Word Magazine April 1978 Page 11


By Fr. Antony Bassoline

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that stonest the prophets and slayest those who are sent to thee, how I would have gathered thee to myself as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not have me. I tell you most solemnly, you shall not see me again until you can say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The event of Palm Sunday, now celebrated as a major holiday of the Church and a triumphant feast, was, as an historical reality, an occasion of tragedy and bitter disappointment for Jesus. It marked the occasion when Jesus fully revealed Himself as Messiah — it marked the occasion when Israel failed its mission. Israel failed to recognize in the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth the authority and operation of God Most High. Jesus came “in the name of the Lord,” but His coming was rejected. It remained for a small but faithful band of followers to carry the message and meaning of the One who came in the name of the Lord. From that time of the first manifestation of the Son of God to the world until now, the mission of God to the world is still realized only by those who accept the One who came in the name of the Lord and who, because of their faith, are able to discern and recognize the work and presence of Christ in the life of the Church. To the crowds on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus revealed Himself, there appeared only a man. They could not see into the Man from Galilee sitting on the donkey in order to discern what was really present with them. The Church continues and actualizes the presence of Christ today. If we look at it on the surface, we see only an institution. We are expected, however, to recognize in it and the various aspects of its life the very presence of Christ; the One who has come . . . and continues to come in the name of the Lord.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in a mystical and humanly incomprehensible way, Almighty God made provision for Jesus to be present among those who accept Him until that moment when the world comes to an end and the Lord appears in glory to accomplish the final judgment. The presence of Christ in the Church is accomplished in a variety of ways. Through the Word — the presence of Christ is certainly actualized through the Gospel. In the Gospel Jesus tells us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” The words of Jesus live on forever and are eternally real and true. Thus in the Church we bind the Gospel in precious metals and enthrone it in the very center of the altar. Thus at the Orthros of every Sunday we reverently approach and kiss this Gospel as it were the Lord Himself. Thus during the Liturgy we ingest the words of this Gospel and they live in our heart. Thus the words of Jesus live on.

The One who comes is present in a very special way through the sacraments, when we unite ourselves to Him — at baptism; when we fall before Him in tears, asking forgiveness of our sins; when we ask Him to be present at our marriages as at that of Cana in Galilee; most specially and intimately when we partake of His most precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

We are called to see the presence of the Lord in other people as well, in those in need; the orphan and the widow. Note the words of the gospel in this regard, “inasmuch as you have done it to the least of My brethren, you have done it to Me.”

In a special way we see the presence of the Lord in our hierarchs. Our bishops preside and teach in the name of the Lord. When we honor them, when we accept them, we acknowledge the presence of the Lord among us.

Originally in the Church the fact that the bishop actualizes the presence of the Lord Himself was graphically demonstrated by the fact that the bishop’s seat stood in the High Place behind the Altar. The bishop presided from this exalted place “in the name of the Lord.” In an age before our altars became crowded with so many crucifixes, fans and lamps, etc., the bishop preached from his throne behind the altar. This practice made clear to the people that he taught with the authority of Christ Himself. Thus he sat in the seat of Christ. If we cannot understand that the bishop actualizes the presence of Christ in our midst, then we will never understand what the Church is really about; it will remain for us a human society or exclusive club run by Robert’s Rules of Order. The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, that great saint whom we are especially honoring this year, will never make any sense to us, most specially when he says, “where the bishop is so let the people be; as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Church.”

We begin this conference today with a unique and never-before-experienced blessing — the presence in our midst of our father and chief shepherd, direct successor to the Apostle Peter, to Ignatius and a host of other saints, the unbroken link between us and that original core of people who accepted the message of the One who came in the name of the Lord. This man also comes to us in the name of the Lord. Elias IV presides over our Church “in the name of the Lord,” he teaches us “in the name of the Lord,” he offers the Holy Mysteries to us “in the name of the Lord,” he acts as a father to us “in the name of the Lord,” he comes to us “in the name of the Lord.”

Jesus was originally rejected by the world and by the people He came to: those who have accepted Him must ever be aware of His presence in the life of His Church. In the presence of His Beatitude, Patriarch Elias, through his words to us and his blessings, we again feel the presence of the Lord among us. As Jesus came to us in the name of His Father, so does our Patriarch come to us in the name of Jesus. It is most fitting that the theme of his visit is:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Truly the Lord is blessed, and truly His representative in our midst, our Holy Patriarch, is blessed. Let us rejoice in his presence; let us offer him our love and our prayers “for health and length of days that he might rightly define the word of God’s truth.” Let us welcome him in the name of the Lord.

Father Antony Bassoline is Pastor of St. George Church in Upper Darby, PA and is Teen SOYO Advisor in Eastern Region.