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.

The Gospel, All Saints of North America, and Residential Schools.

This past weekend we continued to bask in the glory and light of Pentecost beholding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and all humanity. It is in this “light and glory” that we see the abiding presence of the “Comforter and Spirit of Truth, who is everywhere and fills all things” in those holy men and women, who bore the fruit of the Holy Spirit, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law”(Gal 5:22-23); the Saints.

To understand the importance of Pentecost, is to understand and give thanksgiving for the Saints. For this reason, the two Sundays following Pentecost are focused on the Saints; first in general (with All Saints) , and then more specifically, in specific (All Saints of Russia, Ukraine, Mount Athos, and in our case, North America). Those men and women, known and unknown who have borne the fruit of the Holy Spirit here on our continent, in our country, province, and even our Church.

Yet our remembrance of these blessed Saints who served us here, is done under the shadow of this county’s tragic and racist history towards the Indignious and Metis peoples. The media’s revelation of a long known understanding that more than 6000 children never returned from the Residential Schools they were forcibly taken to, has reached the tipping point challenging the notion of our Canadian identity, and even the validity of our Christian witness. Even if some involved were unaware of the evil effects of forced assimilation, or the generational trauma and harm done by these schools, the effect is the same. All churches are lumped together as evil.

To be sure, the perception that all “churches” are the same (and evil), and as such are responsible for residential schools in Canada is wrong. This crisis directly affects the Roman Catholic Church (predominantly) and to a lesser degree, the Anglican United, Presbyterian Churches of Canada, who worked in partnership with the government to “get rid of the Indian problem”(Duncan Campbell Scott, a leading architect in the Residential school program).

Yet we see the witness of the Saints, and especially those who laboured in North America whom we commemorate, standing in stark contrast to the goals of the Residential School program: run by churches, that polluted the pristine Gospel message of hope and victory, with the poison of western enlightenment and racial superiority.

Truly the Saints throughout all the ages, have changed the world because of the imperative to “Go, stand in the temple (or wherever country, or city or village throughout the world) and speak to the people all the words of this life”(Act. 5:20) and only that Life; He who is the “Way the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6) Jesus Christ!

One only has to look at the enduring witness of Orthodoxy among Alaska’s Indigenous peoples to see this striking contrast. From the very beginning Orthodox missionaries in Alaska sought to witness the Gospel in the language of the people, and like a new Cyrill and Methodius, Saints like Innocent and Jacob and others, not only learnt the local dialects and languages, but created an alphabet and a written language for the Indigenous peoples they served. They translated parts of scripture, and services. They baptized the Indigenous understanding of the Cosmos, revealing the work of Father Son and Holy Spirit in them. So much so, that trying to delineate between pre-Christian and post Christian understanding of the Creation, redemption, and life is almost impossible for modern ethnographers.

It was the proclamation by these Missionary Saints in Alaska, of the Gospel and only the Gospel, that cultivated a vibrant Christian culture, that was more Aleut, or Tlingit, than it was Russian (even 150 years ago). It should be said that those same Saints also cultivated a vibrant Christian Culture that has become for many of us in the last 50 years more English, or French or Spanish than it is Russian, Ukranian, Romanian or Greek.

But we are not in Alaska, we are here, and there is terrible pain and suffering that compels us to act with the same kind of fervor as it compelled the Saints of this continent to act.

And this is the point.

Whereas we might not be directly responsible for the forced assimilation of the Ingignious and Metis peoples of Canada, and the misguided application of a flawed and polluted gospel; we nonetheless can not claim total innocence because we have not borne witness to the Gospel that baptized nations and cultures of Indigious peoples. Despite having a presence in Canada for over 100 years, there is no Orthodox Church that is more Anishinaabe, or Cree, or Nakota, Metis, (or any other nation ) than it is English or French.

Those Saints who shone forth in these lands, now point the way for us, in their love for God and neighbour alike. We might not be able to fix the wrongs of the past (especially as they were not our mistakes); but we can recognize them as being wrong and sinful, that is missing the mark of Christ, as revealed in the Gospel.

We can’t offer apologies, and gestures of reconciliation, that are empty sentiments and baseless words; Rather we, like the Saints, should offer our repentance (that is turn back to God) and offer our prayers, fasting, and works, in supplication for ourselves and these peoples. Bringing it all to the Lord

We shouldn’t hang onto history and tradition, as something that is of more value than the lives of a people and their culture. Rather, we should heed the witness of the Saints who would go so far as to “hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, (and even one’s own nation and culture) yes, and his own life also” (Lk. 14:25) in following Christ, and serving Him.

We can never condone any violence and vandalism in this tragedy, but we can seek to heal and understand the profound pain that has caused such a reaction, greeting it with the humility and love of the Saints, who bore all things for Christ, as the Lord bore all things for us.

We can not expect anyone else to solve this crisis, nor can we ignore our Mission as Christians because of this tragedy. We (Orthodox Christians) like the Saints, have to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Changing not the culture and life of a people, rather opening their hearts to life.

Like the Saints, we have to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:13), even if it is hard for those around us to hear, even if it makes us look like fools. We have to speak of this tragedy, and we also have to speak of the only reconciliation that can happen between Indigenous peoples and everyone else; the reconciliation of our broken humanity with the Creator. That of God’s saving love, and only that love.

All Saints of North America, pray to God for us in the crisis of confusion and pain.