Thursday, 2 May 2019 : 2nd 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 reminding us of the responsibility which each and every one of us as Christians have, that is to be witnesses and defenders of our faith before all the people, to be walking in the footsteps of the Apostles and all those who have given themselves wholly in the service of God, as we have ourselves heard in our Scripture passages today.

In the first reading today, we listened to the persistence and perseverance of the Apostles in the face of harsh persecution and opposition, as they were faced with fierce opposition from the influential members of the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin, who wanted the Apostles to stop preaching, teaching and doing works in the Name of the Lord Jesus, by Whose Name they have performed miracles, healing and called the people of God to believe in the Saviour Who had died for them.

But the Apostles stood by their faith in God and refused to abandon the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them, just as St. John the Baptist in our Gospel passage today testified before the people and before all those who opposed him, that he obeyed the will of God and he preached the truth and the salvation that God has revealed through His own Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Saviour of all the world.

St. John the Baptist also faced a lot of opposition and challenges, from the same influential members of the community who felt threatened by the influence, charisma and the message which both St. John the Baptist and the Apostles had brought with them and which they preached and taught among the people. That is because God’s truth has come to dispel the falsehoods and the corrupted truths which the enemies and opponents of the Lord had championed.

And in today’s occasion, aptly and most appropriately, we also celebrate the feast day of one of the great servants of God, whose life has also been filled with plenty of challenges and difficulties, and how this holy servant stood by his faith courageously, and became known as the staunch defender of the true, orthodox Christian faith. He is St. Athanasius the Great, Holy Doctor of the Church and great Defender of the Faith.

St. Athanasius was the Patriarch of Alexandria, one of the most important dioceses of the Church, and a great leader of the faithful at a time when the Church and the community of Christendom were bitterly divided between the many heresies and false teachings by false teachers and preachers who spread untruths and heresies that took hold many among the faithful, dividing even bishops against bishops, priests against priests, the Church against each other.

St. Athanasius defended the true faith in particular against the heresy of Arianism, which denied the equality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God with His heavenly Father, and for such, he was known also for his now famous Athanasian Creed, a very comprehensive version of the Christian Creed that is filled with the centre tenets of the faith, especially in the truth of the Holy Trinity, the distinctiveness, equality and yet perfect unity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is something that many of the heresies including Arianism tried to undermine and corrupt.

For his courageous and relentless defence of the true faith, St. Athanasius had to endure much difficulty and sufferings, having endured several exiles and persecutions by his enemies, who sometimes enjoyed the support of the Roman Empire and its institutions. Yet, St. Athanasius did not give up and continued to defend the faith till the end of his life, and he was remembered for his courage and faithfulness, as the true faith eventually triumphed.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us as Christians are also called and expected to stand up for our faith, not through confrontation or violence, but through our courageous and committed desire to live our whole lives being dedicated to God, just as the Apostles, St. John the Baptist and St. Athanasius the Great had done. Let us all be truly faithful, that the love of God will be the centre of our every actions, words and deeds, that we may find true justification in God. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 2 May 2019 : 2nd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 3 : 31-36

At that time, John the Baptist said, “He Who comes from above is above all; he who comes from the earth belongs to the earth, and his words belong to the earth. He Who comes from heaven speaks of the things He has seen and heard; He bears witness to these things, but no one accepts His testimony. Whoever does receive His testimony acknowledges the truthfulness of God.”

“The One sent by God speaks God’s words, and gives the Spirit unstintingly. The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything into His hands. Whoever believes in the Son lives with eternal life; but he who will not believe in the Son will never know life, and always faces the justice of God.”

Thursday, 2 May 2019 : 2nd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 33 : 2 and 9, 17-18, 19-20

I will bless the Lord all my days; His praise will be ever on my lips. Oh, see and taste the goodness of the Lord! Blessed is the one who finds shelter in Him!

But His face is set against the wicked to destroy their memory from the earth. The Lord hears the cry of the righteous and rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the distraught. Many are the troubles of the just, but the Lord delivers them from all.

Thursday, 2 May 2019 : 2nd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 5 : 27-33

So the High Priest and his supporters brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Council and the High Priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders not to preach such a Saviour; but you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend charging us with the killing of this Man.”

To this Peter and the Apostles replied, “Better for us to obey God rather than any human authority! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus Whom you killed by hanging Him on a wooden post. God set Him at His right hand as Leader and Saviour, to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses to all these things, as well as the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to those who obey Him.

When the Council heard this, they became very angry and wanted to kill them.

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.