“Forget what you have heard about Jesus if it doesn’t begin and end with love.” – Davis Phelps
David Norris Phelps, an American Christian music vocalist, songwriter and vocal arranger, is best known for singing tenor in the Gaither Vocal Band (GVB), an American southern gospel vocal group, named after its founder and leader Bill Gaither.
The GVB emerged in the early 1980s recording contemporary Christian music. Later it became known for its southern gospel. Bill Gaither leads the group with passion and his genuine desire to bring meaning to the music which the group sings.
The lineup of the GVB changes often. Besides Bill Gaither, singers with the longest tenure in the band include Michael English (1985–94, 2009–13), Mark Lowry (1988–2001, 2009–13), Guy Penrod (1995–2008), David Phelps (1997-2004, 2009-present) and Wes Hampton (2005-present).
As of February 2014, the lineup consists of Bill Gaither, David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, and Todd Suttles.
All the members of GVB are all talented artists and are authentic men of faith. Known worldwide for their vocal power, innovative harmonies, they are instruments of God to carry the message of hope, grace and redemption.
Today, with over 30 years of history, the GVB, has an award-winning legacy of excellence for the harmony of those male voices: vocals, baritone, bass, and tenor.
David Phelps started his professional career at GVB in 1996. He remained at GVB as a tenor for eight years from 1996 to 2004. In 2004, he left the group to realize the biggest dream of his life: to develop his solo career. In early 2009, after recording seven albums, he returned to the GVB.
In 2002, Gaither Homecoming Video featured David Phelps in God Bless America, which featured his solo “End of the Beginning“.
A top reviewer declared: “You can’t go wrong with a Phelps piece!!”
End Of The Beginning
Words & music by David Phelps
I was taking a trip on a plane the other day, just wishin’ that I could get out.
When the man next to me saw the book in my hand and asked me what it was about.
So I settled back in my seat. “A best-seller,” I said, “a hist’ry and a myst’ry in one.”
Then I opened up the book and began to read from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…
He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed The lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him.
And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”
“That’s not a new book, that’s a Bible,” he said, “And I’ve heard it all before.
I’ve tried religion, it’s shame and guilt, and I don’t need it anymore.
It’s superstation, made-up tales, just to help the weak to survive.”
“Let me read it again,” I said, “But listen closely. This is gonna change your life.”
“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him. And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”
“The end of the beginning?” he said with a smile. “What more
could there be? He’s dead. You said they hung Him, put nails in
His hands and a crown of thorns on His head.” I said, “I’ll read it
again, but this time there’s more.
And I believe that this is true: His death wasn’t the end but the beginning of life that’s completed in you.
Don’t you see, He did all this for you…”
“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem. All the angels singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see.
And for the first time here on earth, did you know that God could be a friend?
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, He was the one the crowd chose.
And then He walked and He died, but three days later, three days later, three days later…
He rose! Three days later He rose!
You see, He came, He lived, and He died, but that was the end of the beginning.
A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.
The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.
Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.
In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.
Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout his dominion.
Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.
In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.
Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.
In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.
The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars: Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.
At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.
Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.
When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.
The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.
Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.“
In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.
The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.
Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.
Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy. He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.
The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.
In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.
The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”
The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive. They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km). The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.
Even though exiled, John Chrysostom found it possible to correspond with his supporters in Constantinople. He was still able to exert a measure of influence in his cause. His correspondences were discovered. Word came from Constantinople that he was to be removed from Caucasus to an even more remote place at the eastern end of the Black Sea to a so-called castellum, a rectangular fortress with towers at each corner, built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD in Pitiunt, in modern Abkhazia.
Imperial officials forced John Chrysostom to walk in bad weather to his new place of exile. He did not survive the exhausting journey. He died at Comana Pontica on September 14, 407. His last words are said to have been, “δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν”, meaning “Glory be to God for all things.“
After John Chrysostom’s death, people venerated him as a saint. Three decades later, some of his adherents in Constantinople remained in schism. Saint Proclus, the then Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446), hoping to bring about the reconciliation of these Johannites, preached a homily in the Church of Hagia Sophia, praising his predecessor He said:
“O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint.“
These homilies helped to mobilize public opinion.
The patriarch Patriarch of Constantinople received permission from the Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, to return Chrysostom’s relics from Comana to Constantinople. On January 28, 438, the relics were solemnly received by the Archbishop Proclus and the Emperor Theodosius II and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches commemorate John Chrysostom as a “Great Ecumenical Teacher” and honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the feast known as the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs.
There are several feast days dedicated to him:
27 January, Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom from Comana to Constantinople. Some Lutheran and many Anglican provinces commemorate him on this traditional eastern feast.
30 January, Synaxis of the Three Great Hierarchs.
The Churches of the western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, some Anglican provinces, and parts of the Lutheran Church commemorate him on 13 September (Western feast day).
14 September, Repose of St John Chrysostom
13 November, St John Chrysostom the Archbishop of Constantinople (Eastern feast day).
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also recognizes John Chrysostom as a saint (with feast days on 16 Thout and 17 Hathor).
Here is an excerpt from one of John Chrysostom’s Homilies on confessing one’s sins:
“Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance. Have you sinned? Then tell God, ‘I have sinned.’
What manner of toil is this, what prescribed the course of life, what affliction? What manner of difficulty is it to make one statement, ‘I have sinned’?
Perhaps if you do not call yourself a sinner, you do not have the devil as an accuser? Anticipate this and snatch the honor away from him, because it is his purpose to accuse. Therefore, why do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?
Have you sinned? Come to Church. Tell God, ‘I have sinned.’
I do not demand anything else of you than this. Holy Scripture states, ‘Be the first one to tell of your transgressions, so you may be justified.’ Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labor nor a circuit of words nor monetary expenditure nor anything else whatsoever such as these.
Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.’”
On September 27, 397, Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, died. There was a general rivalry in the capital for the vacant see.
After some months, to the great disappointment of the rival factions, Emperor Arcadius, at the suggestion of his minister Eutropius, asked the Prefect of Antioch to send John Chrysostom to Constantinople without the knowledge of the people of Antioch, due to fears that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest.
John Chrysostom was hurried to the capital. On February 26, 398 Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria ordained John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople in the presence of a great assembly of bishops.
The life in Constantinople was more turbulent than what John Chrysostom had at Antioch. As Archbishop of Constantinople, he refused to host lavish social gatherings. This made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with the wealthy citizens. He became unpopular with the clergy for his reforms of the clergy. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were serving, without any payout.
Here is an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509). In this homily, he warns against adorning Church buildings at the expense of caring for the suffering members of the Church:
Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.
Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet, but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.
Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too.
A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made, but not give a cup of water?
What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs?
What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food, but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry?
What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?
Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floors and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison.
Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused of not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.
In 399, through the intervention of John Chrysostom and the influence of the emperor Theodosius I, Flavian was acknowledged as the sole legitimate bishop of Antioch.
Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his jurisdiction. He opposed John’s appointment as Bishop of Constantinople, even though he had ordained him under duress instead of securing the appointment for Isidore, his own candidate. At that time, Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks, known as “the Tall Brothers,” over their support of Origen’s teachings.
Origen (184/185 – 253/254) was a scholar and an early Christian theologian. He was a prolific writer in many branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians.
The Tall Brothers fled to Constantinople and were welcomed by John Chrysostom. Theophilus accused John of being too partial to the teaching of Origen.
John Chrysostom made another enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius. Eudoxia assumed that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.
In 403 AD, Theophilus Eudoxia, and other of enemies of John Chrysostom held a synod (the Synod of the Oak) to charge John Chrysostom. They used his connection to the four Egyptian monks who espoused the teachings of Origen against him. Eventually, this resulted in the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople.
The people rioted over the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom. Also, on the night of his arrest, there was an earthquake. A frightened Aelia Eudoxia considered it as a sign of God’s anger. She beseeched Arcadius to reinstate John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople.
However, peace between John Chrysostom and Eudoxia was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the Augustaion, near his cathedral. John Chrysostom denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms alluding to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist:
“Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.“
Once again, John Chrysostom was banished, this time to the Caucasus, a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas.
John Chrysostom wrote an appeal for help to three churchmen: Innocent I, the Bishop of Rome (Pope); Venerius, the Bishop of Milan; and Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia.
Pope Innocent protested against the banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople to the Caucasus. With the help of the western emperor Honorius, the Pope attempted to intervene, but the enemies of John Chrysostom thwarted his efforts. In 405, Pope Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John. But the delegation never reached Constantinople.
Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. He is known for his preaching and public speaking. The zeal and his clarity of preaching appealed to all, especially the common people. This earned him the Greek surname “kihrys stymo” (χρυσή στόμιο) meaning “golden-mouthed.” He denounced the abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders.
John Chrysostom was born in Antioch in 349 AD to Greco-Syrian parents.
In the fourth century, at the time of John Chrysostom’s birth, Antioch was the second city of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Throughout the fourth century, religious struggles troubled the empire. Pagans, Manichaeans, Gnostics, Arians, Apollinarians, Jews, made their proselytes at Antioch. The Christians were themselves separated by the schism between Bishop Meletius and Bishop Paulinus for the bishopric of Antioch.
John Chrysostom’s father, Secundus, a high-ranking military officer died soon after his birth. His widowed mother Anthusa, only twenty years of age, took the sole charge of her two children John and an elder sister. She raised him in piety. Using her influence in the city, she had him study under a distinguished pagan rhetorician, Libanius, the most tenacious adherent of the declining paganism of Rome. Soon John acquired the skills for a career in rhetoric, as well as a love of the Greek language and literature.
About 367 AD, he met the Bishop Meletius. John captivated by the earnest, mild, and the winning character of the bishop frequented the sermons of Meletius. He studied Holy Scripture and soon began to withdraw from classical and profane studies and devoted himself
to an ascetic and religious life.
According to the Christian historian Sozomen, Libanius was supposed to have said on his deathbed that John Chrysostom would have been his successor “if the Christians had not taken him from us“.
About three years later John Chrysostom received Holy Baptism and was ordained lector. Later, the young cleric, desiring a perfect life entered one of the ascetic societies near Antioch.
About 375 AD, John Chrysostom resolved to live as an anchorite in one of the caves near Antioch. There, he followed extreme asceticism. He spent the next two years, continually standing and fasting in frost and cold, committing the Bible to memory. He scarcely slept at all. As a consequence of these harsh practices, his stomach and kidneys were damaged. He returned to Antioch to regain his health and resumed his office as lector in the church.
John Chrysostom was ordained as a deacon probably in 381 AD by Bishop Meletius of Antioch, president of the Second Ecumenical Council. After the death of Bishop Meletius in Constantinople in the same year, Flavian I of Antioch (ca. 320 – February 404) was ordained as bishop or Patriarch of Antioch. The Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Alexandria refused to acknowledge Flavian, and Paulinus, who by the extreme Eustathians had been elected bishop in opposition to Meletius, continued to exercise authority over a portion of the church.
John Chrysostom separated himself from the followers of Bishop Meletius, but he did not join Bishop Paulinus.
On the death of Bishop Paulinus in about 383, Evagrius was chosen as his successor. In 386 AD, John Chrysostom was ordained as a presbyter (a priest) by Evagrius.
Note: Actually, there is a difference of opinion on who ordained John Chrysostom as a presbyter. Some authors claim it was Bishop Flavian I, while others say it was Bishop Evagrius.
For 12 years, from 386 AD to 397 AD, John Chrysostom became popular for the eloquence of his public speaking at the Golden Church, Antioch’s cathedral. People liked his clear expositions of Biblical passages and moral teachings. The themes of his talks were eminently social. He explained the Christian’s conduct in life. His straightforward understanding of the Scriptures were in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation.
One incident that happened during John Chrysostom’s service in Antioch illustrates best the influence of his sermons.
Emperor Theodosius I, also called Theodosius the Great ruled from 379 to 395 made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire. He was a strong defender of the Orthodox Christian faith and honoured as a saint.
When John Chrysostom arrived in Antioch its citizens were on a riotous rampage. They mutilated the statues of the Emperor and his family. The Bishop had to intervene with the Emperor on behalf of the citizens of Antioch.
During the weeks of Lent in 387 AD, John Chrysostom preached 21 sermons in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These sermons had a lasting impression on the citizens of Antioch. This resulted in many pagans converting to Christianity. Due to the conversions, Theodosius’ vengeance on the citizens of Antioch subdued and was not as severe as it might have been.
The most valuable of his works from this period are the Homilies he wrote on various books of the Bible.
He was most concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor. He spoke out against abuse of wealth and personal property. He particularly emphasized alms and charitable giving:
Do you wish to honour the body of Christ?
Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad.
He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”…
What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.
After the death of Evagrius (c. 393), Flavian succeeded in preventing the election of a successor. However, the Eustathians still continued to hold separate meetings.
On Easter Sunday, at the end of the Paschal Liturgy, the faithful exchange Paschal greetings. In some churches the priests and the faithful present each other with Easter (Paschal) eggs.
Wooden eggs with icons hang as decorations from lamps and chandeliers in the churches, and from the vigil lights in the homes. The Coptic Christians of the Orthodox church in Egypt often hang ostrich eggshells in the front of their churches. The eggshells evoke the image of the mother ostrich’s single-minded and calm concentration on the eggs in her nest. It reminds the faithful how they should pray and conduct their spiritual life.
There are many legends about the Easter (or Paschal) Eggs.
One apocryphal legend concerns Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. It tells of the time when she gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel towards her son and wept. As her tears fell upon the eggs, they spotted them with dots of brilliant color.
Through the ages, the egg symbolizing new life and fertility appeared during many spring festivals. To the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Gauls, and the Chinese, the egg symbolized the rebirth of the earth at springtime.
Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of western Christianity described the Resurrection of Christ from the dead as “a chick bursting from an egg.” This analogy represents the rebirth of humans through Christ. Hence, the Christians identify the egg with the tomb from which Christ rose and used eggs during Easter celebrations.
Many cite the following apocryphal story as the tradition of the first Easter Egg associated with Mary Magdalene.
Mary of Magdala is a major saint in the East, where she is never associated with women of ill repute and known as being equal to the apostles. She traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was present at two most important moments in the life of Jesus: the crucifixion and the resurrection.
After the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, Mary Magdalene gained an audience with the Roman emperor Tiberius Julius Caesar. She denounced Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from 26-36 AD for his mishandling of the trial of Jesus.
She then told the emperor about the resurrection of Jesus. The unconvinced emperor pointed at an egg on the dining table and riposted that there was as much chance of a human being returning to life as there was for the egg to turn red. As soon as the emperor said this the egg miraculously turned red!
Hence, from antiquity, Mary Magdalene has been associated with red color. Most icons of Mary Magdalene show her holding a red egg.
From these tales originated the basis for dyeing Easter eggs. While people use all the colors of the rainbow to dye eggs, red is by far the most usual color used, especially in countries of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Sometimes the priests bless the red eggs at Orthodox masses on Easter Sunday.
With changing times, chocolate eggs or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jellybeans have replaced the real dyed and painted eggs as gifts.
While the commoners were happy to receive dyed and hand painted real eggs as gifts for Easter, the Russian Tsar Alexander III and his eldest son Tsar Nicholas II presented their wives and mothers jeweled eggs as Easter gifts. The two Tsars commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé and his company between 1885 and 1917 to create a series of 54 jeweled eggs. These eggs were often called the ‘Imperial’ Fabergé eggs.
Peter Carl Fabergé delivered the first Fabergé creation known as the “Jeweled Hen Egg” to Tsar Alexander III in 1885. It featured a seemingly ordinary egg, but inside was a yolk of gold that contained a golden hen with ruby eyes, seated on a nest of gold. Inside the hen was a miniature diamond replica of the royal crown and a ruby egg pendant that could be worn as a necklace. Tsarina Marie Feodorovna was overjoyed with the egg so much that Alexander III ordered a new egg from Fabergé for his wife every Easter thereafter.
While the Hen Egg is among those that have survived, the gifts inside have been lost to time. The Jeweled Hen Egg is currently located in Russia as part of the Vekselberg Collection and is housed in the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Other famous eggs include the Danish Palaces, Memory of Azov, Diamond Trellis, Caucasus, Renaissance, Rosebud, Twelve Monograms, Imperial Coronation Egg, Lilies-of-the-Valley, etc.
Easter is a joyful and happy occasion for all Christians. They decorate their churches with flowers and attend church on this day.
In some Christian churches, Easter worship begins at about 11:30 pm on Holy Saturday. At midnight, they ring the bells to tell the world that Christ has risen from the dead.
In some churches of the Roman Catholics and the Church of England, people will hold a vigil. They will gather outside the church around a bonfire.
The church being in darkness, one of the Deacons or Acolytes (servers) will carry a large unlit candle called the Paschal candle marked with a cross and the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω).
The Celebrant after blessing the fire will turn towards the person carrying the large candle and prepare the Paschal candle by drawing with his finger or incising in the wax with a stylus a Cross while reciting these words:
Christ yesterday and today, (the vertical beam) the beginning and the end, (the transverse beam) Alpha (the Greek letter Α above the vertical beam of the cross) and Omega, (the Greek letter Ω below the vertical beam of the cross)
all time belongs to Him, (the first numeral of the current year in the upper left-hand angle of the Cross) and all ages;(the second number of the current year in the upper right-hand angle of the cross) to Him be glory and power,(the third numeral of the current year in the lower left-hand angle of the Cross) through every age and for ever.(the fourth numeral of the current year in the lower right-hand angle of the Cross) Amen.
Next, one of the Acolytes (servers) gives the grains of incense symbolizing the five wounds Christ received at the crucifixion one by one to the Celebrant who inserts them into the candle, saying:
By his holy(1) and glorious wounds(2) may Christ our Lord guard (3) and keep us.(4) Amen. (5)
The Celebrant lights the Paschal candle saying:
May the light of Christ, rising in glory, banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.
The Paschal candle is then taken through the church, with the deacon lifting it at three different times, singing: “The Light of Christ” (or Lumen Christi) and the congregation sings in reply: “Thanks be to God” (or Deo Gratias).
Everyone lights their candle from the Paschal candle and join the procession. The Paschal candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the World.
After the procession with the paschal candle, before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word, follows the glorious Easter song of the Catholic Church: the Exsultet (spelled in pre-1920 editions of the Roman Missal as Exultet) or Easter Proclamation (Latin: Praeconium Paschale).
The Exsultet is a magnificent hymn of praise sung, by a deacon, before the paschal candle during the Easter Vigil in the Roman Rite of Mass. Exsultet is also used in Anglican and various Lutheran churches, as well as other western Christian denominations.
In the absence of a deacon, a priest or by a cantor may sing the Exsultet.
The lyrics of Exsultet are beautiful and has profound symbolism. It describes the dignity and meaning of the mystery of Easter. It tells of man’s sin, of God’s mercy, and of the great love the Redeemer has for humanity. It admonishes the faithful to thank the Trinity for all the graces lavished upon them.
Exsultet (Roman Catholic English text)
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises).
(Deacon: The Lord be with you. People: And with your spirit.) Deacon: Lift up your hearts. People: We lift them up to the Lord. Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. People: It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart and with devoted service of our voice, to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father, and, pouring out his own dear Blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night that even now throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed. O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar, a flame divided but undimmed, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honour of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night. Receive it as a pleasing fragrance, and let it mingle with the lights of heaven. May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Instead of using your two hands to pray to your God, gods and goddesses, why not stretch one hand and help the poor?
Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.
For the Christians, prayer, fasting and almsgiving mark Lent. Of these three, almsgiving is the most neglected.
Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting?
In a way, almsgiving is a form of prayer and not just philanthropy.
Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It is “giving to God”.
The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character has an engaging story about Jewish piety and morality combined with folklore. The book has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian faiths. The inspired author of the book places a firm emphasis on almsgiving. The following verses 12:8-10 in Tobit is the only place in the Bible where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are brought together.
Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves one from death and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies. (Tobit 12:8-10)
Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It involves giving money, food, clothes, and materials or providing capabilities such as education, health facilities, and other amenities.
Almsgiving is a necessary part in all religions. It is “giving to God”.
Almsgiving in Buddhism
In Buddhism, a layperson shows respect to a monk, a nun, a spiritually developed person or to any other sentient being by giving alms. It is not charity. Being humble, giving alms, and showing respect to the monk or nun and the religious society, provides a symbolic binding of the layperson with the spiritual realm.
According to the Buddhists, the more a layperson gives without seeking anything in return the wealthier he or she will become. The act of giving destroys the acquisitive nature that leads to further suffering. Generosity is an act of merit performed by a donor to help the receiver.
The Mahayana Buddhist tradition emphasizes that generosity towards others as one of the perfections (paramita) as found in Lama Tsong Khapa’s ‘The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path‘:
Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.
It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.
It leads to Bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage. It is the basis of the universal proclamation of your fame and repute.
Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path of being ever-willing to offer completely their bodies, their possessions, and positive potentials.
The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.
If you too would seek liberation, Please cultivate yourself, in the same way.
Almsgiving in Hinduism
In Hinduism, Bhiksha is a devotional offering. It is usually food, presented at a temple to the destitute, a religious Brahmin, a swami, or an ascetic.
In Chapter XXIX of Vasishtha Samhita we find:
Through Alms giving to poor obtains all his desires.
(Even) longevity, (and he is born again as) a student of the Veda, possessed of beauty.
He who abstains from injuring (sentient beings) obtains heaven.
By entering a fire the world of Brahman (is gained).
By (a vow of) silence (he obtains) happiness.
By staying (constantly) in water he becomes a lord of elephants.
He who expends his hoard (in gifts) becomes free from disease.
A giver of water (becomes) rich by (the fulfilment of) all his desires.
A giver of food (will have) beautiful eyes and a good memory.
He who gives a promise to protect (somebody) from all dangers (becomes) wise.
(To bestow gifts) for the use of cows (is equal to) bathing at all sacred places.
By giving a couch and a seat (the giver becomes) master of a harem.
By giving an umbrella (the giver) obtains a house.
He who gives a House to a poor family obtains a town
He who gives a pair of Shoes obtains a vehicle.
Now they quote also (the following verses): Whatever sin a man distressed for livelihood commits, (from that) he is purified by giving land, (be it) even “a bull’s hide”.
He who gives to a Brâhmana guest a vessel filled with water for sipping, will obtain after death complete freedom from thirst and be born again as a drinker of Soma.
If a gift of one thousand oxen fit to draw a carriage (has been bestowed) according to the rule on a perfectly worthy man, that is equal to giving a maiden.
They declare that cows, land, and learning are the three most excellent gifts. For to give learning is (to bestow) the greatest of all gifts, and it surpasses those (other gifts).
A learned man who, free from envy, follows this rule of conduct which procures endless rewards, and which through final liberation frees him from transmigration.
Or who, full of faith, pure, and subduing his senses, remembers or even hears it, will, freed from all sin, be exalted in the highest heaven.
According to the Hindu scriptures, every human owes five important karmic debts called pancha-maha-yajna: to gods, to ancestors, to guests, to mankind, and to nature.
Debt to the gods for their blessings. Repaid by rituals and offerings.
Debt to ancestors and teachers. Repaid by supporting them, having children of one’s own and passing along knowledge.
Debt to guests. Repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one’s home.
Debt to Mankind. Repaid by mutual cooperation and helping others by giving money, clothes, shelter and land to poor people, feeding the hungry, and helping orphans and destitute.
Debt to Nature. All humans are indebted to plants, trees, birds, animals and nature. Repaid by offering good will, food, water, or any other help that is appropriate.
So, a human to place himself in correct relations with the gods, ancestors, spirits, men, the cosmos, nature and himself must repay these debts during his or her lifetime.
Almsgiving in Islam
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and, so, human beings hold wealth in trust.
Islam divides the concept of charitable giving into Sadaqah or voluntary giving, and the Zakāt, an obligatory practice governed by a specific set of rules within Islamic jurisprudence.
Sadaqah is possibly a better translation of the Christian notion of ‘alms’.
Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة ,”That which purifies”), the third of the five pillars of Islam, is the mandatory practice of charitable almsgiving. Every mentally stable, free, and financially sound adult Muslim, male or female, has to pay Zakāt to ease the economic hardship of others and end the inequality of financial status. Zakāt consists of giving 2.5% of one’s savings and business revenue and 5-10% of one’s harvest for distribution to the poor or needy, including slaves, debtors, and travelers. As such, Zakāt plays a much larger role in Islamic charity.
Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
(The Holy Qur’an 9:60)
Almsgiving in Judaism
In Hebrew, Tzedakah literally means righteousness but is commonly used to signify charity. In Judaism, Tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. It is considered one of the greatest deeds that a human can do. In practice, most Jews carry out Tzedakah by donating a part of their income to charitable institutions, or to needy people that they may come across.
Traditional Jews practice “ma’aser kesafim,” tithing 10% of their income to support those in need. Jewish farmers leave the corners of their fields for the starving to harvest for food. They do not pick up any grain dropped while harvesting because such food may benefit the starving.
Jews perform special acts of Tzedakah on significant days. At weddings, it is a tradition among couples to offer charity to symbolize the sacred character of marriage. It is traditional at Passover to be welcome hungry strangers, and feed them at the table. During the joyous holiday of Purim, to increase the total happiness, it is obligatory for every Jew to offer food to one other person, and gifts to at least two poor people, in an amount that would equate to a meal each.
Jews are cautioned about how they give out Tzedakah money. They should check the credentials and finances to be sure that their Tzedakah money will be used wisely, efficiently and effectively.
Also, they are admonished:
“Do not rob the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate;” (Proverbs 22:22)
Jews are taught that Tzedakah money was never theirs to begin with, rather, it always belongs to God, who merely entrusts them with it so that they may use it properly. Hence, it is their obligation to ensure that it is received by those deserving of it.
Almsgiving in Christianity
Jesus spoke of almsgiving thus:
“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
My article “Actions speak louder than words!” has evoked a good response from my readers. One person after reading the article has asked: “So what is your action?”
This is my reply:
Look at this (sinful) woman. She has come to Jesus and found in him her Saviour. She wetted his feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. Look at verse Luke 7:50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It is our faith that saves us. We either look at this woman and say, “Thank you Lord, I am not like her,” then the question becomes, “Has your faith saved you?”
But if our response is “Lord, have mercy on me,” then the good news is mercy is freely given.
Jesus is here and He will always be wherever we are or who or whatever we choose to be. This woman knew Jesus was there to forgive her and she loved Him for that. In the same way, I know Jesus is forever here to forgive me, no matter who I am or what I have done. I know he will forgive me.
Most of us do not get over our afflictions and then go to Jesus, rather we approach Him and He removes them, and He also gives us something else to live for.
My action in life has always been “do more than what I am paid for,” like the woman wiping the feet of Jesus with her tears, wiping it with her hair, and anointing it with perfumed ointment.
There is nothing in this world we could ever do to make up for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, most of us are not called to do anything. So, most of us forget that it is easy after being Christians for a while to become a Pharisee and point a “holier than thou” finger at others.
In the gospel of Luke, the story of the pardoning of a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) illustrates the axiom that “actions speak louder than words.”
A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dine with him. On entering the house of the Pharisee, Jesus reclined at the table, the normal posture of guests at a banquet.
On learning that Jesus had come to the house of the Pharisee, a woman of that town who lived a sinful life, came there with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment.
Weeping, she fell down at the feet of Jesus and wet them with her tears. Then, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with the perfumed ointment.
When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what sort of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”
Jesus understood his thoughts and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” Simon said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other owed fifty.”
At that time, one denarius was the normal daily wage of a laborer.
“Neither of them had the money to repay his loan, so the moneylender forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one whose larger debt was forgiven.”
Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water to wash my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. As my host, you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered this house, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not place oil on my head, but she anointed my feet with perfumed ointment.”