I Went to a Wedding and This Happened


For the past few weeks, I have been leading a Bible study on the Gospel of John.  We have been working our way, verse by verse, through this most important Gospel.  John’s Gospel has always been a favorite of mine.  He does not write from a position of names and places and dates but rather a story if spirituality.  John’s image comes from above the whole picture, and so we get a bird’s eye view of everything that is going on.  John writes as someone who has listened to the heartbeat of God.  This comes from the image of John leaning on the chest of Jesus at the Supper in the Upper Room.

When Scripture is studied in context and verse by verse way things tend to jump out, that may be obscured in another study and the Wedding at Cana is one of those stories.

On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

What we see here is the first of the seven signs (we can also call them miracles) that John will write about in his Gospel.  The setting of this story is necessary. In the Old Testament, the marriage feast was a symbol of the union of God with his bride Israel. Cana, located in Galilee, had a large Gentile population and sign that the Gospel would reach to the ends of the earth. The wedding took place on “the third day” this sets a resurrection tone to what is going to follow.

In this passage wine is symbolic of life, and there is a double meaning to Mary’s statement that “they have no wine.”  First, marriage is not complete without the presence of Christ in the lives of those who are married and second the old covenant was unable to bestow everlasting life even on the most faithful of people.

This story is a bridge passage or an ending and a beginning.  When the discovery that they had run out of wine is made, Jesus tells the servants to fill the empty stone pots with water.  These pots have a great significance to the story.  They are made of stone so as not to be ruined by ritual impurity according to the Jewish law.  There are six of them, six is an imperfect number, seven is a perfect Scriptural number, and this indicates that the law, the very law that would make these pots impure, is imperfect and incomplete, and unable to bestow life.  This water, the water of the law, is changed into wine symbolizing that the old covenant has been fulfilled in the new, perfect, covenant of Jesus Christ and this new wine will bestow life on all who drink it.

But we cannot stop there.  There is an overabundance of this wine, “they filled them to the brim” so that as they drew the wine out it spilled over the sides.  Here we see the overabundance of the grace that Christ grants to all.

This is but one example of Jesus pointing out that the old covenant has been fulfilled in him, but sometimes one has to drill down a little deeper to find it.

A Celtic Prayer at Rising

St. Columba of Iona Fr. Peter Preble Fr. John A. PeckBless to me, O God
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odor that goes to my nostrils;
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three the seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.

From the Carminal Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael

The Gifts We Bring



The Christmas Season has come to a close and today we remember two events in the life of Jesus, the visit of the Three Wise Men and his Baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.  We will leave the Baptism for another day and turn our attention to the Wise Men.

What do we make of the visit of these three men?  The first thing that we have to understand is that we do not know how soon after the birth of Jesus the visit took place.  For artistic reasons we often see them, along with the shepherds, standing outside of the stable where Jesus was born.  The account from Scripture that we heard read this morning mentions a house, not a stable, and only mentions Mary as being there.  Not that it matters much to the story, but a little context is always a good thing.  You see we do not get an exact time line from Scripture, it is not a history book, but what we get should change our lives.

So we have these three men, some call them kings and some call them astrologers.  They come from the east, or literally from the rising of the sun.  Tradition and Tradition is not a bad thing, by the way; tradition tells us that they have come from Persia, Babylonia, and India.  Tradition also tells us their names, Melchior, the Persian; Caspar, or Gaspar the Indian; and Balthazar the Babylonian. Three men, from three different places, all meeting on a journey.

They come because they were in search of something and noticed a star, or as the Scripture has it, his star.  They first come to see King Herod; this is where the tradition comes from that they were kings as the first thing a king would do when entering another king’s territory is to pay him a visit.  They come to Herod and ask if he knows where this new baby might be. Herod calls the chief priests together and asks them where the Messiah will come from, and they tell him Bethlehem.  So he sends the men there and asks them to come back and tell him is this is so.

The three men set out on their journey, but why did they come what drew them?  They were seekers in search of something that they did not understand.  They saw a sign and were interested to find out what it all meant, and so they set off on a pilgrimage to find the answer.  Not unlike what we are doing in our spiritual life, we are searching for meaning and for clarity and so we set off on a pilgrimage to find the answers.

So they follow the star and when it stops they find Jesus.  They enter the house and find Jesus with his mother.  Tradition tells us that two years has passed since his birth.  They enter the house and kneel before him to pay him homage.  For a king to kneel before anyone is an extraordinary thing, and the writer of the Gospel points this out, so we understand the gravity of the situation.  This is not just another baby; even pagans recognize him as the Messiah.

They present the child with gifts, gold frankincense and myrrh. These gifts have a practical meaning, but they also have a spiritual meaning to them.  Gold is obvious it is valuable and, once again, tradition tells us that Mary and Joseph used this to finance their time spent in Egypt.  Frankincense is a perfume and would be used, well as a perfume, and myrrh was used in the burial ritual.

But they also have a spiritual meaning for us; gold is the symbol of kingship.  Again we see these visitors recognizing Jesus as a king. Frankincense was the symbol of a deity or a god, and the myrrh was a symbol of death.  So in these gifts, we see the Gospel story being told.  Jesus is the Messiah or a king, but he is also God, and he will be crucified and die.

Another interesting fact is that these men represented all ages and races.  We turn again to tradition. Caspar was the oldest and hailed from Tarsus the “Land of Merchants” located in present day Turkey.  He is depicted in art as an old man with a white beard and convention tells us that he would be about 60.  Next in line Melchior, who came from Arabia and was considered middle aged and would be about 40.  The youngest was Balthazar and is origins are a cause for disagreement.  He is usually depicted as black and, therefore, would have come from Africa perhaps Ethiopia, and he was thought to be about 20 and is therefore not depicted with a beard.

Why does this matter?  Because they came from the ends of the earth, old and young, shepherds and kings, to worship the Messiah.  What they all came is a search of something, and they all brought gifts to honor him, and so the question we have to ask ourselves today is what gifts do we bring?

All of us have various gifts that have been given to us from God for our use but also for the use in the Kingdom of God.  Do we thank God for the gifts that we have?  Are we using those gifts for the furtherance of the Kingdom here on earth?  What are we using them for?  Are we giving all we have to the king or are we holding back a little just in case?  Do we trust him, and by that I mean do we trust him, to know us better than we know ourselves?  These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves not just today but every day.

I recently saw a picture; it was a stick figure drawing, of a person standing before Jesus, you could tell it was Jesus because he has long hair.  The person was holding a heart in his hand, and the caption read this is all I have, and the response from Jesus was it is all I need.  In the end, that is all he needs your willing heart.

We have to be ready, like the Wise Men, to set off on a journey and follow the star wherever it leads us.  It may lead us outside of our comfort zone, and it may lead us to think about things in a new way, but we have to be willing to take that first step.  The Wise Men had an idea; they had an inkling inside them that there was something special at the end of their journey, and they were not let down.  Tradition tells us that they were pagans, but tradition also tells us that they left changed in some way and that they eventually converted, and that is what we have to do.  We need to leave here changed in some way, even if it is just a little.

Let’s Pray:

By your Spirit, Almighty God, Grant us Love for others, Joy in serving you, Peace in disagreement, Patience in suffering, Kindness toward all people, Goodness in evil times, Faithfulness in temptation, Gentleness in the face of opposition, Self-control in all things. Then strengthen us for ministry in your name.  Amen.


By St. Nikolai VelimirovichThat God may forgive us, let us forgive men.

We are all on this earth as temporary guests.
… Prolonged fasting and prayer is in vain
Without forgiveness and true mercy.
God is the true Physician; sins are leprosy.
Whomever God cleanses, God also glorifies.
Every merciful act of men, God rewards with mercy.
He who returns sin with sin perishes without mercy.
Pus is not cleansed by pus from infected wounds,
Neither is the darkness of the dungeon dispelled by darkness,
But pure balm heals the festering wound,
And light disperses the darkness of the dungeon.
To the seriously wounded, mercy is like a balm;
As if seeing a torch dispersing the darkness, everyone rejoices in mercy.
The madman says, “I have no need of mercy!”
But when he is overcome by misery, he cries out for mercy!
Men bathe in the mercy of God,
And that mercy of God wakens us to life!
That God may forgive us, let us forgive men,
We are all on this earth as temporary guests.

Monastic Practice

Our Core Monastic Commitment is embodied in six monastic practices:

Prayer – The heart of our monastic life is regular and frequent conversation with God. This takes two main forms: a) public, liturgical prayer in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours, and b) private resting in God in Christian contemplation.

Lectio Divina and Study – In conformity with ancient monastic practice, we practice the prayerful and meditative reading of Sacred Scripture. In addition, we also nourish our hearts and minds by ongoing study in sacred and secular areas of learning.

Silence – The attentive listening to God in our hearts and in the daily events of our life requires an internal attitude of silence and an external environment of stillness. In the monastery there are periods of the day in which we observe that silence which facilitates reflection and prayer.

Chaste and Sincere Love of Each Other – As a cenobitic monastic community, that is, as monks who live in community, we aspire to grow in mutual love as brothers. This love is embodied in mutual support, attentiveness, respect, and care for each other as fellow travelers in the spiritual path.

Service – Our life of prayer naturally flows into a desire to serve all those who may visit our monastery for any reason, and we serve them as Christ’s presence in our midst. In particular, our community has chosen the special mission of monastic hospitality and the ministry of spiritual direction. In addition, we have outreach programs to the materially poor.

Simplicity of Life – In a world of over consumption and multiplication of false needs, we try to live, communally and personally, lives that are marked by material simplicity as a sign of dependence on God’s love and care.

Evangelical Counsels ~ Obedience

St. Columba Monastery Fr. Peter Monks“Will you preserve, even unto death, obedience to the Igumen, and to all the Brethren in Christ?”

With these words, asked by the bishop during the tonsure service, the new monk pledges that he or she will obey the Igumen and live with all the other brothers and be obedient to the community.  In other words you no longer live just for you and you alone but for all the members of the monastic community.

Obedience is not an easy thing for us Americans.  We do not like anyone to tell us what to do after all we are free.  Monastic life, like Christianity itself, is a giving up of our will and handing it over to another.  We still make decisions for ourselves and in the end if we cannot “preserve unto death” we are free to leave the monastery.  The hope is that we will persevere in monastic life.

Obedience is not easy.  As a priest I am obedient to my bishop and to my parish community.  I do have the freedom to organize my ministry in the way that I think it should be accomplished but I will ask the bishop for certain things.  Sometimes it is just advice on an issue and sometimes, it is seeking permission.

The monastic life is the same.  When we enter community, no matter what that community may be, we need to be obedient to each other.  Decisions are made by the superior of that community, who we believe serves as the father of the community, but he does so with humility and also makes decisions based on what is best for the community as a whole and not just for one person.

When I entered monastic life years ago, one of the hardest parts was obedience to the bell.  Five times a day the bell would ring to signal prayer.  You drop whatever it is that you are doing and head to the chapel for prayer.  This was not always easy.  Sometimes I was meeting with someone, or just breaking through writing, and the bell would ring.  But we are obedient to the life we have chosen and it is not supposed to be easy.

We do not sacrifice our own freedom in fact I would argue that by being obedient to the Igumen we actually have more freedom.  This is the spiritual gift that we all need to work towards.

As Christians we are supposed to be obedient to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  We are supposed to be obedient to the Priest and the Bishop in spiritual matters.  We are supposed to be obedient to the teaching of the church.  So in a way we all must practice this discipline, and it is a discipline. 

Evangelical Counsels ~ Chastity

St. Columba of Iona Monastery Fr. PeterThis is the second in a series of articles on the Evangelical Counsels or vows that a monastic takes upon entering the monastery.  I last wrote on poverty and a reader left me a question about why we call these the Evangelical Counsels.  The simple answer is because we get these ideas from the Gospels themselves hence the term evangelical.  I think we sometimes confuse this term with the Evangelical Church and we need to recall the original meaning of the terms as one that made reference to the Gospels.  I hope that answered the question.

Chastity is another one of these things that often gets confused.  Christians of all walks of life are called to the position of chastity.  If you are single you are called to a chaste life meaning no sex outside of marriage.  If you are married you are called to the chaste state in your married life, in other words the sexual relationship belongs in the marriage bed and only the marriage bed.

This applies to the monastic as well.  Called to live in the state of chastity.  We also have live in the state of celibacy.  And there lies the difference.  Again all Christians are called to live in the state of chastity but the monk is called to celibacy as well.  Celibacy is not having a family.  Actually the more accurate statement would be to not have a biological family as the monastery becomes the monk’s family.

Chastity, like the other counsels, helps us to reach that state of perfection that we are desire to obtain.  Whatever our state in life this should be our goal to better follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The monk leaves behind family and the hope of a family to be better able to serve the Lord “fulltime” if you will.  The monk will be free from a divided loyalty to the family and to the Church.  The monastic will be able to devote the hours necessary for prayer and work, not that family life is not work, but free from the obligations of the family.  Free to dedicate their life to God.

Evangelical Counsels ~ Poverty

St. Columba of Iona Fr. Peter Preble MonasticismWhen a man or a woman answers the call to live the monastic life that is the first step is a life long process of living out that call.  Part of the journey is the taking of vows.  The monk makes four vows those of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability.  Theses are commonly known as the Evangelical Councils.  In this series of articles I will look at each of the vows and the meaning behind each of them.

The vows that a monks takes either eastern or western are not as old as monasticism itself.  In the early years, a person would find an elder and then dress in monastic garb.  This garb would have been different depending not only on the elder but also the geographic location.  Vows came along about the 6th century and have been used since then both in the Eastern Church and the Western Church.

These vows are public and in them they confirm the profession of the vows I have outlined above.  In the Western Church, Benedictines are the only ones who make the fourth vows of stability but in the Eastern Church all Monastics take this vow.

Just a word on Religious Orders.  Orders grew from the elder monk relationship into much larger world wide organizations of Monastics. One thinks of Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.  In the Eastern Church Orders do not exist per se rather monasteries exist under an Igumen and follow a rule or Typicon that is common to that particular monastery.  Most typicons would be basically the same with some regional variation.

Poverty is one of the lest understood vows that a monastic takes.  Poverty in a monastic sense is that of individual poverty.  Everything is owned in common by the community and no one has more than one needs.  The monastic community will own the land and buildings and such as well as all of the other possessions of the monastery.  This will differ from monastery to monastery.  Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappist do not even own the clothes on their backs, all is owned in common.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”  Acts 2:44

This is a very difficult concept in out 21st Century materialist world that we would literally sell all we have and give to one another but that is exactly what the monastic vows.

“Will you remain unto death in non-acquisitiveness and in the voluntary poverty for Christ’s sake which belong to the common life; not acquiring or keeping anything for yourself except in accordance with common necessity, and then, only in obedience and for your own discretion?”  (Monastic Tonsure Service)

The monastic has to figure out for themselves the difference between a need and a want.  The Monastics will also practice recycling to find other uses for items that are no longer in use.  Sometimes a broken item and be put to use as something else thus saving the need to acquire another item.

The community should not acquire things that are not necessary as well.  Sometimes one goes to a monastery and the monks are living like kings.  This is not a good idea.  Live a simple life is the watch word in the monastery.

The main thing to remember about monastic life is that for the most part it is lived out in community and not solitary.  The community is one that decides what is good for the community not the individual.  However, account is taken that some may be weak and will require more than others.

 Next time Chastity