The Fourth Eothinon (Morning Orthros Gospel Reading) Sermon delivered February 21, 2010
Three weeks ago we began our series on the Eleven Eothina (plural), also known as the Morning Orthros Gospel Readings. If you remember, ‘Morning’ and ‘Orthros’ are bit redundant because ‘Orthros’ (English ‘Matins’) is the Sunrise Worship Service in the Orthodox Christian liturgical day. The Eleven gospel readings occur in succession, one each Sunday, through a series of eleven weeks and then the cycle starts over again. All eleven are accounts of Jesus after He had risen from the dead. This makes sense because Sunday is the day of Resurrection in Orthodoxy.
The first Eothinon (singular) is Matthew 28:16-20. The second, is Mark 16:1-8. The third, which we covered last Sunday, is Mark 16:9-20. Last week we emphasized the importance of the faithfulness of the women disciples and how they were rewarded by being the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. We also emphasized the importance of sharing our experience of the risen Christ and believing other people’s witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus.
Finally, we emphasized the point that we do not have to be perfect in order to try to fulfill the commandments of God. He knows that we are sinful and imperfect. What is essential is for us to be aware of and acknowledge through confession our sinfulness and desire to be forgiven. Then God will forgive us and inspire us to fulfill His calling for our life.
This brings us to today’s Morning Orthros Gospel Reading, the Fourth Eothinon which is Luke 24:1-12. This is the only time this passage is read liturgically throughout the year. So, our opportunity to hear it in the church worship services only occurs about four times per year and that’s only if we come to the Orthros service. Remember, this is one of the reasons we have this sermon series on the Eleven Eothina—to raise our awareness about these little known scriptural passages.
Let me reread the passage now and please listen carefully.
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” And they remembered His words.
Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.
We already said that “the first day of the week” (v.1) is Sunday — Kyriake —The Lord’s Day, the day of Resurrection. “Very early in the morning” (v.1) is meaningful for us because it is one of the ways the women disciples exemplify faithfulness to Christ. The show us that we should rise early every Sunday morning to come to the church ready to anoint the body of Jesus with our tears and prayers. The church temple is for us the empty tomb where we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. How is this represented to us?
I, with a few other parishioners, attended yesterday the retreat led by Mother Macrina at our sister parish of St. Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis. Interestingly, one of her talks focused on the Myrrhbearing Women and how their experience is symbolized to us in the architecture and liturgical services of Orthodoxy. We hear in the Second Eothinon that the women came to tomb, found the stone rolled away, “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (Mk.16:5). Mother Macrina reminded us that the Sunday Orthros Gospel is read by the priest, who is dressed in a white robe, at the right side of the altar behind the open Holy Gate.
Can we see the symbolism? The priest represents the angel sitting on the right side of the tomb, proclaiming to us that Christ is Risen from the dead. On Great and Holy Pascha, at the beginning of the Resurrection Service, the priest processes forth as the Holy Gate opens singing “Deute labete phos — Come receive the Light” Then, a few minutes later, we are singing, “Christ is Risen from the Dead ” So, that’s why it’s essential for us to attend retreats and seminars in order to learn the deep, rich meaning of our Faith. Even me, the priest, needs to learn and be reminded of these things.
This importance of remembrance is emphasized again in one of the verses that follow in today’s eothinon. “Two men stood by them in shining garments” (Lk.24:4). These are the angels and notice how an Orthodox Christian priest wears shining garments for vestments. The angels tell the women that Christ is not here at the tomb but is risen (v.6). Then, to dispel any doubt the women may have about the resurrection, the angels say, “Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ (vv.6-7). In other words, “He already told you that He was going to be resurrected, remember?”
This is the Church’s role, the role of the priest, to remind us over and over again of what Jesus Christ said. We may say, “Every year I hear the same gospel reading, the same sermon, and the same guidelines for Great Lent. Over and over again, I hear the same stuff. I know it already.” Well, yes, we may already have heard it and know it but we also may have forgotten it. More importantly, if we are truly seeking to learn and to grow in our relationship with Christ, then we may hear the exact same gospel or epistle and understand a deeper meaning. We may hear the exact same sermon but pick up a different point to try to apply in our life. We may hear the same guidelines for Lent but be more determined to actually fulfill them in more meaningful way. Amen!
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.