In what ways do our presumptions and expectations cloud our vision?
Fr. Seraphim Solof opens Luke 24 for the story of Jesus who appears to his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples had just witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus; the very one they had expected to redeem Israel is now presumed dead. Unable at first to recognize the risen Jesus, their eyes were opened when the Scriptures were opened to them, culminating in the blessing and the breaking of bread.
Fr. Seraphim describes, "The problem is, the God and the Jesus who we create and animate to do our bidding, whether that means instantly giving us everything we ask for in prayer, or perhaps smiting the people who don't see things the way we do, they are invariably a false god and a false messiah. They're idols of our own making, they're really just reflections of ourselves." Like the disciples, our only hope in recognizing the Lord is to open our eyes through the opening of Scripture which extends the invitation to table fellowship.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Our co-host Fr. Timothy Lowe, former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, joins us today. Hello, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:28
Hollie Benton 0:29
And our guest today is Fr. Seraphim Solof. Father Seraphim is the assistant pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 1985 graduate of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary where he met Father Timothy Lowe and his family 40 years ago. He was ordained a deacon in 1984, and then elevated to the rank and dignity of Archdeacon in 2008 and finally ordained to the priesthood in 2017. Follow Seraphim lives in the Boston area and during the week works as a corporate communications executive in the financial services industry. So welcome, Fr. Seraphim. So great to be speaking with you today.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 1:12
Father Seraphim, it is really nice to have you here today.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 1:15
Thank you. It's good to be with you both.
Hollie Benton 1:17
Good to have you back together after 40 years.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 1:20
It was my first semester at St. Vlad's. I was in the, what was at the time, the new dorm and Father Timothy and Lisa were the married couple in the basement. So we really met my first day there.
Hollie Benton 1:30
Father Seraphim, you have the unique vantage of serving and leading both in your corporate role and as a priest. I wonder if you could share whether you transition easily between those roles? How do people react when they see you in a different role than the one that they're used to? Do they recognize you?
Fr. Seraphim Solof 1:49
Well, it's funny that the transition in some ways has gotten harder, and in some ways easier. The hard part is racing out of work on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of Lent, and plopping into serve a liturgy, the Presanctified Gifts and trying to get my head right, you know, my head into the church, and that can be very challenging. And I'm looking forward to retiring at some point when I can not have to worry about that piece of it. But the easy part is, in the beginning, I worked hard to try to keep these different parts of my life separate, my professional life, my family life, my church life. I had icons in my office and such, so I wasn't you know, underground. But my identities were fairly distinct. It used to make me crazy when my mom was here visiting and she would call me Seraphim, which is my baptized name. And my wife would call me Jeff, which was the name I was born with. And it was the wrong name for both of them. But they were trying to be considerate to each other, and they were both making me a little crazy. I got it, I do appreciate it. These days, you can call me whatever you want in computer, I don't care, I'll answer to just about anything, including, Hey you. I am who I am, you know, I'm a priest at work. And I'm an editor at church. And I don't know if I've gotten too tired to care. Or if this is a good thing, this kind of integration of personality. I tend toward the latter, but you know, it's your call.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:02
If I get a vote, I vote for the latter as well.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 3:05
Mmmm. Thank you.
Hollie Benton 3:07
Well, and I am teasing a little bit with this question, since we are going to be taking a look at the story from Luke's Gospel, where Jesus appeared to His disciples on the road to Emmaus after His crucifixion and resurrection. And his disciples, the very same people with whom he had spent the last three years of his ministry did not recognize him. Their eyes were opened only when the scriptures were opened up to them. So often we have expectations about what God or the church or our priests should be like, in many ways, unaware that we are imposing our own expectations on others, rather than submitting to Scripture that rightly imposes its reality of God's mercy and judgment on us. So in this case, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, one of them named Cleopus, which is the Greek rendering of the Aramaic, Alpheus, which is a name I guess, associated with James in lists of the 12 Apostles. And they had expected that Jesus would redeem Israel, presumably involving some kind of political or military victory. Instead, Jesus, the one whom they believed to be a prophet had been condemned to death and His disciples were just sad and crushed. They had expected to see Jesus in the tomb when they went to his burial, but he wasn't there when they looked. They saw Him crucified. So how could it be that Jesus is anything other than dead? They're so blinded by their own presumptions and expectations that they couldn't see Jesus who was walking beside them on the road to Emmaus. How could they not recognize him? Father Seraphim, help us understand the context of the story.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 4:57
This is all from Luke 24 and there are a few wonderful stories in that chapter. It's one of my favorites in all of the Gospels, and it is all about expectations, what they thought they were going to see. And then not believing the evidence of their eyes. They'd hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. But that hope had apparently failed. Or rather, it obviously failed. The Romans had no surer way of ending a Messianic movement than by crucifying the would-be Messiah. They did it all the time. There was no one left, there was nothing left for the followers to follow. And that's what had just happened to Jesus and His people. And now, of course, his disciples expected, as you said, that he was still in the tomb, where Joseph and Nicodemus had placed him on Friday afternoon, that he was obviously still dead. And when the tomb is opened on Sunday morning, and when witnesses begin to report strange sightings of a, not just a risen Jesus, but a bodily resurrected Jesus, not a ghost, they simply couldn't believe it. A ghost they could have believed. And Jesus had to take pains to prove to them both in this gospel and at the end of St. John, with Thomas, to prove to them that he was flesh and blood. But a bodily resurrected Jesus, they simply didn't have the equipment for it. It didn't fit their understanding of the way that things worked. Dead people stayed dead. Now, there was some expectation of a general resurrection. These were common in the late second temple era, we can see that in Daniel chapter 12, for example, but there was no expectation of a one-off, of one particular individual coming back to bodily life after being killed. So yeah, they were blinded by these presumptions and expectations, and were thus unable to recognize Jesus walking beside them, and even eating and drinking with them. The same is true for Mary Magdalene in St. John's gospel, she took him to be the gardener. And there we see is all part of St. John's recasting of the book of Genesis, the new Adam is taken for the keeper of a garden. But we're being pretty hard on them. They weren't so much blinded as perhaps nearsighted. They needed new glasses, they needed new lenses, through which to see Jesus and the only way that he can truly be seen, according to the Scriptures, as St. Paul puts it in first Corinthians 15, and as you said.
Hollie Benton 7:10
I like the blinded by expectations, or maybe nearsighted. And maybe it's just about having their ears cleaned out. So here's the passage now from Luke 24. "That very day, two of them were going into a village named Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, what is this conversation which you're holding with each other as you walk? And they stood still looking sad. Then one of them named Cleopas answered him, Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? And he said to them, what things?And they said to him, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God, and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us, they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body. And they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see. And he said to them, Oh, foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them and all the scriptures the things concerning himself." The story is just so important for hearers of the gospel to be confronted with a continuing doubt and disbelief demonstrated by those closest to Jesus. I mean, if Jesus's closest disciples lack faith, time and again, throughout the gospel stories, at least, we professing Christians today might extend a bit of humility and acknowledge our own lack of faith or refusal of Christ's suffering, refusing for our own eyes to be open because we don't open scripture or let scripture be opened to us. His disciples expected Israel to be redeemed. So in what ways do we impose our own expectations on God's salvation, like the triumph of Orthodox Christians over their adversaries secretly wishing there might be some kind of shortcut to victory rather than the victory of Christ on the cross?
Fr. Seraphim Solof 10:00
Yeah, the Gospel writers are pretty brutal to the apostles. "Get behind Me, Satan," I'm sure that was a moment St. Peter wished had not been recorded for posterity. And they bicker over who's the greatest among them. And then James and John come with their mother, I love that, to ask Jesus that he seat them, her boys right next to him in the kingdom, it's all pretty embarrassing. I'm sure it's always been the case today as way back then that we have our own ideas about who God is, about who Jesus is, and how things are meant to be. The problem is, the God and the Jesus who we create and animate to do our bidding, whether that means instantly giving us everything we ask for in prayer, or perhaps smiting the people who don't see things the way we do, they are invariably a false god and a false messiah. They're idols of our own making, they really just reflections of ourselves. Humility is the key. And anybody who saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade will remember, humility to say that we can't see God and Jesus with 100%, clarity. And in fact, we don't always know what they want or what they're doing, and that we can't and shouldn't try to dictate to them. And of course, humility to recognize that being nearsighted, we need to put on some reading glasses, new lenses to see Jesus according to the Scriptures. That's the only way to do it. And of course, that's the point of Jesus opening the scriptures in Luke 24, first to Luke and Cleopus, and then for the 11, and those gathered with them. And it's interesting, too, that he does this in a Eucharistic context, breaking bread with Luke and Cleopus, and then sharing a meal with the others. But that last meal, the bigger meal, he was probably just eating to prove that he wasn't a ghost because ghosts don't eat.
Hollie Benton 11:37
So here's the last part of that story. "So they drew nearer to the village to which they were going, he appeared to be going further, but they constrained him saying, Stay with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent. So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? And they rose that same hour, and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the 11 gathered together, and those who were with them, who said, The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." Great story! Father Seraphim, why does the story unfold in such a way that when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, that their eyes were finally opened, and they recognized Him, and then he vanished out of their sight? Are we to hear this and understand that the opening of scriptures, and the remembrance of the Lord's provision of mercy, through the blessing and the breaking of the bread is enough? We don't need a miraculous vision of the resurrected Christ in the flesh, as we can simply trust in the scriptures that were given ages ago that provide for us now, and hopefully in the next generation?
Fr. Seraphim Solof 13:07
Whether it is or isn't enough. It's what we have. It's what's given to us. St. Paul says, I think it's Second Corinthians and I'm paraphrasing here, that once we knew Jesus according to the flesh, but we know him this way no longer. And this is kind of illustrated in the instant, in the instant that Luke and Cleopus, their eyes are open, they see who he is, and he vanishes from their sight. And they're just stunned. And God and Jesus is divine, is mysterious, is not fully knowable by us. And if we think that we fully know him that we've got our arms around him, he will go do something, he will disappear on us, he'll surprise us in some way. So to your point, we're not offered the ability to know Him the way, you know, I have sat down for lunch with Father Timothy and Lisa and I know them pretty well. They're right there. And I could describe them and all that. You sit down with Jesus and he breaks bread, but he's not there in the same way. He's not accessible, understandable in the same way. He's God. He's mysterious. He's transcendent, beyond all this, and exactly to your point, what is given to us is to meet him in the Word and in the sacraments. That's what's been given to us. That's the path for us.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:17
I'm always interested in how beginnings and endings, introductions and epilogues, something you both have said I want to again, re-emphasize it. That is the rebuke. "Oh, foolish men slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." And we talk about where do we direct people today, as you say, we are not first century and even the hearers and the readers of the gospel at this time, this is all gone. You see, this is 50, 60, 70 years later, whatever it is, and the point is where do you find him? Where to direct people? Where to direct ourselves first? And my frustration, my confession of sin, let's say as a priest, who now is subsequently retired, is sometimes being misguided, directing people, people looking for answers, directing them to the wrong place. People being seduced by the miraculous and the fantastic and we know in the gospels that doesn't help anybody except the person in need, who comes and receives mercy and somehow, it doesn't change people's heart, it is the Scriptures. And I like to sort of stretch the Eucharistic, you know, the breaking of the bread to this Pauline notion because it becomes quite important as the story continues in Acts because Luke tricks us as he starts again, in his sequel, and that is the table fellowship between Jew and Gentile, which is so central, the universal nature of it all, that this miracle that St. Paul talks about, you see, breaking down the wall of division that separated the two and making this new reality, this new one flesh, which is the body of Christ, which is all people transcending all their ethnic, cultural, religious backgrounds, and uniting them in this one. And that is the real miracle. Now, of course, we have to confess, we, church, corporately, fail miserably. And my frustration, I want to hit it hard to anybody who's listening, is study the Scriptures, study the prophets. That is the starting point, if we start any other place, excuse me, we are starting in the wrong place, and ultimately not enter the place that the Lord wants us to be. For Luke to hit this point, and this way is absolutely brilliant, challenging, stunning. It's in the common fellowship, and the Scripture, you want to meet the risen Lord. That's where you go, if you go someplace else, I don't know what you'll find there. But I would say according to Luke, it's a waste of your time. And I liked the point that you guys emphasized, that's enough, he disappears, okay? He disappears. They've been directed. Here's what's given to them, the table fellowship, the scriptures, and the teaching. And if that's not going to do it, I don't know what will.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 16:58
Well, even in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, you know, even if one should rise from the dead, they have Moses and the prophets. That's Jesus's point exactly in telling the parable. You need to be able to get it in Moses and the prophets. And if you can't, even if one should rise from the dead, they won't believe.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:12
Hollie Benton 17:13
Amen. Well, great story. Thank you for the Seraphim for sharing with us today.
Fr. Seraphim Solof 17:18
Hollie Benton 17:18
It's a fascinating story and we would do well as Father Tim reminds us again, to go back and study the Scriptures and the Prophets so that on the Day of Judgment, the Lord doesn't slap his head and shake his head, Oh, foolish generation!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:33
You know, the scandal of ignorance of the Scripture amongst all of us, let me say all of us. I can say, the rank and file, no, it's all of us. I am still shocked of my ignorance. You've read something casually you have not studied it. You have not looked, especially those of us that have now time on our hands. That's to our condemnation, my condemnation, I confess my own sin here. Fr. Seraphim, it's good to see you.
Hollie Benton 17:59
Well, thank you both!
Fr. Seraphim Solof 18:01
Thank you, it's a pleasure.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:02
Fr. Seraphim Solof 18:03
Same, love to your family.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai