"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 22 March 2018


History of Palm Sunday
    by Fr. Francis X. Weiser

As soon as the Church obtained her freedom in the fourth century, the faithful in Jerusalem re-enacted the solemn entry of Christ into their city on the Sunday before Easter, holding a procession in which they carried branches and sang the Hosanna (Matthew 21, 1-11). In the early Latin Church, people attending Mass on this Sunday would hold aloft twigs of olives, which were not, however, blessed in those days.

This Palm Sunday procession, and the blessing of palms, seems to have originated in the Frankish Kingdom. The earliest mention of these ceremonies is found in the Sacramentary of the Abbey of Bobbio in northern Italy (beginning of the eighth century). The rite was soon accepted in Rome and incorporated into the liturgy. The prayers used today are of Roman origin. A Mass was celebrated in some church outside the walls of Rome, and there the palms were blessed. Then a solemn procession moved into the city to the basilica of the Lateran or to Saint Peter's, where the Pope sang a second Mass. The first Mass, however, was soon discontinued, and in its place only the ceremony of blessing was performed. Even today the ritual of the blessing clearly follows the structure of a Mass up to the Sanctus.

Everywhere in medieval times, following the Roman custom, a procession composed of the clergy and laity carrying palms moved from a chapel or shrine outside the town, where the palms were blessed, to the cathedral or main church. Our Lord was represented in the procession, either by the Blessed Sacrament or by a crucifix, adorned with flowers, carried by the celebrant of the Mass. Later, in the Middle Ages, a quaint custom arose of drawing a wooden statue of Christ sitting on a donkey (the whole image on wheels) in the center of the procession. These statues (Palm Donkey; Palmesel) are still seen in museums of many European cities.

As the procession approached the city gate, a boys' choir stationed high above the doorway would greet the Lord with the Latin song, Gloria, laus et honor. This hymn, which is still used today in the liturgy of Palm Sunday, was written by the Benedictine Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans (821):

Glory, praise and honor,
O Christ, our Savior-King,
To thee in glad Hosannas
Inspired children sing.

After this song, there followed a dramatic salutation before the Blessed Sacrament or the image of Christ. Both clergy and laity knelt and bowed in prayer, arising to spread cloths and carpets on the ground, throwing flowers and branches in the path of the procession. The bells of the churches pealed, and the crowds sang the Hosanna as the colorful procession entered the cathedral for the solemn Mass.

In medieval times this dramatic celebration was restricted more and more to a procession around the church. The crucifix in the church yard was festively decorated with flowers. There the procession came to a halt. While the clergy sang the hymns and antiphons, the congregation dispersed among the tombs, each family kneeling at the grave of relatives. The celebrant sprinkled holy water over the graveyard, the procession formed again and entered the church. In France and England they still retain the custom of decorating graves and visiting the cemeteries on Palm Sunday.

The inspiring rites and ceremonies of ancient times have long since disappeared, only the sacred texts of the liturgy are still preserved. Today the blessing of palms and the procession (if any) are performed within the churches preceding the Mass. In America, Catholic, and some Episcopal, churches distribute palms to all the congregation.

The various names for the Sunday before Easter come from the plants used--palms (Palm Sunday) or branches in general (Branch Sunday; Domingo de Ramos; Dimanche des Rameaux). In most countries of Europe real palms are unobtainable, so in their place people use many other plants: olive branches (in Italy), box, yew, spruce, willows, and pussy willows. In fact, some plants have come to be called palms because of this usage, as the yew in Ireland, the willow in England (palm-willow) and in Germany (Palmkatzchen). From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called Willow Sunday in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmadienis (Willow-twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names Sunday of the Palm-carrying and Hosanna Sunday.

Centuries ago it was customary to bless not only branches but also various flowers of the season (the flowers are still mentioned in the antiphons after the prayer of blessing).[35] Hence the name Flower Sunday which the day bore in many countries—Flowering Sunday or Blossom Sunday in England, Blumensonntag in Germany, Pasques Fleuris in France, Pascua Florida in Spain, Viragvasarnap in Hungary, Cvetna among the Slavic nations, Zaghkasart in Armenia.

The term Pascua Florida, which in Spain originally meant just Palm Sunday, was later also applied to the whole festive season of Easter Week. Thus the State of Florida received its name when, on March 27, 1513 (Easter Sunday), Ponce de Leon first sighted the land and named it in honor of the great feast.

In central Europe, large clusters of such plants, interwoven with flowers and adorned with ribbons, are fastened to the top of a wooden stick. All sizes of such palm bouquets may be seen, from the small children's bush to rods of ten feet and more. The regular palm, however, consists in most European countries of pussy willows bearing their catkin blossoms. In the Latin countries and in the United States, palm leaves are often shaped and woven into little crosses and other symbolic designs. This custom was originated by a suggestion in the ceremonial book for bishops, that little crosses of palm be attached to the boughs wherever true palms are not available in sufficient quantity.

This item 105 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org

by Dom Prosper Gueranger OSB

As we have already observed, there are three objects which principally engage the thoughts of the Church during Lent. The Passion of our Redeemer, which we have felt to be coming nearer to us each week; the preparation of the catechumens for Baptism, which is to be administered to them on Easter eve; the reconciliation of the public penitents, who are to be readmitted into the Church on the Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Each of these three object engages more and more the attention of the Church, the nearer she approaches the time of their celebration.

The miracle performed by our Saviour almost at the very gates of Jerusalem, by which He restored Lazarus to life, has roused the fury of His enemies to the highest pitch of phrensy. The people’s enthusiasm has been excited by seeing him, who had been four days in the grave, walking in the streets of their city. They ask each other if the Messias, when He comes, can work greater wonders than these done by Jesus, and whether they ought not at once to receive this Jesus as the Messias, and sing their Hosanna to Him, for He is the Son of David. They cannot contain their feelings: Jesus enters Jerusalem, and they welcome Him as their King. The high priests and princes of the people are alarmed at this demonstration of feeling; they have no time to lose; they are resolved to destroy Jesus. We are going to assist at their impious conspiracy: the Blood of the just Man is to be sold, and the price put on it is thirty silver pieces. The divine Victim, betrayed by one of His disciples, is to be judged, condemned, and crucified. Every circumstance of this awful tragedy is to be put before us by the liturgy, not merely in words, but with all the expressiveness of a sublime ceremonial.

The catechumens have but a few more days to wait for the fount that is to give them life. Each day their instruction becomes fuller; the figures of the old Law are being explained to them; and very little now remains for them to learn with regard to the mysteries of salvation. The Symbol of faith is soon to be delivered to them. Initiated into the glories and the humiliations of the Redeemer, they will await with the faithful the moment of His glorious Resurrection; and we shall accompany them with our prayers and hymns at that solemn hour, when, leaving the defilements of sin in the life-giving waters of the font, they shall come forth pure and radiant with innocence, be enriched with the gifts of the holy Spirit, and be fed with the divine flesh of the Lamb that liveth for ever.

The reconciliation of the penitents, too, is close at hand. Clothed in sackcloth and ashes, they are continuing their work of expiation. The Church has still several passages from the sacred Scriptures to read to them, which, like those we have already heard during the last few weeks, will breathe consolation and refreshment to their souls. The near approach of the day when the Lamb is to be slain increases their hope, for they know that the Blood of this Lamb is of infinite worth, and can take away the sins of the whole world. Before the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, they will have recovered their lost innocence; their pardon will come in time to enable them, like the penitent prodigal, to join in the great Banquet of that Thursday, when Jesus will say to His guests: ‘With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer.’ [St. Luke xxii. 15.]

Such are the sublime subjects which are about to be brought before us: but, at the same time, we shall see our holy mother the Church mourning, like a disconsolate widow, and sad beyond all human grief. Hitherto she has been weeping over the sins of her children; now she bewails the death of her divine Spouse. The joyous Alleluia has long since been hushed in her canticles; she is now going to suppress another expression, which seems too glad for a time like the present. Partially, at first [Unless it be the feast of a saint, as frequently happens during the first of these two weeks. The same exception is to be made in what follows.], but entirely during the last three days, she is about to deny herself the use of that formula, which is so dear to her: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. There is an accent of jubilation in these words, which would ill suit her grief and the mournfulness of the rest of her chants.

Her lessons, for the night Office, are taken from Jeremias, the prophet of lamentation above all others. The colour of her vestments is the one she had on when she assembled us at the commencement of Lent to sprinkle us with ashes; but when the dreaded day of Good Friday comes, purple would not sufficiently express the depth of her grief; she will clothe herself in black, as men do when mourning the death of a fellow-mortal; for Jesus, her Spouse, is to be put to death on that day: the sins of mankind and the rigours of the divine justice are then to weigh him down, and in all the realities of a last agony, He is to yield up His Soul to His Father.

The presentiment of that awful hour leads the afflicted mother to veil the image of her Jesus: the cross is hidden from the eyes of the faithful. The statues of the saints, too, are covered; for it is but just that, if the glory of the Master be eclipsed, the servant should not appear. The interpreters of the liturgy tell us that this ceremony of veiling the crucifix during Passiontide, expresses the humiliation to which our Saviour subjected Himself, of hiding Himself when the Jews threatened to stone Him, as is related in the Gospel of Passion Sunday. The Church begins this solemn rite with the Vespers of the Saturday before Passion Sunday. Thus it is that, in those years when the feast of our Lady’s Annunciation falls in Passion-week, the statue of Mary, the Mother of God, remains veiled, even on that very day when the Archangel greets her as being full of grace, and blessed among women.

by Dom Prosper Gueranger 

Early in the morning of this day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive today in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the gross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome's emperor, and of the high priests and pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.

The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy fling will come to thee; the Just and the Saviour. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.'[1] Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfilment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Bethphage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.

The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat.[2] is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God's people, and become docile and faithful.

The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Saviour, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him,[3] and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and fondly proclaiming Him to be King.[4] They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others out down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.

Thus did God, in His power over men's hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to glamour for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the gross, by Pilate's order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: 'What I have written, I have written.' Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: 'The Lord God shall give unto Him the throng of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.'[5] Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.

This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of today, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse. The whole function is divided into three parts, which we will now proceed to explain.

The first is the blessing of the palms; and we may have an idea of its importance from the solemnity used by the Church in this saved rite. One would suppose that the holy Sacrifice has begun, and is going to be offered up in honour of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, even a Preface, are said, as though we were, as usual, preparing for the immolation of the spotless Lamb; but, after the triple the Church suspends these sacrificial formulas, and turns to the blessing of the palms. The prayers she uses for this blessing are eloquent and full of instruction and, together with the sprinkling with holy water and the incensation, impart a virtue to these branches which elevates them to the supernatural order, and makes them means for the sanctification of our souls and the protection of our persons and dwellings. The faithful should hold these palms in their hands during the procession, and during the reading of the Passion at Mass, and keep them in their homes as an outward expression of their faith, and as a pledge of God's watchful love.

It is scarcely necessary to tell our reader that the palms or olive branches, thus blessed, are carried in memory of those wherewith the people of Jerusalem strewed the road, as our Saviour made His triumphant entry; but a word on the antiquity of our ceremony will not be superfluous. It began very early in the east. It is probable that, as far as Jerusalem itself is concerned, the custom was estate. fished immediately after the ages of persecution St. Cyril, who was bishop of that city in the fourth century, tells us that the palm-tree, from which the people out the branches when they went out to meet our Saviour, was still to be seen in the vale of Cedron.[6] Such a circumstance would naturally suggest an annual commemoration of the great event. In the following century, we find this ceremony established, not only in the churches of the east, but also in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria. At the beginning of Lent, many of the holy monks obtained permission from their abbots to retire into the desert, that they might spend the saved season in strict seclusion; but they were obliged to return to their monasteries for Palm Sunday, as we learn from the life of Saint Euthymius, written by his disciple Cyril.[7] In the west, the introduction of this ceremony was more gradual; the first trace we find of it is in the sacramentary of St. Gregory, that is, at the end of the sixth, or the beginning of the seventh, century. When the faith had penetrated into the north, it was not possible to have palms or olive branches; they were supplied by branches from other trees. The beautiful prayers used in the blessing, and based on the mysteries expressed by the palm and olive trees, are still employed in the blessing of our willow, box, or other branches; and rightly, for these represent the symbolical ones which nature has denied us.

The second of today's ceremonies is the procession, which comes immediately after the blessing of the palms. It represents our Saviour's journey to Jerusalem, and His entry into the city. To make it the more expressive, the branches that have just been blessed are held in the hand during it. With the Jews, to hold a branch in one's hand was a sign of joy. The divine law had sanctioned this practice, as we read in the following passage from Leviticus, where God commands :His people to keep the feast of tabernacles: And you shall take to you, on the first day, the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.[8] It was, therefore, to testify their delight at seeing Jesus enter within their walls, that the inhabitants, even the little children, of Jerusalem, went forth to meet Him with palms in their hands. Let us, also, go before our King, singing our to Him as the conqueror of death, and the liberator of His people.

During the middle ages, it was the custom, in many churches, to carry the book of the holy Gospels in this procession. The Gospel contains the words of Jesus Christ, and was considered to represent Him. The procession halted at an appointed place, or station: the deacon then opened the sacred volume, and sang from it the passage which describes our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. This done, the cross which, up to this moment, was veiled, was uncovered; each of the clergy advanced towards it, venerated it, and placed at its foot a small portion of the palm he held in his hand. The procession then returned, preceded by the gross, which was left unveiled until all had re-entered the church. In England and Normandy, as far back as the eleventh century, there was practised a holy ceremony which represented, even more vividly than the one we have just been describing, the scene that was witnessed on this day at Jerusalem: the blessed Sacrament was carried in procession. The heresy of Berengarius, against the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, had been broached about that time; and the tribute of triumphant joy here shown to the sacred Host was a distant preparation for the feast and procession which were to be instituted at a later period.

A touching ceremony was also practised in Jerusalem during today's procession, and, like those just mentioned, was intended to commemorate the event related by the Gospel. The whole community of the Franciscans (to whose keeping the holy places are entrusted) went in the morning to Bethphage. There, the father guardian of the holy Land, being vested in pontifical robes, mounted upon an ass, on which garments were laid. Accompanied by the friars and the Catholics of Jerusalem, all holding palms in their hands, he entered the city, and alighted at the church of the holy sepulchre where Mass was celebrated with all possible solemnity.

We have mentioned these different usages, as we have done others on similar occasions, in order to aid the faithful to the better understanding of the several mysteries of the liturgy. In the present instance, they will learn that, in today's procession, the Church wishes us to honour Jesus Christ as though He were really among us, and were receiving the humble tribute of our loyalty. Let us lovingly go forth to meet this our King, our Saviour, who comes to visit the daughter of Sion, as the prophet has just told us. He is in our midst; it is to Him that we pay honour with our palms: let us give Him our hearts too. He comes that He may be our King; let us welcome Him as such, and fervently cry out to Him: Hosanna to the Son of David!'
At the close of the procession a ceremony takes place, which is full of the sublimes" symbolism. On returning to the church, the doors are found to be shut. The triumphant procession is stopped; but the songs of joy are continued. A hymn in honour of Christ our King is sung with its joyous chorus; and at length the subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the gross; the door opens, and the people, preceded by the clergy, enter the church, proclaiming the praise of Him, who is our resurrection and our life.

This ceremony is intended to represent the entry of Jesus into that Jerusalem of which the earthly one was but the figure-the Jerusalem of heaven, which has been opened for us by our Saviour. The sin of our first parents had shut it against us; but Jesus, the King of glory, opened its gates by His cross, to which every resistance yields. Let us, then, continue to follow in the footsteps of the Son of David, for He is also the Son of God, and He invites us to share His kingdom with Him. Thus, by the procession, which is commemorative of what happened on this day, the Church raises up our thoughts to the glorious mystery of the Ascension, whereby heaven was made the close of Jesus' mission on earth. Alas! the interval between these two triumphs of our Redeemer are not all days of joy; and no sooner is our procession over, than the Church, who had laid aside for a moment the weight of her grief, falls back into sorrow and mourning.

The third part of today's service is the offering of the holy Sacrifice. The portions that are sung by the choir are expressive of the deepest desolation; and the history of our Lord's Passion, which is now to be read by anticipation, gives to the rest of the day that character of saved gloom, which we all know so well. For the last five or six centuries, the Church has adopted a special chant for this narrative of the holy Gospel. The historian, or the evangelist, relates the events in a tone that is at once grave and pathetic; the words of our Saviour are sung to a solemn yet sweet melody, which strikingly contrasts with the high dominant of the several other interlocutors and the Jewish populace. During the singing of the Passion, the faithful should hold their palms in their hands, and, by this emblem of triumph, protest against the insults offered to Jesus by His enemies. As we listen to each humiliation and suffering, all of which were endured out of love for us, let us offer Him our palm as to our dearest Lord and King. When should we be more adoring, than when He is most suffering?

These are the leading features of this great day.

Commentary on St Mark's Passion

What happened on the Cross?

How does Mark see Christ's Death?



St. Peter's Square 
29th World Youth Day
Sunday, 13 April 2014

This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: the entire populace welcomes Jesus. The children and young people sing , praising Jesus.

But this week continues in the mystery of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord. We might well ask ourselves just one question: Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?

We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?

We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like Judas, who feigns loved and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?

Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?

Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.

Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?

Am I like the Cyrenean, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?

Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….

Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?

Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?

Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?

Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?

Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


It is not possible to establish with any certainty what part history and what part legend play in the traditions that relate to St Mary of Egypt.  One may as well admit the fact that the Church wished  to make her, as we sing in matins, "a pattern of repentance".  She is a symbol of conversion, of contrition, and of austerity.  On this last Sunday of Lent, she expresses the last and most urgent call that the Church addresses to us before the sacred days of the Passion and the Resurrection.

The epistle read at the liturgy (Heb.9. 11-14) compares the ministry of Christ to that of the High Priest of the Jews.  Once, each year, he entered into the Tabernacle, but Christ "entered only once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us".  The High Priest purified and sanctified the faithful by sprinkling them with the blood and ashes of sacrificed animals.  "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God"

The Gospel (Mark 10, 32-45) describes Jesus's ascent to Jerusalem before his Passion.  Jesus takes the twelve apostles aside and starts to tell them that he will be betrayed, condemned and put to death, and that he will rise again from the dead.  At the threshold of Holy Week could we be "taken aside" by the Saviour for a talk in which he explains to us, personally, the mystery of Redemption?   Do we ask the Master to help us understand at greater depth what is taking place for our sakes on Golgotha?  Do we make it possible for Jesus to meet us in secret?  Do we seize opportunities to be alone and quiet with the Lord?  Then the sons of Zebedee come to Jesus and ask him to let them sit with him in his glory, one on his right and the other on his left.  Jesus asks them - and puts the same question to us: "Can you drink of the cup that I drink of?"   The Master then explains to his disciples that true glory lies in serving others.   For "the son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Already the evening of this last Sunday in Lent allows a glimmer of the light of Holy Week, the following Sunday, to shine in it.  Next Saturday will be the Saturday of Lazarus, whom Jesus will raise from the dead; and vespers which are celebrated in the evening of the fifth Sunday of Lent, by alluding to Lazarus, the begger in the Gospel parable, announce Lazarus who  was raised from the dead.
"Grant me to be with the poor man Lazarus, and deliver me from the punishment of the rich man...allow us to rival his endurance and long-suffering."

The Church, as if somehow impatient to enter the very holy days which begin the following week, urge us, on the last Sunday of Lent, to anticipate the feast which we will celebrate in seven days:

Let us sing a hymn in preparation for the feast of Palms, to the Lord who comes with glory to Jerusalem in the power of the Godhead, that he may slay death...Let us prepare the branches of victory crying, "Hosannah to the Creator of all."
 The Year of Grace of the Lord
by a monk of the Eastern Church
St Vladimir's Seminary Press
ISBN 0-13836-68-0

Commemoration of St Mary of Egypt
On the final Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church we remember St. Mary of Egypt and her great example of repentance.

“Then she (St. Mary of Egypt) turned to Zosima and said: ‘Why did you wish, Abba Zosima, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?’ Zosima threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: ‘Bless me!’ After a long while the woman said to Zosima: ‘Abba Zosima, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.’ This flung Zosima into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her: ‘O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The grace granted to you is apparent -- for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake, for I need your prayers.’ Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said: ‘Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.’" (The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, attributed to Sophronius of Jerusalem)

Among the many not-very “pc” moments in the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, read in our churches at matins of the fifth Thursday of Lent, the one quoted above caught my attention this year. Zosima, who is a priest-monk, is asking for, nay, begging for “with tears,” the blessing of a woman. (She made “a grown man cry,” in fact, – so even the Rolling Stones would be impressed, I’m thinking, rather irrelevantly, and probably irreverently). Zosima notes that “grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit.”

From all this I can glean a basic lesson about the openness of the Holy Spirit to all of us, regardless of our gender, or “order,” or anything else, when we open ourselves to participating in His grace. All of us can, indeed, be blessed, and also impart “blessing” (“ev-logia” in Greek, meaning “a good word”) onto our world and those we encounter, when we choose to embrace God’s “good” Word, the eternal “Logos” and our Lord, Jesus Christ, – rather than “other” words and narratives of reality, like the voices in our own heads or other sources of merely-human opinion.

So let me be blessed this morning, by re-connecting with God’s Spirit in some heartfelt prayer, that I may bless, throughout my schedule today. Holy Mother Maria, pray to God for us! 
St Mary of Egypt by Sister Vassa 

(Happy Thursday, dear zillions! Please NOTE, you can get these reflections daily via EMAIL, simply by typing in your email-address at our website. So just do it: www.coffeewithsistervassa.com)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


The only time I ever met Aidan Hart, he had a beard and an Orthodox monk's habit, long, long ago, long before I went to Peru and he got married and began producing little icons of another kind.  However, he has played a big part in the life of one of our Peruvian monks, Father Alex Echeandia who, largely thanks to him, is now an accomplished iconographer.  For this, we shall always be grateful.

my source: Orthodoxy in Dialogue
Aidan Hart

Icon painting has always been affected by the surrounding culture, incorporating and transforming elements from it. And more recently, icons in turn have been appropriated by and affected that culture. These are the very topical themes that I want to discuss in this article.

Icons are an extension of the Incarnation. This is true not only because of what they depict but also because of how they depict things. The way Christians have painted traditional icons throughout the ages has always been influenced by the culture of which they are, to a degree, a part, and to which they naturally wish to respond.  The icon is a union of the eternal and the local.

Put another way, healthy iconography is Pentecostal, for it declares eternal truths in the language of its viewers. One example is the early encaustic icons that used as their basis Romano-Egyptian funerary paintings (often called Fayum portraits). A second instance  is the Church illuminations of the Macedonian Renaissance that were based on works from Classical manuscripts. Both these examples we shall discuss below.

In subsequent centuries the style of icons in Byzantium continued to be influenced by the imperial court’s emphasis, or lack of emphasis, on classical learning. And in Medieval Rus distinct schools developed in different principalities, affected by such things as the extent of their trade contacts (a lot in the case of Novgorod) and the influence of monasticism (as in Moscow in the time of St. Andrew Rublev). Celtic Christian art likewise drew much of its inspiration from its pre-Christian traditions.

But this enculturation is a difficult task for the iconographer. It requires both discernment and creativity. Thinkers of the early Church, for example, strove to find the correct response to the Hellenistic philosophy of their culture. The Church Fathers succeeded, while those we call heretics failed.

The Fathers had the discernment to know what was good, what was neutral, and what was outright wrong in the various pagan philosophies. They then had the creativity to describe the ways of God using these philosophers’ insights.  They found truths or partial truths in the pagan writings and expressed eternal truths through them. They did in a more detailed way what Saint Paul had done on the Areopagus. He began his address to the seekers gathered there, not with a rant against their idols, but by praising them for their inscription to the Unknown God. He went on to quote wise words from their own poets and philosophers, and showed them that Christ was the Wisdom whom they were seeking.

In contrast to these Fathers, the heretics such as the Gnostics or the Arians failed in this meeting of the new and the old, because they let worldly thinking enter their thinking. They re-tailored Christian dogma to suit the truncated wisdom of the world. This was not the transformation of human culture through the Spirit, but the disfiguration of dogma through vain speculation or rationalism.

Iconographers today find themselves in a similar situation to these early Church Fathers. As with the myriad of philosophies discussed at the Areopagus two millennia ago, there is today a vast array of artistic work around us. And not just the new but also the old, laid out before us in thousands of museums. We could even say that our postmodern society puts iconography in an even more challenging situation than the early Church, for we are exposed to a plethora of images on a scale like no other culture before us. The media, low cost travel, the internet, and cheap colour printing present us with a visual variety that would stagger a medieval mind.  How are we to respond?

This exposure is both an opportunity and a danger—an opportunity because it presents us with a potentially wider vocabulary, a broader set of musical scales; and a danger because it can confuse us and tempt us to cut and paste arbitrarily and without discernment.

What then are some of the principles that can guide our discernment? This is a big subject, and I have discussed it in more depth in two articles in Orthodox Arts Journal, “Towards Indigenous and Mature Liturgical Arts” and “Today and Tomorrow: Principles in the Training of Future Iconographers.” Space here allows me only to summarize some of my thoughts on the matter. As a full-time icon painter for over thirty years, I have used the following questions, and others, to help me decide whether or not I should use a particular stylistic convention in an icon:

Will it help the icon to work better liturgically, promoting the subject and offering a focus of prayer and veneration, or will it be so novel as to attract attention to itself, away from the subject?
Will it help create in the praying viewer a state of inner stillness and insight, or will it generate agitation and excitement?
Will it open the icon into liturgical space—the actual space between itself and the viewer—or will it create a fictitious, imaginary space?
Will it reflect a world transfigured, or a world deformed or fantastical?
Will the colours and forms create harmony or dissonance?
Will it help to wake the eye of the heart, inviting viewers to draw their mind into their heart and thus open vistas, or will it encourage them to remain within closed rational systems, within their comfort zone?
Will it help reflect the spiritual state of the saint depicted, such as joy, compassion, inner prayer, watchfulness, sobriety, or will it make the image carnal, sensual?
Will it affirm the goodness of the material world and the body, or will it dematerialize?
So far we have discussed the affect of art on the icon tradition. What of movement the other way, of the Orthodox icon’s influence on or use by non-Orthodox artists? Broadly speaking this can take two forms, although deciding when the outcome is positive and when it is negative is still debated among Orthodox thinkers.

When the use of one’s tradition by others is considered misappropriate or lacking in authenticity it is often called cultural appropriation, or less ambiguously, cultural misappropriation. When viewed positively it can be described as the transformation of, or contribution to, that other culture. How does one tell the difference in the case of the icon’s use?

It must first be acknowledged that the icon tradition is itself, to some extent, the child of cultural appropriation. Early panel icons are undoubtedly much indebted to the Romano-Egyptian funerary portrait.  6th-century icons such as we see in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai show clear derivation from these Fayum portraits, both stylistically and in their medium of wax on wooden panels. 

Furthermore, the Christian association of image and prototype could well have been taken from the Fayum portrait tradition, as well as from the imperial custom of having the emperor present through his image at the many courts of justice built throughout the empire.

In the case of the Fayum works, the person’s portrait was painted during his or her lifetime, then incorporated into their mummy when they died, placed over their face. We know that at least some of these mummies were not immediately buried, but spent a period of time upright, perhaps in homes, presumably to help the household retain a sense of connectedness with the deceased. So these portraits were intended to act like a window to the other world. The Church may have appropriated this function as well as many of the Fayum stylistic elements. 

“Fayum” Romano-Egyptian portrait, 1st-2nd century

St. Peter, detail, Sinai, c. AD 600

Fayum portrait in its original mummy

As well as the Fayum appropriation, many early Christian illuminated manuscripts were heavily based on classical works. The Byzantine Paris Psalter is a good example (c. AD 900). One of its images shows David like Orpheus, surrounded by personifications, all derived from classical models. Scholars have shown these Byzantine illuminations to be an imitation, with adjustments, of a Classical Roman work or works of the 3rd to 5th centuries.  

 King David, Paris Psalter, c. AD 900, based on Classical manuscripts 3rd-5th centuries

“Dido Sacrificing,” Vatican Virgil manuscript, c. AD 400, such manuscripts  the basis for the Paris Psalter

So what are we to make of cultural appropriation of icons today? Perhaps the best known works of this type are the paintings by the Roman Catholic Franciscan, Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Besides making recognizably Byzantine icons of traditional subjects, Lentz also creates images broadly Byzantine in style but of people not canonized by any church, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Harvey Milk,  and Albert Einstein, all of whom he depicts with haloes.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Robert Lentz)

Harvey Milk (Robert Lentz)

Albert Einstein (Robert Lentz)

Other times he uses novel means of depicting traditional subjects—Christ as Lord of the Dance or Christ of Maryknoll, for example.

Christ the Lord of the Dance (Robert Lentz)

Christ of Maryknoll (Robert Lentz)

What are we to make of this? I would make two observations.

Traditional icons are liturgical, that is, they express the mind of the Church and depict people and events that are recognized by the Church as holy, and can therefore be venerated by the faithful without misgiving. In Lentz’s case he seems to take it upon himself to decide who can be depicted as a haloed saint. While the Orthodox Church does not have a top-down system of canonization but a more organic process, there is nevertheless eventually a service of formal canonization. Often it is the laity who first venerate someone as a saint, and in due course the hierarchy acknowledge this formally. In the Roman Catholic Church, of which Brother Robert is a member, there is a more legal and prescribed process leading up to canonization. 

So surely Brother Robert is acting outside his ecclesial community by unilaterally declaring someone a saint by painting them with a halo, and by using such an obviously liturgical format as the icon. The artist is using the icon format to legitimize his personal opinion rather than reflect the life of the Church. Individuals might be drawn to the radical and social message that these images reflect, but what is the consensus of the Roman Catholic Church of which Brother Robert is a member?

Icons and truth must go hand in hand. Icons are not intended to be propaganda or illustrations of someone’s ideology, but of real people depicted as they are in Christ. The marked homosexual agenda of Robert Lentz has lead him to distort traditional
SS. Polyeuctus & Nearchus (Robert Lentz)
icons to promote his gay agenda, without worrying much about the verity of his biographical assertions. He adjusts icons of saints who are traditionally paired to suggest that they were homosexual. Saints such as Sergius and Bacchus, Polyeuct and Nearchus, and Perpetua and Felicity have been prey to this treatment. There is no Church tradition or indication in their vitae that these saints were gay, so where is the truth in these images? These saints shared a common love for Christ and a fraternal love for one another in Christ, but nothing in their lives suggests they were homosexual. Again, the icon format is being misappropriated to add legitimacy to opinion.

This criticism is not to say that the icon tradition is stilted, merely a matter of mindlessly copying past models. When healthy, Orthodox iconography responds to pastoral needs and major theological currents of the times.

Just last month I completed a triptych of Christ with St. Irenaeus and St Isaac the Syrian. The commissioner wanted the triptych to incorporate the Church’s teaching on the need to treat members of the animal kingdom with compassion. In one sense it is a new icon, but in another its design grew out of long established elements of Church tradition and theology. An explanation of its design is due to be published in Orthodox Arts Journal within a month. The icon is humbly offered before the Church, and if the Spirit reveals through the mind of the Church that it does not express the mind of Christ then it will be laid aside. If it does express it, then it will be adopted and other icons will branch from it.

Christ Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering (Aidan Hart)

In conclusion, the Orthodox Church can’t do much about any mistreatment of its icon tradition by non-Orthodox; but within its own icon practice it can nurture an atmosphere of maturity, intelligence, and discernment. We need to walk a wise path between the two excesses of erroneous novelty and mindless copying. For this, each iconographer needs the music of heaven in his or her heart, and the Church as choirmaster needs the discernment to correct any discordancy within the choir of iconographers. It is a difficult task to nurture both creativity and theological precision, but both are needed if iconography is to regain its full potential.

Aidan Hart has worked as a professional iconographer since 1983, when he became a member of the Orthodox Church at the age of 26. From 1988 to 2000 he tested his vocation as a monk on Mount Athos and in the UK. His monastic experience has influenced his work profoundly. He is now married with two children.

Visit Aidan Hart Sacred Icons, Aidan Hart Mosaics, and Aidan Hart & Co Church Furnishers.  

Orthodoxy in Dialogue is committed to providing a forum for a diversity of viewpoints in order to facilitate the free exchange of ideas. Our decision to publish any given article implies neither our agreement not disagreement, in whole or in part, with the opinions expressed therein.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


Judica me Deus -Introit

Reading 1 JER 31:31-34

The days are coming, says the LORD, 
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.

The Characteristics of the New Covenant:
a) I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; (I do not live but Christ lives in me.)
b) I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Christ as Temple and Sacrifice.)
c) No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, (He who eats my body and drinks my blood, I shall live in him and he in me)
d) for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.  (This is the year of the Lord's favour.)

Confitebor tibi Domine-Offertory

Reading 2HEB 5:7-9

In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears 
to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Gospel JN 12:20-33 
He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. - Hebrews

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and
asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew;  then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Jesus answered them, 
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me, 
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honour whoever serves me.

"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?  'Father, save me from this hour'?
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name."
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 
Jesus answered and said, 

"This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.  Now is the time of judgement on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I 
will draw everyone to myself."

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Christ glorifies his Father on the Cross by manifesting and reflecting in his own sacrificial love the truth that God is Love.  The same idea is behind the pairing of the Transfiguration scene and the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Synoptic Gospels: the light of the former and the suffering obedience of the latter depict the same Love, the same Glory under different circumstances.  It also tells us that we cannot have the wonderful light without the Cross in this life.
In the Crucifixion, we are presented with the sacrificial Love of God in Christ.  How we respond to this reality is how we are judged.  Christ crucified is the Judgement of the world, it is the light from which those who prefer darkness flee.
Confitebor tibi Domine
(Escolania Escorial)

The readings for Passion Sunday show us how Jesus Christ is both the culmination of Old Testament religion and radically new at the same time. The old covenant is brought to perfection but is embedded in a new covenant in which "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts."
For one thing, the Law is not a written document: it is a Person who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, who lives in us and we in Him as we celebrate the Eucharist and live it out in our daily lives.

He also fulfils the function of the TempleThe purpose of the Temple was so that God could live among His people and that the people could approach Him without being obliterated in the process.  No one can see God and live, and  (korban), sacrifice, the main activity of the Temple, comes from the verb 'to approach'.   As incarnate Lord, fully God and fully man in one divine Person, Jesus is the closest unity between Creator and created that could ever be devised and hence more than adequately fulfils the function of the Temple. 

Within the Holy of Holies there was originally the Ark of the Covenant, sometimes called the "Throne of God", sometimes his footstool.   This too has been superseded by a human being who more than adequately fulfils the function of receiving Christ on behalf of us all.  She is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  When she entered the house of Elizabeth, John the Baptist jumped and danced in his mother's womb like David before the Ark.  In icons, she is recognised as the new Ark by two cherubim on either side of her, adoring the Child she carries.

There are two acts of humble obedience absolutely essential to bring about our salvation.   The first in importance is that of Jesus, "Not my will but Yours be done!"  In so far as he lived this out to the ultimate shedding of his blood, he earned the salvation of the human race and the corresponding transformation of creation. However, He had to become Man in order to save humankind and to unite the Creator with His creation. The second act of humble obedience was that of the Blessed Virgin Mary who said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord..."   By living this out, by living in intense obedience , in synergy with  the Holy Spirit, she made possible the Incarnation and became the personification of all who receive Jesus into their hearts in humble obedience and live in synergy with the Holy Spirit. This humble obedience placed her at the foot of the Cross  She is the personification of the Church when it says "Yes" to Jesus and the first among all human beings to carry Him in their hearts.  Thus, she is not only the Ark, she is also the New Eve to Christ's New Adam.

As the Word who enlightens every man coming into this world, as Source of the Father's Spirit who unites all human beings of all times and places to his death and resurrection,  Christ more than fulfilled the function of all sacrifices that have ever been offered by letting us share in the historical event by which He passed from history into eternity and into his Father's Presence.

Jesus is the Bread from Heaven that gives us Life, not just any life, not simply a more vital and intense human Life, but a share in the very Life of the triune God.   As St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote:
The soul in which God dwells by grace is no impersonal scene of the divine life but is itself drawn into this life. The divine life is three-personal life: it is overflowing love, in which the Father generates the Son and gives him his Being, while the Son embraces this Being and returns it to the Father; it is the love in which the Father and Son are one, both breathing the Holy Spirit. By grace, this Spirit is shed abroad in men's hearts. Thus the soul lives its life of grace through the Holy Spirit, in Him, it loves the Father with the love of the Son and the Son with the love of the Father.
In the old covenant, the Presence of God with his people could be located out there, in a building called the Temple, very near, certainly, but manifested and at the same time hidden behind the veil of the Holy of Holies.   In the new Covenant, God's personal Presence is manifested and at the same time hidden in the human nature of Jesus Christ, deep down in his Heart.

The Church Fathers have taught us that, deep down at the centre of every human being there is what is our most intimate point, where God's Love is loving us into existence.   In being estranged from God by sin, we became estranged from our heart, from our own most intimate self.   Jesus, because he is truly human, also has a Heart where the Word is being made flesh and from where his Spirit goes out to enlighten everyone who comes into this world.  However, being without sin, he is not estranged from his Heart, and it has become the Heart of all hearts that are open to him.

Our religion is a religion of the heart.  Jesus is the Heart of humankind beating in the Presence of the Father in time with countless souls he has saved and the whole of heaven.  As Pope Francis has said, the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church, in which the Church across time and place, and with the Church the whole of humankind, participates in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and shares in the liturgy of heaven.  And, as we receive Christ in communion, so our own hearts become temples of the Holy Spirit and dwelling places of Christ; and we become a living sacrifice of praise (EP IV) with Him as He makes us an everlasting gift to the Father (EP III).

Hence, as Jeremiah foretold, God will forgive people their sins and place in their hearts the law of sacrificial love.  In the words of the Cistercian founder, we will live in order to love and die in order to rise again.  As Jesus himself says in the Gospel,
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
The more we live in Christ, the more He lives in us, the more we will spontaneously manifest his Presence in the Spirit by sacrificial love.   The Church is made visible to the world by this quality of love and becomes just one other worldly institution when it is lacking.

Moreover, while God's Presence among His People in the Temple was an exterior presence, even though a very close one, His Presence among us is from Heart to heart and very intimate. The death of an animal was necessary to offer its life completely to God; but the animal was only a symbolic substitute for ourselves.   Now that we have been invited to share the life of Divine Love, it needs our own death to permit us to give ourselves totally, holding nothing back, so that we can love as God loves; but this is only possible if our death is made one with that of Christ, so that we can rise again with Him.  Hence, our death as the end of life has been destroyed by Christ's death and it has become a doorway into his life of love for all eternity.

A Jesuit Ministry
Background on the Gospel Reading

Jesus teaches his disciples about the way in which he will be glorified by God, and a voice from heaven is heard to affirm this teaching.

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of John. We are reading much further into John’s Gospel than we have for the past two weeks. Chapter 12 of John’s Gospel is a preparation for the beginning of the passion narrative to follow. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead—an important sign in John’s Gospel, which inspired many people to believe in Jesus. This event also marks the turning point in Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish authorities. John’s Gospel tells us that the Sanhedrin met after this event and made plans to kill Jesus. In the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is anointed at Bethany and enters Jerusalem in triumph. We again see evidence of the significance of the raising of Lazarus to this event; John reports that the crowds also gathered to see Lazarus.

Following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus predicted his suffering, death, and Resurrection and prepared his disciples to believe in the salvation that his death would accomplish. Using the metaphor of the grain of wheat, Jesus presented the idea that his dying would be beneficial. He also taught that those who would be his disciples must follow his example of sacrifice. This theme will be repeated in John’s account of the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as an example of how they must serve one another.

The final section of today’s Gospel might be read as John’s parallel to the agony in the garden. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John does not record Jesus’ anguished prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Although comparable words are found in today’s reading, Jesus gives a confident response to the question he raises when asking God to save him from his impending death. After announcing his conviction that it is for this purpose that he came, a voice from heaven speaks, as if in answer to Jesus’ prayer. This voice, like the one heard at Jesus’ baptism and at Jesus’ Transfiguration—events reported in the Synoptic Gospels but not in John’s Gospel—affirms that God welcomes the sacrifice that Jesus will make on behalf of others. In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that this voice was sent for the sake of those who would believe in him.

In today’s Gospel, we also hear Jesus speak about the cosmic framework against which we are to understand his passion, death, and Resurrection. Through his death and Resurrection, Jesus conquered Satan, the ruler of this world. In this way the world is judged, but the judgement is not condemnation. Instead, through Jesus’ dying and rising, salvation is brought to the world.

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