We began today’s podcast with a discussion around the significance of the name change of the great Apostle to the Nations, from Saul to Paul. These names provide us with clarity on the role they play in the biblical story. We also highlighted the conversion story of Paul and how it mirrors the calling of the twelve disciples during Jesus’ life. We concluded by noting we, too, should respond to God’s call by planting the seed of the Gospel.
We begin by discussing why the Jews were amazed when the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, as well as what exactly that means from a practical perspective. We then turned our attention to the fact that no one, including the Church, "controls" the Holy Spirit. Instead, we must learn to discern and submit to the Holy Spirit. We conclude by discussing how this phenomenon is expressed in the service of chrismation/confirmation.
Today’s episode focused on a comparison of the apparent outcomes of both Peter and Stephen’s sermons in the book of Acts. First, we discussed why the Bible is systematically critical of those with power and authority. We then examined the outcome of Stephen’s ministry. At first glance, it may appear that Stephen failed, having an outcome entirely different from that of Peter. But as Father Aaron explained, we must be careful not to judge our success based on our results. Rather, our success should be determined by whether or not we were faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our job is to plant and water; whether it will bear fruit is in God’s hands. Stephen planted a seed in a young man named Saul--who later became the great apostle Paul, spreading the Gospel to all nations.
We discuss the significance of James’s martyrdom and Peter’s being freed from his chains. Having been unsatisfied merely with the crucifixion of Christ, Herod Antipas--like the rest of the Jewish leadership--moved to also bury Jesus’ message. Herod chains Peter physically with the hope of restraining the message that Peter is spreading. Peter is guarded by four squads of soldiers, indicating Herod’s desire to encompass and eradicate the Gospel. Related to Peter’s freedom from chains, we are all implored to remember that through Christ, we have been set free from the Mosaic Law. Yet this does not mean we are free to do whatever we please. We were set free so that we might live according to the law of grace. We conclude by discussing opportunities to provide this grace given to us by God to others.
Today’s reading from Acts finds Peter in the midst of a sermon given to many devout Jews who were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. We began by examining the purpose of Peter’s use of Old Testament Scriptures in his sermon and how Jesus Christ comes from the Old Testament tradition. The only way in which Jesus’ message can be properly understood is to have a fundamental understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures; to understand Christ in the light of the Old Testament. In this way, the Old Testament has “control” over our understanding of Jesus. We are prevented from making Jesus into whatever we want, or into some common historical figure. We concluded by highlighting how the message from Peter ‘cut them to the heart’ as his hearers realized the Scriptures were condemning them and their self-righteousness. Like the pious Jews in the book of Acts, devout Christians today must also come to this realization of our own self-righteousness, and be cut to the heart.
We discuss why John 1 is read at Pascha rather than an account of the Resurrection. Fr Aaron connected the beginning of this Gospel to the reading from Matthew 28 at the Vesperal Liturgy prior to the Paschal Liturgy that concludes with “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” At Pascha the following day, we here from John 1, “In the beginning was the Word.” Because the church revolves around Pascha, we end our year with a reminder that God’s Word was there in the beginning, and then turn to the promise that the Word will be there in the end. God’s Word abides forever. We then turned our attention to what John refers to in his Gospel as “the Word.” Father Aaron explained that we can understand “word” to be a statement or a brief teaching, as “the word of God” (Scripture), and/or as the incarnate word/incarnate Scripture, which is Jesus Christ. With this in mind, we can comprehend that God first gave His word to Abraham, then through His Scriptural message, and finally culminated with the Word incarnate—our Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s episode we examined Hebrews 12 and how we might apply his instruction to our current situation. On the subject of fear, Fr Aaron stressed that rather than allowing fear to consume us, we should direct our concern and our care for those who are most vulnerable. We were reminded that—by our nature—we are social beings (even those of us who are naturally introverted). It is important that all of us make an effort to reach out to people we know who may be struggling with isolation. Further into today’s passage, St. Paul instructs us not to covet, but to be content with the things that we have. Here, Fr Aaron stated that covetousness is a manifestation of a lack of faith in God’s providence. Finally, we were reminded that as Christians we have hope. We have hope not only in the life to come, but also in this life. As Christians, we have an opportunity before us to live out our faith. And because we have received grace from God, we now have a responsibility to show grace to others in return.
Having received the promise of God to be the father of many nations, Abraham grew impatient and took it upon himself to have a child. Further illustrating his unbelief, Abraham laughed at God. Many years after the child of promise is born, God tests Abraham to see if he has learned to trust him. This time, Abraham passes the test and is told by God that, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” This promise is fulfilled in the life, ministry, teaching, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Father Aaron also provided an example of the striking similarities between Abraham’s restoration and that of St. Peter. After failing to trust God time after time during the life of Christ, Peter puts his trust in the word of the Lord and Christ restores him by his three-fold affirmation of his love for Jesus. We concluded with Fr Aaron explaining the significance of this testing of Abraham and how it relates to the death of Christ.
We addressed some of the common misconceptions regarding Mary and why she is paid such great honor and respect in the Orthodox Church. We call to remembrance her example—as well as all the saints--so that we might use them as a model. This is in no way meant to replace the perfect model, our Lord, and God and Savior Jesus Christ. We were then reminded of what is meant by, “Taking up your cross” and suffering for the Gospel. This is not a physical suffering, but a willingness to suffer shame for the sake of following God and doing His will. Mary provides us with a beautiful example of this. Unwed and facing the possibility of being abandoned by her betrothed, she faced not only great physical danger, but severe judgement and humiliation. But by her willingness to accept God’s will, she points the way to Christ by her actions so that He might come into the world to save us.
Today’s episode provided an important clarification of how God can be both our fear and dread, and yet also become a sanctuary. Father Aaron stressed that we must first recognize God as Father in a biblical context, as the fearful Judge. He alone decides our fate, and we must respect and fear that judgement. And yet, God loves mankind and desires all men to be saved. With this understanding, we know that in God we have a fair judge. If we live our life by extending to others the mercy that God gave to us, he will be our sanctuary because we know that God is just. If, however, we reject God’s law and His commandments—as a fair judge—He has no choice but to condemn us. Thus, the same God, for the same reason, can either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block. The choice is with us.
Fr Aaron's sermon for Sunday, March 15, is being shared as a special episode. Father discusses how we have a unique and special opportunity to practice Lent this year. He argues that social distancing, self-quarantining, etc., requires an act of faith on our part because we do not see the results until the end. These practices by otherwise healthy people require us making real sacrifices, sacrifices that do not directly benefit us, but do benefit the most vulnerable in society. This opportunity allows those who are healthy and at low risk (most of us) to put into practice the lessons we learned from the life and death of Jesus Christ.
We began today’s episode by discussing who St. Paul was referencing as the “great cloud of witnesses.” Father Aaron explained that Paul’s specific reference here was to highlight the theme of faith. In discussing what it is to have biblical faith we were reminded that our faith is not based on an intellectual belief, but how we should behave. We concluded by focusing on Paul’s teaching about discipline. Just as parents discipline their children out of love, the Lord disciplines us because he loves us. St. Paul goes so far as to say that if we do not have struggles in our lives, then we are not a legitimate child of God. If we re-frame our struggles in this light, we will see that God is disciplining us so that we might be strengthened. We may even find that we welcome these struggles when they come, knowing that they are for our benefit.
Today’s discussion focused on the reading of the book of Genesis during the first week of Lent. Fr Aaron began by clarifying that, while the Bible mentions many things we would condemn today—particularly in the Old Testament--this does not mean that the Bible is condoning this behavior. We then explored the critical importance of viewing Jesus “in the light of the Old Testament.” In other words, if we remove Jesus from the context of the Old Testament, we lose all sense of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Next, we discussed the significance of Adam naming Eve. Finally, we discussed the first commandment given in Genesis and why it is significant that this was a commandment to fast.
In today’s episode we examined the various purposes of fasting; both what it is and what it is not. Father Aaron stressed that fasting is not meant to be a form of suffering or punishment. Instead, we should enter into periods of fasting with joy and gladness. As we were created in the image of God, we have the unique ability to override our carnal desires. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we discussed how fasting offers us an opportunity to relieve the hunger of others.
We begin by correcting our understanding of God's desire towards piety. Father Aaron clarified for us that--contrary to what is commonly thought of today--the scribes and Pharisees were actually well respected in their time. And in our present time, we have people within the church who fit this same mold—who appear to be righteous and moral--but fail to show mercy and compassion to those who are struggling and in need. In our desire to be able to measure our own progress toward salvation, we often look for a “checklist” as a way for us to demonstrate that we are righteous. We ended the episode by stressing a biblical understanding of what Fr Aaron calls "hopeful giving." Our goal is to give from our first-fruits, trusting God will provide for our needs. In the end, if we are to follow the biblical teaching, we must follow the immeasurable and internal aspects of piety found in the Gospel, which in turn puts us in a position of requiring mercy before the Judgement Seat of Christ.
Today’s discussion began with recognizing that most of us have been taught to expect rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. This mindset often translates into our expectation that our life will go well if we trust in God and follow His commandments. However, we must stress--both in our own life and in teaching our children—that God’s ways are not our ways. We must recognize and teach that God is merciful to us when we fall short, but only if we show that same mercy to others. Failing to show mercy to others causes us to fall away. We then turned to the topic of suffering. Father Aaron explained that Scripture teaches us that true biblical suffering is the result of suffering shame. While we often think of suffering as something that is physical--and there can certainly be a benefit to this while also trusting in God--the emphasis in the New Testament is that in taking up our Cross we must be willing to be shamed by others for following the teachings of Christ.
We begin by clarifying who it is that St. Paul refers to as the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” We make the case that Paul is not only referring to the angels, but also to the earthly rulers—and more specifically, the Roman Emperor. Paul is telling us that Jesus has been revealed both to mankind and to the angels, as the true emperor—the God above all gods. We were then reminded that as humanity was created in the image of God, we should not be surprised to learn that God’s plan was first revealed to us. We are the sole creation made in God’s image, which is both an honor and a high calling. The Bible teaches us that with honor comes responsibility. And that responsibility is that we must represent Christ to all of creation—to show the deep and all-encompassing love of Christ, which He first showed to us. In doing so, we are offered through Christ Jesus to be reconciled to God, and to one another.
Today we focus on listener questions related to salvation, both what it means and what it is we are being saved from. Father Aaron explained that salvation is comprised of the Final Judgement, where we will receive either a guilty or not guilty verdict (while discussing the important distinction between being "not guilty" and "innocent"). The other component of salvation is that we are continually being spiritually healed. This healing is a process and not a one-time event. We then discussed the relationship between baptism and salvation. We concluded our discussion with a question regarding the assurance of our salvation.
This is the first of two episodes answering listener-submitted questions. We begin by discussing the topic of forgiveness, specifically if a crime is committed against us and our participation in the trial of the accused. We also discussed that by not forgiving others, we are allowing them to remain in control of our lives. We further explored the biblical concept that the only reason we have to forgive others is because God first forgave us. Finally, on this topic, we discussed if "forgetting" is part of the process of forgiveness. We then concluded the episode by turning to questions regarding pride.
We begin by addressing the significance of the threefold repetition of Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me?” This repetition restores Peter from his previous threefold denial of Christ. We then turned to Jesus’ referral to Peter as, “Son of Jonah,” which Father Aaron explained as a deliberate comparison of Peter to Jonah the Prophet. Like Jonah, who resisted taking God’s message to his enemies, Peter also was resistant to Jesus’ command to reconcile with his Roman enemies and to accept the Gentiles. In both cases, Jonah and Peter were compelled by God to be obedient. We then closed our discussion of this passage from John by addressing the beloved disciples conclusion to his Gospel. Father stressed that John is not providing us with an invitation to speculate on those things which are not written in the Gospels. Rather, John is setting a seal on the four Gospels. As John writes in Chapter 20, “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
We discuss the tempting of Jesus in the wilderness. Unlike the first Adam who was tempted and failed the test, Jesus, the new Adam, shows us that God has empowered us with the ability to say “no;” to show us that we can resist and overcome the tempter. We also discussed the use of Scripture by the devil to ensnare Jesus. Fr Aaron explained that knowing Scriptural verses does not necessarily mean that Scripture is being accurately represented. We were reminded of the importance of understanding Scripture as a whole. Unlike the devil, Jesus responds with a correct understanding of Scripture in his rebuttal. Finally, we were given an understanding of the significance of the wilderness in this passage. While most people used the walls of the city for protection, in the wilderness they were not provided for naturally, but by God alone. And through a correct understanding of Scripture, we are to understand that we are eternally protected only by God’s Law and by His Providence.