The Orthodox Pages



29th OCTOBER 2009








































































































































Today’s talk will be on the Apostle and Gospel readings for this Sunday 1st November. It is also the feast day of the Selfless Physicians Cosmas and Damian. In the Church calendar there are three pairs of saints who were blood brothers with the same names and same occupation of physicians, but came from different areas. The first were from Rome, the second from Asia Minor and the third from Arabia. They also all have the same epithet or title which is English is usually translated as Unmercenaries or as I call them Selfless Physicians. What do these titles mean? The Greek title is “Anargyri” which literally means without silver. In other words without money or without payment. As used in their title it means those who used their professional skills without accepting payment for their services. There is no English equivalent for the word Anargyri so they are usually given the title Unmercenaries. As you know mercenaries are soldiers belonging to a private army who are highly paid to fight in private wars. So the word Unmercenaries, which doesn’t really exist in the English language, was made up to mean the opposite of mercenaries and refers to not receiving payment for services. Personally I have a great dislike for the word because it still reminds me of soldiers and could be interpreted as soldiers who fight and kill just for the pleasure of it without seeking reward for their perversion. Thus I use the title Selfless Physicians which although doesn’t refer to payment or non payment it explains that they practiced their profession of medicine without seeking to better themselves.
The Cosmas and Damian celebrated on 1st November were from Asia Minor. They were brothers both in the flesh and in the spirit, born of a pagan father and a Christian mother. After their father's death, their mother Theodotia devoted all her time and effort to educating her sons and raising them as true Christians. They were learned in the art of medicine and ministered to the sick without payment, not so much with medicine as by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were called “Selfless Physicians”, meaning unpaid physicians, for they healed freely and thus fulfilled the commandment of Christ: Freely ye have received, freely give (Matthew 10:8). So careful were they in healing men free of charge that Cosmas became very angry with his brother Damian because he accepted three eggs from a woman, Palladia, and ordered that he not be buried alongside his brother Damian after his death. In fact, St. Damian did not accept these three eggs as a reward for healing the ailing Palladia, but rather because she adjured him in the name of the Most-holy Trinity to accept these three eggs. Nevertheless, after their death in the town of Fereman, they were buried together according to a revelation from God. The holy brothers were great miracle-workers both during their life and after their death.
The Apostle reading for this Sunday is for the feast of these two great saints. It is that beautiful reading where Paul talks on love being the first and foremost in the Christian life and without it we are nothing. Before we hear the reading something must be said on the King James Translation which I usually use for the English readings. The Greek word Agape meaning love is translated as Charity which in our day and age could very easily be understood as meaning charitable works. Of course charity is a fruit of love but so that we can better understand the meaning I have changed every use of Charity back to the word Love.

The reading is from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8

Brethren, ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.

27) “Brethren, ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
Paul is telling us that all Christians are united in the one body of Christ and just as our own bodies shouldn’t be divided then so much less should the body of Christ not be divided. By members in particular he is referring to the fact that the Corinthian church was not the Body of Christ by itself but that it is a part of the Church existing every where and that the body of Christ is made up of all the Churches together. Thus we are all a member, a part of the whole body of the Church.
28) “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”
Here Paul sets out in order of importance the Gifts of the Holy Spirit granted to each and because the Corinthians thought highly of themselves in respect of speaking in tongues he places it as the last and most inferior of the gifts when compared with the other gifts. To show that he places them in order of honour and importance he says first apostles secondly prophets thirdly teachers etc. The apostles are first because they had all the gifts in themselves. The prophets are second because when they prophesy they speak all things from the Spirit. The teachers are third in line after the prophets because whereas a prophet speaks in the Spirit, a teacher also uses his own mind, in other words he speaks many things of his own mind, agreeing however with the sacred Scriptures. After the top three he places people who had the gift of power which in English is translated as miracles. It is different from the next gift which is the gift of healing. Although both are similar, the gift of power is higher than the gift of healing because he that has power can use that power to both heal and to punish whereas the person who has the gift of healing only cures. But why does he place the gift of performing miracles low down in the scale? Why is it a lesser gift that teaching for example? Because it is not the same thing to declare the word of preaching and sow piety in the hearts of the hearers, as it is to work miracles: a person who teaches by his word and by his way of life in a sense gives healing to the soul and guides it to salvation whereas a miracle is done merely to give support to the teaching and usually involves only the body.
Next in line are “helps and governments: what do these mean. Helps are those who have the gift to help and give support to the weak. Paul considers this also to be a gift of God because not everyone has it in them to be able to give care, support and compassion to the poor and those in need. Governments means the ability for administration which again is considered a gift because it needs a special kind of person to be able to organise and put in order everything needed for the smooth running of the Church.
And lastly Paul mentions “diversities of tongues” placing it last to show that the other gifts are of far more importance, but also because at that time Corinth was greatly influenced by Greek paganism which included demonstrations, frenzies and orgies all intricately interwoven into their religious practices. When St. Paul preached to the Corinthians they were still worshipping the pagan god Dionysius and were living under the influence of Dionysiac religious customs. It was natural that they would find certain similarities more familiar and appealing. Thus the Corinthians began to put more stress on certain gifts like Speaking in tongues. St. Paul was concerned about their ties and memories of the old life and was compelled to warn them of using the gift of tongues excessively.
Now after giving them the catalogue of the various gifts there was the possibility that many who had the lower gifts would have been offended and say: “And why were we not all made Apostles? Why were we not all made prophets or teachers?” He thus needs them to understand that for the body to work in perfect order it needs the assistance of every one of its members. “God has set every member of the body as it pleased Him:” from the head to those that seem inferior, but all are necessary. Can the head say to the feet I have no need of you, or can the tongue speak without the vocal chords? Each member is part of the same body each having a different function, but at the same time having the same care one for another. Thus Paul says to them:
29-30) “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
Paul doesn’t stop at the first and second gifts but proceeds to mention them all again to show that not everyone can be all things. Each has his part to fulfil in the body of the Church and even the lesser gifts are honourable because they are not common to all. For as the greater gifts are not given to all neither are the lower. But as if this understanding was not enough to console those that didn’t have the higher gifts, he then says:
31) “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
In other words “desire earnestly the better gifts. And still I will show you a more excellent way. I will show you how you can possess these greater gifts. The excellent way is of course through the virtue of love. Now by saying this, he gently hinted that they were the cause of their own receiving the lesser gifts, and have it in their power, if they would, to receive the greater. But observe that Paul didn’t say to desire the greater gifts, but “the better gifts” in other words the more useful, those by which they would profit spiritually. But neither did he say that he would show them how to receive a better gift but that he would show them a way and not merely a way, but “a more excellent way” which leads to all these and which is open to everyone. For whereas the gifts are vouchsafed, to some these, to others those, here he now presents them with a way for all to follow and obtain the most profitable gift of all.
1) “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Look now from where Paul begins. Before he had told them that the gift of speaking in tongues was the least of the spiritual gifts, but now he mentions it first because it was the one gift that they considered so great and marvellous. And he mentions it not to the degree that they had it in, but amplifies it to sound even far more excellent for what does he mean “with the tongues of men?” He means the language of every nation in every part of the world. And neither was he content with this amplification, but he likewise uses another much greater, adding the words, “and of angels.” By this it doesn’t mean that he imagines angels having a body like us and speaking with their mouth and tongues, but rather in the way that angels communicate between themselves. He first exalts the gift and then casts it right down by saying that if a man has no love then the gift is absolutely nothing and he is become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal, a thing senseless and inanimate. Indeed making a sound, but at random and in vain, and disruptive and annoying to the ear. Thus a person with the gift of tongues; but void of love is just an annoying and wearisome kind of person: a burden to others.
2) “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.”
Again with this gift he amplifies it with an excellency. For as in the case of tongues he amplified it and said the tongues of all mankind, and of the angels, and then signified that the gift was nothing without love: so also here he mentions not prophecy alone but the very highest prophecy: for he said: “If I have the gift prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge;”  thus expressing this gift also with intensity. He then proceeds to mention the mother and source of all these gifts which is faith. But again he is not content to just mention faith but says all faith, a faith so strong that it could remove mountains and much much more because he is quoting Christ who said that “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matth. 17:20). If faith as small as a grain of mustard seed can remove mountains, what can all faith do? But even someone who has such a great faith, if he has no love in him he is nothing. Coming back to the gift of tongues which the Corinthians regarded as being so great, Paul again, in a discreet and underhand manner lowers its value and dignity. With the gift of prophecy he signifies the great advantage arising from it, “the understanding of mysteries, and having all knowledge;” with regard to faith nothing is impossible not even the removing of mountains but when he mentioned the gift of tongues he didn’t expound on it or give it any advantage: he just mentioned it and stopped.
3) “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”
Again Paul is amplifying and going for all or nothing. He doesn’t say if I give to the poor the half of my goods,” or “two or three parts,” but, “though I give all my goods.” But Paul doesn’t make it so simple as just giving. The word “bestow” or “give” is a wrong translation. In Greek the word is ψωμίσω which literally means to distribute in morsels, in crumbs - bit by bit, thus there is the added personal work and expense of going around to the poor and giving to each according to what is needed. But even these two examples of giving away ones belongings and giving up one’s life is nothing if the person has not love, neither actions will be of any spiritual profit. Yet what does Christ say on almsgiving and death? To the rich man He said, “If thou wouldest be perfect, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow me.” (Matth.19:21) And when talking on having love for one’s neighbour, He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man may lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Thus it is evident that even before God this is greatest of all. But, Paul said: “that even if we should lay down our life for God’s sake, and not merely lay it down, but to be burned, we shall have no great advantage if we do not have love for our neighbour.” With all these examples Paul is telling us that all the spiritual gifts will not profit us if we do not have love for all people.
4) “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”
Having then shown us that faith, knowledge, prophecy, tongues, healing, a perfect life and martyrdom are of no advantage to us if love is absent from our way of life, Paul now sets out to tell us the matchless beauty of what love really is.
Love suffereth long - in other words it is the virtue of patience and all self denial. A certain wise man said “A man that is long-suffering is slow to anger and is of great understanding; but he that is hasty of spirit is a great fool. A man with patience is more secure than a strong city because his patience is like an invincible weapon and a sort of impregnable tower, easily beating off all annoyances. Whatever attacks a long-suffering soul is like a spark that falls into the deep waters and vanishes. The soul remains impenetrable and unharmed. This excellence of patience is born of love and can withstand anything that comes its way.
But Paul doth not stop here, but adds also the other high achievements of love, saying, “Love is kind.” He mentions it straight after saying that it is long suffering because there are some who practise their long-suffering with a view not to their own self-denial, but to the punishment of those who have provoked them, to make them burst with anger; thus if someone uses patience to provoke his attacker then Paul is warning us that if our patience is the fruit of love then it cannot have this defect because love is kind and seeks to cure and not to hurt. “Love Envieth not.” Because it is possible to be both long suffering and envious Paul mentions that a Christ like love has no room for envy. If we envy others then our love is not true.
Love Vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” in other words love is not arrogant, it does not praise and boast of its accomplishments, is not vain by vaulting itself in self importance, is not proud and egotistic, is not impertinent and insolent, does not inquire into matters which do not concern it. Love accompanied with any of the above is not a virtue but a vice, but perfect love cleanses us off all these things.
5) “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”.
Love does not behave indecently or in a worldly, outrageous or shameful fashion. But it also means that love considers many things contrary to what might seem to the world as unseemly. Love is ready to suffer the most shameful things for him whom it loves, because it doesn’t consider the thing as unseemliness?” Love suffers unseemliness, but bears the shame nobly. It will refuse nothing whatsoever for the safety’s sake of those whom it loves, nor will any thing that it can suffer shame it. Our Lord Jesus Christ was both spit upon and beaten with rods by pitiful slaves; and not only did He not count it an unseemliness, but He even exulted and called the thing glory. He spoke with a harlot, which scandalized the Pharisees who stood by and accused Him, but He didn’t count the thing to be disgraceful, but both allowed her to kiss His feet, and to wash his feet with her tears, and to wipe them with her hair, in front of those who were his enemies; “for love doeth nothing unseemly.”
Love seeketh not its own” Having said that love does not behave unseemly Paul shows us also the frame of mind of the person. What is this frame of mind? The person who has perfect love does not selfishly seek his own benefit and interest but does all things for the persons that he loves. Thus elsewhere Paul also said, “Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbour’s good.” (1Cor. 10:24) For your own profit lies in the profit of your neighbour, and his in yours. Seek not therefore thine own, that thou mayest find thine own. Did not Christ do the same? Did he not suffer everything because he loved us and for this love he willingly accepted death on the Cross?
Love is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” See again how love not only overcomes every vice but doesn’t even allow it to come to the surface, because Paul did not say that when provoked it overcomes it, but that it is not provoked. As for evil, Paul did not say that it works no evil but that it doesn’t even think of evil. Not only does it not contrive anything evil but it doesn’t even suspect it in others who it loves. Love does not remember the evil does against her, but because it forgives totally it does not allow the slightest memory of evil to remain in the heart.
6) “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth”
Love does not rejoice in other people’s misfortunes, it does not feel pleasure over those that suffer ill, it does not desire harm for its enemies, it does not seek for divine justice to punish them. Love is void of all these defects, but it knows how and when to rejoice for it rejoices with the truth and feels pleasure with them that are well spoken of and as Paul says in Romans: it “Rejoices with them that rejoice, and weeps with them that weep.” (Rom.12:15)
7) “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.”
Love bears all things - from her long-suffering, from her goodness; whether they be burdensome, or grievous, or insults, or stripes, or death, or whatsoever else. Love believes, hopes and endures all things. What is “hopeth all things?” It does not despair of those it loves for even though someone is worthless it does not give up hope for him and continues to correct, to provide and to care for him.” And it does not merely hope, but also believes from its great affection. And even if these good things should not turn out according to its hope, but the other person should prove yet more intolerable, it bears even these. For love “endureth all things.”
Love never faileth” for it puts up with everything: and whatever comes its way it accepts with humility, whatever will happen love can never hate. This then is the greatest of its excellencies. Love understands and separates the man from the deed. One must hate the doctrine of a heretic but not the man, one must hate the wicked conduct and the corrupted mind, but never the man, because the man is God’s work, but the deceit is the devil’s work. Thus we must learn not to confuse the things of God and the things of the devil.

That then is the interpretation of the Apostle reading: Let's now hear the Gospel reading for this Sunday. The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 16:19-31.
The Lord said: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

We have seen this parable before in February of 2007 in the talk on death. It is a parable where Christ gives us an insight into what to expect after death. But it is probably more than just a parable because he calls the beggar by name signifying that he was a real person. The rich man’s name is not mentioned probably because his name was not written in heaven in the book of life. The parable mentions the way of life of these two men while in this life and their rewards in the life after death. The rich man never believed that there was a continuation of life after this biological and temporal existence. Like many others, he believed that everything ends here and after death there is nothing. This resulted in his life being void, without purpose and content and without any relationship to God. His only aim in life was to satisfy his selfish worldly needs. He ate foods fit for a king and drank the choicest wines, he dressed in purple and fine linen. Purple was a colour worn mainly by kings, thus the mention of purple in the parable signifies how the rich man thought of himself as equal to royalty and wanted to appear to others as a king. His denial of God was also his denial of even the smallest trace of love for his fellow humans. The absence of God is the absence of love. To have love in one’s heart means that it is there through he grace of God who abides in us after our repentance.

The rich man took great care to satisfy his worldly passions, but never once considered that he has a soul which also needs to be cared for. He never even gave a thought to death or to God and created by his continual denial of God a great gulf separating himself from eternal life which is in fact hell. The poor beggar Lazarus sat at his gate everyday hoping to fill his hunger with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. The rich man never once opened his hand to help him because his heart was void of love. He probably also thought of the beggar as a burden and something that lowers the standards of his neighbourhood. In contrast, Lazarus’ life is a continuous trial of hardships. His permanent companions in life are his poverty, his illnesses and his pains. But these trials do not obstruct him from living a life according to God’s will. He never complained for his difficulties, he never once blamed God for the injustice between the rich and the poor. He was satisfied with little; he was satisfied with the crumbs and leftovers which the rich man’s servants threw out. He never once asked for anything more than he had. It would seem also that he even had love for the rich man. He wasn’t envious of him, he never badmouthed him or had evil thoughts on seeing him everyday enjoying the good things of this life. Quite the opposite, he forgave the rich man for his hardness of heart. Lazarus’s poverty, his illnesses and all his trials do not obstruct him in finding salvation, but contribute to it and help him find eternal life.

In telling us this Parable, the Lord wants to make crystal clear that we understand that life in the future age depends clearly on this present life. For example, if the joy and gladness of the righteous in the future age is the communion of loving persons with the God of love in their midst, which is none other than paradise, the state of this eternal bliss begins from this our earthly life. According to the proportion and degree in which we love God and our fellow men, we live Paradise and foretaste the fullness of the future. If on the other hand sinners live isolated and completely cut off from God and from the fellow men, which is their hell and eternal fire, this state again begins here in this life and is fulfilled in the next.
This is now where the parable takes us – to two different ways of living eternity.
After Lazarus' soul left his body, it was received by the angels and carried to Abraham's bosom. This means that there are angels at death and of course, each person’s guardian angel as his personal protector, who receive the souls of the just and take them to God.
The rich man also died, but we are told nothing about angels coming to receive his soul. In fact all that is said is that he died and was buried. If his wealth provided his empty shell with a grand and ceremonious funeral. it is of no concern to the soul and eternity. But as Lazarus’ soul was received by angels can we assume that something similar happened with the rich man? In another parable it says that the demons receive the souls of unrepentant sinners. The foolish rich man who planned to build greater barns to store up his harvest, heard a voice from God saying: "You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you”. (Luke 12, 20) The verb `demand' suggests the demons, who claim the soul of the sinful person in order to control it forever. As in life the two men had completely different lives, here also in the after life they are separated from each other. Lazarus soul went to Abraham's bosom and the Rich Man’s soul went to Hades. In hell the Rich Man "saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom". To be in Abraham’s bosom was a phrase that the Rabbis’ used to denote a close communion with God. So the person of Abraham can be understood as meaning God.
Lazarus does not seem to be troubled about the terrible hardship of the Rich Man. He does not see Hades, while the Rich Man does see the glory of Paradise, but could not share in it. In contrast, Lazarus both saw it and participated in it. This is a very significant point, for it shows that in that other life everyone will see God, but the righteous will have communion, participation, while the sinners will not. A characteristic example is what Christ said about the coming judgement. All will see the Judge, all will converse with Him, but some will enjoy His glory and others will experience the caustic energy of divine grace. In Hades the rich man is suffering. He is burning but not in hell. Here Hades and not Hell, is being referred to. For Hell will begin after the Second Coming of Christ and the future judgement, while the souls of sinners experience Hades after their departure from the body. According to the teaching of the holy Fathers, Hades is an intelligible place; it is the foretaste of Hell, a place of suffering. This is what the Rich man was experiencing. In this place of suffering, the rich man, for the first time gives recognition to the existence of Lazarus. He now recognizes him as the beggar who he saw everyday by his gate. The beggar for whom he had great disdain and whom he totally ignored. But seeing him in Abraham’s bosom he was a familiar face: he probably also thought of himself as his benefactor because he allowed his servants to throw out the few crumbs that fell from his table. Thus Lazarus owed him for this small mercy.
Thus he dares to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with a drop of water, because, as he expressed himself, "I am tormented in this flame". But as Abraham answered him there is a great gulf fixed between them so that neither those in Hades nor those in Paradise can pass from once place to the other. This is not a question of particular places, it refers to particular ways of life. There is a clear difference between Paradise and Hell as particular ways of life. The gulf separating them is not a visible barrier but love. The only kind of love the rich man knew was self love which was void of any love for God and others. He could not experience the joys of Paradise because Paradise is being in God’s love. Thus his place in Hades was not a punishment from God, but a state of existence void of God’s love which he freely chose. Note also that he doesn’t ask Abraham to deliver him from that place of torment, but only to quench his thirst. Thus he accepts his place in Hades because it is the particular way of life he chose to follow – to live without love - to live without God.