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November 7, 2021

Year 2 - Week 10 (November 7 - 13)

Day 1 (Monday)

Genesis 9:18-28

Last week we saw the final conclusion of the Flood, with God’s placing His bow in the sky as a sign of His promise to not destroy all life from the earth again. He also gave Noah and his family permission to eat meat, but commanded them never to eat or drink the blood, because the life was in the blood. We discussed this at length, and talked about how there is both a positive and a negative reason for this. The positive reason is that the only Blood we are to receive is the Blood of the Lord, which gives us everlasting life as we are united with His Life. The negative reason is that one of the ways pagan people participate in the rebellion of the demons against God is by drinking blood, with the idea of taking life and power from whatever creature they kill and making it their own. We don’t see many pagan people any longer, but this was a very normal part of pagan worship before Jesus Christ came and overthrew the power of the demons over humankind.

This week we will see what happens next to Noah and his family, and how (very sadly) one of his sons falls into a great sin, and actually, almost the exact sin that God had just forbidden.

Noah and His Sons

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.

23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.
27 God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.”

28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (This is a hard reading; it’s both difficult to understand, and sad to see. There are two sins here: Noah’s sin in getting drunk, and Ham’s sin, which was to spread the word about Noah’s sin. Ham’s sin is worse than Noah’s sin, because Ham was happy to see his father humiliated, and tried to humiliate him more by telling his brothers. It seems that he was trying to take advantage of his father’s weakness and use it to make himself more powerful. In a sense, then, Ham was doing the exact sort of thing that God had forbidden with the eating of blood…he was seizing power for himself from someone else’s weakness. When Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan, then, he isn’t causing Ham’s descendants to be evil and cursed, he is simply telling what the result will be of Ham’s sinfulness, and how it will not work the way that Ham wants. With his will to power and willingness to use others to get what he wants, the newly cleansed world is right back on the road to sinfulness. What we will see as we continue to read through the Bible, then, is that Ham’s descendants do in fact become powerful, for a long time, but in the end, they come to nothing, and the more righteous descendants of Shem and Japheth are the ones who prove to be truly blessed. We should note, as well, that descendants ultimately is not an issue of race, but of likeness. So those who act like Ham and try to take power at the expense of others will come to ruin; those who are humble and gracious and respectful, like Shem and Japheth, will be glorified.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

St. Nektarios on Happiness

On November 9th, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast day of St. Nektarios, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1920. We will read one of his sayings today, since it is the day after his feast-day.

He was a bishop and a scholar, of great piety and high intelligence, very beloved by his people. Because of his success, some other bishops were jealous of him, and had him removed from his church and sent into exile, so he spent the rest of his life teaching future priests in Greece, and eventually in establishing a monastery for pious women on the island of Aegina, somewhat near to Athens. He suffered greatly throughout his life, so when he talks about true happiness, we should pay attention, because he learned where to find true happiness even while he was suffering.

Happiness Is A Pure Heart

How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! It is the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes.

Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: "I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people." (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!.”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that St. Nektarios is saying that happiness does not and cannot come from things that are outside of us, things that happen to us, and should make the specific connection that almost everything that we work so hard to get in this life is exactly this sort of happiness. We shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t work. Leader should then point out where St. Nektarios says happiness CAN actually be found; with the presence of God in our hearts. But that means we need to have a pure heart. We can’t make our own heart pure, but we can repent of impurity, and turn away from things that make our hearts impure, and ask God to cleanse our hearts and to come and dwell with us. This is the whole of the Christian life.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 4:1-20

Last time we saw Jesus explain that He came to defeat the demons and deliver humanity from their slavery to them, and also that everyone who listened to Him was His family, as near to Him as His mother and closest family. This time we will see Him some time later, teaching by the sea again; this time, we will hear one of the most famous parables from Him.

The Parable of the Sower

4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.

7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should encourage the group to think about Ham and Noah from the Day 1 reading in terms of this passage. Which sort of ground was Ham? Which sort of ground was Noah? There may be a variety of answers; Noah is probably dealing with thorns, with the desire for other things leading to the wine and the drunkenness. Ham might be dealing with thorns as well, but he might also be a seed that fell on the path, where Satan came immediately and took it away, as he is clearly following the demons in the will to power. The most important point to take from this is that we can change what sort of ground we are; we can repent and turn away from the things in our lives that are preventing the seed of God from growing in our lives, and ask the Lord to be with us, as St. Nektarios said in the Day 2 reading. Doing that work, of breaking up the hard ground if we are a path, or pulling up the thorns or removing the rocks, is a work that we need to commit ourselves to. We can’t do it alone; success will come from God working in our lives. But we have to work at it, and repent, asking God for help, and always turn away from the sins that strangle the life that He is giving to us.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?