Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Ma'altho - The Song of Simeon

Volume 3 No. 123 January 31, 2013

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Winter Landscape
Winter Landscape: This year's unusual warm winter days followed by unusually cold days provided a mixed landscape of half covered lakes. No winter fishing and lot of flu!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Foreword

I am amazed that all these people mentioned in these stories - Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon and Hannah - are just ordinary people like you and me. They get transformed when they come  in contact with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God can take any ordinary person and transform him/her. God can make an ordinary person do extraordinary things. Today's bible story gives us another opportunity to remind you that it is not what you do for God that matters; it is what God can do through you that is significant. Like Mary, let us say "Yes" when God knocks at our door. We will be transformed too! ...

Bible Readings for Ma'altho (Feb 2)

Sermons for Ma'altho (Feb 2)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Mayaltho.htm

RESOURCES FOR SUNDAY, FEB 3: ANEEDE SUNDAY

Bible Readings for Aneede Sunday (Feb 3)

Sermons for Aneede Sunday (Feb 3)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_departed-faithful.htm

Featured: Life After Death

Recently there have been many questions raised about what happens to the soul when a person dies. The following sermon by St. John of San Francisco outlines the (Russian) Orthodox teaching. ...

ARTICLES BASED ON THE THEME THIS WEEK: MA'ALTHO

Simeon - In the Spirit

Simeon, a Man of the Spirit: Luke tells us three times in this short passage that Simeon was a man who was attentive to the Holy Spirit. The “Holy Spirit was upon him” since “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Simeon was in conversation with the Spirit and learned to listen to his holy inspirations. ...

Baby Jesus Presented in the Temple - Luke 2:21-40

When Jesus was just a newborn, He was like any other baby. He couldn't walk or talk, He cried when He wanted to be fed, and He dirtied His diapers regularly. Isn't it funny to think that God dirtied His diapers? More than making us chuckle, however, it should make us realize how much God must love us---He humbled Himself that much in order to save us from our sins. ...

Meditation on Luke 2:22-35

Think about the Presentation when you go to Holy Qurbono this weekend. As you see the priest consecrate the host, think about what he is doing - offering Jesus to the Father. Joseph and Mary offered Jesus as a helpless infant. But now he appears even more helpless, in the form of a mere wafer of bread. But like Mary and Joseph, we know how much power, love, and grace are contained in that small host: enough to cover the sins of the whole world! Enough to make every one of us children of God! ...

The Canticles Of Christmas: The Song Of Simeon

For Simeon and Anna, and for those who recognized in the middle of all the ordinary and predictable festivities of the past Christmas season, for ALL who recognized Jesus for what he really is, his coming will be like a divine unshakable foundation for their lives. ...

Watching for Light

Like those who first journeyed to set their eyes on the child born to die, we move through long nights, often finding ourselves out of place, in the dark, and straining to see more. The Christian story is a declaration that Jesus can transform this watching and waiting, our lives and our deaths, bringing light where death stings, where tears discourage, and darkness haunts. "I wait for the Lord," sang the psalmist, "my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." ...

An Ol' Man Named Simeon....

Simeon, a simple man who was saved by God in the promise of the coming King in Jesus Christ, being filled with God's Spirit – no different that you or I in coming to faith we have been given [Ephesians 2], seeing Jesus as the living word of God [John 1], telling Mary His mother that Jesus was appointed for the fall and the rise of many in Israel… for He will be a sign to Israel that many will oppose, and that the sword that pierced Jesus own body and heart yet to come, will in kind -- pierce each man's own heart as to whether His Spirit is within them ...

GENERAL INTEREST ARTICLES

Health: Important Cold and Flu Information

Just because people around you are sick, you don't have to get sick, too. You can keep yourself healthy by practicing a little proactive prevention. And if you do catch a cold or flu, be mindful to help protect others. ...

Recipe: Chicken Portobello

This chicken and mushroom combo makes for a nice dinner entree, especially when served with some oven roasted herb potatoes. ...

Family: When You Have to Say No to Your Spouse

In our marriages we need mutual submission and respect, as the apostle Paul wrote (see Ephesians 5:21-33). But we also need personal courage to say no to one another when decency is twisted or when obedience to little things would deny obedience to God's greater ways. The story of Esther and Vashti illustrates this. ...

Comments on MWJ Issue 122: Holy Priesthood

Humor: Four Worms In Church

About Malankara World

Foreword
by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World
 
This week, we look back and look forward in our church. Confused? Read on.

February 2 is the day we celebrate the Feast of Ma'altho (or Mayaltho) - the day our Lord was presented at the temple after the required Jewish purification rites. (40 days after His birth) It is the last of the events of the Christmas Season. (Looking back) But we are only one week away from the beginning of the Great Lent where we look forward to the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. This Sunday is remembered as Aneede Sunday - it is the day we remember all our departed faithful. In addition to remembering the departed faithful on Aneede Sunday, we also remember them on the Saturday of Good Tidings (Holy Saturday) and then individually on their death anniversary.

Death is something no one wants to talk about. We all know that we will die one day. Like they say, death and taxes are inevitable. As we discussed last week, another event related to death is the Second Coming of Jesus. We do not know when we die; but we know we are going to die one day. We do not know when Jesus is coming for the second time; but we know He will. So, all we can do is to be ready irrespective of when that happens.

This week's featured article discusses what happens after our death from the Orthodox Perspective. When you read the article, you will get a better understanding of why we pray for our departed. Yes, their spirits are comforted by our prayers.

Ma'altho, on the other hand, is all about hope. It is the last of the Christmas Stories that is found in the Gospel of St. Luke. Luke has provided, in depth, the songs sung by the various players in the Christmas Story that is not found in any other Gospel. We feel marveled by the Magnificat, the song of virgin Mary, sung by her when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. We wonder how a peasant woman, barely in her teens, can recite such an exquisite poem that intertwines the old testament promises with the prophesies for the future. Then we hear Zechariah's poem when John the Baptist was born. These are the first words spoken by him in over nine months! Again, it tells of the hope for redemption with the arrival of messiah. The last of the canticles is spelled out in today's gospel reading.

Simeon and Hannah had been waiting patiently to get a glimpse of the baby that will be the savior of Israel. Simeon was promised that he will see the Messiah before his death. He was coming of age; everyday he came to the temple and hoped that was the day. He looked at hundreds of babies brought every day to the temple. Then he saw Jesus! He recognized him immediately. His eyes lit up! He held the baby, the messiah in his hand. Now he can die. God fulfilled His promise!

Simeon, like Mary, was not an expert in scriptures. He was an ordinary peasant man. But when he held the baby, Holy Spirit transformed him just like what the Spirit did to Mary after the annunciation when the logos resided in her. Empowered by the spirit, Simeon sings a prophetic poem both about Jesus as well as about Mary. We often remember about the spear piercing into Mary's heart as predicted by Simeon. Can you imagine a mother watching her son dying on the cross and the soldiers thrusting a spear through his heart?

When I read Luke's stories, I am amazed at the detail he provides. He was a physician; so he looks for small details. He had spent long hours with St. Mary after the resurrection of Jesus; so he could question her and learn about things from her memory that no one else had access to. I am amazed that all these people mentioned in these stories - Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon and Hannah - are just ordinary people just like you and me. But they get transformed when they come  in contact with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God can take any ordinary person and transform him/her. God can make an ordinary person do extraordinary things. That is one of Malankara World's themes. Today's bible story gives us another opportunity to remind you that it is not what you do for God that matters; it is what God can do through you that is significant. Like Mary, let us say "Yes" when God knocks at our door. We will be transformed too!

February 2, 2013:
Ma'altho - Presentation of Jesus at Temple

Bible Readings for Ma'altho

Mayaltho (Entry of our Lord into the temple)

February 2nd is celebrated as the day when infant Jesus was presented in the temple.
Also called the day of the old aged. Feast of St. Simeon and St. Hanna.

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Sermons for Ma'altho

Sermons for Ma'altho - Presentation of Jesus at Temple - St. Simon and St. Hanna

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Mayaltho.htm

This Sunday in Church (Feb 3, 2013):
Aneede - All Departed Faithful
Bible Readings for Aneede Sunday (Feb 3)

Sermons for Aneede Sunday (Feb 3)
This Week's Features

Featured: Life After Death

by St. John Maximovich (Russian Orthodox Church)

[ Introduction to the Article by Fr. John Mack:

Recently there have been many questions raised about what happens to the soul when a person dies. The following sermon by St. John of San Francisco outlines the Orthodox teaching. The sermon has been appended by way of endnotes, additional comments, and extensive Patristic support for these comments.

It is important for us, as we approach this all-important subject, to lay aside all preconceptions and to be willing to accept what the Fathers of the Church teach. Your opinion and my opinion are just that: OPINIONS; what is presented here is TRUTH!]

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see [1].

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them [2].

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres [3]. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into Gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that the Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself [4].

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead [5]. Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then, changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers [6].

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents" -- and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God’s mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls [7]. Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. (NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

End Notes:

1. But his soul continues to live. Not for an instant does it cease to exist. Our external, biological and earthly life ends with death, but the soul continues to live on. The soul is our very existence, the center of all our energies and our thoughts. The soul moves and gives life to the body. After its separation from the body it continues to live, to exist, to have awareness.

St. Theophan the Recluse, in a message to a dying woman, writes: "You will not die. Your body will die, but you will over to a different world, being alive, remembering yourself and recognizing the whole world that surrounds you."

St. Dorotheos (6th century) summarizes the teaching of the early Fathers in this way: "For as the Fathers tell us, the souls of the dead remember everything that happened here -- thoughts, words, desires -- and nothing can be forgotten. But, as it says in the Psalm, 'In that day all their thoughts shall perish' (Psalm 145:5). The thoughts he speaks of are those of this world, about houses and possessions, parents and children, and business transactions. All these things are destroyed immediately when the soul passes out of the body. But what he did against virtue or against his evil passions, he remembers and none of this is lost. In fact, the soul loses nothing that it did in the world but remembers everything at its exit from this body."

St. John Cassian (5th century) likewise teaches: "Souls after the separation from this body are not idle, do not remain without consciousness; this is proved by the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-28). The souls of the dead do not lose their consciousness, they do not even lose their dispositions -- that is, hope and fear, joy and grief, and something of that which they expect for themselves at the Universal Judgment they begin already to foretaste."

2. He who departs from this world experiences much consolation when he sees friendly people surrounding his dead body. Such a person discerns in his beloved friends' tears of pain their love and sincere dedication. The greatest earthly joy is undoubtedly the realization that we die honored and appreciated by all who knew us. But just as at the hour of death the dead body is surrounded by relatives and friends, so also is the soul, which abandons the body and is directed towards its heavenly homeland, accompanied by the spiritual beings related to it. The virtuous soul is surrounded by bright angels of light, while the sinful soul is surrounded by dark and evil beings, that is, the demons.

St. Basil the Great (4th century) explains it this way: "Let no one deceive you with empty words; for destruction will come suddenly upon you; it will come like a storm. A grim angel (i.e., a demon) will come to take and drag violently the soul that has been tied to sins; and your soul will turn toward here and will suffer silently, having already been excluded from the organ of mourning (the body). O how you will be troubled at the hour of death for yourself! How you will sigh!"

St. Macarius of Egypt writes of this: "When you hear that there are rivers of dragons and mouths of lions (cf. Heb 11:33, Ps 22:21) and dark powers under the sky and burning fire (Jer 20:9) that crackles in the members of the body, you must know this: unless you receive the earnest of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), at the hour when your soul is separated from the body, the evil demons hold fast to your soul and do not suffer you to rise up to heaven." This same Father also teaches us: "When the soul abandons the body a certain great mystery is enacted. If the deceased has departed unrepentant, a host of demons and rejected angels and dark powers receive that soul and keep it with them. The completely opposite happens with those who have repented: for near the holy servants of God there are now angels and good spirits standing by, surrounding and protecting them, and when they depart from the body, the choir of angels receive their souls to themselves, to the pure aeon."

The champion of Orthodoxy against the Nestorian heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria likewise teaches: "When the soul is separated from the body it sees the fearful, wild, merciless and fierce demons standing by. The soul of the righteous is taken by the holy angels, passed through the air and is raised up." St. Gregory the Dialogist writes: "One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment.

But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? Among men there was only One Who before His suffering fearlessly said: 'Hereafter I talk not much with you: For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me (John 14:30)." This truth is confirmed by various liturgical services. For example, in Small Compline we ask the Mother of God to "be merciful to me not only in this miserable life, but also at the time of my death; take care of my miserable soul and banish far from it the dark and sinister faces of the evil demons." In a prayer of the Midnight Service of Saturday (addressed to the Savior) we pray: "Master, be merciful to me and let not my soul see the dark and gloomy sight of the evil spirits, but let bright and joyous angels receive it." Again, in another hymn to the Theotokos (from the Monday Matins service) we pray: "At the fearful hour of death free us from the horrible decision of the demons seeking to condemn us." Similar prayers, addressed to the Lord and to the holy Angels, are found throughout the service for the Repose of the Dying.

3. Here, St. John is simply repeating a teaching common to the Church, St. Macarius of Alexandria (having received the teaching not from men but from an angel) explains: "When an offering (i.e., the Eucharist) is made in Church on the third day, the soul of the departed receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the separation from the body. In the course of two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which its body has been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. But the virtuous soul goes about those places in which it was wont to do good deeds. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day, commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His Resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all."

St. John of Damascus vividly describes the state of the soul, parted from the body but still on earth, helpless to contact the loved ones whom it can see, in the Orthodox Funeral Service: "Woe is me! What manner of ordeal doth the soul endure when it is parted from the body! Alas! How many then are its tears, and there is none to show compassion! It raiseth its eyes to the angels; all unavailing is its prayer. It stretcheth out its hands to men, and findeth none to succor. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, meditating on the brevity of our life, let us beseech of Christ rest for him who hath departed hence, and for our souls great mercy."

St. Theophan, in writing to the brother of a dying woman, says: "Your sister will not die; the body dies, but the personality of the dying one remains. It only goes over to another order of life. It is not she whom they will put in the grave. She is in another place. She will be just as alive as you are now. In the first hours and days she will be around you. Only she will not say anything, and you won't be able to see her; but she will be right here. Have this in mind."

4. There is absolutely no doubt that the teaching of the toll-houses is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. We find this teaching in Holy Scripture (cf. Eph 6:12), the writings of all the Church Fathers (both ancient and modern) and throughout the prayers of the Church. Space does not allow for the full outlining of source material, but, in light of some recent discussions concerning the toll-houses, I will quote extensively from various Fathers and prayers.

St. Athanasius the Great, in his famous life of St. Antony, describes the following: "At the approach of the ninth hour, after beginning to pray before eating food, Antony was suddenly seized by the Spirit and raised up by angels into the heights. The aerial demons opposed his progress: the angels disputing with them, demanded that the reason of their opposition be set forth, because Antony had no sins at all. The demons strove to set forth the sins committed by him from his very birth; but the angels closed the mouths of the slanderers, telling them that they should not count the sins from his birth which had already been blotted out by the grace of Christ; but let them present -- if they have any -- the sins he committed after he entered monasticism and dedicated himself to God. In their accusation the demons uttered many brazen lies; but since their slanders were wanting in proof, a free path opened for Antony. Immediately he came to himself and saw that he was standing in the same place where he had stood for prayer. Forgetting about food, he spent the night in prayer with tears and groanings, reflecting on the multitude of man's enemies, on the battle against such an army, on the difficultly of the path to heaven through the air, and on the words of the Apostle who said: 'Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of the air' (Eph 6:12; Eph 2:2). The Apostle, knowing that the aerial powers are seeking only one thing, are concerned over it with all fervor, exert themselves and strive to deprive us of a free passage to heaven, exhorts: 'Take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day (Eph 6:13), that the adversary may be put to shame, having no evil thing to say of us (Tit 2:8)."

St. John Chrysostom, describing the hour of death, teaches: "Then we will need many prayers, many helpers, many good deeds, a great intercession from angels on the journey through the spaces of the air. If when traveling in a foreign land or a strange city we are in need of a guide, how much more necessary for us are guides and helpers to guide us past the invisible dignities and powers and world-rulers of this air, who are called persecutors and publicans and tax-collectors."

St. Isaiah the Recluse (6th century) teaches that Christians should "daily have death before our eyes and take care how to accomplish the departure from the body and how to pass by the powers of darkness who are to meet us in the air." St. Hesychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem (5th century) teaches: The hour of death will find us, it will come, and it will be impossible to escape it. Oh, if only the prince of the world and the air who is then to meet us might find our iniquities as nothing and insignificant and might not be able to accuse us justly."

St. Ephraim the Syrian (4th century) thus describes the hour of death and the hour of judgment at the toll-houses: "When the fearful hour comes, when the divine takers-away command the soul to be translated from the body, when they draw us away by force and lead us away to the unavoidable judgment place -- then, seeing them, the poor man comes all into a shaking as if from an earthquake, is all in trembling. The divine takers-away, taking the soul, ascend in the air where stand the chiefs, the authorities and world-rulers of the opposing powers. These are our accusers, the fearful publicans, registrars, tax-collectors; they meet it on the way, register, examine and count all the sins and debts of this man -- the sins of youth and old age, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, word and thought. Great is the fear here, great the trembling of the poor soul, indescribable the want which it suffers then from the incalculable multitudes of its enemies surrounding it there in myriads, slandering it so as not to allow it to ascend to heaven, to dwell in the light of the living, to enter the land of life. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away."

St Cyril of Alexandria explains this further: "As the soul ascends, it finds tax officials guarding the ascent, holding and preventing the souls from ascending. Each one of these custom stations presents its own particular sins of the souls. But, by the same token, the good angels do not abandon the soul to these evil stations. At the time of its accounting the angels offer in turn the soul's good works. In fact, the holy angelic powers enumerate to the evil spirits the good acts of the soul that were done by word, deed, thought and imagination. If the soul is found to have lived piously and in a way pleasing to God, it is received by the holy angels and transferred to that ineffable joy of the blessed and eternal life. But, if it is found to have lived carelessly and prodigally, it hears the most harsh word: 'Let the ungodly be taken away, that he not see the glory of the Lord' (Isa 26:10). Then the holy angels with profound regret abandon the soul and it is received by those dark demons so that may fling it with much malevolence into the prisons of Hades."

An early Church catchiest, referring to custom officials who collected taxes, relays to us the common Church teaching: "I know of other tax collectors who after our departure from this present life inspect us and hold us to see if we have something that belongs to them." The same catchiest goes on to say: "I wonder how much we must suffer at the hands of those evil angels, who inspect everything and who, when someone is found unrepentant, demand not only the payment of taxes simply, but also seize and hold us completely captive" (Origen). This view is upheld by our great Father, St. Basil. Speaking about the courageous athletes of the faith, he teaches that they too will be scrutinized by the "revenue officials," that is, by the evil spirits. The same Father also says that the evil spirits observe the departure of the soul with so much more vigilant attention than do enemies over a besieged city or thieves over a treasury house.

St. John Chrysostom likewise calls demons "revenue officials" who threaten us and who are "overbearing powers with a fearful countenance that horrifies the soul that looks upon them." In another place St. John says that these evil spirits are called "persecutors and revenue officials and collectors of taxes in the Sacred Scripture." According to St. John, even the souls of innocent infants must pass through these toll-houses, for the all-evil devil seeks to snatch their souls, too. However, the infants make the following confession (according to St. John): "We have passed by the evil spirits without suffering any harm. For the dark custom officials saw our spotless body and were put to shame; they saw the soul good and pure and were embarrassed; they say the tongue immaculate and pure and blameless and they were silenced; we passed by and humiliated them. This is why the holy angles of God who met and received us rejoiced, the righteous greeted us with joy and the saints with delight said, 'Welcome, the lambs of Christ!'"

Probably the clearest and most comprehensive account of the toll-houses is that given by an angel of the Lord to St. Macarius of Egypt: "From the earth to heaven there is a ladder and a each rung has a cohort of demons. These are called toll-houses and the evil spirits meet the soul and bring its handwritten accounts and show these to the angels, saying: on this day and such and such of the month this soul did that: either it stole or fornicated or committed adultery or engaged in sodomy or lied or encouraged someone to an evil deed. And everything else evil which it has done, they show to the angels. Then angels then show whatever good the soul has done, charity or prayer or liturgies or fasting or anything else. And the angels and the demons reckon up, and if they find the good greater than the evil, the angels seize the soul and take it up the next rung, while the demons gnash their teeth like wild dogs and make haste the snatch that pitiable soul from the hands of the Angels. The soul, meanwhile, cowers and terror encompasses it, and it makes as if to hide in the bosom of the Angels and there is a great discussion and must turmoil until that soul is delivered from the hands of the demons.

And they come again to another rung and there find another toll-house, fiercer and more horrible. And in this too, there is much uproar and great and indescribable turbulence as to who shall take that wretched soul. And shouting out aloud, the demons examine the soul, causing terror and saying: 'Where are you going? Aren't you the one who fornicated and thoroughly polluted Holy Baptism? Aren't you the one who polluted the angelic habit? Get back. Get down. Get yourself to dark Hell. Get yourself to the outer fire. Get going to that worm that never sleeps.' Then if it be that that soul is condemned, the demons bear it off to below the earth, to a dark and distressing spot. And woe to that soul in which that person was born. And who shall tell, holy Father, the straits in which the condemned souls will find themselves in that place! But if the soul is found clean and sinless, it goes up the Heaven with such joy."

Descriptions of the aerial toll-houses may also be found in the following Saints' lives: St. Eustratius the Great Martyr (4th century), St. Niphon of Constantia in Cyprus (4th century), St. Symeon the Fool for Christ (6th century), St. John the Merciful (7th century), St Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain (7th century), St. Macarius the Great (4th century), St. Columba (6th century), St. Adamnan (8th century), St. Boniface (8th century), St. Basil the New (10th century), the Soldier Taxiotes, St. John of the Ladder (6th century), etc. This very ancient teaching of the early Church Fathers and ascetic Saints is confirmed by the experience and teaching of saints more modern. St. Seraphim of Sarov relates: "Two nuns passed on. Both had been abbesses. The Lord revealed to me that their souls were having difficulty getting through the aerial toll-houses. Three days and nights, I, a lowly sinner, prayed and begged the Mother of God for their salvation. The goodness of the Lord, through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God, finally had mercy upon them. They passed the aerial toll-houses and received forgiveness of sins."

Likewise, St. Theophan the Recluse writes: "No matter how absurd the idea of the toll-houses may seem to our 'wise men,' they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passion, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But it is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something seductive. They might present something deceptive and seductive, according to the kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes by it, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell."

In another place, St. Theophan (continuing his letter to the brother of the woman who was about to die) writes: "In the departed there soon begins the struggle of going through the toll-houses. Here she needs help! Stand then in thought, and you will hear her cry to you: Help! This is where you should direct all your attention and all your love for her. Immerse yourself in prayer for her in her new condition and her new, unexpected needs. Having begun thus, remain in unceasing crying out to God to help her, for the course of six weeks, and indeed for longer than that. In the account of Theodora, the bag from which the angels took in order to be separated from the tax-collectors was the prayers of her elder. Your prayers will do the same; do not forget to do this. This is love!"

Significantly, all of this testimony is confirmed by the liturgical prayers of the Church. St. Ignatius Brianchinov cites over 20 examples of references to the Toll-houses in the Divine service books and this is not a complete list!

5. According to the revelation of the angel to St. Macarius, the Church's special commemoration of the departed on the 9th day after death (apart from the general significance of the ranks of angels) occurs because up to then the soul is shown the beauties of Paradise, and only after this, for the remainder of the forty days, is sown the torments and horrors of hell, before being assigned on the fortieth day to the place where it will await the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

6. The Church's teaching on the state of souls in heaven and hell before the Last Judgment is set forth in its clearest fashion by St. Mark of Ephesus in his dialogue with the Roman Catholics over the Roman doctrine of Purgatory (which the Orthodox reject as false). It is an extensive collection of writings, and much of it is beyond the focus of this limited study. The following should suffice, however, to illustrate the Orthodoxy of St. John Maximovitch's words: "Those reposed in faith are without doubt helped by the Liturgies and prayers and almsgiving performed for them, and that this custom has been in force from antiquity, there is the testimony of many and various utterances of the Teachers, both Latin and Greek, spoken and written at various times and in various places. But that souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possesses such (a purgatorial) power and has the character of a help -- this we do not find in either Scripture or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of the Teachers. But we have received that even the souls which are held in hell and are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, although not in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for final deliverance.

And this is shown by the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of Divine Power. And Basil the Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following: 'Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, are graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in hell, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation' (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers). But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which -- even though have repented over them -- they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definitive punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body (as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows); while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or -- if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration -- they are kept in hell, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard. All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the Divine Goodness and Love for mankind. And so, we entreat God and believe to deliver the departed (from eternal torment), and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever."

St. Mark further explains the state of the departed in this way: "We affirm that neither the righteous have as yet received the fullness of their lot and that blessed condition for which they have prepared themselves here through works, nor have sinners, after death, been led away into the eternal punishment in which they shall be tormented eternally. Rather, both the one and the other must necessarily take place after the Judgment of that last day and the resurrection of all. Now, however, both the one and the other are in places proper to them: the first, in absolute repose and free, are in heaven with the angels and before God Himself, and already as if in Paradise from which Adam fell and often visit us in those temples where they are venerated, and hear those who call on them and pray for them to God, having received from Him this surpassing gift, and through their relics perform miracles and take delight in the vision of God and the illumination sent from Him more perfectly and purely than before, when they were alive; while the second, in their turn, being confined to hell, remain in 'the lowest pit, in darkness and in the shadow of death' (Ps 87:7), as David says, and then Job: 'to the land where the light is darkness' (Job 10:21-22). And the first remain in every joy and rejoicing, already expecting and only not having in their hands the Kingdom and the unutterable good things promised them; and the second, on the contrary, remain in all confinement and inconsolable suffering, like condemned men awaiting the Judge's sentence and foreseeing the torments. Neither have the first yet received the inheritance of the Kingdom and those good things 'which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man' (1 Cor 2:9); nor have the second part yet been given over to eternal torments nor to burning in the unquenchable fire. And this teaching we have as handed down from our Fathers in antiquity and we can easily present it from the Divine Scriptures themselves."

St. Gregory the Great, in answering the question, "Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?" teaches: "The Holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them. The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves what we hope others will do for us after death. It is better to make one's exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in chains. We should, therefore, despise the world with all our hearts as though its glory were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son." Many incidents from the Lives of Orthodox saints and ascetics confirm this teaching.

7. The Apostolic Constitutions (1st/2nd century) teach that Memorials for the dead be served with "psalms and readings and prayers" on the third day after the death of our beloved one, on account of the Lord Jesus "who rose after three days." They prescribe Memorials on the ninth day "as a reminder of the living and the dead," as well as "on the fortieth day after death according to ancient practice." This is how the people of Israel mourned for the great Moses.

In addition to these we must have annual Memorials in remembrance of the deceased. This teaching is also given by St. Isidoros of Pelusium, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory the Theologian. In addition to these Memorials, our holy Church has ordained that the Sabbath (Saturday) be a day of commemoration of the Holy Martyrs and of all the deceased. For the Sabbath, as the seventh day from the beginning of creation, is the day which saw bodily death, imposed upon man by the righteous God. This day is continued, in as much as the death of man is also continued at the same time, Sunday, however, is the "day of the Resurrection, the eighth day, which symbolizes the anticipated age of eternity, the resurrection of the dead and the endless kingdom of God."

St. John of Damascus adds: "the Apostles who speak for God and the spirit-bearing Fathers have decreed this with inspiration and in a manner pleasing to God."

[Syriac Orthodox Church has ordained common Memorials for departed twice a year. Aneede Sunday (second Sunday after Nineveh Lent and on the Saturday of Good Tidings - Saturday following Good Friday.]

Source: http:// saintjohnwonderworker.org

ARTICLES BASED ON THE THEME THIS WEEK: MA'ALTHO

Simeon - In the Spirit
Gospel: Luke 2:22-35

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord," and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.

He came in the Spirit into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

"Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."

The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

Introductory Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, I long to abide in your presence. You refresh my soul and fill me with your light, although I don’t turn to you often enough or exercise enough faith when I do remember you. But here I am now, Lord, ready to spend a few precious moments with you in the room of my heart. I want to pick up more readily on the inspirations of your Spirit. I want to be a docile instrument in your hands to serve you and your Church.

Petition:

Lord, teach me to be open to your Spirit.

1. Simeon, a Man of the Spirit: Luke tells us three times in this short passage that Simeon was a man who was attentive to the Holy Spirit. The “Holy Spirit was upon him” since “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Simeon was in conversation with the Spirit and learned to listen to his holy inspirations. Just as in Christ’s life we see him many times moved by the Spirit—for example, to come to be baptized by John and subsequently to be “driven by the Spirit” into the desert—so in Simeon’s life, he is not only inspired, but also powerfully moved by the Spirit. We should take a moment in our meditation to admire this man who lent himself totally to the movements of the Spirit.

2. Mary, Overshadowed by the Spirit: There is no one who demonstrates docility to the Spirit more than Mary Immaculate. She didn’t put up any obstacles to the work of the Holy Spirit; as the Spirit expresses to us through the Gospel writer, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). As John Paul II describes it, Mary “responded with faithful obedience to every request of God, to every motion of the Holy Spirit.” As she stands here at the presentation of her firstborn son, she now hears words spoken to her through the Spirit’s instrument: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Once more, Mary acquiesces to the Holy Spirit and accepts the foretold suffering far in advance.

3. Amazed by the Spirit: All of us have heard incredible stories of moments in which the Holy Spirit clearly intervened or directed a situation. Maybe we have experienced this in our own lives. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t? Are there any obstacles that the Holy Spirit would find in our lives? He should be the soul’s gentle guest. But how do we foster this friendship with the Holy Spirit? We have to bring silence into our hearts so as to distinguish his voice from the noise of so many worldly voices trying to drown out his word, and it also means we have to be docile and obedient once we have heard it.

Conversation with Christ: Lord Jesus, there are so many lessons to be learned from your presentation in the Temple. I have taken one of them: the presence of your Holy Spirit so evident in this Gospel passage. In the Christmas season we celebrate your being among us as a tiny child. Yet, your whole life will show us how to be docile to the Holy Spirit. You have sent him so that we might not be alone. May he always accompany me in life, and may he always remind me of the many things you did and said, as you lead me to the Father’s house.

Resolution:

I will spend the day attentive to the Holy Spirit and make this a particular point for my examination of conscience.

 
Source: Regnum Christi
Baby Jesus Presented in the Temple - Luke 2:21-40
When Jesus was just a newborn, He was like any other baby. He couldn't walk or talk, He cried when He wanted to be fed, and He dirtied His diapers regularly. Isn't it funny to think that God dirtied His diapers? More than making us chuckle, however, it should make us realize how much God must love us---He humbled Himself that much in order to save us from our sins.

In the Law that God gave to the descendants of Israel, there were several rules relating to the birth of children. Those rules revealed that God wanted His people never to forget how special it was to have a baby. All babies are made in God's image and are His own potential children, and parents should never forget that. Becoming a parent is a very serious and important thing. God required Israelite parents to bring their first-born sons to the Temple in Jerusalem to present them before Him there. Perhaps one reason for this law was to help new parents understand how valuable their children were and how important their responsibility was in His eyes. It was a way of saying to God, "This is not as much my child as it is Your child. Therefore, I will raise this child as You want me to."

Mothers were also required to offer a sacrifice at the Temple several weeks after their babies were born (see Lev. 12:1-8). This was a way of expressing thanks to God for giving them their babies, and it also served as a reminder to them of how good God had been to them in spite of their sins. They shouldn't think that having a baby was a sign of God's approval of their lives. Sometimes people think that God's blessings are proof that they are holy and fully pleasing to God, but it often only means that God is merciful and good. He is good to everyone, even to bad people! Anyone who has a baby should be thankful for God's goodness.

Simeon must have been a very spiritual man who studied the Scriptures closely. He knew God would keep His many promises to send the Savior, and must have hoped and prayed that he would live to see that day. God revealed to him that he would not die until his desire was realized. The Holy Spirit led him to baby Jesus the day that Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple. Simeon also knew that because God had sent His Son into the world, every human being would be faced with a decision: Would they reject or receive Him? Jesus' coming into the world would reveal what was in people's hearts. Because of the hardness of their hearts, many people of Israel would reject Jesus, and it would be "their undoing" just as Simeon predicted. That means they would go to hell. But to those who receive Jesus, it is their "greatest joy," because they know their sins are forgiven and they are going to heaven one day.

The Bible doesn't tell us much about the childhood of Jesus. We did learn today that He grew up in the town of Nazareth. We also read that He was "filled with wisdom beyond his years" (Luke 2:40), so He wasn't like a normal child in that respect. We'll learn in two days that when He was twelve years old, He had more spiritual wisdom than your parents probably do right now!

Q. What do you think Simeon meant when he told Mary that a "sword would pierce [her] very soul"?

A. She would be convicted by what Jesus would say and have to make a decision to obey or disobey Him.

Q. What do you think it means to have Jesus be your "greatest joy"?

A. It means that Jesus is the most special person in your life. Your relationship with Him is the most valuable thing you possess. Thinking about Him and what He has done for you should make you very happy on the inside.

Q. Has Jesus become your "greatest joy" yet?

Application: Jesus was the most special person ever to have lived because He was the Son of God. Therefore, He should be more important than anything in our lives, and it should show by how we live our lives.

Source: Family Style Devotions

Meditation on Luke 2:22-35

"They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord." (Luke 2:22)

Why did Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple? The reason stretches back to the original Passover. God had told the Israelites to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so that their firstborn sons would be spared from the plague that was going to hit Egypt. From then on, all firstborn children had to be consecrated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2). The offering of a lamb - or a turtledove or pigeon for the poor - was given to "redeem" the child, to spare him from evil.

Of course, we may protest that Jesus didn't need to be redeemed. He is the Lamb who redeemed all of us! But true to a lamb's nature, that redemption was accomplished by submission - submission to his Father's will. And God's will included being taken to the Temple, to be presented to his heavenly Father! So the consecration of Jesus was more than symbolic. It was the beginning of a life totally given to God, a life dedicated completely to glorifying the Father.

Think about the Presentation when you go to Holy Qurbono (Mass) this weekend. As you see the priest consecrate the host, think about what he is doing - offering Jesus to the Father. Joseph and Mary offered Jesus as a helpless infant. But now he appears even more helpless, in the form of a mere wafer of bread. But like Mary and Joseph, we know how much power, love, and grace are contained in that small host: enough to cover the sins of the whole world! Enough to make every one of us children of God!

If you have time, you may want to arrive early to Mass and pray about what you will offer to God today. It might seem very small in comparison to Jesus' offering of his whole life. But whatever it is, that offering will become something greater than anyone could ever expect. Your gift to the Lord, united in prayer to his own sacrifice, will bring him great glory, and bear wit­ness to his name. As Jesus said, a grain of wheat is just a seed, "but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24).

"Lord, I offer you my life. All my dreams, plans, hopes, and fears are yours. Give me the faith to follow you today, knowing that you will work all things together for my good."

Source: The Word Among Us

The Canticles Of Christmas: The Song Of Simeon

by Ken Gehrels

A Sermon On: Luke 2: 21-40

Do you ever have trouble meeting people? Don't know how to start up a conversation or how to approach people? Do you wish that people would come up to you rather than you having to approach them? Then let me share a sure-fire way to grant you your wish - have a baby.

Yes, I'm serious, have a baby.

Ever notice how people always seem to come to parents with a baby and start some conversation about the child? "Young lady, remember these years. They're the best moments of your life."

Right. They probably don't remember the colic and teething pains and diaper rash and waking up 3 times a night for what seems like eternity.

Anyway, if we were in the temple at Jerusalem on a certain day some 2000 years ago we may have seen a sight like that.

A young couple, obviously tired from too many night feedings, but proud as peacocks with their first baby - a son. And standing beside them is an elderly man holding the child and having a grin so big on his face that he almost burst. As he cradles the babe he seems to be singing, while mother anxiously hovers close, afraid that this old fellow might drop her precious bundle of joy. Right behind them is a senior-aged woman, also obviously delighted at the presence of this one month old infant.

If we were like most people of the day we probably wouldn't have recognized it, but this was no ordinary baby. This was no ordinary moment.

Two parents presenting their first born to the Lord, dedicating him to serve God in some way. That was ordinary. This was done with all first-born, as a recognition that children came from the Lord and were entrusted to the parents by His Sovereign will.

A sacrifice of purification being presented on behalf of the mother. That was ordinary, too. Not so much because the mother was sinful. But as a symbol that the one who was born was not a pure, innocent, perfect little person. Already at birth it was a stained, subject-to-sin boy or girl, destined for the same sort of life that mother and father had lived, a life with imperfections and mistakes, a life filled with disobedience to God, with sin.

What wasn't ordinary was the child himself. Having read the entire Christmas story this morning we understand that the one being dedicated was truly God's child. God's holy son - come to become human, conceived as human by supernatural means in the womb of a virgin.

What wasn't ordinary was that this holy child had come without sin, and had come to take the full load of sin of the human race - your sin, my sin. He entered our human situation, identifying fully with us, one with us.

As a human being, he would one day take the load of guilt and punishment for the sin of you and me - our sin, payed for completely by him so that no further sacrifices would ever be needed. Jesus - the one perfect sacrifice.

Simeon doesn't fully understand all this -- because he doesn't have the perspective that we're so privileged to enjoy, the 2020 vision of looking back and seeing the full story of Jesus' life, including his death and resurrection.

But he does have this powerful urge inside of him, almost like a clear voice speaking to him; an unmistakable sense from God that this child is the one that he has been waiting for; even more important than all his own children and grandchildren.

Here was the person God had told Simeon he would see before he died - the "Consolation of Israel," - the one who would bring peace and wholeness to the people.

And as he sees this a song of relief comes to his elderly lips.

We can't see it in English, but the original wording - in the Greek language - paints us a picture of a slave under the absolute control of his master. The master places the slave on watch duty. "Keep a lookout" the slave is told. Which he does with intensity. And then - finally - after much effort and time, he sees what he's been looking for! Reports it to his master. And is released from his duty. He can go back to his quarters and rest.

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace."

But then, having spoken words of joy, Simeon's big smile evaporates. For God gives him insight. Painful insight.

Along with the sweetness and joy of this moment - the joy of God stooping down and becoming human - comes a bitter pill.

It is the recognition that what Simeon sings about with joy will be resisted and rejected by many.

Yes, there will be those who will accept Jesus as God's son, who will bow before Him and worship Him as their Lord. It will raise them up to heaven, to eternal life, to forever joy.

But there will also be those who refuse to see this little gathering in the corner of the temple as anything more than a sentimental journey of the moment. They will refuse to understand it as the Almighty Eternal God breaking into human history. They will get angry when people insist it is so. Or sneer loudly and shake their heads at the supposed stupidity of believers. Or else they will laugh lightly and walk away. And ultimately it will destroy them; cause their downfall.

The Bible says:

"See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone"

"A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."
[1 Peter 2.6-8]

It's talking about Jesus:

Accept that He is God's son come to earth to save you from sin and an eternity in hell; surrender your life to His control and domination, and the life building power of God will flow and work in your life. Your place in heaven is assured. The comforting, guiding, strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit will be with you throughout your life.
It will raise you up.

Rejecting Him will trip you up, will lead God to reject you. He'll leave you to fend for yourself in this life and to spend eternity without Him.

Jesus is THE rock solid figure in a world history that is turbulent, up and down and awfully uncertain. And, like with all rocks, you can either use them to build a solid foundation, or you can be tripped up by them and be dashed to the ground.

There will be people on both sides, says Simeon.

For Simeon and Anna, and for those who recognized in the middle of all the ordinary and predictable festivities of the past Christmas season, for ALL who recognized Jesus for what he really is, his coming will be like a divine unshakable foundation for their lives.

"The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame."
Never - now or in eternity.

But for the others, the ones rejecting Jesus, the prospect is hellish.....

And Simeon gets this sense of foreboding. I'm sure he's not exactly aware of what it's all about. He just gets this prophetic sense that somewhere along the way there will be terrible pain in Mary's heart because of people rejecting her son.

That it will be people arresting him, torturing him, and hanging him on a cross to die - that isn't yet visible. Time will reveal that moment, when Mary stands weeping under the cross.

A moment of great pain, but a necessary moment, for it will be the moment when the sin of humanity is paid for, guilt erased, and the road to heaven reopened for those who believe in Him.

Christmas is a terrific time of year. A time of much joy, laughter, warmth and good cheer. But my friends, make no mistake. It is also a terribly serious, important time. A life-changing time.

Christmas divides the human race. Splits people into two camps, slicing like a sword - those who are for Jesus, His followers and servants; and - those who reject Him. It's one or the other. There's no middle ground; no third option.

As Simeon speaks, I can imagine him looking around the temple at all the people milling around, busy with their various activities. He has been here often and knows many of these folks. And he wonders, "what will their reaction to this Jesus be? Will he be accepted or rejected?" And he gets a tear in his eye thinking about the many who will reject him.

What about the people we know and meet?

What about us?

Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna...... and Jesus. Together in a little corner of the temple. Four people huddled around a baby. A very ordinary looking scene.

And yet it is a scene that ought to burn in our minds this Christmas Day. For it symbolizes the call of the Bible to us, to join the huddle around this baby, and make Him the centre of our lives.

This call comes to all people - whether a teenager or young mother as Mary was, or a strapping middle-aged tradesman as Joseph was, or a retired gentleman who has been careful in leading a clean and proper life for all his years as Simeon was, or a pious and frail widow as Anna was.

- for ALL people, all across the spectrum of human possibility, the one who laid there in the Temple as a tiny, helpless baby has to be the one around whom we huddle; the one who assumes the place of first importance in our lives.

You know, babies seem to have a way of forcing people to make choices. Many couples today have to make a choice between keeping their fast paced careers, or scaling back in order to have children. Once you have the child the choice has to be made - go back to work, or stay home full time. Throughout life having and raising children demands that parents make certain choices. That's just the way it is.

The coming of the child in Bethlehem's manger forces a huge choice on every one of us. He forced a choice from all who came into contact with Him.

Mary was given the message by the angel and chose to submit willingly as God's servant, becoming the mother of the child.

The shepherds heard the angel's message and willingly chose to go to Bethlehem and worship the child.

Simeon heard and chose to obey the inner voice and command of God to keep an eye out in the temple for the coming Saviour.

Today you and I hear the message of Christmas.
And a choice lays before us.
Perhaps you're hearing the basic message of Christmas for the first time - the call for you to submit your life to Jesus as the Son of God, the only One who can give you eternal life.
Will you choose to do that?

Perhaps you've heard it again and again. Will you chose to continue to follow this child of Christmas, and devote the coming year to His service - making and keeping Him as the central figure in your existence?

We live as consumers in a choice-filled society.
So many options. So many choices. Sometimes too many! And it almost always seems to feel like whatever we chose is fine. Whatever we happen to want or feel attracted to at the moment. The customer is king, after all - right?

This choice is different.
It is the King confronting you - the King of heaven and earth.
Will you choose to willingly submit?

Oh yes - in one way making this choice will narrow your options for the future. You will be called to certain inevitable subsequent actions. No avoiding that.
But they will be actions that will build your future - a future that will end up in eternal rest and joy in the beauty and presence of heavenly glory with God.

Join Simeon in bowing before the baby.
Greet this Christmas morning with the joy of acknowledging God come to earth.
Welcome the Saviour.
Your Saviour.

Watching for Light

by Jill Carattini

In ancient cities, sentinels kept vigil on the city walls throughout the night. Long, difficult hours of waiting and watching characterized the sentinel's evenings. The watcher's role was well understood as vital for the protection of the city and the welfare of its citizens. Morning, nonetheless, meant great relief, both for the watchmen who kept vigil throughout the darkness and for the city within the walls.

Making use of the laden imagery of those who watched for morning, biblical writers often juxtaposed the role of the watchman and the work of the prophet. Through long, dark hours of slavery and exile, stubbornness and despair, the prophets kept watch, calling out injustices, calling forth awareness, peace, and repentance. Jeremiah cried out, "This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' I appointed watchmen over you and said, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But you said, 'We will not listen.'" Isaiah expanded the imagery of the sentinel's watch even further, suggesting watchful eyes throughout the kingdom of God, servants who hold vigil day and night, watching for light even when presently surrounded by darkness. "Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion." (1)

An old man in Jerusalem named Simeon was one such sentinel. All that is known of him is that he was righteous and devout, and looked forward to the consolation of his broken land. Led by the Spirit one day, he went to the temple to offer the customary sacrifice, when he noticed an infant in the arms of a young, peasant woman. Taking the baby in his arms, he began to sing:

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
(2)

A watchman who had kept vigil through long years of darkness, Simeon sees the infant Jesus in plain sight and uses the language of a slave who has been freed. There is a sense of immediacy and relief, as if the light of morning has finally arrived after years of shadow and night, and he is at last free to leave his post.

Yesterday was Epiphany, the historical Christian feast day that celebrates the arrival of the magi to the birthplace of Jesus, and it tells a similar story. Matthew describes a vigilant scene not unlike that of Simeon at the temple or sentinels on the city wall. Astrologers from the east followed a lone star through a great expanse of darkness to come upon a new born king. Their watchful journey took years. It impelled further darkness as Herod's jealousy reared an evil demand for the murder of infant boys throughout Bethlehem. It was a solitary journey, disregarded by the masses and wrought with difficulty. But the light was real and relieving. "Nations shall come to your light," sang the prophet of this child, "and kings to the brightness of your dawn" (Isaiah 60:3).

With those who first watched and waited for God to step from the heavens and into our darkness, the feast of Epiphany is a reminder that we are still a world straining in the shadows, with our glimpses of light, waiting. Like those who first journeyed to set their eyes on the child born to die, we move through long nights, often finding ourselves out of place, in the dark, and straining to see more. The Christian story is a declaration that Jesus can transform this watching and waiting, our lives and our deaths, bringing light where death stings, where tears discourage, and darkness haunts. "I wait for the Lord," sang the psalmist, "my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." The night is indeed long, but what if the light is real?

References:

(1) cf. Jeremiah 6:16-17, Isaiah 52:8.
(2) Story told in Luke 2:26-32.

About The Author:

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source: A Slice of Infinity
Copyright © 2013 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.

An Ol' Man Named Simeon....

by Redeemed by Grace

Luke 2:25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

"Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel."

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother,

"Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Taking a look at the above verse's within Luke's account of Jesus' birth, it could be very easy to pass over the importance of one witness of a simple man, that of Simeon. As Luke writes the account of the birth of Jesus, he also includes the importance of this simple man, within the birth account… for Simeon was not a prophet of the day, nor a teacher of Jewish law and traditions, but that of a an old man for whom the Spirit of God had given him enlightenment to the coming of the Messiah. As Luke writes, this man had a heart for God, for his heart was righteous and sincere, and that it was shaped by God's Spirit Himself… And yes, this man was also a Jew.

Interesting to note a few things of this Simeon: that

1) the Holy Spirit was upon Him. and
2) that Luke judged Simeon to be a man that was…

a) righteous,
b) a sincere believer of God,
c) knew his OT scriptures in the coming consolation of Israel,
d) that God's own Spirit revealed to Simeon Himself,
e) and that Simeon would not die until he saw the Lord's Christ, and
f) was led by God to the day [8 days later after Jesus' birth] when Joseph, Mary and Jesus where in the Temple of the circumcision of Jesus and given His name – in accordance to the fulfillment of the scriptures.

And Simeon is quoted to

1) bless God,
2) thanking Him for revealing to him His Christ,
3) for his faith becoming real,
4) is called a bond-servant as were the apostles,

and that according to the OT scriptures now seen, he has peace in his salvation --- for he sees the face of the baby Jesus - the Christ of God…. And he thus knowing the scriptures, because of God's Spirit being upon him, confirms that Jesus will be “a LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel…. For “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Simeon, a simple man who was saved by God in the promise of the coming King in Jesus Christ, being filled with God's Spirit – no different that you or I in coming to faith we have been given [Ephesians 2], seeing Jesus as the living word of God [John 1], telling Mary His mother that Jesus was appointed for the fall and the rise of many in Israel… for He will be a sign to Israel that many will oppose, and that the sword that pierced Jesus own body and heart yet to come, will in kind -- pierce each man's own heart as to whether His Spirit is within them, as He was within Simeon, for testimony of knowing that this babe of Mary is indeed, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Praise be to God, for His wondrous gift of salvation to all who would believe! Simeon believed, therefore he lives!

For His Glory and return....

GENERAL INTEREST ARTICLES

Health Tip: Important Cold and Flu Information
Protect yourself and others this cold and flu season

Cold and flu season is here, and it's a rough one. While both cause sneezing, coughing, and runny noses, flu symptoms are often more severe and can include fever, fatigue, and body aches.

Just because people around you are sick, you don't have to get sick, too. You can keep yourself healthy by practicing a little proactive prevention. And if you do catch a cold or flu, be mindful to help protect others.

Handy tips for staying healthy

Wash your hands often. Frequent hand washing helps protect you from whatever bug is going around. Plain soap works just as well as antibacterial soap.

Use hand sanitizer. The alcohol in sanitizer gels and wipes helps kill cold and flu viruses you pick up from any surface you touch.

Keep your face hands-free. Try not to rub your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs can enter your body this way, or be spread from your hands to others.

Get your flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are available at a Kaiser Permanente facility near you, at no cost to Kaiser Permanente members. If you're on a mobile device, this link will open KP Mobile. Once there, please go to the bottom of the page, click "View full site," then click "Get vaccinated at a flu clinic near you."

If you get sick, be kind to yourself and others

Stay home and rest. Limit your exposure to others. Children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting sick.

Drink lots of fluids. Hot herbal tea, warm water, and chicken soup are especially good for congestion (runny or stuffy nose).

Treat your aches and fever. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol*) or ibuprofen (such as Advil*) can help provide relief. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label, especially for children. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without using fever-reducing medicine.

Cover your sneeze or cough. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve to trap the germs. If you cough into your hands, wash them as soon as you can. Use disposable tissues and throw them away immediately after each use.

Viruses – not bacteria – cause colds, flu, and chest colds. Antibiotics don't kill viruses, so they don't work for colds or flu.

Don't let a cold or flu become a setback. Stay well this season and thrive.

Source: from Kaiser Permanente

*Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.

Recipe: Chicken Portobello
[Editor's Note: Only one more week left before we enter the Great Lent. So, here is the last non-vegetarian recipe you will see for a while.]

This chicken and mushroom combo makes for a nice dinner entree, especially when served with some oven roasted herb potatoes.

Ingredients:

16 oz chicken thighs or breast - skinned and deboned
2 Tbs olive oil
1 shallot -- finely chopped
2 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper -- finely chopped
1 Tbs lemon juice
6 oz Portobello mushrooms -- cut into 1" chunks
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup wine
1 Tbs tarragon -- fresh chopped
1 Tbs lovage -- fresh chopped (Gives the celery flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs arrowroot dissolved in wine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. (190 deg C)

Divide chicken into 4 equal portions.

Lightly salt and sear chicken on both sides in an oven proofed saute pan.

Remove from pan and set aside.

Saute mushrooms lightly for 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add shallots and garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Add green pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Deglaze pan by adding 1/4 cup red, white or rose wine. Allow to reduce by 1/2 and then add chicken stock and herbs.

Return chicken to pan and place in oven.

After 10 minutes add Portobello mushrooms on top. Cook another 5-10 minutes or until done.

Remove chicken to serving platter or plates leaving mushrooms behind.

Add arrowroot dissolved in wine to thicken sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over chicken and serve.

Suggested side dish: oven roasted herbed potatoes.

Source: Chet Day's Health & Beyond Weekly

Family: When You Have to Say No to Your Spouse

by Wayne Brouwer

Scripture: Esther 1:1-22

"This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord."
Esther 1:18

King Xerxes, the military leader of the Medes and Persians, tried to fulfill his father's failed plan to conquer Greece. Darius had been defeated at Marathon in 490 B.C. and had died soon after. Xerxes amassed one of the largest armies ever and marched back toward Greece. His army managed to get around the Spartan forces at Thermopylae but went down outside Athens when the Persian fleet was sunk in the bay of Salamis.

Esther 1 records what may have been Xerxes' planning meeting for the military campaigns of 482-479 B.C. During this lengthy meeting (lasting 180 days), the men feasted and drank extensively. At one point, Xerxes commanded his wife, Vashti, to appear before the assembled men. We are not told why Vashti refused, but given the circumstances and the rate at which we can assume the men were consuming alcohol, perhaps Vashti was afraid they would ask her to act immodestly - or worse.

Xerxes reacted like a spoiled child. He was furious that his order had not been obeyed. His advisers encouraged the king's stupidity. They proposed deposing Vashti as queen and banishing her from the presence of the king. Then they planned the first Miss Universe pageant to replace Vashti with someone more beautiful and (hopefully) more compliant.

Enter Mordecai and Esther, two Jews who were still living in Persia. Although Mordecai may have also had a Hebrew name, his Babylonian name may betray the comfort his family had with Babylonian life; it is derived from Marduk, the god Nebuchadnezzar followed and to whom he dedicated Babylon, his capital.

Ultimately, Esther was chosen to be the new queen, placing her in a position to intervene at a time when her people were threatened. Esther and Mordecai were able to save the Jews, but the dire threat made to exterminate them as a people during that time made its mark. Perhaps it was an impetus for Ezra and Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem to help the Jews there rebuild the city's walls and reclaim their spiritual foundations.

Within this story, Vashti often goes unrecognized as a heroine. Yet perhaps that should be acknowledged, particularly within the context of marriage. For while Vashti had been obedient to her husband in all things, there came a point when her moral fiber pulled taut and would not allow her to cross a line that required her to do something she knew was wrong.

In our marriages we need mutual submission and respect, as the apostle Paul wrote (see Ephesians 5:21-33). But we also need personal courage to say no to one another when decency is twisted or when obedience to little things would deny obedience to God's greater ways.

Wayne Brouwer

Let's Talk

  • What iffy spots of moral behavior have caused disagreement in our marriage?
  • Has one of us ever asked the other to do something morally questionable? How do we balance mutual submission to each other with saying no to behavior that compromises our integrity?
  • How can we keep our relationship unified so that we avoid situations that cause conflict when our morals differ?

Today's reading is from the NIV Couple's Devotional Bible by Zondervan

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples; Bible Gateway

Comments on MWJ Issue 122: Holy Priesthood
by V. Rev. Fr. Dr. Geevarghese Kunnath, MD CorEpiscopa, Malankara World Board Member

I did enjoy the theme of the Holy Priesthood. In this day and age the priesthood is viewed with some apprehension with all that is happening around us and among us. May be it would be a good idea for those serious in this matter to read & contemplate on the work by St. John Chrysostom, The Golden Mouth ( A.D. 347 – 407 ) "Treatise on the Priesthood"

Fr. Geevarghese

[Editor's Note:

The recommended resource by Geevarghese achen is considered to be one of the most important treatises on priesthood. It is a book with 6 chapters. We will be publishing it in Malankara World website when time permits. Thank you achen.

We also want to thank all those who complimented us the special on Women and other issues. We are humbled and honored.

Dr. Rajan Varughese, Director of Marthoma College of Management and Technology, Perumbavoor, frequently sends feedbacks on Malankara World Journal. He wrote about the recent issue (edited):

Dear Jacob Mathew:

Congratulations to all of you on several counts.

For being instrumental in serving the Church and Community
For being an inspiration to many
and for everything God Almighty has blessed you with.

The stories related to the 3 day Lent was quite useful to me and the interpretations were also great.

There was a short article in Manorama related to some religious practice in some church near Kuravilangad related to the 3 day Lent - during the last 20, 21, 22 daily. It talks about ship wreck and how lent is being observed in the Kerala coast.

Regards,
Affly,
Rajan

Thank you again to all of you who responded from the top of the world (Nepal) to down under (Australia); from the Dark Continent (Africa and Middle East) to the New Frontier (America). Your support means quite a lot to all of us. Please keep spreading the good word and pray for us.]

Humor: Four Worms In Church
Four worms and a lesson to be learned!!!!

A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon.
Four worms were placed into four separate jars.
The first worm was put into a container of alcohol.
The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke.
The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup.
The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results:

The first worm in alcohol...Dead.

The second worm in cigarette smoke...Dead.

Third worm in chocolate syrup...Dead.

Fourth worm in good clean soil...Alive .

So the Minister asked the congregation, "What did you learn from this demonstration?"

Maxine was sitting in the back, quickly raised her hand and said,
"As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"

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