Monday, January 4, 2010

Prayers for today: A holy day has dawned upon us. Come, you nations, and adore the Lord. Today a great light has come upon the earth.

Lord, let the light of your glory shine within us, and lead us through the darkness of this world to the radiant joy of our eternal home. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, .

St. John Damascene (676?-749)

John spent most of his life in the monastery of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem, and all of his life under Muslim rule, indeed, protected by it. He was born in Damascus, received a classical and theological education, and followed his father in a government position under the Arabs. After a few years he resigned and went to the monastery of St. Sabas. He is famous in three areas. First, he is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him. Second, he is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers (of which he became the last). It is said that this book is to Eastern schools what the Summa of Aquinas became to the West. Thirdly, he is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known.

John defended the Church’s understanding of the veneration of images and explained the faith of the Church in several other controversies. For over 30 years he combined a life of prayer with these defenses and his other writings. His holiness expressed itself in putting his literary and preaching talents at the service of the Lord. “The saints must be honored as friends of Christ and children and heirs of God, as John the theologian and evangelist says: ‘But as many as received him, he gave them the power to be made the sons of God....’ Let us carefully observe the manner of life of all the apostles, martyrs, ascetics and just men who announced the coming of the Lord. And let us emulate their faith, charity, hope, zeal, life, patience under suffering, and perseverance unto death, so that we may also share their crowns of glory” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (4:12-17.23-25)

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, Jesus went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali — to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

The Light in the darkness
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

During these weekdays immediately following the Epiphany, or manifestation of Christ at his infancy, we are given flashes of the later public manifestation of Christ that will come. This public epiphany began with the sudden eclipse of John’s ministry when he was imprisoned by Herod. John had announced to the nation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. All were to prepare the way for the Lord by repentance, for the Messiah himself was nigh. John identified Jesus as being he, and made it known. Soon after, he denounced Herod to his face for his marital situation, and was gaoled. With that, John’s public ministry ceased, but the mantle had been handed on to the Prophet who would far surpass him. Jesus forthwith returns to his native Galilee and begins. He is shown to be a great light. Matthew makes his point by recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah we read that “at first he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” (8:23). The fulfilment of this came with Jesus. As the prophet had said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has dawned” (9:1). Jesus is the expected Light, and our Lord himself would use this metaphor. I am the Light of the world, he said. He who follows me walks in the light, and he who refuses walks in the darkness. St John in his Prologue writes that in him was life and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the darkness, a darkness that cannot master it. So the Epiphany or manifestation of Christ to the world that occurred in principle at the arrival of the Wise Men from the East pointed to the great manifestation of Christ later. This would be firstly to the chosen people in our Gospel passage today and secondly to the world in the missionary work of the Church. John stayed in Judea and in certain confined locations. The people came to him. But Jesus “went throughout Galilee” and “news about him spread all over Syria” and “large crowds” came to him from all over.

What is striking is that the end of John’s ministry is like a trumpet sound for the immediate beginning of another. Christ shows no gradual preparation for his all-consuming mission. He immediately starts with tremendous intensity and the light of his person and teaching bursts out with absolute confidence. It is an immediate manifestation, a great Epiphany. He went “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” That is to say, the manifestation of Christ to the chosen people and to the world was the divine plan from the very beginning. Christ did not just begin a religious movement and leave the rest to the unfolding circumstances of history. Christianity is not a world religion by historical accident. While not tampering with human freedom, God means Christ and his revelation to be not merely one world religion, but the religion of the world. From the very beginning, from Christ’s very entry into life, he was meant to be manifested to every man and woman coming into the world. This is a pattern we see from the beginning of our Lord’s public life. We see in his ministry and in the people coming to him an indicator of what is to come — his relationship with the entire world, just as the visit of the pagan Magi was symbolic of this too. So, “people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him” (Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25). We have here a pattern of epiphanies — manifestations. In his first Epiphany, Christ was manifested to the pagan Magi. He was manifested in his public ministry to the chosen people. It is the divine intention that he be manifested as the Saviour to all the nations, to each one of us and to every man and woman in the world. Such is the divine plan.

What this means is that we have a responsibility to Christ every day. It is a responsibility, not only for our own personal relationship with him, but for the manifestation of him to others. We share in Christ’s mission to bring him to the peoples. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He is the first-born from the dead, and the salvation of the world depends on its recognition of Jesus Christ as the light of every man. Let us strive to bring this light to all around us.

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