Jesus Christ: yesterday, today, and the same forever!
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost & the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils.
The Holy Great Martyrs Cyricus & Julitta. The Holy Great Prince Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles.
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11:45 AM 7/15/2012 — This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah, on which we traditionally bless automobiles. We will do that on the feast, of course, and also on the Sunday following. And I may take the occasion next week to preach on he Holy Prophet.
My original intention for today was to continue with our exposition of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, from which we've been reading in our Apostolic reading this summer; but, you may have noticed that today is a dual celebration: the regular Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, and the Sunday of the Fathers of the first Six Ecumenical Councils. The Epistle for the Sunday of the Council Fathers is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, which is rare, even though it contains some of the most powerful words in Scripture: “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and the same forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by observances about food which do not benefit anyone.”
No one is quite sure who the human author of this letter was; but, if it wasn’t St. Paul, certainly his theme is exactly the same as St. Paul’s in Romans which we had been looking at: that you can’t make up your own religion with your own rules and claim to be a Christian. Here, the occasion is the preaching of those in the Church who were insisting that all the Jewish regulations about Kosher food continue to be observed by the Christians; and his point is that it’s Christ that should be the focus of the Christian heart, and he alone is sufficient. The Gospel of Christ is the rule of the Christian’s life; the Sacraments of Christ are the sources of the Christian’s strength; the death of Christ is the salvation of the Christian soul; the resurrection of Christ is the reason for the Christian’s hope; the Eucharist of Christ is the very presence of Christ in the Christian; and unity with Christ in the interior life is the source of the Christian’s joy. If it is not so, then something is wrong.
Of course, when the author of Hebrews speaks of strange teachings, he’s speaking immediately of the many special observances that the Jews of his time were practicing, which cannot save them, because these observances are not from Christ. But like all Scripture, he’s also writing to us; so, we must examine what “strange teachings” we sometimes use to replace Christ’s words as the guide for our lives. How many people are there, for example, who accept our Lord’s words on the indissolubility of marriage, until their own son or daughter gets divorced and wants to marry again, then all of a sudden the words of Christ don’t apply. Or those who accept our Lord’s words on the sanctity of life, until their own daughter becomes pregnant, then the words of Christ don’t apply. The teachings of Christ come to us as well through the Church which he himself established; and yet, so many people today seem to favor a disingenuous kind of Christianity which claims to love the Savior, but not his Church, even though our Lord said quite clearly that they are one.
“Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and the same forever.” Christ does not change. We might be tempted to change what we believe because of the winds of popular fancy; but if we do, we leave Christ behind. Christ doesn’t change. The message he preached more than 2000 years ago is the same one he preaches today through the Church. And if that is not the guide of our lives on this earth, then we may think we’re living a Christian life, but we’re not. Our Eastern Church holds to many ancient Christian traditions which she received directly from the Apostles and their immediate successors, the Fathers of the Church. Some things have been added over the centuries, of course, but nothing that bears directly on the faith. Our Liturgy, our doctrine, our focus on Christ as the one true redeemer, the Gospel that we live and preach, the cross of death which brings eternal life, the love of the Mother of God—all these things the true Christian treasures in his heart, because everything else is just window dressing.
The Letter to the Hebrews was occasioned by the disturbing phenomenon of Christians beginning to replace their faith in Jesus Christ with all kinds of extra things that really had nothing to do with Christ. And although he speaks primarily of Jewish practices and customs, the message to us is just as clear. How can we claim to be guided by the words of Christ, when we’re complaining and moaning about that relative who offended us or that neighbor we don’t like, or how that person over there makes me so mad I could spit. And then we come into Church and pray as if Christ means something to us, when our own lives proclaim that we could care less. St. Paul said it best, when he encountered such things among the Christians: “As for me,” he said, “I preach Christ, and him crucified.” Just as Christ said to Martha, “You are anxious and upset over many things; one thing only is necessary.”
Our prayer should be that when we walk among our fellow men and women, those we know and those we don’t know, everyone we meet should be able to say of us, “There goes someone who has read the life of Jesus Christ.”
Father Michael Venditti