MP3 Audio: WS330345_Fr-Michael_Maundy-Thursday-2014.mp3
I was telling the fellows early the last Friday, our Bishop John was in Eustis at my church, my home church. And at that Friday evening we did an Orthodox service at the Church in Eustis. Of course, Eustis is a Western Rite congregation like this one. Everybody else is Eastern Rite. And all seven Byzantine Rite clergy, including the guy from Daytona Beach, came over to share the Vespers and in the Stations of the Cross, which we’re going to do tomorrow. And with one exception, probably none of them had ever seen it in their lives. And they were up in the altar with us, and they participated in the Vespers, and they participated in the Stations, by which I mean they followed Father around the church. Each one of them read a prayer twice – there were seven of them – so they could each read a prayer twice, including this very older immigrant Greek priest who read so movingly in broken English, the prayer about the death of Jesus on the Cross. And for something that they’ve never seen before, they found it very profound and very moving.
What Bishop John found very profound and very moving, was the fact that it happened at all – that clergy coming together like that for something that was not part of their tradition, did so to support and minister to each other and to their various congregations. Because people from their congregations, when they came into the Church were like, “What are these people, Roman Catholics, or what?” And during the procession around the Church, Bishop John turned to me and said, “It’s certainly not such-and-such a city,” where we’ve had great problems, not just between Eastern Rite and Western Rite, but where every Orthodox priest seems to have his knives sharpened towards every other Orthodox priest there.
What Jesus tries to show, of course, and what He does the night of His arrest, is that Christianity has no meaning unless it involves humility, and repentance, and sacrifice. God doesn’t care about the shape of the vessels. God doesn’t care about what each individual chant sounds like. The Orthodox Church is like a garden with many flowers in it, none of them of which are identical, but all of which make up the glory and the beauty of the One garden. What is important is repentance in the heart. Humility in the heart. Faithfulness in the heart.
Those are the things that transform us so that we can be saved. Liturgical life of the Church provides the context in which we can worship and respond to God. But as I’ve told you many times before, that doesn’t mean much unless it’s followed by action in our own lives. The Lord of the universe kneels before twelve guys who frequently just don’t get it. In fact, still don’t get it. Won’t get it until after the Cross and the Resurrection. They are still debating amongst themselves, and in their own hearts, whether this guy is who he thinks he is or not. “I mean, we like following him around because we’re his groupies. And when people see him and they say, ‘Hey, there’s Jesus and his groupies,’ and some of that glory goes on to us. And people say, ‘You’re with Jesus . . .’ yeah, I’m with Jesus. I’m one of those.” And another day, you’re not going to respond that way. [Eventually] they’ll say, “I don’t know who you’re talking about. No, I’ve never seen the man. I do not know him.” But at that time, it’s still kind of fun to be hanging around with Jesus, and to be recognized as one of his followers.
And then of course, he will ask them after this supper, and after this washing of the feet, to go to Gethsemane with Him, and simply to stay awake long enough to support him in prayer. And this they cannot do. Whether they’re tired, distracted, or whatever, they fall asleep. He, of course, is in this great confrontation with evil. He’s wrestling with this evil. The evil would have him decide, “This is no fun at all. I don’t want to do this. I’m going to leave. I’m going to go.” In the garden, Jesus accepts the cup of suffering which his Father has lovingly mixed with His own Hand, and drinks it full, preparing himself to take on the sins of the entire world. And these guys can’t stay awake a couple hours. So, he comes back one time and wakes them up saying, “Guys, come on. I need some support here. Help me with your prayers. Help me with your strength.” And he goes back and they fall asleep again. And finally, after the third time, he realized that he’s done all he can do, and it’s time to go to what is inevitable, to what must be.
We will go nowhere in our Christian lives, we will go nowhere in prayer, unless we have those two arms of faithfulness and perseverance. We must accept what Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Church teach without reservation. We simply accept them on faith, because God gives them to us and calls us. Because if we are debating within our hearts about what is real and what is not . . . we’re never going to be able to focus enough on God to follow Him. And if we cannot persevere time and time and time again, in prayer and in humbling ourselves before each other, whether it is literally or metaphorically washing each others feet, by which I mean simply helping each other with problems and in strife and support in them – But again, we’re dead in the water. You must be faithful and accept Christ at His word. You must be persevering. And if you do those things, then Christ will claim you as one of His own. And you will share a life with Him in His Kingdom. But it is hard; it is not easy. There are so many distractions. There are so many temptations, even for our Lord.
It was such a struggle that the Scripture says that His perspiration was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Have you prayed until you’ve shed blood lately?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God is One.