Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd 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 as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded that to believe in God is not really as easy as we may think it is. It is often that believing in God require us to go against the norms and the conventions of this world. Our faith in Christ will require us to go beyond logic and merely worldly forms of understanding and knowledge, for this indeed requires us to have genuine faith to be able to believe in God.

In our first reading today, we heard about the works of St. Peter the Apostle, who went to the city of Lydda during his ministry and travel around in order to spread the Good News of the Lord. In that city, St. Peter performed a great miracle, in which he healed the sick man Aeneas, who had been paralysed and bedridden for over eight years without any hope, until the moment when through St. Peter, the Lord healed this man and made him whole again.

And then, St. Peter went to the town of Joppa and performed yet another great miracle, raising the faithful woman Tabitha from her death, just after she had passed on. Tabitha was restored to life by the grace and power of the Lord through His Apostle St. Peter, and witnessed by many people, who like at the healing of Aeneas in Lydda, all became believers and chose to be baptised as Christians. They believed because they truly saw how God had worked wonders in their midst.

All of these showed us just how the Lord has done things in ways that many would not have been able to comprehend using any of standard and conventional logic or intelligence of this world. Aeneas had been bedridden and paralysed for many years, something that even to this very day are still suffered by some people despite the great advancements in technology and science. None of these could completely heal the sick person in the way that Aeneas had been healed.

Similarly, the even more amazing resurrection of Tabitha defy any known logic and knowledge, as no human knowledge or ability were ever capable of overcoming death or even prolonging one’s life beyond what had been naturally determined by God. This, together with the resurrection of Lazarus and the dead daughter of a synagogue official by the Lord Jesus earlier in His ministry would serve as concrete proofs of how the Lord was truly the One sent by God to be the Saviour of the whole world.

Therefore, if we link these to what we have heard in our Gospel today, which from the sixth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. John on the conclusion of the discourse of the Bread of Life by Jesus to the people, then we will see how difficult it was indeed to be a follower of Christ. In fact, as we have heard, many of the followers of Jesus left Him behind after He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, with many of them refusing to believe Him and saying how can anyone believe in such hard truth and words?

That is the reality, brothers and sisters in Christ, that this faith in Christ, our Christian faith which we have is not something we should take for granted, as we may often find it difficult to remain faithful especially when we are confronted with arguments and realities that are opposite and in contrast to our faith. Yet, at the same time, it is entirely possible for us to continue to be faithful and to dedicate ourselves with all of our hearts for the Lord.

As the Lord Himself had shown us that no one can come to the Father except through Him, there were still some of those who trusted in Him and clung to Him, and these were probably considered as foolish and peculiar by others. Yet, in the end, all those who remained true to their faith in God were not disappointed, for the Lord was with them, guided them throughout their journey, and gave them all the promise of eternal glory for their commitment and faith in Him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of one saint who has been remembered as a great defender of the Christian faith, a champion of the true and orthodox faith of the Apostles and the Church fathers, himself a renowned Church father and elder, namely St. Athanasius, also known as a champion of Christian orthodoxy against various heresies, particularly against the Arian heresy that was then widespread and enjoyed support even among many bishops and the secular leaders.

St. Athanasius was the Bishop and Patriarch of Alexandria, and therefore was one of the most senior and influential leaders of the Church of his time. In response to the widespread Arian heresy both within his See and throughout the Church at the time, St. Athanasius led the efforts to counter the falsehoods of the Arians and tried his best to get rid of the heretical teachings both in his See and beyond. He was the rallying point and centre of the efforts to return to the true and orthodox Christian faith.

St. Athanasius had to endure a lot of trials and challenges for all of his efforts and his dedication to the truth of God, against all those who had chosen to believe in their own misguided and perverse version of the faith, which was how those heresies came to be in the first place. Those heretical teachings altered the truth of God and combined them with falsehoods and lies, which were perhaps more acceptable and palatable than the truth itself, but were wrong in essence and truth.

St. Athanasius had to go against both secular authorities and all those bishops, priests and lay supporters of the Arian heresy among others, and he spent many years in exile from his See of Alexandria, being exiled a total of five times no less. That was how St. Athanasius endured so much for being faithful and committed to the truth of God. St. Athanasius remained courageous and strong even despite all the oppositions against him and despite all the humiliations, attacks and other persecutions he had received.

In the end, St. Athanasius, his tireless efforts, his great personal piety and dedication to the Lord was instrumental as part of the greater effort by many others who also defended the true and unchanging Christian faith as upheld by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and the subsequent Ecumenical Councils. Arian heresy was eventually subdued, and the true faith triumphed at last. It did take many, many years before this victory was achieved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the footsteps of St. Athanasius and be inspired by his faith and courage. Let us all stay firm in our dedication and commitment to the Lord, knowing that we may have to face opposition and challenges in our journey of faith, when our faith may be challenged by the temptations and the falsehoods that lie in this world and all around us, much as St. Athanasius himself had once experienced. Let us not be disheartened, for be assured that God Himself will be with us, and He will guide us through all these.

May the Lord be our help and may He strengthen us all to live our lives ever more faithfully from now on. May God be with us all and may He empowers us all to be courageous in being true Christians from now on. May God bless us all and our many good endeavours from now on for the greater glory of God. St. Athanasius, holy defender of faith and blessed servant of God, pray for us all. Amen.

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 6 : 60-69

At that time, after the Jews heard Jesus, many of His followers said, “This language is very hard! Who can accept it?”

Jesus was aware that His disciples were murmuring about this, and so He said to them, “Does this offend you? Then how will you react when you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”

From the beginning, Jesus knew who would betray Him. So He added, “As I have told you, no one can come to Me unless it is granted by the Father.” After this many disciples withdrew and no longer followed Him. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Will you also go away?

Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We now believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 115 : 12-13, 14-15, 16-17

How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord.

I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. It is painful to the Lord to see the death of His faithful.

O Lord, I am Your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son. You have freed me from my bonds. I will offer You a thanksgiving sacrifice; I will call on the Name of the Lord.

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 9 : 31-42

Meanwhile, the Church had peace. It was building up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria with eyes turned to the Lord and filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit.

As Peter travelled around, he went to visit the saints who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas who was paralysed, and had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!”

And the man got up at once. All the people living in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. There was a disciple in Joppa named Tabitha, which means Dorcas or Gazelle. She was always doing good works and helping the poor. At that time she fell sick and died. After having washed her body, they laid her in the upstairs room.

As Lydda is near Joppa, the disciples, on hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter went with them. On his arrival they took him upstairs to the room. All the widows crowded around him in tears, showing him the clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

Peter made them them all leave the room and then he knelt down and prayed. Turning to the dead body he said, “Tabitha, stand up.” She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the saints and widows and presented her to them alive.

This became known throughout all of Joppa and many people believed in the Lord because of it.

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.”