jesus. Many of us have preconceptions of what God is or what God wants. When we find that these preconceptions do not concur with the words and actions of Jesus, we reject Jesus, arguing that he cannot be God because he does not fit our understanding of God. However, Jesus told us, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 14:7). To know Jesus is to know God.
Meditating upon the helpless child in the manger calls us to accept the love of God as it is manifested in the person of Jesus. It challenges us to believe that God can-and indeed-does love us with the heart of an infant.
The entire Maronite liturgical year is centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Season of Announcement recalls for us the great events in the history of our salvation leading up to the Birth of our Lord.
Today, we commemorate an event in the life of Jesus which took place eight days after his birth: his naming and circumcision.
According to Hebrew law, every male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Genesis 17:11-12). Circumcision was the sign God gave to Abraham of his covenant with his chosen people. Through circumcision the Hebrew child received the physical sign of his membership in the chosen people of God. At the time of circumcision the child was also given the name by which he was to be known among God’s people.
It is thus that Jesus is circumcised and given his name which means, “Yahweh is Savior.”
Jesus, as God’s true Son had no need of circumcision and yet, in order to show that he was the fulfillment of the law, he submitted to its prescriptions. Jesus was already a member of God’s chosen people; for, in fact, he was God’s chosen One, the Son of the Most High. And yet, Jesus not only observed the prescriptions of the law, he also surpassed them since after his death and resurrection, the New Covenant would be established and the Old Covenant would be abolished.
The infant church questioned whether circumcision was necessary for those who wished to become Christians. Saint Paul who brought the gentiles into the Church asserted that circumcision is no longer required in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. One becomes a member of the new Israel, not by circumcision of the flesh, but by faith and baptism in Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:11f).
We know little about the childhood of our Lord except for the incident which is celebrated in Liturgy today. Jesus, as a boy, joined his parents in going up to Jerusalem and the Temple for the feast of Passover. After fulfilling the requirements of Jewish law, Joseph and Mary set out for home, presuming that Jesus was traveling with relatives. In reality, he had remained in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph found him in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Luke’s account of the incident ends with the note that Jesus was subject to his parents.
In today’s feast two points become clear to us: Jesus fulfills the law of Moses in his own life, and he does so as one who humbled himself to become like us in all things, but sin.
On the feast of the Circumcision we were reminded that Jesus was subject to the requirements of the Mosaic law and today we are again reminded that Jesus fulfilled the spiritual responsibilities of a member of God’s chosen people; for he prayed in the Temple and celebrated the Passover with his family, he who was both the true Temple and the Passover sacrificed for us. We are thus reminded that through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ’s body we became living temples of the Lord.
Jesus listened to the teachers of the law and amazed them by his questions. He who was the teacher of Israel would establish a new law which would not be written on tablets of stone, but rather upon our hearts.
Christ our Passover and Teacher comes among us with the humility and simplicity of a child. He who was the eternal Son of God abandoned his prerogatives and taught us by his obedience to his parents that we are subject to our Father in heaven, the Father’s will must be our will, the Father’s care and concern must be manifested in our love for his children.
SEASON OF EPIPHANY
Epiphany of the Lord
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eastern Churches this feast is known by two names: Epiphany and Theophany. The Greek, “Epiphany” means “a manifestation” or “an apparition” and the word, “Theophany,” “an appearance of God.” On this day we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God’s Son.
The feast of Epiphany was first celebrated in the East around the third century and eventually was dropped by the Western Church. In the Eastern Churches the celebration of Epiphany originally centered on both the Birth of our Lord and his baptism.
The feast of the Epiphany is intimately connected with the mystery of our Lord’s birth. The Child who was born for us and the Son who was given to us is manifested before us to be the Son of the Most High. Christ begins his public life with his baptism by John in the Jordan river. At his baptism Christ is seen as the fulfillment of John’s preaching: He is the Messiah and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Father and Holy Spirit are witnesses to Christ for he is the beloved Son of the Father and upon him the Spirit rests. Thus at the baptism of the Lord we have not only an epiphany or manifestation of Christ as God’s Son, but also Theophany or manifestation of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The feast of the Epiphany reminds us not only of the baptism of Christ, but also of our own baptism. St. Ephrem in his Hymn of Epiphany says: “…our blessed Lord came to be baptized with sinners and because of his glory the heavens were opened. The One who purifies all creatures, desiring to cleanse them, went into the waters and sanctified them for our baptism.” It is for this reason that we bless water on this day. Originally, the mystery of baptism was celebrated on this feast and the waters blessed were those of baptism.
Today we celebrate the manifestation or epiphany of the Trinity at the baptism of Christ as well as the manifestation of the glory of God in the person of the Lord come into the world, that is to say, the manifestation of Christ, the Word of God, among us. Let us then call to mind the grace of God who has appeared for the salvation of all, and thank him for the baptism through which we have been begotten in the Spirit and through which we have put on Christ and become children of the Father.
Sunday of Deceased Priests
Today the Maronite Church begins a series of three Sundays dedicated to prayer for the dead. This first Sunday is set aside as a commemoration of all the deceased priests of the Church.
Christ has established the priesthood for his Church and entrusted it with great responsibilities. The priest is given the task of caring for the spiritual needs of the people of his parish. The bishop, however, is responsible for not only all the people of the diocese, but also for his priests and other ministers.
The more the Lord gives to the Church, the more he asks from it. The gift of the priesthood calls the people of God, the Church, to pray for those who were entrusted with the divine mysteries and carried on the salvific work of Christ. The bishop and priest are called to be the salt of the earth and the light and presence of Christ among us. All these responsibilities have been given to men who possess human weakness and frailty.
The gospel for the Eucharist today speaks of the “faithful servant” which is, of course, the role of the priest and bishop. They are to be like the wise virgins always ready to serve the Lord, and like the faithful servant, eager to multiply the talents God has given them.
Because the priest and bishop have been given so much responsibility over the Church of God, they must know, not only God’s will, but must also constantly strive to be examples of fidelity and prudent action. The Church’s ministers always must seek to be strong in virtue, persevering in willingness and humble and constant action. If not, they may delay the Master’s coming.
Because of the dangers and temptations that assail the bishop and priest, we must pray for them. This is our Christian duty and it arises out of our gratitude for the service they have rendered God in his Church. We pray that all God’s priests and bishops enter into the house of the Lord and reap the rewards of the faithful servant.
May the Lord entrust them with even greater things!
Sunday of the Righteous and Just
Today, the Maronite Catholic Church celebrates the Sunday of the Righteous and the Just. This is actually the traditional Maronite feast in honor of all the saints. Whereas the Latin Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints on November 1st, the Maronite Church, following its ancient tradition, dedicates this Sunday to their memory.
On this day we call to mind all the men and women (children of the Church) who have followed the path of justice and righteousness. We remember the prophets, apostles and martyrs, the hermits, ascetics – men and women – religious, as well as all Christians who have led holy lives.
As our Liturgy so often reminds us, they are just in the sight of God because they have patterned their lives on Jesus Christ, the Just One.
The saints are our models; their prayers and fasting have taught us to fight against sin and temptation and so gain the reward of righteousness.
The saints are our intercessors; by their prayers, we obtain the pardon of our sins and are strengthened in Christian virtues.
They were the salt of the earth and light of the world, they call us to follow their path. Through their intercession may we one day merit eternal life with God.
How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Sunday of the Faithful Departed
Today the Maronite Church commemorates all the faithful Christians who have departed this life in the faith. This feast is the Syrian Church’s equivalent to the feast of All Souls in the Latin Church.
As we have just prayed in the Hoosoyo, we ask our Lord Jesus Christ to welcome all our deceased brothers and sisters, who have been nourished with his body and blood, into his kingdom of light. Not knowing the state of perfection they have achieved in their lives, we commend them to the mercy of God with hope and expectation.
It is a Christian obligation for us to help our brothers and sisters through our prayers and the offering of the Divine Mysteries for their salvation. For though they have not yet reached the joy of the righteous and the just, they are called to ultimately enter the kingdom of light and peace. Our intercession can bring them nearer to the day of eternal happiness.
We should pray in a special way for those who have been near us, our relatives, friends and benefactors who have died. At the same time we should pray for the deceased members of our parish and for all the departed who have no one to pray for them.
We commend the faithful departed to the Lord that by his cross he may lead them into the eternal wedding feast, and newly arrived in God’s kingdom may they intercede before him on our behalf.
Entrance into Lent
Great Lent is a time for change, for transformation. The Maronite Church begins Great Lent with Cana Sunday, a commemoration of the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana at Galilee. This change prepares us for the evening when we change wine into his blood and bread into his body.
Cana is situated 750 feet above sea level. It is known as Cana of Galilee in order to distinguish it from Cana in Coclo, Syria. Saint Jerome said that he was able to see Cana from Nazareth. Cana of Galilee was the town of Nathaniel and it is to this town that Jesus will return to heal the son of the royal official.
The actual circumstances of the wedding are unknown. Perhaps Nathaniel had invited Jesus and his followers to the wedding feast in his village. Some say the groom was related to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, or was one of the friends of Jesus. In the Middle Ages, legend held that it was the wedding feast of John the Beloved.
According to Jewish law, the wedding of a virgin was to take place on a Wednesday. The wedding was to be followed by eight days of celebration and an abundance of food and drink was essential. At this the wedding wine began to diminish. Fortunately for the groom and his guest, Jesus and his Mother were there.
Mary had only to mention to Jesus that something was going wrong: “They have no wine.” Jesus understood that his Mother was not simply making an observation, but was seeking his powerful intervention. On her part, Mary was confident that he would listen to her. She had given birth to him and had lived with him for thirty years, so she had faith in him. At first, Jesus responded with an apparent refusal, “Woman, (a term of respect which he would also use on the cross) how does this concern of yours involve me?” The reason for his response was that his hour had not yet come, namely the hour of his death and resurrection, after which he could answer all the prayers of his Mother.
Jesus came into the world for a definite purpose and task, as we all do. He did not see his life in terms of the immediate needs of any particular moment, but only in terms of his purpose and the eternal plan of the Father. All of his needs had to correspond and lead to the ultimate fulfillment of his life.
Mary knew that her prayer would not be refused; she told them to do whatever he told them. Mary trusted her Son and her request was fulfilled. She told the servants as she tells all of us: do whatever my son tells you.
Jesus instructed the servants to fill the six waterpots. The number six might be significant because in the mentality of the time, six was an imperfect number. (Seven was considered perfection.) The six waterpots can represent the imperfection of the old law, which Jesus is to fill with the wine of the Gospel and of his grace. The imperfection of law was transformed into the perfection of grace. These jars held 180 gallons of water, which was to be transformed into excellent wine. What was originally lacking is now to be found in superabundance.
Aside from the rich theological significance of the transformation of water into wine, let us reflect on the simplicity and “homeliness” of the act. Jesus knew that the lack of wine would be a source of embarrassment to the groom and misfortune for the guests. He did not rejoice in the misfortune of others, but used his great power to save a simple man of Cana from humiliation. Let us imitate his example and be concerned with the simple needs of those around us and how we can fulfill them.
Sunday of the Leper
Second Sunday of Lent
The miracle of Jesus curing the leper took place when Jesus was visiting the cities of Galilee. At that time, many diseases of the skin were referred to as leprosy. It seems that in this case the man was suffering from a true case of leprosy. No other disease can compare to the ugliness of leprosy. It tortures a person for many years, destroys any human appearance, and ultimately kills the individual. The sufferer becomes utterly repulsive to others and to himself. In the time of Jesus, the leper was declared to be “unclean” and was separated from the rest of the community.
The physical disease of leprosy can be compared to the spiritual disease of sin. A person who sins eventually loses the image of the divine imprinted upon his soul. He becomes hateful to others and even to himself. He becomes separated from the rest of the community, the Body of Christ, and forced to dwell alone.
In the Old Testament, a leper who was cured was treated similar to a repentant person. A cured leper was required to offer two birds at the Temple. One bird was killed and the second live bird was dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird and allowed to go free. We are also cleansed by the blood of Christ.
We must consider the courage of the leper who approached Jesus for healing. According to the law, he was forbidden to go near anyone, but the Leper does not consider the law. He simply wants to be cured and he knows where the healing is to be found. Jesus does not reproach the man for breaking the law, but shows him mercy. Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. (This act itself was forbidden by the law.) His only concern was the desperate need of this suffering man. After curing the man, he instructed him to perform the ritual imposed by the law.
Jesus was somewhat severe with the man after the cure and instructed him to tell no one of the miraculous healing. Nonetheless, the man went throughout the countryside and told everyone about Jesus. Jesus was thus obliged to avoid the populated areas and withdraw to the desert places.
The cure of the leper manifests what sin can do to us and what the miraculous healing power of the Lord can do for us. Just as the leper showed courage and sought the healing power of Jesus, let us seek the healing power of Jesus in confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness.
Sunday of the Hemorrhaging Woman
Third Sunday of Lent
On this third Sunday of Lent, the necessity of faith in the power and compassion of Jesus shines forth. The poor woman who was lost in the crowd thought that no one would notice her — not even the Master himself. Yet Jesus stopped everyone in order to speak to the woman.
Jairus, the president of the synagogue, asked Jesus to come to his house and lay his hands upon his only child. The centurion had more faith. He told Jesus that he was not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof, but Jesus had only to say the word and the boy would be healed (Matthew 8:8). However, the faith of the sick woman surpassed even that of Jairus or the centurion. According to the Law, she was “unclean” and she considered herself as nobody, not even worthy to speak to the Lord. She simply lost herself in the crowd and sought to touch the tassels of Jesus’ robe.
All devout Jews wore robes with fringes on them (Numbers 15:37-41). Attached to the fringes were four tassels of white thread with blue thread woven through them. These fringes and tassels served to remind the Jew that he was a man of God and required to observe God’s law.
On his way to Jairus’ house, many people followed Jesus and pressed upon him. The hemorrhaging woman was part of the crowd. She had spent all of her money on medicine and doctors, but was never cured. Jesus was her only hope. She felt that if she could get close to him and touch only the tassels of his robe, she would be healed. Upon touching one of the tassels, she was healed instantly. Jesus wanted to exalt the faith of the woman who touched him and wanted to speak with the woman. The woman came and knelt before him. Jesus, not desiring to embarrass her but to exalt her faith said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” It is only our faith in the Lord that brings us true health.
The sick woman was an unimportant member of the crowd following Jesus, but she was important to Jesus. To Jesus, each of us is important and worthy of all of his attention. It is encouraging to know that we — unimportant in the eyes of the world — are most valuable in the eyes of almighty God.
Everyday our lives touch not only the tassels of the Lord, but his most sacred body and precious blood. After the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, the priest recites or sings, “I have consumed your Holy Body. Let them see your abundant mercy. I have shared in the Holy Mysteries. Let me join you in your heavenly abode.”
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Fourth Sunday of Lent
During Lent, we constantly reflect upon the theme of our sinfulness and the mercy of God. During the Divine Mysteries, we pray: “Many are my sins, but greater is your mercy. When placed on a scale your mercy prevails over the weight of the mountains known only to you. Consider the sin and consider the atonement. The atonement is greater and exceeds the sins.” Our sins have been atoned for because of the infinite compassion and mercy of God.”
The gospel of Luke provides us with three parables which speak about the mercy of God: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The sheep became lost because of its own ignorance. Many times we think of ourselves as intelligent, but out of foolishness we wander away from the sheepfold, the Church. Of course, the coin was lost through no fault of its own. Many people become lost through no fault of their own, but are misled and taught to do wrong. This is especially true of the young. The son, however, deliberately left the house of his father. This parable is most rich in explaining the concern of God for our well-being and Jesus himself provides all the details of the story.
Jesus tells of how the son boldly goes to the father and asks for “his portion.” Actually, all of the property belongs to the father and the son has no rights to any of it. How often do we treat all of the gifts of God as if they were our rightful portion rather than gifts of God. Seeking freedom and pleasure, with money in hand, the son does not concern himself about anybody or anything, he goes far from home so that no one knows what he is doing. He ran off to live among the non-believers where more pleasures could be offered to him, but he soon went through all of his money. A famine struck the land and he was forced to seek work in tending for pigs. The Jews considered pigs as unclean and the one who cared for pigs as cursed. In the face of physical and moral degradation, he was forced to come to his senses. “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, but I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father …”
The father must have been awaiting for the son daily, because he saw him at a distance and ran out to meet him. He embraced and kissed him. He gave him a robe (a sign of honor), a ring (a sign of authority) and shoes (unlike slaves who did not have shoes). The son was treated as if he had never been away.
The son showed courage and humility in his return. It took courage to examine his life and ascertain his pitiful condition. It took humility to admit his mistakes to his father.
The older son represents those who prefer to see a sinner destroyed rather than saved. He is jealous and self-righteous, considering only the sins of his brother and not of his repentance. He even tries to incite the father against the brother. However, the father encouraged him to be happy because his brother who had been lost has been found. How joyful is heaven on the occasion of the return of a sinner to the Father.
On some occasions we are able to identify with the prodigal son who has gone astray. Let up imitate his courage and humility and seek the forgiveness of the Father. At other times, we are able to see ourselves as the older son, righteous and unwilling to forgive the mistakes of another. At times like this, let us listen to the wisdom of the Father and be joyful at the conversion of the sinner.
Sunday of the Paralytic
Fifth Sunday of Lent
On this Sunday, the Maronite Church commemorates the miracle of Jesus’ healing the paralytic.
We find that Jesus had returned to Capernum. Since the news of his healing of the leper had become spread throughout the region, he had become very well-known. For this reason, he probably went to Capernaum by night in order to avoid the crowds. The house he went to was probably that of Simon Peter. By morning the house was filled with people. The crowd was filled with simple believers who wanted to listen to the Master, but mingled in the crowd were members of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had the function of guarding the orthodox teaching of the Jewish faith. The members of the Sanhedrin were not pleased with the teaching of this new master and were seeking a way to entrap him. In any case, there were many there who came to profit from the presence of the Lord.
Many times Jesus comes to us, visits us. He comes to us with an idea, a word we hear, a person who is suffering or joyful. Jesus is present. However, many times we neglect to notice him. We do not take advantage of his presence and we simply let the moment pass. We fail to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay with them and eventually recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
One of the people who had heard about Jesus’ presence in Capernaum was a paralytic. Since he was unable to go on his own, he sought the assistance of four friends who would carry him. The crowds were surrounding the house, so the men were forced to go on the roof and lower the paralytic through a hole. Such actions were proof of the faith of the paralytic and his friends.
Jesus looked at the man and said, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This was not a cure, but a promise of a cure. For the Jews believed that the sickness of the man was caused by his sins. In the Jewish mind, there is a very strong connection between sin and suffering (See Job 4:7). However, the forgiveness of sins was the prerogative of God alone. For any man to claim to do that was an insult to God and blasphemy, punishable by death (See Leviticus 24:10).
The experts of the law who were present were afraid to confront Jesus publicly since the Master was too popular. But Jesus read their thoughts and questioned their doubts. Since no one could determine whether a man’s sins had been forgiven or not, Jesus performed a physical cure; he told the man to get up and walk. In this incident, Jesus signed his own death warrant. From that moment, he was in opposition to the Jewish authorities who would eventually seek his life. Jesus was on his way to glory.
Like the paralytic, we must expend all our efforts to take advantage of the healing presence of the Lord. Let us seek the Lord with faith and humility, asking him to cleanse us.
Sunday of Bartimaeus the Blind
Sixth Sunday of Lent
A theme that is central to the Maronite Liturgy is Jesus as the Light of the world and daily we invoke Mary as the Mother of the Light. On this Sixth Sunday of Lent, we recall Bartimaeus, the blind man who wanted to behold the Light of the world.
Jesus was on the way to celebrate his last Passover. He was traveling along the road to Jericho, a resort city, also known as the City of the Palms (this Jericho is to be distinguished from the old Jericho of Joshua). Jericho was fifteen miles from Jerusalem and every Jew living in the area was required to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. If they were unable to attend, they were required to stand along the sides of the roads and listen to the rabbis who taught as they passed by.
The Passover was a very tense one. Jesus was considered as a rebel, one who was preaching against the orthodox Judaism. He was now openly proceeding to Jerusalem, teaching as a rabbi. If what Jesus was teaching was true, the entire Temple worship was irrelevant. Jericho was filled with priests and Levites, who took turns in serving at the Temple. Naturally, they would be concerned about what Jesus had to say.
Jesus and the crowds around him were approaching the gate of the city, where a blind beggar was sitting. It was a good time to beg for alms because of the number of persons who walked by. The gospel gives his name as “Bartimaeus.” Bartimaeus heard the tramping of feet and the noise of the crowd and asked who was passing by. When he heard that it was Jesus who was approaching, he began to shout and make noise in order to attract Jesus’ attention. Everyone who was trying to listen to the Master was offended and tried to silence the beggar. But this was the only chance for the beggar: Jesus was passing by, and he wanted to escape from his world of darkness.
When Jesus indicated that he wanted to see what Bartimaeus wanted, the attitude of the crowd changed. They told the blind beggar, “Courage, get up. He is calling you.” The beggar’s response was immediate. He threw off his cloak and rushed to the Lord. In many ways, we are called to be like the beggar. Certain opportunities come only once. When the Lord calls us, we must throw off anything that will hinder us and run to Christ.
The blind man knew what he wanted; he wanted light. Not only was the beggar to receive the gift of sight from the Lord; he was also to receive the gift of inner light, the gift of faith. How courageous Bartimaeus was in his desire to seek the Light of the world. Many of us desire to remain in the darkness. Let us not allow the world to prevent us from seeking the Light, but let us cast aside all that hinders us and go to meet the Lord. “Through the rays of your light, we shall see the light, O Jesus, full of mercy.”
As the Season of Great Lent draws to a close the Church turns to the person of Lazarus and the story of his resurrection from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha and lived in the town of Bethany. Lazarus and his sisters were friends of Jesus and always offered him hospitality when he was in the area.
The sickness and death of Lazarus is the occasion for Christ to perform a miracle which would clearly show his messianic power. As a result of this miracle God’s Son would be glorified and his power even over death would be manifested.
This miracle is a crowning of all the other miracles of Christ for it reminds us as we prepare to follow Christ up to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be crucified, that death has no power over him, the Lord and giver of life. Lazarus Saturday is thus clearly meant to console and strengthen us and arouse in us the same faith that Jesus called forth from Martha:
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me,
though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive
and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Even as we face the death of Christ on the cross we are asked to profess our faith in him who will rise to glory on Easter morning
Lazarus is also a reminder for us that we will not suffer eternal death if we are faithful to him, but rather, we will rise to eternal life in the Lord. Death, for Christ’s faithful, no longer is to be feared, it has no power over us. May Lazarus assist us with his prayers. Amen.
This Sunday takes its name from the joyful shouts of the children of Israel as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem in triumph, crying out: “Hosanna”, which means, “Save us now, we pray!” They also shouted out: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus was thus greeted as the Savior of Israel, the Messiah and Lord.
The procession with the palms and olive branches that takes place on this day, originated in Jerusalem as a commemoration of Christ’s triumphant entrance into the Holy City. By the fourth century, the Church in Jerusalem gathered each year to recall the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. The faithful gathered on the Mount of Olives with their bishop. There they sang psalms and hymns and listened to readings from the Old Testament and to the gospel account of the Lord’s entry into the city. Late in the afternoon they went in procession from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. The parents carried their children on their shoulders and all waved branches of palm and olive trees as they cried out: “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Upon entering the city they went to the Church of the Resurrection, which was built over the tomb of the Lord, where they ultimately celebrated the Eucharist.
As we prepare for the great week of the Lord’s passion and death, we begin by recalling that Jesus was first rightly greeted by the crowds as their Messiah. These same crowds that today cried “Hosanna,” would later shout, “Crucify Him.” However, the Lord’s disciples, who today rejoiced over the reception that he received from the crowds, would desert him and hide in fear. And yet Jesus remained Messiah even on the cross for his true glory came not at the hands of the people, but from his Father. As we follow the Lord on the way to the cross, may we remain ever faithful to him who is our Savior and Lord.
Today we commemorate the institution of the Mystery of the Lord’s body and blood and his command of humble service as exemplified by his washing of his disciples’ feet.
Each year the people of Israel celebrated the great event of their Passover from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. This feast of the Passover had many dimensions to it; its origins are recounted in the Book of Exodus.
In order to force the pharaoh to set the Israelites free, the Lord sent a series of plagues to the Egyptians. Finally, the Lord sent the angel of death to kill all the first-born of the Egyptians — children and animals. The Israelites, however, were told to sacrifice a lamb and mark their door posts with its blood, they were then to eat the lamb and be ready to depart from Egypt. The angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites and destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians. The Israelites were allowed by the Pharaoh to go into the desert in order to worship the Lord. The Israelite women did not have time to bake leavened bread before they left and therefore they left unleavened dough, which they carried into the desert, baked in the sun. When they reached the Red Sea, Moses parted the water and the people of Israel crossed in safety. The pharaoh became angry and sent soldiers after the Israelites; but, at the command of Moses, the waters returned to their place and the soldiers drowned.
Each year as the Jews celebrated the Passover, they sacrificed a lamb and ate unleavened bread in fulfillment of the command — that they yearly celebrate the Passover.
On the night before he died, Jesus ate the Passover supper with his disciples. As he gave them the broken bread, he told them that it was his body; and, when he gave them the cup of wine, he proclaimed that it was his blood. Thus, he established the new Passover and instituted the new covenant. And, as he commanded, the Church continued to celebrate the mysteries of his body and blood and received them in faith.
Christ is the new Passover lamb who nourishes us with his body and blood. Thus, the Church sings:
Holy are you, O Passover Lamb and the one who eats it.
Holy are you, who distributes your body and blood as food and drink…
Glory to you, O eternal Passover, now and for ever.
At the same meal Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and so taught them that they must be willing to serve others in humility.
Today our Savior poured water into a basin.
He blessed it, tied a towel around his waist and
willingly began to wash his disciples’ feet.
Glory be to the Most High; he came to earth
out of love for us. He humbled himself and endured
suffering for our salvation. He taught his Church
humility through this example.
May the body and blood of Christ, our Passover, nourish and strengthen us that we might serve God and each other in true humility and love.
Great Friday of the Crucifixion
The Church today celebrates the great and wondrous mystery of Christ’s death upon the cross.
Jesus Christ is our new Passover who gives us his body and blood as our spiritual food and drink. He replaces the bread and wine of the paschal meal with his very body and blood. He abolishes the paschal lamb of the old covenant; and in its place, he offers himself as both priest and victim and thus inaugurates the new covenant of his own blood.
As John the Baptist proclaims, he is truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And as St. Paul says, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast.”
The Divine Mysteries are not celebrated today, instead the pre-sanctified liturgy of the Anaphora of the Singing of the Chalice is used. The prayers of this anaphora are among the most ancient of the Syriac Church. Holy Communion is distributed during the pre-sanctified liturgy from the Mysteries consecrated yesterday.
In addition to the celebration of the pre-sanctified liturgy the Church also recalls the mystery of the cross by the rite of adoration of the cross and the burial of the Lord.
The cross is the sign of the Lord’s sacrifice and death, and yet it is also the beacon of light and symbol of hope and victory.
The whole earth has been
enlightened by the light of the
cross, and the darkness of
ignorance has been turned back.
As we adore the cross and recall the burial of the Lord we call out:
O Lord, we worship your
cross, for it is our resurrection
O Christ crucified for us, have
mercy on us.
Today the Church awaits the resurrection of the Lord – the long “Awaited Light.” After his crucifixion, the Lord remained in the tomb before his resurrection; and, as the creed reminds us, he descended to hell –the place of the dead– that his light might shine upon them and that they might rejoice in the light of his face.
As we await the resurrection of Christ, may his death and burial be for us a symbol of faith and repentance. We are called to bury the old man of sin and corruption and put on the new man of glorious life. Thus, we shall live in justice and the holiness of truth.
On this day of waiting and personal preparation for the resurrection, the Divine Mysteries are not celebrated nor is the holy Eucharist distributed, instead the prayer of forgiveness is celebrated. We thus close the great week of the passion of the Lord by washing our hearts with contrition and penance and by reconciling ourselves with one another.
This theme is proclaimed by the B’ootho (Supplication) of St. James for the prayer of Forgiveness:
Come you who are angry,
and make peace with your enemy.
Bow your head before him and
Engrave in yourself the sign
of the Son of God – as he
humbled himself before the
brothers, humble yourself!
May Christ our Light make us worthy of his graces on the glorious day of his manifestation that we may raise glory and thanksgiving to him, now and for ever. Amen.
SEASON OF RESURRECTION
Resurrection of Our Lord
Today the Church and her children rejoice because our Lord and Savior has risen from the dead. The resurrection of the Lord is the central event of our salvation, the one that gives meaning to who we are and what we do. Every celebration of the Eucharist and the other mysteries refers to it as the source of inspiration and meaning.
The resurrection is the feast of feasts, the queen of all feasts. Originally, the Church celebrated only one feast, the resurrection itself, which was recalled and renewed each Sunday at the celebration of the Divine Mysteries. Soon, however, it began to recall the Passover of the Lord and his victorious resurrection in a special way once a year, in addition to the weekly commemoration of the resurrection. Eventually this annual celebration of the Lord’s resurrection was prepared for by a season of prayer, fasting and penance — Lent, and the feast itself was extended for fifty days.
The Church, thus, now celebrates the resurrection of the Lord for a week of weeks (fifty days): from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday (the fiftieth day).
Today’s feast is one of joy and peace:
Peace to those who are far and
good hope to those who are near.
For Christ has risen from the grave
and has gathered those who were
scattered and given them joy.
The joy and peace that flows from the Lord’s resurrection are expressed today by the rite of peace which follows the gospel in the Divine Mysteries. The cross is removed from the tomb where it has rested since Great Friday and is draped in white. It is carried through the Church accompanied by hymns of praise and joy. The priest solemnly blesses the congregation with the glorious cross and then presents it to them that they might adore it.
By his living cross Christ has saved us from going astray and given us a way to heaven. Through the cross — peace and harmony reign among God’s people, and we are led to perfection.
A glorious morning has dawned, and night has fled.
Light has conquered, and night has been destroyed.
First Sunday of the Resurrection: New Sunday
New Sunday is the eighth day of the Church’s celebration of the resurrection. The first week of the Season of Resurrection, the Week of Hawareyeen, has come to a conclusion. During this week we have seen the various appearances of the Lord: to Mary Magdalene, the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, to Peter, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the disciples gathered in the upper room. Now the appearances of the Lord are over. In overcoming the hesitation of Thomas, the Lord revealed to the apostles the truth of the resurrection. Christ has risen, truly risen!
New Sunday once and for all puts an end to the old way of looking at the Lord. He is no longer revealed in the flesh (as the disciples experienced him during his life with them); nor in glory (as Thomas did). From now on, he is revealed in Spirit, through the experience of faith and in the Mysteries (sacraments). Only in the Spirit is there a sharing in his Mystery of Redemption. His word is crystal clear and resounds for all ages and generation:
“You have become a believer,
because you saw me.
Blessed are they who have not
seen and have believed.”
Ascension of Our Lord
The Ascension took place forty fays after Easter on the Mount of Olives, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the presence of the Virgin and many of the disciples. He rose “and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” He, who is one in being with the Father, gave us a place in heaven –by virtue of his human nature– for he said:
“I will go to prepare a place for you.”
This feast is a feast of redemption and of victory; it calls us to our true homeland, that is, heaven where Christ awaits us. To him be glory, for ever. Amen.
SEASON OF RESURRECTION
On the fiftieth day after Passover – in Greek, “Pentecost” – there was celebrated in Jerusalem the feast of the Gathering, and from all the corners of the globe the Jews assembled in Pilgrimage, in memory of God’s gift of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The apostles, the Virgin, a few relatives of the Lord, and a few women were assembled in the upper room. Around nine o’clock in the morning God appeared to them as he had appeared to Moses on Sinai, in the midst of a storm and with violent wind; his Spirit settled upon them in the form of tongues of fire which rested on their heads. The Spirit gave them the power to evangelize the world by means of the new assembly of God’s people, the Church. As a sign that God had now firmly established his Church, the gospel was understood by all who were present though they spoke different languages and came from all races and nations. This work of God’s grace may be compared to what happened to people of Babel, who spoke one common language and yet, because of their sin, were no longer able to understand each other.
At Pentecost, although the people spoke diverse languages, they understood the single language of the apostles. This is clearly a symbol of God’s call to all people to unity and mutual understanding. That is why the feast of Pentecost and the season which follows it invites us to meditate on the “One, holy, Catholic Church” which the Spirit has sanctified and which Christ founded on the apostles. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the Spirit and the gifts that come from him, so that we may be true children of God and his Church, and zealous apostles willing to spread the gospel of Christ; to him be glory for ever. Amen.
The Holy Cross
Today’s feast is one of the greatest feasts of the Eastern Churches. It is frequently mentioned in ecclesiastical writings and always has as its object the triumph of Christ, his resurrection, and the veneration of the holy cross, the sign of his victory over death. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was first instituted in order to commemorate the dedication of the Church of the resurrection on September 13, 335. The Emperor Constantine built this church and the one in Bethlehem and they are both in existence today. the Church of the Resurrection had five naves and in the interior a circular structure covered by a dome which protected the sanctuary of the sepulcher or tomb of Christ. The date of September 13 was chosen in order to supplant the pagan feast of the Temple of Jupiter in Rome.
The second historical event which is the source of our present feast was the return of the holy cross to Jerusalem under Emperor Heraclius. The wood of the cross had been preserved in the Church of the Resurrection until May 4, 614 when the Persians captured Jerusalem, burned the Church of the Resurrection and carried off the cross. After the victory of Emperor Heraclius over the Persians, the cross was returned to Jerusalem on September 14, 628. It is said that the Emperor, dressed in his royal vestments, carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He was stopped by the Patriarch was demanded that he remove his splendid vestments in order to become more like the scorned Christ. The Emperor agreed and walked through the streets barefooted. A crowd of the faithful accompanied him and prostrated before the Holy Cross.
On this day the Maronite Church celebrates the Rite of the Cross, which is a service of adoration of the cross, the sign of our salvation. This feast which comes at the end of the annual liturgical cycle is also directed toward the second coming of Christ, who carries his cross of light and triumph. It is this theme which is the object of the readings and prayers of the seven weeks which follow and which close the liturgical year.
Adoration and honor to the cross of our Savior!
Glory and praise to Christ our God, for ever! Amen.