A podcast of Sts. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church in Vallejo, CA by Fr. Ninos Oshaana offering spiritual inspiration and encouragement through a daily meditation on the Orthodox Christian scripture readings of the day, the Saints of the Day and more. Other episodes offer explanations about the Divine Liturgy, our Sunday sermons, our bible study and also news and announcements from our parish community. Thanks for listening!
On the Gospel reading: "Forgive us our sins"
“When you pray that your sins may be forgiven, strengthen yourself always by faith, and trust in God’s mercy, Who is ever ready to forgive our sins after sincere prayer, and fear lest despair should fall on your heart — that despair which declares itself by deep despondency and forced tears. What are your sins in comparison to God’s mercy, whatever they be, if only you truly repent of them? But it often happens that when a man prays, he does not, in his heart, inwardly hope that his sins will be forgiven, counting them as though they were above God’s mercy. Therefore, he certainly will not obtain forgiveness, even should he shed fountains of involuntary tears; and with a sorrowful, straitened heart he will depart from the Gracious God: which is only what he deserves. ‘Believe that ye receive them,’ says the Lord, ‘and ye shall have them.’ Not to be sure of receiving what you ask God for, is a blasphemy against God.”
St. John of Kronstadt
Today we commemorate St. Abercius Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis.
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Like the disciples to whom our Lord addressed these words, as Christians today, we also are blessed to be able to see what all the ancient prophets, kings and wise men of the world died not seeing. We are able to see God, face to face, in the person of Jesus Christ. Not in a symbolic way, but by participating in and living within a spiritual reality. Through the Holy Spirit, which is received at baptism and chrismation, I am made capable of knowing God and seeing him, experiencing him, of seeing him with the eyes of my heart and my soul. If I respond to this gift, if I exercise the power I have been given, if I commit myself to spiritual struggle, my life becomes one continuous opening, unfolding and revelation of an experience of God, of "seeing God" and this nourishes and grows my faith. The experiences will vary for each person. I may hear the sweet and loving voice of Christ as it enters my heart and touches my soul whenever I read the Bible. I may be moved to tears when I meditate on the suffering in the world due to sin and death, the brokenness of the human person, and how Jesus Christ came to heal us and save us by joining us to his own holy and resurrected flesh and blood and soul. I may receive consolation, relief, comfort, light, spiritual peace and joy when I go to confession, when I participate attentively and sincerely in the Divine Liturgy and receive Holy Communion in repentance and with love for Christ. In the astonishing miracles performed by Christ, his Holy Mother, and all the saints, from the days of the apostles to our modern times, I may finally be convicted in the belief that God is indeed with us. In the radical changes, through the grace of God, of my own mind, my heart, or that of someone I know, I may witness first-hand the power of God and become convinced that no matter what may happen in my life, a deep sense of hope and trust in our Lord is firmly planted in me and will continue to be nourished in me through both my joys and my trials. In all these ways and more, we are blessed to see and know God and to be known by Him.
Daily meditation: "Take up your cross". Today we commemorate St. Lucian the Martyr.
When we were baptized, we each received a cross around our necks. This wasn't simply a beautiful ornament but an outward sign of an inner calling. The calling to remain loyal to Christ no matter what may happen in our life. Loyal in the sense that one believes all things come from God, whether good or bad, and that one trusts in the Providence of God, that he is in control, even in the most desperate and difficult times. This is the essence of faith. And yes, our faith may waver at times when we try to make sense of how or why bad things happen. But we can't allow such wavering to lead to doubt of God's love or even his presence. The most powerful example of this is when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaak. He didn't understand why and it was the most painful and difficult thing he had ever faced. Yet his love for God was so great that he accepted God's plan, God's will, God's wisdom above his own, firmly believing that there was a reason for it and that, whether in this life or the next, all will be revealed, all will be restored, and all will be exceedingly good. St. Paul speaks on this in his First Letter to the Corinthians 13:12, he writes: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
St. Nikolai Verimilovitch offers the following explanation on the words, "take up your cross," writing: “What does it mean to take up your cross? I means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.”
We find in the gospels many references to food and eating. In particular, having to do with the miracles that Christ performs, as in today's Gospel reading where he feeds 5000 people. Other examples are when Christ is visiting the outcasts of society, the publicans and sinners, and dining with them. Elsewhere we see him dining with the religious leaders such as the pharisees. Before his passion, he gathers his disciples for the Passover meal, where he first institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion, offering his own body and blood as the sacrificial lamb. After his resurrection from the dead, he appears to his disciples and again he eats food in their presence to prove that he was truly there in his body and not a ghost. And finally, he appears to the two disciples as their were traveling on the Road to Emmaus and while they at first didn't recognize him, their eyes were opened when he blessed and broke the bread and gave it to them.
All these examples tell us that the act eating has been transformed by Christ from something base and carnal meant only to satisfy our taste buds and stomachs, to something spiritual through which we experience an intimate encounter and union with the divine and one another. Just as Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and it led to hostility between themselves and separation from God, physically and spiritually, so the act of eating the Body and Blood of Christ causes us to be reunited to God and renewed physically and spiritually. And since we all received from the one chalice, we also now are joined not only with God, but also with one another so that there is no longer any hostility and separation between us but we are truly one, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:17,
"For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."
But having received this wonderful and life-saving nourishment, we are now responsible and accountable for it. It perfects within us love for God and love for others. In the gospel reading, thousands of people have been following and listening to Christ. They are hungry and thirsty. Christ tells the apostles "You give them something to eat." St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Smyrneans dated to about the year 100 AD, makes a connection between faith and love, specifically, how faith and belief that what we eat is truly the Body and Blood of Christ then inspires love and care for others. But how the lack of faith, and disbelief leads to a lack of love. He writes:
"Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love, no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes."
Listen to this episode for the entire meditation on this gospel reading.
Daily Meditation, Scripture readings, Saints of the Day: St. James son of Alphaeus
On the Gospel Reading Matthew 9:36-38; 10:1-8: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few"
With these words, our Lord is referring to the disciples who, although only twelve of them, will go out into the vast world and spread the Gospel. The harvest are all the people in the world who were desperate for the message of salvation, who were helpless and had no hope, who were enslaved to the power of the devil and death. As it was then, so it is today. The Gospel message that Christ is Risen and has destroyed the power of the devil and has given life to all who desire it, continues to be relevant to us today, in fact, one could say, even more today. Another way to understand this reading for an Orthodox Christian today is that the harvest is not the world outside but the world within: your own heart and your own soul. In these are plentiful riches and treasures of God's image and likeness which must be labored for. The labor, the work, is your own prayer life, your repentance, your ascetical struggle, the work of the Divine Liturgy and ultimately your love for Christ and compassion for others. As we labor to purify our hearts and minds, to restore the image of God within us, to continually grow in the likeness of God by acquiring the Holy Spirit, the change in our behavior, in our life, in our disposition, will silently declare the truth and power of the Gospel message to the world around us as well.
This episode offers a meditation on Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:1-7 and the theme of being citizens of the household of God and not of the Devil. Also the life of St, Pelagia along with the other saints of the day.
Household of God
"Brethren you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God". Ephesians 2:19-22, 3:1-7
These opening words of the epistle today beautifully express what each of us has been given. Like myself, some of you come from families that at some point immigrated to the United States. Whether it was your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who left their homeland and came to a new country. And for the first few days or weeks or even months, they were still strangers, getting to know the people, the land, the laws, the culture. But then, they eventually became citizens and made this country their home.
St. Paul uses the same idea to convey our spiritual journey. Human beings were once estranged from God, having lost our original home with God in the Garden of Eden, we were strangers and sojourners, wanderers until we found the promised land, and that promised land was Christ and his Church, and we were received, welcomed by Christ himself, and through our baptism he made us citizens of his kingdom, together with all the saints, being one household, one family of God.
But having entered our divine home with Christ, the Devil relentlessly tries to call us back out, he tempts us to give up our home, our true identity and once again go wandering in the darkness with him, a journey that only leads to despair and nothingness. He constantly tries to make us forget who we are and what we have received. He does this by making us not take our identity as children of God seriously. It's just a nice metaphor. Just a nice religious idea. And we fail to actually live it. Or he makes us think we're undeserving of this identity because of our mistakes and sins. Or he makes us hyper-focus on some other identity, like our ethnicity or political affiliation or even our profession. Either way, we end up disregarding or even forgetting our true identity as members of the household of God. We end up not living everyday in a way that reflects this reality. We instead live in another reality and the Devil tries to get us to only think about our earthly home, our earthly pleasures, only our immediate family members and relatives, only our friends, and we create a kind of distance between ourselves and our heavenly family and God and other people in this world.
This deception of the Devil is relentless. There's only one way to snap out of it and reject it every day as well. And that is to give thanks to God for all things, and acknowledge him as the giver of all things, that he is everywhere present and sees everything. That all things belong to him and he has made you a steward of his gifts. Give thanks to God for your life, for your country, for your material blessings, for your talents, for your family members and relatives and friends, for your freedom, for your parish, for the saints, for your Orthodox Faith and that you belong to the family of God. In this way, you become a solid person, loyal to your true identity that you received at your baptism. You live as someone who is not double-minded, someone who is not two-faced, someone who is not divided and separated from God but rather united with him. As Christians, we try to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven while here on earth. We are called to be the light of the world. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ. Through us, God's heavenly kingdom is made present on earth. That is why we pray: Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. That earth is my own body, my mind, my heart, my soul.
A meditation on Christ's words, "he who is forgiven little, loves little" which reflect a central truth of Christianity, from the Gospel reading for today. Also the life of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus.
In this episode we reflect on today's epistle reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, specifically the words "we have redemption through the blood of Christ," and we look at St. John's Chrysostoms meditation on Christ' sacrifice and our redemption. You'll also hear about the saint of the day, Hierotheos, the first bishop of Athens.
In this daily episode, we begin with a prayer followed by the scripture readings of the day, a meditation on the gospel or epistle readings, the saints we commemorate today and quotes from the writings of the Church Fathers. There's also a daily memory verse and a daily act of kindness suggestion.
Welcome to the first episode of The Vine, our new parish podcast, this is Fr. Ninos Oshaana and I'm looking forward to using this new format to keep you informed about our parish as well as offering inspiration and encouragement in your Orthodox faith journey. This podcast will offer a number of different things. For example, some of you receive our daily prayer and bible readings and meditation email. Now it will also be available as a daily episode that you can listen to on this podcast. Other episodes will offer recordings of our small discussion group on the Divine Liturgy, our upcoming bible study and also news and announcements from our parish community.
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With love in Christ,
Today's episode is Christ's words about judging others and a meditation by St. Paisios the Athonite on the final judgment.
Lord and Master of my life, deliver me from the spirit of laziness, meddling, ambition and gossip.
Give me, Your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. Lord and King, grant that I may see my sins and faults and not judge my brother, for You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.