Wednesday, 2 May 2018 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the dispute that arose within the Church during its earliest days, when things came to head between the more conservative Jewish Christians, especially those who used to belong to the Pharisee group, and the more open-minded Christians led by the Apostle St. Paul, who wanted to reach out more vigorously to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people.

The more conservative faction demanded that all the laws and observances in the Jewish custom and tradition must be fulfilled and obeyed by all Christians, even for the Gentiles and all the non-Jewish people such as the Greeks and the Romans who did not practice many of the traditional customs of the Jews, such as circumcision and the rituals for washing and cleansing as mentioned in the Gospels and in the Old Testament.

In order to be able to appreciate better why was such a matter very important and crucial for the early Church, and why there was such a controversy and division among the faithful, we have to understand the history and the context of the cultures present at that time, which happened during the height of the Roman Empire. If we read the history prior to the time of Jesus, there had been similar controversy during the time of the Maccabeans, when the Jewish people revolted against the tyranny of the Greek rulers of the Seleucid Empire.

At that time, the Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to enforce a common culture and practice throughout his empire, and forcing the entire Jewish population to follow the customs and practices of the Greeks, such as their worship of the Greek pagan gods and idols, establishing their temples on the cities of the Jews, the sacrilege committed on the sacred places of God, including the Temple in Jerusalem, and the outlawing of circumcision, which the Greeks saw as an aberration.

Similarly, the Jews saw the customs of the Greeks as abominations, their naked actions and competitions in the gymnasiums, their clothings and their culture, their drunken revelry and many more, on top of their pagan beliefs and worship. This is compounded by the fact that the Jewish people held strongly to the belief that they were God’s chosen people, and therefore, they were superior to the pagans.

At the time of Jesus, the aftereffects of the Maccabean rebellion was still fresh in the minds of the people, when those who rejected the Greek culture and customs managed to free themselves from the shackles of tyranny of the Greeks. They became more careful and very protective of their cultures and traditions, which some identified with their independence and sovereignty as the Jewish nation.

That was why such a great trouble and conflict arose over the issues of these traditions and customs, especially because many of the Jews refused to admit that there could be a better way than following and obeying fanatically those customs and traditions, to a fault. That was when the Lord Jesus came in their midst, and reminded them of their excesses and unreasonable attachment to the laws and customs.

Why so? That is because many of those traditions and customs have been made over hundreds of years of history, in order to satisfy men’s needs and desires, rather than truly following and obeying God’s Law. As a result, enforcing those customs on the non-Jewish people became in fact, a great obstacle for those people to accept the Christian faith. I have just mentioned how the Greeks and also the Romans, whose culture was very similar to the former, abhorred certain practices of the Jews such as circumcision.

Should the Church fathers insisted that the Gentiles must follow those practices and customs, it would have made it very difficult for the people of the non-Jewish origin to follow the Christian faith, as it would have subjected them to lots of cultural stigma and difficulties, from among their own people. Instead, the Apostles, beginning with St. Paul, eventually decided that most importantly, all Christians, regardless of their origins, must believe in the basic tenets of the faith, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, and there is no other God save Him alone, and all other teachings preserved by the Church and passed on to us.

In today’s Gospel, we heard of the Lord speaking to His disciples about the importance of all of His faithful ones to remain united with Him, and to cling to Him, as the only source of truth. For indeed, He is the True Vine as He mentioned in the Gospel passage today. And all of us ought to be linked to Him, as one big family, as one Church, members of the same Vine, all linked to the Lord through the branches of the Vine, that is the Church.

We spoke of this unity present in the Church, because all of us are part of this unity with God. We all believe in the same faith, which our priests and bishops have received from their predecessors, and ultimately originating from the Church fathers themselves, the Apostles and disciples of Our Lord. The Apostles and the disciples of the Lord have decided what it means for us to be true Christians, by the regulations and rules they have agreed together, to be observed by all the members of the Church, no longer bound by the old laws of the Jews, but by the new Law of Christ.

However, throughout time, this unity was to be tested in various occasions, and many had failed to preserve this unity and many have faltered in trying to remain true to their faith in God. There were those who denied the truth found in the Church, or worse still, perverted those truth to attain their own selfish desires and agenda. They were the heretics who tried to snatch the souls of the faithful, down the wrong path, because they refused to listen to God’s truth or obey His words.

But there were equally many of those who wanted to protect the truth and to preserve the truth in the Church, and they strove against the heretics preaching their heresies and false ways, standing up for their true, orthodox faith in God. St. Athanasius the Great was one of them, a great defender of the faith and a faithful servant of God. St. Athanasius was the Patriarch of Alexandria who stood up for his faith against those who adhered to the heresy of Arianism.

The heresy of Arianism at that time was so serious that many among the faithful, and especially among the priests and bishops subscribed to that heresy. Having been made popular by the preacher Arius, it stated that the Lord Jesus was not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father, but merely a created being. This was a great heresy, as the Church and the Scriptures had firmly established that God exists in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Who existed since before the beginning of time and equal with one another, indivisibly bound by perfect love.

St. Athanasius firmly stood his ground against the heresiarch Arius, opposing his views and openly went against his teachings, and encouraged the faithful to stand up against his false teachings and preachings. However, there were many of those who had been swayed by the charismatic Arius, and many bishops and priests who supported his heresy. St. Athanasius had to endure challenges and difficulties, even going up against Emperors and powerful fellow bishops, as he was exiled from his See of Alexandria due to such opposition.

Nonetheless, St. Athanasius did not give up or shrink away due to all of these opposition against him. He continued to campaign and work zealously against the false teachings of the heretics, and his firm views and orthodox faith can be seen this very day in the version of the Creed which the holy saint himself composed, the Athanasian Creed, a much more comprehensive version of the Nicene Creed, specifically crafted to condemn the false teachings of heretics.

Many souls have been saved because of the works of this holy saint, and because of all that he has done, he has preserved the unity of many of the faithful with the True Vine, that is Christ. The devil knows that if he is to be successful in getting the souls of the faithful, he must strike at those who work hard to preserve the unity of the Church. That was why he was so persistent on his attacks against St. Athanasius, as well as the many other devoted servants of God, working tirelessly to keep the faithful from the ravenous fangs of the devil.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now, having heard of the developments of our faith and how we have come together as one Church, no longer divided by customs or racial identity, but as one people together before God, let us all realise of the obligations that we have, to serve the Lord with all of our hearts and with all of our strength. This is what we need to do, that is to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles and the saints, particularly remembering the hard work of St. Athanasius the Great, our holy predecessor.

Let us all therefore do our best, working together as part of one united Church, that we may be exemplary in all of our actions, words and deeds, carrying out our lives filled with God’s love and grace. Let us all do our best, in everything we do, so that we may inspire many more people, even those who are still living in sin and away from God, as the reflections of God’s light in this world, that they too, may turn towards the Lord because of us, and be saved. May the Lord be with us all, and may through the intercession of St. Athanasius, our good works in Him will bring greater glory to God and His Name. Amen.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 15 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the True Vine and My Father is the Vinegrower. If any of My branches does not bear fruit, He breaks it off; and He prunes every branch that does bear fruit, that it may bear even more fruit.”

“You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you. Live in Me as I live in you. The branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you, if you do not remain in Me. I am the Vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in Me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from Me you can do nothing.”

“Whoever does not remain in Me is thrown away, as they do with branches, and they wither. Then they are gathered and thrown into the fire and burnt. If you remain in Me and My words in you, you may ask whatever you want, and it will be given to you. My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit : it is then that you become My disciples.”

Wednesday, 2 May 2018 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 121 : 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” And now we have set foot within your gates, o Jerusalem!

Jerusalem, just like a city, where everything falls into place! There the tribes go up.

The tribes of the Lord, the assembly of Israel, to give thanks to the Lord’s Name. There stand the courts of justice, the offices of the house of David.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 15 : 1-6

Some persons who had come from Judea to Antioch were teaching the brothers in this way, “Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Because of this there was trouble, and Paul and Barnabas had fierce arguments with them. For Paul told the people to remain as they were when they became believers. Finally those who had come from Jerusalem suggested that Paul and Barnabas and some others go up to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the Apostles and elders.

They were sent on their way by the Church. As they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they reported how the non-Jews had turned to God, and there was great joy among all the brothers and sisters. On their arrival in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Church, the Apostles and the elders, to whom they told all that God had done through them.

Some believers, however, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees, stood up and said that non-Jewish men must be circumcised and instructed to keep the law of Moses. So the Apostles and elders met together to consider the matter.

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today first we heard the indignation of the Jews and the refusal of many of them to listen to the word of God and believe in Christ, although some did listen and follow the Lord, but most of them did not and even incited trouble and difficulties for the Apostles. What we heard today is just one of the many occasions when these had occurred to the Apostles and the other disciples of the early Church.

On the contrary, many of the Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people, mainly the Greeks and the Romans believed in the Good News which the Apostles had preached, and they followed the Lord and His ways. These people together formed the nucleus and the heart of the burgeoning and rapidly growing early Church at that time, with more and more believers rising up every day.

In the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about His equality with the Father, and how if we believe in Him, then all of our actions and deeds should reflect that we are truly faithful and devoted to the Lord, and not just paying merely lip service and having superficial faith. We cannot profess to have the faith in God and yet our actions and words either indirectly or directly going against that faith.

The servants of the Lord do His will and walk in His path, and yet as shown by the attitudes of the Jews, both at the time of Jesus, and throughout the works and journeys of the Apostles, they refused to believe in the truth which Jesus had brought into the world, and in their actions, they did not put into practice the faith which they professed to have. Indeed, not all of the Jews were like that, but quite a great majority of them were.

Today, we also celebrate the feast of a saint, whose attitude and works showed an unbending and uncompromising attitude to all those who were trying to deceive the faithful and spread lies among the faithful and to join them in heresy. He is St. Athanasius, a faithful servant of God and Bishop of the Church. This faithful servant of God had gone through many trials and difficulties, and he remained faithful and committed to the cause of the Lord.

At that time, the Church was greatly assailed by the many heresies, born from mankind’s inability to resist the temptations and falsehoods of Satan, and ending up trying to confuse many of the faithful, luring them to heresy, and as such, fulfill either intentionally or unintentionally the wishes of Satan, that is to divide the Church and the faithful against each other. And St. Athanasius was one among the few who rose up and stood up against the tide of these wickedness.

St. Athanasius spoke out against the heresy of Arianism, which proposed that Jesus Christ was a mere creature and not God, denying the divinity of Christ, who is truly fully God and fully Man at the same time, with the two natures united perfectly in Christ, distinct but united. This is the true faith that the Church had uphold since the days of the Apostles in the early Church, the fundamental truth that the devil tried to destroy with his lies sowed among men.

For speaking up the truth, St. Athanasius often had to suffer, as some of the heretics have friends and influence at the pinnacle of power of the Roman Empire at the time. He was cast out of his diocese, and was exiled more than once. And yet, he did not give up or fear any sort of persecution threatened and arrayed against him. For him, to suffer for the sake of the Lord and for the sake of His people’s souls is worth a suffering.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us should heed the example of St. Athanasius in our own lives. We must be able to stand up for our faith and speak up the truth that many will come to resent, and yet necessary for their salvation too. And thus, so that more people will be turned to the Lord, we ourselves too, as the children and servants of God, should act in the way that is clearly the way of our Lord. And we can do this by practicing our faith and meaning it in every word we speak and in every action we do.

Remember what Jesus told His disciples, that all who follow Him and profess to be His disciples will also act and do the same things that He had done? That means, if we want to be truly recognised and found worthy as Christ’s followers, therefore we must also obey His will and preserve the truth which He had brought into the world. This is precisely what St. Athanasius had done, and what all of us are expected to do as well.

May Almighty God strengthen us in our faith, empower us and be with us, that in all the things that we say and do, we may bring ever greater glory to Him. God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 14 : 7-14

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “If you know Me, you will know the Father also; indeed you know Him, and you have seen Him.”

Philip asked Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that is enough.” Jesus said to him, “What! I have been with you so long and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever sees Me sees the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?”

“All that I say to you, I do not say of Myself. The Father who dwells in Me is doing His own work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; at least believe it on the evidence of these works that I do.”

“Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in Me will do the same works that I do; and he will even do greater than these, for I am going to the Father. Everything you ask in My Name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Indeed, anything you ask, calling upon My Name, I will do.”

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The Lord has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you lands, make a joyful noise to the Lord, break into song and sing praise.