The Little Wheat Kernel

A story for children 99 years and younger
The little wheat kernel opened its eyes and looked up, only to squint. The warm sun was too bright to look upon but was smiling down on the little kernel. All the while, a breeze of cool air kissed his cheeks. All around the little kernel, other kernels opened their eyes – his brothers and sisters – and smiled. All of them were in the stalk together and were just beginning to feel alive. The cold rains had passed and they were swaying in the wind, as if dancing, with new life and vigor. He saw the blue sky and, far away, white clouds floating in the laziness of the morning.

He remembered vaguely the night before today. He was half asleep then, but fondly he was being caressed by moonlight from the shimmering circle set in the speckled black sky. He remembered more now! The moon kissed him and told him to be patient and wait for God; God — the creator of heaven and earth and all that there is. God, who gave the rains and made the sun to shine. God — who gave growth to all of his brothers and sisters – and, of course, to him too. God must be beautiful, he thought. There is so much beauty all around. How can such beauty come from a God that is less beautiful? I wish I could see God, he thought.

From far away, the little wheat kernel heard the laughter of children. They were running through the wheat fields trying to catch each other. Once, a boy came very close to him. The child looked at him with wide open blue eyes, and at his brother and sister kernels. The little kernel looked right back and noticed that the child’s golden hair was also dancing in the wind. And what a beautiful face the boy had! “Do the angels in heaven have this kind of face?” he wondered. He knew about angels from the moon. The moon must have seen the angels dancing on the clouds. What a wonderful sight they must be. The boy ran away to follow his friends and the sound of giggles died away in the distant hills.

The little kernel went for a short snooze. But soon he was awoken by loud sounds in the field. Sounds he did not like — rough and deep voices. They spoke about the harsh master and owner of the field. They did not like their master and were going to get even with him now that he went away to a far country. They were going to show him that it does not pay to go away. They were going to damage the master’s wheat fields and all the kernels there. Why would they do that, thought the little kernel. The master of the field was a gentle and hardworking man. He had planted the wheat in due season and taken care of its growth.

The deep voices all around the little kernel became terrible. Shouting voices were ordering commands of destruction. Then there came the harsh sounds of metal knives hitting against wheat stalks. Thrash! Slash! Cut! Kernels of wheat were falling all around him like flies! He heard cries and moans and bitter regrets. Brother was calling after sister as they fell through the air. Then — he felt the hit! Cold metal punched the stalk where he grew up and all of his family was knocked down to the earth. The little kernel too fell on the ground. A leather sandal stomped on his face and he cried out: “God help me! Where are you my God? Why has God abandoned me?”

And then quiet…

The little kernel slept for a long time before he woke up with many of the other sleepy kernels and found himself in a large sack. The weight of all the others was crushing down on him. He did not know where they were but he found that he no longer had any chaff around him. What they were going to do with him and his family?

Then he heard the master’s voice – the master of the wheat field. He was back from his journey! The master must have been the one that saw the destruction and picked the little kernel and his brothers and sisters up from the ground, cleaned them of chaff and put them here in this sack. The little kernel felt happy. He knew the master and that he was kind.

donk

Without notice, the master picked up the sack of wheat kernels and poured them out on a large, round and grooved stone. The little kernel fell among them. Another heavy milling stone was set to roll on top of the grooved stone and began to crush the kernels. Why was the master — the good master — doing this? The pain was unbearable. The little wheat kernel was cracking into a thousand pieces and he felt that his life was over. He was no longer that little kernel but just crushed bits of wheat everywhere. The strange thing was that he still knew who he was and felt as though nothing happened to the inside of him – his soul. It seems as if it did not matter much what happened to his body. He still felt alive! How was this possible?

His mind began racing through his memories. All at once, his entire life came before his eyes. He remembered that once there was a bold man who came through the fields where he had lived. The man was followed by other men — and women too. He was a man whose face he could look upon for hours. That man’s face was sincere and earnest, kind and strong, compassionate and purposeful. He listened to the words that came from that man’s mouth, words which the little kernel could not understand then. The man had said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. And, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. I am mourning right now, he thought. And my spirit is downcast!

Wait! He now remembered! That man had also said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Why did that man say that? Why did the little wheat kernel have to die? He wanted to live forever. The little kernel did not want to die!

The wheat kernel could look down on all his pieces and see that he and all the other crushed pieces of wheat were put in a cloth sack labeled with the word “flour”. Is that what they had become?

The little wheat kernel saw that the master took the flour sack, with the pieces of the little kernel in it, threw it over his shoulder and trudged down the road. The master headed straight for a stone building. In the building the master put the sack of flour down in a room containing all kinds of pots and utensils. Next to the sack the little kernel could see another sack made of animal skin. Then, the little kernel heard voices in the animal skin sack. There were many voices; all scared and upset just like him. They told him their story.

They used to be small baby grapes – at first they awoke to find themselves green but then as time went on, they darkened and became a deep red. They too were kissed by the sun whose strength they drank in everyday. And they too were told by the moon to wait patiently for God. They loved the rain because it made them fat. In those days, they felt the juices flowing in sweetness around their bodies.

They also had heard terrible voices. Men with hatred in their hearts broke down the stone walls that the master of the vineyard had built around the vines holding them. The men came with metal instruments of destruction and cut down the vines. The vines all collapsed and the grapes flew down to the ground, some of them spilling their juice out on the ground.

press

When the master of the vineyard came back he rescued the grapes and took them to a large winepress. In the winepress they felt the pain as the master squeezed them together, and all of their red grape juice began flowing into a stone vat. From the winepress vat they were poured into large skin sack. In the sack they sat for a while as their juice became stronger and stronger. One day, without notice their master took the skin sack and also brought them to this same stone building.

The little kernel asked the grapes if they remembered the same bold man who walked through the wheat fields talking about the Kingdom of God. The grapes did remember that same man because he had walked through the vineyard. They told the little kernel that they remembered the man saying: “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same will bring forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.”

Just then, a woman entered into the room and took the flour from the cloth sack. The little kernel was part of that flour. She mixed the flour with water, formed the dough and pressed into a mould. The mould had a cross and other signs on it. The shaped dough was baked in the oven and came out ready as beautiful round bread stamped with the cross and other signs on it.

The little wheat kernel and grapes were feeling something strange pass over them — as though they were being prepared for something important. Into the room came a man in black vestments and took the loaf of bread and the juice from the skin sack that had now become wine. This stone building was a church and the man in black vestments was a priest!

The priest poured out the wine with warm water into a chalice. The priest then took the bread with the little kernel, cut it up, prayed over it and put it inside the chalice. He then said a prayer asking the bread to become the very body of Jesus Christ and the wine to become the very blood of Christ! The little wheat kernel suddenly felt united with the grapes in a very strong bond of love. What strange events!

The priest carried out the chalice containing the wine and bread, the grapes and the wheat kernels, into the nave of the church and called in a loud voice: “In the fear of God with faith and with love draw near!” The little kernel saw people coming up to eat of him, who had become the body of Christ, and drink of his friends the grapes, who had become the blood of Christ. And then, the little kernel saw the boy! — that beautiful boy who had come to look at the little kernel in the field. The boy’s face was like an angel just like before, but now he came up to the chalice with his hands crossed over his breast. The boy opened wide his mouth and the little kernel felt himself go down into the boy’s mouth by a spoon. Inside the boy the little kernel felt warm and strong.

Suddenly, the little kernel saw what he had always desired to see. Inside the boy, the little kernel saw the face of God! The face of God was in Jesus Christ – and it was the most beautiful face he had ever seen. At that time, the little kernel knew that he was starting to be in love with Jesus Christ. He also knew that he would never stop being in love with Jesus. Truly, the little wheat kernel would be living happily forever after, because now he was really alive!

Advertisements

Stewardship and the Church

Stewardship means performing the role of a steward. The word “steward” has evolved to mean several professional designations but its main meaning denotes the simple idea of one who carries out the responsibilities of maintaining or sustaining something that has been entrusted to him by someone else: whether servants, finances, or an entire household. The etymology of the word in Old English signifies “house guardian”, yet the importance in the meaning centers on the idea of taking care of things owned by someone else.
The first explicit encounter of this role among biblical personalities is found in Genesis 15:2. There, Abraham explains that he is childless and the only one to fill the role of steward of his household is Eliezer of Damascus. The literal Hebrew designation of Eliezer’s role is a term that means “one who has responsibility for the household possessions”. As we trace the role of Eliezer in Genesis 24, we find that it is expansive, even encompassing finding a wife in a far-away land for Abraham’s son Isaac. In that chapter, he is described as the eldest servant of Abraham’s house, “that ruled over all that he had”. This man was more than a simple servant; he was a steward. A servant carries out the precise word of the master. A steward, on the other hand, makes decisions about the household in line with the master’s overall wishes and with the master’s substance. He rules the master’s possessions and household – not his own.
Without using the word, the Old Testament makes use of the idea of steward as an analogy to the role that man has been assigned by God. God is clearly shown to be the Creator of heaven and of earth (Genesis 1) and as Creator, the real Owner of all that is. He reproves His people when they want to offer sacrifices without recognizing that He is the one who provides them from His ownership (Psalm 50 – English numbering).
God created man in his image (Gen. 1:27). In the Old Testament, this meant that God made man to rule the Creation, just as God does, and on His behalf: a steward of Creation. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (vs. 28). “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15). Man was to give his time and energy to steward the Creation. He was to take care of it for the glory of the Owner, and to partake of it as he needed. He naturally, in thankfulness and in worship, offered part of it back to God as did Cain and Abel in the first offering of fruits of the earth and animal sacrifices mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 4). This principle, that man stewards and offers to God what God has provided for man in the first place, will, many years later, show up in the Divine Liturgy in words that are said to God of the offering: “Thine own, from Thine own, we offer to Thee, in all and for all.”
At the beginning, God was shown to be the Creator and Owner of all and that man is his steward. However, in the ancient world, as today, the idea became perverted. The principle of private ownership set in, apart from any stewardship to God. As private owners, people began to believe that they could simply focus on making “their own” wealth. As a result, they neglected the land, the poor and the work of God. This was to be corrected when God called the nation of Israel from among the nations. God gave Israel several major laws for stewardship that were to run counter to the principles then operating in the world. These laws were a limited revelation until the full revealing of the Holy Spirit was to come, but they were of high principle nevertheless.
One set of laws involved the stewardship of the poor, as opposed to their neglect. If a man, through poverty had indebted himself as a servant (slave) then he was to be released to freedom the seventh year (Ex. 21:1-4). His poverty was not to claim his freedom for the rest of his life and his “owner” would bear the economic consequences. If one owned property that produced harvest, one was not to glean everything from the property but to ensure that some was left in the field for the poor (Lev. 19:10). This principle sustained Ruth before she became one of the ancestors of our Lord (Ruth 2:2). Another principle involved lending money to the poor without expecting interest in return (Ex. 22:25). Yet another principle declared a land restoration every 50 years (a Jubilee), so that those families that had lost their land in the process of poverty could be restored to the land of their forefathers (Lev. 25:8:13). This was an “economic loss” to the owners but a reminder that they were really only stewards and not owners.
Another set of laws involved the stewardship of the land itself. The land was to be worked six years and the seventh year it was to lie fallow (Lev. 25:4-5). If new trees were planted, the fruit was not to be reaped until the fourth year (Lev. 19:23). Even if there was to be a war, fruit trees were not to be cut down for the purpose of the war because they were created to bear fruit and should be used thus (Deut. 20:19-20). If a tree was to be found with birds or eggs, the mother was to be let go before taking those (Deut. 22:6). These laws of God went some way to show man the road back to become a steward of Creation.
More importantly, a set of laws stipulated the stewardship of God’s religious work which meant supporting the tabernacle or temple, the priesthood, the festivals and the vulnerable of society. One of these was the law of the three tithes. The Israelites were to give a tithe (an Old English word for a tenth, or 10%) of their produce to the Levites, God’s religious officials in Israel, who were serving in and around the tabernacle or the temple (Num. 18:21). If the agricultural tithe was to be converted to money instead of produce, one would be required to add a fifth to it, making it 12% instead. Even the Levites were to tithe of their tithe directly in sacrifices to God. A second tithe was designated for the celebration of God’s festivals which was also shared with the Levites (Deut. 14:22-27). A third tithe was to be given every third year and was used to finance those that needed extra help including the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (vss. 28-29). Therefore approximately, 23-25% of an Israelite’s income was designated to support the religious order, apart from the freewill offerings he would make and the economic impact he would sustain from other stewardship laws for the poor and the land.
When the Son of God became incarnate and came among men, He clarified what should have been known from the beginning. No longer did God legislate every detail of stewardship but taught that He was Creator and Owner of all and therefore that every individual owed Him their entire energy, body and material worth — besides their entire lives — and not only a limited percentage. To one individual He asked to sell all his possessions, give to the poor and follow Him (Mat. 19:21). Of a widow, He commended that she gave a larger percentage to the Temple, even in her poverty, as compared to those who followed the letter of the law (Luke 21:1-4). To another, He reminded that to be a follower of Christ, one might have to give up having a bed or home to lay one’s head (Mat. 8:20). Of another, He praised the wise usage of the multiple talents of coins given him which were invested and given back in due time, with all of their increase, to the Lord (Mat. 25:19-21). When the Church was first started at Pentecost, the members were inspired to consider no property that they had as their own, but they gave all to the disposal of those that had need (Acts. 4:32-35). This form of “communism” was to be later disdained by our private ownership society but was adopted by monasteries and other Christian brotherhoods.
Thus, the Fall of man resulted in a world that went astray, believing that those who gathered the wealth were the real owners of it and were not responsible to God, their community or land (a philosophy which persists even today). In the Old Testament we have a new direction that shows that a significant portion of the increase was to be used in stewardship of the land, the poor and the religious work of God. In Christ we have the full light that God, the Creator of all, who expects us to lay final claim to nothing that we appear to “own” including wealth, land, talents, gifts, time or even our own bodies, but to use it all in wisdom for the glory of God, for the Church of God, for the Creation (land, air and water), and to help the vulnerable and needy. Glory be to God, the Creator and Owner of all, who has given us this stewardship! Truly “Thine own, of Thine own, we offer to Thee, in all and for all.”

Pascha and a Loaf of Bread

St. Paul wrote about Pascha in the first epistle to the Corinthians: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new loaf, just as you are unleavened. For even Christ our Pascha is sacrificed for us” (5:7). Here, the Greek word, Pascha is left untranslated from the original of St. Paul. What did the Apostle mean by these words and what does leaven have to do with Pascha? To understand this, we have to go back to Corinth in the first century, and subsequently, to Egypt more than a thousand years before Christ. We also have to understand how they made bread.

St. Paul was writing an epistle to the Corinthian Church. The Church lived in the midst of a modern cosmopolitan and commercial city of the Roman Empire. By being next to an important shipping passageway and stopover between Rome and the Aegean Sea, the city of Corinth had access to many of the physical goods of the Empire, as well as much of its evil influences. Corinth came be to a city catering to sailors and merchants who gladly spent their money on the worldly pleasure offered there. To “Corinthianize” came to mean “to practice fornication”. The Corinthians believed that they were free to experiment in new and different ways of pleasure, to be lax in their spirituality and to generally enjoy the “good life”. Unfortunately, this social attitude began to permeate the Corinthian Church, with a terrible spiritual impact that they were unable to recognize.

The Apostle Paul came to see that the Church at Corinth had multiple spiritual diseases: pride causing factions (1:11-12), thinking too highly of their intellect (1: 18-31), lacking spiritual growth (3:1), judgmental (4:3), satisfied in their riches (4:8), adulterous (5:1), lax (5:2) and legally vindictive (6:6). St. Paul calls the Corinthians “puffed up” (5:2). He uses the word six times in this epistle compared to only once more in another epistle. He wrote this first epistle to the Corinthians to address these points and he did so by going to the heart of the matter: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole loaf?”

Leaven is a substance used to make bread puffed up and light. Today, we often call it yeast. Without it, we have unleavened bread which is flat, hard and unexciting. Leaven can come in many forms but a common property of it is that one needs only a small quantity to make an entire loaf rise. In those days, a small piece of previously leavened dough was used to leaven a new loaf of unleavened bread (sourdough bread). Thus, a little leaven could grow without bounds. The analogy for both good and evil is clear.

Christ compared the Kingdom of God to leaven because it would start with a few people and spread to the whole world (Mt. 13:33). Christ also used the analogy in a negative sense when he equated leaven to the doctrine of Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt. 16:6). It only took a little of the false teaching of these religious leaders to penetrate a disciple and to wreck spiritual havoc. St. Paul is taking the negative analogy further by equating the growth of pride with the puffing up of leavened bread. In other words, it only takes a little bit of unchecked self-importance to grow in our soul to the point that we become puffed up with pride, unable to recognize our weaknesses and dependency on God, and subsequently blinded to the infinite worth of our brother or sister in the Church. This pride naturally grows into other areas, including indulging in passions, degenerate speech and behavior and, finally, becoming lax and uncaring about God or his people.

St. Paul instructs how to correct this: “Purge out therefore the old leaven that you may be a new loaf, just as you are unleavened” (5:7). He was saying that the Corinthians needed to become a new kind of spiritual loaf, unleavened by the pride of the world around them. More specifically, this is a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread which was celebrated together with the Passover: “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”. The word Passover is a translation of the Greek word Pascha. St. Paul adds: “Therefore let us keep the Feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (5:8). He was highlighting the spiritual meaning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. To clarify this, we now have to jump in time more than a thousand years before Christ, and to the nation of Egypt.

At that time, the Roman Empire did not exist and Egypt was a cosmopolitan center of sin. Unfortunately, the Israelites had become slaves in Egypt and, in contrast to the Corinthian church, recognized it and were calling out for deliverance (Exodus 2:23). God, with mighty miracles, delivered them from Egypt and from the ruling Pharaoh. For that point in time, and as a memorial going forward, God provided a special ceremony called the Passover (or Pascha), as well as the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12). The Israelites were to participate in and to commemorate God’s deliverance by taking a Passover (Paschal) lamb, killing it and smearing the blood on their doorposts. This was to be their symbol of protection so the Angel of Death would pass over their houses on his death mission to Egypt. After using the blood of the lamb, the Israelites and their families were to eat of its body. Additionally, the Israelites were to prepare bread without leaven and eat it for seven days, showing their haste in coming out of Egypt, since no one had time to leaven their loaves in the rush to get out.

Throughout the centuries, the days of Passover and of Unleavened Bread (both together simply called Passover or Pascha) became an important commemoration in Israel because they represented freedom from slavery and God’s deliverance. When God became incarnate in Christ, He participated fully in this ceremony by re-enacting it every year with his family at Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-42). Most importantly, as the culmination of what it represented, He became the ultimate Paschal Lamb by being crucified at the same time that the symbolic Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple (John 19:14-18). Christ became our true Pascha (I Cor. 5:7).

Thus, we come back to the meaning of I Corinthians. The Apostle Paul was implying that the Corinthians, without being aware of it, had become slaves to sin, just like the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. They should have been crying out for deliverance from the Egypt of their day, and making haste to leave it quickly. They were admonished to no longer spiritually linger in the Corinthian leaven of self-importance, pleasure and self-satisfaction and thereby become puffed up, with the rest of Corinthian society. Further, they were instructed to purge the old leaven of worldly influence that had already entered their soul and was causing havoc in their congregation. This was the real cause of their spiritual decay.

St. Paul was admonishing the Corinthians to look to the ultimate example of the Person who was never puffed up. Jesus Christ, the real Passover Lamb, took the humiliating position of being publicly nailed naked to a wooden cross for their salvation. The Lamb’s way, if adopted in their lives, was the antidote to the leaven of pride, material interests and uncaring attitude towards their brothers and sisters. The cross was not important to the sophisticated Corinthians who saw themselves as dealing with more important political issues of who among them was the greatest (1:12,18).

The lesson for us today is now clear. We live in a society just as degenerate (if not more so) as that of the Corinthians. Without realizing it, all it takes is a little of its arrogance, pride or self-satisfaction to penetrate our soul, and we are on our way to becoming “puffed up”: self-important, vindictive, uncaring and lax. The only way back is to remove the poisonous leaven and cry out for deliverance from Christ. The humiliating example of our Savior is the antidote and that which gives us salvation from bondage and removes the poisonous leaven. Let us take up His attitude of love for the Church and self-sacrifice into our soul and bodies, thus becoming like the Pascha which we so love, the true Bread of Life and the Paschal Lamb that was sacrificed for us.

Same-sex relations and the Orthodox Church

There is renewed interest today in the nature of relations between people of the same sex. The relationships that are of interest are not traditional ones of friendship or even self-sacrificing love, but romantic or even sexual ones. Several states have enacted bills that address “same-sex marriage” and the United States Supreme Court has decided to take up the legal issues involved. Many of those around us, including many Christians, increasingly assume that such relations are perfectly natural and in will of God. There is even activism aimed towards various churches and their members with the aim of getting them to accept these positions on the issue with the threatened costs of splitting these churches, removing tax exempt status or denouncing the particular church in the media. It is therefore natural in such a charged atmosphere for Orthodox Christians to ask about the teachings of God and Church on this topic. Is it proper and Christian for couples of the same sex to be romantically involved with each other and how does God view such relations? While the topic is wide, this article will give some general guidelines for a beginning understanding.

The subject of relations between people of the same sex is not a new topic. Given that sexual relations are a fundamental aspect of life which encompass the spiritual, mental, psychological and physical nature of man, the nature of such relations goes back to the very purpose of the creation of man by God. The Church and the Scriptures have long been rich with teachings about the topic. Such teachings are unified and without ambiguity.

Friendship and self-sacrificing relations of spiritual love between people of the same sex have always been considered a blessing by God. For example, the friendship between King David and Jonathan in the Bible was considered by both to be a deeply endearing friendship that was worth one’s life (I Sam. 18 on). Jesus had such endearing and intimate relations with his disciples (John 13:23). Among the Fathers of the Church, a close friendship developed between St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian (of Nazianzus), which continued throughout their life. They regarded themselves as “one soul in two bodies”.

Nevertheless, it is clear from the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church that romantic and sexual relations are reserved for the purity of marriage between one man and one woman. All sexual relations outside of that marriage are a sin against God. Before we go through some of the references, it is important to put this point in context. Sexual sin, whether homosexual (same-sex) or heterosexual (opposite-sex), or romantic activity, outside of a holy marriage between one man and one woman, is not a worse sin than many other possible sins. Sins can come in many forms and while the Church condemns all sin, she encourages the sinner to repent, confess and receive forgiveness and spiritual healing. God loves those that sin and calls them out of sin. The reason that sexual sins are isolated and highlighted is that the institution of marriage and its associated sexuality was created to mystically capture the relationship of God and his people (Song of Songs, Jer. 11:5, Ezek. 16, Mt. 22:1-14,25:1-12, Heb. 13:4, Rev. 19-7-8). A defilement of this special relationship means that the all-important understanding of God’s love for his people would be marred.

The Scriptures are clear about this topic both from the point of view of what they say and what they don’t say. In the Creation account, God is quoted saying that it is not good that the first created man, Adam, be alone with the animals (Gen 2:18). God proceeded in vss. 21-22 to create a woman, Eve, out of Adam’s innermost body and bring her to him. The Scripture comments in vs. 24 that, in the normal process of God’s purpose for a man, he is to leave his father and mother and become “one flesh” with his wife (i.e. become a husband). This expression refers to a man’s intimate physical union with his wife for the purpose of uniting them to each other and begetting children. It is clear that God’s purpose does not enable two human beings of the same sex to enter into such a relationship because they cannot “become one flesh” in the meaning of that term. The silence of the Creation account on homosexuality (as on many other issues such as pedophilia, bestiality, etc.) shows that the original purpose of God did not involve those kinds of relations.
Later, when God gave his redemptive Law (Torah) to fallen man in the form of the nation of Israel, one of the teachings that He gave them was that “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Lev. 20:13). This was the known teaching of God when Jesus came among Israel to expand the teachings of the Law. Jesus never did away with this principle and only enhanced the teaching of the Law (Mt. 5:18-48). Later, the Apostle Paul, in going outside of Israel to Gentiles who did not know the Law of Israel, had to make this even more explicit: “For this reason God gave them [certain Gentiles] up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27).
Given the fundamental relation of homosexuality to marriage and the Christian life, the Church Fathers have not been silent on the topic. Contrary to popular belief, such relations are not new to the history of man. Clement of Alexandria wrote of the Genesis account of Sodom (Gen. 13): “The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to his own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned…”.
St. Basil the Great wrote to certain men: “He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers”. Also, “If you are young in either body or mind, shun the companionship of other young men and avoid them as you would a flame. For through them the enemy has kindled the desires of many and then handed them over to eternal fire, hurling them into the vile pit of the five cities [associated with Sodom] under the pretense of spiritual love.” St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the passage of Scripture cited in Romans says, “All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26–27] . . . were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored than the body in diseases.” Also, “”[The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men.”
The Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church did not deal with all of the psychological and biological arguments that are made today supporting the right to homosexual relations. These would take too long in this short article to scrutinize in detail. Suffice it to say that the God-given spiritual mind, created in the image of God, and purposed for the likeness of God, is given great powers of overcoming and repentance with the help of the grace of God and direction of a spiritual father. No genetic, cultural or familial pre-dispositions can overcome this principle, when there is a will to come out from under sin.
Apart from these, the very nature of language is being changed around us to favor the sinful directions. Homosexual relations are referred to as “gay”, a word that used to connote a jovial disposition. People that point out the sinful nature of these behaviors are labeled as “homo-phobic” (meaning fearing those who engage in same-sex relations) as though the truth about the nature of the behavior implies a fear or hatred of the people who engage in it. The latest linguistic innovation is “same-sex marriage”. The word “marriage” comes from the Latin meaning to “take a husband”. There used to be in ancient languages a different word for “take a wife”. Marriage is not an act that can be done by a two of the same sex. “Matrimony” means to become a mother in Latin. The meaning was that motherhood was entered with a husband who would enable the wife to bear children, not something that applied to women of the same sex, nor certainly to men.
Given that these kinds of practices and relationships are becoming mainstream, legal and accepted by most of society, we need to be aware of the possibility that they will show up at our doorstep in the form of weakened views on the purity of marriage or in the form of militant actions by those wishing to get us to accept the new points of views. In all these cases, we must exercise the love of God towards all while upholding the teachings of the Church. We must protect our families and our children by upholding the very relations that point towards the infinite love of God towards his people.

The Holy Prophet Isaiah

“I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me!” (Isaiah 1:2) quoted a father against his unruly sons in the country of Israel. Unfortunately, the King James translation above does not do justice to the beautiful poetry of the Holy Prophet Isaiah. The meter and rhythm of the words and their rhyme as quoted in the ancient Hebrew of Isaiah  is not matched by anything in English. The words sounded more like “Ba-nim Gi-dal-ti Ve-romam-ti, Ve-hem Pash-oo Bi!” (syllables in bold receive an accent) and they had the effect of stopping the ear of those of us that heard him.  That father would then go on to quote the rest of the poetic words out of memory and those that heard him would be mesmerized by the words of Isaiah recited live. He had memorized them out of the synagogue lectionary because the words were as haunting and piercing as they were to those that heard them 2800 years ago.

The Prophet Isaiah the son of Amos lived in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. and is presumed to have died early in the 7th. He was called to prophetic service for over 60 years during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Singularly, he is one of the most important prophets to Judaism (ancient and present) and Christianity, and even influenced music and literature up to our age including significant portions of Handel’s Messiah. Overall, there are at least 71 passages in the New Testament in which the book of Isaiah is either quoted, cited or paraphrased. Except for the book of Psalms, no other Old Testament book is quoted or referred to more times in the New Testament. Jesus even began his ministry with a quote from the prophet (Luke 4:16-20). Both Jewish and Christian tradition report him as having been martyred by being sawn in half with a wooden saw which may possibly be the reference of Heb. 11:37. As such, Saint Isaiah is counted among one of the earliest martyrs.

The English transliterated name Isaiah was originally pronounced Ye-sha-ya-hu in Hebrew and means “salvation (is) of the Lord”. In the Greek Old Testament it was transliterated as Esaias which is the name used in the New Testament. His name has significance in relation to the Hebrew name Ye-ho-shu-a (Joshua in English, or Jesus in Greek) which means “the Lord is salvation”. The two names, our Savior’s and Isaiah’s, have exactly the same root words of “Lord” and “salvation”, only transposed. Thus Isaiah’s name was highly prophetic of his role in uttering key prophetic insights concerning the Messiah, as well as of the heavy use made of his book in the New Testament which is about the salvation of the Lord.

The Fathers of the Church agreed that Isaiah was the greatest of the literary Prophets. Isaiah’s poetry, descriptive, lyric, or elegiac is unsurpassed by any other writer of the Old Testament. This was partially recognized by the imagery of the book. But since its poetic impact was partially lost in translation it was not until the 19th century, when there was a growth in appreciation and study of Hebrew poetry, that we now have a deeper understanding of his masterful use of language. The Holy Spirit used Isaiah’s learned abilities to give us writings of uncommon elevation and majesty. He was probably attached to the royal court and was thus educated with a masterful use of the language as well as knowledge the political and moral circumstances of the nation. His language was adapted with care to the occasions and his audiences going from severe austerity to motherly tenderness.

More importantly is the content of the book, some of which may be due to his prophetic school rather than singularly from his pen. Isaiah’s book contains both moral and prophetic warnings to Israel for straying from God, as well as messages of hope and love for the deliverance of the future. He clearly enunciated God’s high expectations of Israel. Israel was to be holy to God and an example to the gentile nations of God’s deliverance, benevolence, and wisdom. However it also becomes clear that Israel did not fulfill that task. Thus in the book of Isaiah there is the rise of a description of the servant of God. That description poetically shifts back and forth from the reference to Israel who had failed as God’s servant to a unique individual who would fulfill the task that was not carried out by Israel. When one reads carefully, one comes to see that this unique individual has unusual qualities, even pointing to divine ones. Suddenly this unique individual becomes a suffering servant, one who suffers for the whole world and bears their burdens and sins. Who could this suffering servant be? The Jewish people said that the servant must be Israel but it is clear from the message that Israel had failed the task. When the gospel came along, the first Jewish Christians perceived the reference of Isaiah and even preached it to the gentiles (Acts 8:26-35). This insight about his writings and many more like it were expanded by the church Fathers.

Isaiah’s book is thus far more than a simple prediction of the future. It is a book of God’s judgment, of the care necessary to give to the poor and downtrodden, of God’s mercy and of God’s love and forbearance for his people as well as God’s promise to restore them in the end with his salvation.

Isaiah also touches the liturgy of the church in important ways. One of the most important comes through his original vision of heaven (Isaiah 6). In this vision Isaiah sees God on a throne which is covered by six-winged Seraphim. Isaiah hears the Seraphim continuously praising God with words that he transcribes and that would eventually end up in St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy as the Trisagion Hymn: “Holy, Holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory”. (For particular reasons, rather than translate “of hosts”, the Greek Bible transliterated the Hebrew word “Sabaoth”, which was transliterated again into the English liturgy).

Thus the Holy Prophet Isaiah, for his unique and poetic contribution as God’s prophet, as one who first heard the Trisagion in a heavenly vision, as one who prophesied of the coming of the Messiah and as one who was martyred in the service of God, is honored by the church on May 9.