The Temptation of Christ, and our Lenten Discipline. (Esther G. Juce)

The Temptation of Christ According to Luke 4:1-13 and Its Application to Our Church’s Lenten Discipline

Luke 4:1-13, and its parallel in Matthew (Mt 4:1-13), used to scare me when I was a kid because they mentioned the devil.  Then, as I grew up, I learned that Christ has overcome the devil, and that there is no longer anything to fear.  So why are these potentially disturbing passages in the Bible in the first place?  The simple answer is that by showing us how Christ has conquered temptation, by His mercy and power, we can be able to do the same.

During Great Lent, the Church instructs us to increase our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.   Luke 4:1-13 describes how Jesus uses these three graces to overcome temptation.  The setting of  this scripture is the desert, recalling the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness for forty years during their journey to the Promised Land.  The Evangelist Luke tells us that for forty days Jesus also has been in the wilderness, and there is tempted by the devil.  Christ’s salvific responses to the devil’s three temptations not only fulfill scripture, but they also give us a guide for our own forty-day Lenten journey, and thus for our entire lives.  Let’s follow our Saviour’s way through the desert.

The devil uses many schemes to tempt Jesus.  Satan begins with pride:  “If you are the Son of God…”(Luke 4:3a, 9b) and “To you I will give all this authority and their glory…” (Luke 4:6a).  He continues with magic:  “…command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3b); and “…throw yourself down from here.” (Luke 4:9c).  Satan even quotes scripture in order to tempt our Lord:  In verses 9-11, Satan says, “For it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” (Luke 4:10-11 quoting Psalms 90 (91):11,12)  

Each temptation involves a different aspect of our fallen human existence and weakness. The first is about physical need, because Jesus is hungry after having had nothing to eat for forty days (Luke 4:2b).  The second temptation is about earthly power and glory (Luke 4:6).  And the third is about irresponsible and careless living (Luke 4:9-10).

Christ responds to these three temptations with scripture, all from the book of Deuteronomy.  These passages in Deuteronomy are set in the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the desert.  The Hebrews did not fare well there; none of them made it to the Promised Land.  Thankfully, though, Jesus shows us the way:  His triumph over the temptations in the wilderness not only corrects the Israelites’ weakness, but also gives us a practical guide in how to follow Christ in overcoming our temptations on our journey with Him into the Promised Land.

The first temptation is that Jesus should turn a stone into bread.  He replies with Deuteronomy 8:3:  “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Luke 4:3-4)  Deuteronomy says that the Hebrews had been murmuring that they had no bread.  The passage then explains that the Lord was humbling the Israelites them in order to test them, to see what was in their hearts, and to see if they would follow His commandments.  God allowed them to hunger, and then fed them with manna from heaven (Deuteronomy 8:2-3.  See Exodus 16).  So the Lord fed them and took care of them:  He helped the Israelites to understand that they were, as we are, completely dependent upon God not only for food, but for all things.

The second temptation is that Jesus could have the power and glory over all of the kingdoms of the world in return for worshiping the devil.  Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13:  “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:5-8)  Deuteronomy says that the Lord was reminding the Israelites that it was He, the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the house of bondage in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)  Because the Israelites accepted this deliverance, they were not to go after other gods, but to fear, worship, and serve the Lord their God only (Deuteronomy 6:13-19.  See Exodus 15:1-18).  So the Lord delivered them:  He reminded the Israelites of the love He has in His Covenant for His people, and therefore for us all.

The third temptation is that Jesus should throw himself off of the pinnacle of the temple to demonstrate that God would send His angels to save him.  Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:16:  “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (Luke 4:9-12).  This scripture in Deuteronomy alludes to the incident at Massah.  (Deuteronomy 6:16.  See Exodus 17:1-7)  Here the children of Israel had been complaining that they had no water to drink, putting the Lord to the test by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  God answered by instructing Moses to strike with his rod the rock at Mount Horeb, and then water miraculously gushed out of the rock.  So the Lord responded to their testing (tempting) Him:  He put an end to their doubts and questions about Him by loving them and providing for them, as He does for us.

Yes, Christ’s responses to the devil’s temptations are based on scripture, but these responses also demonstrate the Lord’s love for us.  In every instance of the Hebrews’ grumbling, doubting, and unfaithfulness in the wilderness, God provided for them and offered them an everlasting Covenant.  In the same manner, the Lord responds to us in our time of need with His Love, extends his Covenant to us, and leads us to the Promised Land of His Kingdom.

Today, we, like Jesus, face these same temptations.  We are tested about our bodily needs, about the attraction of earthly power and  glory, and about living recklessly without care.  By allowing God to work in and with us, we have been given in His Church the tools to address these temptations.  During the Lenten season, we are instructed to fast from certain foods and activities in order to remember that we are dependent upon the Lord for all things.  We are instructed to increase our prayer in order to say “Yes” to the Lord our God and to His Covenant, and to therefore worship Him only.   We are instructed to increase our almsgiving in order to have more care for ourselves and for others.  By following our Church’s Tradition of fasting, praying, and almsgiving, both during Great Lent and extending to every day of our lives, we can work with our Lord to conquer the temptations that lie before us.

In conclusion, during our Lenten journey, let us follow the Lord Jesus, the Example of examples.  Let us follow Him into the wilderness in order to fight our temptations.  Let us increase our love of God and of our neighbours through more fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  And let us accept and embrace the Lord, the One who has delivered us and who is bringing us into His Inheritance of the Promised Land.

Esther G. Juce

Archbishop Irénée Visit to Yorkton, Canora, SK and Lennard, MB

This past week Archbishop Irénée made an Archpastoral visit to the parish of St Mark’s in Yorkton Saskatchewan for the feast of the Ascension. Vespers and Liturgy were served with the Archpriest Rodion Luciuk (Rector of St Mark’s), Igumen Vladimir, Deacon Denis and Archpriest Gregory Scratch (Dean of Manitoba and Saskatchewan).

Later that day, Vladyka Irénée, Fr Rodion, Fr Gregory and Dn Denis visited the Mission of St Andrew the First Called/Saints Peter and Paul in Canora (about a 20 min drive north of Yorkton). This community is unique in that this church was built by Romanian settlers in 1903 and consecrated by Archbishop Polycarp (Moruşca), yet shares the building with the mission of St Andrew the First Called (since 2004). A moleben of thanksgiving was served, and their new iconostas and icons were blessed  by His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, with the Archpriest Andrew Piasta. Following the service a Trisagion for the departed founders was served and their graves were blessed. His Grace Bishop Andrei of Cleveland led the singing for this service.

The following day all three hierarchs and clergy made a trip to the historic parish of St Elias Romanian Orthodox Church in Leonard, MB to serve Liturgy to commemorate their 120th anniversary. It is truly wonderful that some 120 years after these Orthodox pioneers established this community, their work was honoured by three bishops. Truly a witness to the Lord’s abiding presence, manifested even in these new lands. Following the Liturgy, a Trisagion was served for the founders of the community, and the many graves (and original church) were blessed with the proclamation of Christ is Risen! Hristos a înviat! Христос воскрес! 

The visit by Vladyka Irénée to Saskatchewan, and the opportunity to serve with Archbishop Nathaniel, and Bishop Andrei, and their faithful, is truly a blessed sign that our church has lost very little throughout the past two difficult years; and has picked up where it left off, proclaiming the unity of our faith, and the saving love of the Lord for His people. Glory to God!

More photos from these services can be found on the Archdiocese of Canada Website.

Orthodox unity, music, dreaming and a full heart.

This past Saturday evening (Apr. 9th) St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church hosted a Vespers service, and concert of spiritual music from various Orthodox choirs around the city.

The unity of our faith is vitally important to demonstrate during our Lenten journey. Although they were circumstances that canceled our annual Pan-Orthodox celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we were able to come together at St. Sava’s for Vespers and an evening of Spiritual music, as brothers and sisters to hear the theology of our Church, as expressed in the hymns from various traditions, and in various languages. Truly a blessing to share in such a witness. We were also blessed to celebrate the Slava for their choir (whose patron is St. Mary of Egypt). Truly a beautiful tradition I hope that we can incorporate at St. Nicholas in the years to come.

Following the service, St. Sava’s rector, Fr. Sinisa Milutinovic gave a beautiful and honest sermon about the unity of our faith, and our responsibility to live it. With thanksgiving to God, and Fr. Sinisa’s permission I have shared it below.

This evening is not only an opportunity to enjoy beautiful church hymns sung in different languages, and we didn’t gather just to see each other’s faces, although we have waited for a long time to do that, this evening is an opportunity to confirm our love and determination towards the unity of the Orthodox faith. St. Apostle Paul asks the faithful in Rome: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? With these words we are being reminded that love and unity in Christ have no other alternative. And that’s why our gathering brings a great joy, because today the words of the prophet David are fulfilled: Look what is good, or what is beautiful, but that the brothers live together.

Unfortunately, in the past few years, there have been few opportunities to confirm our love and our community as Orthodox Christians. Because of Covid and because of conflicts of our church hierarchy, we were separated and isolated in our small communities. Deprived of each other’s presence, we felt like cut branches of a fruitful tree longing to unite with a tree. It’s not my intention to talk about Church politics or the problem that Orthodox Church is facing today. Different opinions are a product of different life experiences. I’ll give you a small example of that: I had the blessing to begin my ministry in Serbia, where I was surrounded by Orthodox Christians, we all spoke the same language and we prayed to the same God.

In that time I did not think much about the words of the Apostle Paul from the Epistle to the Galatians. There are no more Jews or Greeks; there are no more slaves or freemen; there is no more male or female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Only when I came to Canada and met priests and believers from other local Orthodox Churches did I recognize the prophetic spirit of the Apostle Paul, who certainly saw our small divisions and quarrels ahead.

This wonderful evening is a moment to stop and think about the future of our communities. We could say that our communities are like ice cubes submerged in the ocean and the smaller the cube, the sooner it will melt, but if the ice cubes are collected in a iceberg, than the ice has some chance to survive and not melt and even maybe to last long enough for all the ocean to freeze and become ice. Dear brothers, we are called to spread the word of God, we are supposed to be the light of the world and salt to the earth.

The great Serbian saint Nikolaj Velimirović said in one place that the reason why other nations do not approach the Christian faith is that they do not want to become like us, so they do not see in us that we live the faith we preach. Is it that disturbing to think that I am the obstacle to someone’s salvation?

Of Course we all understand that things are happening in the world that are difficult to accept and explain. My wish and prayer to God is to silence the wars and the divisions, to stop diseases and suffering of the people; but I ask myself: is it realistic that something like that will happen? History is a witness that such a thing is not possible, the Lord Himself tells us that without tribulation there is no salvation for us. Our prayers for these things are necessary but more necessary is to realize that we have to forgive and to endure all the goods and bad that come towards us. I’ll remind you of Job who said to his wife when she criticized him: If we accept good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not endure evil things? It’s
important to remember that there will always be some kind of tribulation in our lives, our goal is to overcome them and preserve our faith.

Many times I have heard comments that our Serbian Church should break the unity with another Church due to some disagreements. Every time I heard something like that, my heart was torn. I asked myself: is it possible that we are so eager to divide, that we are ready to reject our brother because of his sin? When long suffering disappeared, what happened with forgiveness? Did we forget the words we recite daily in Our Father’s prayer: and forgive my transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us?

There is only one path in the Orthodox faith and that’s the path of love. I once talked to a monk about life in the parish and he gave me advice that no matter where I am in the parish, I should try to make the parish my little paradise. But I wonder why shouldn’t our Orthodox community in Winnipeg become a paradise?

Are we missing something in our mission, are we doing everything Christ told us to do? If we would just be able to open the doors of our hearts we would be able to do amazing things. I had the opportunity, or better to say a privilege, to be part of one amazing pan orthodox experience. I’m talking about Heavenly King Orthodox Academy (HKOA) the Orthodox School that we are going to open for all our kids. And all do we encounter numerous problems, some of them are in these moments too big to handle, the
whole experience is a blueprint for Orthodox community on how we can work together. And you know what, the best part is you don’t need us the priests to tell you what to do or to organize you. Know one needs a blessing to do good works for his brothers and sisters. So I encourage everyone, please keep working together.

If our clergy, for some reason, has a tied arms in the back you are the one to preserve the love and unity. Can you imagine an Orthodox school, a camp for all our children, can you imagine pan orthodox choir performing not only once a year for Sunday of Orthodoxy, a Bible study group for everyone, an Orthodox parade in downtown Winnipeg, I asked why not?

You will probably tell yourself this guy is a dreamer, but I don’t mind dreaming because I saw the fruits of unity and perseverance. My heart is full tonight and I’m really blessed for having the opportunity to be your host tonight. God bless you all.