Excerpts from the book
By Rev. George Dimopoulos
(Please get the full version of this book at your bookstore)
Sunday of Zacchaeus. The Triodion. Publican and Pharisee. Prodigal Son. The "Last Judgement." Cheese-fare Sunday.2. Lent.
1st Sunday of Lent. Sunday of Orthodoxy. 2nd Sunday of Lent. 3rd Sunday of Lent. 4th Sunday of Lent. 5th Sunday of Lent. Palm Sunday.3. Easter.
Easter Sunday. 2nd Sunday after Easter. 3rd Sunday after Easter. 4th Sunday after Easter. 5th Sunday after Easter. 6th Sunday after Easter. Drunk With The Holy Spirit.4. Sundays after Pentecost.
The Pastors of the Church. 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. 3rd Sunday after Pentecost. 4th Sunday after Pentecost. 5th Sunday after Pentecost. 6th Sunday after Pentecost. 7th Sunday after Pentecost. 8th Sunday after Pentecost. 9th Sunday after Pentecost. 10th Sunday after Pentecost. 11th Sunday after Pentecost. 12th Sunday after Pentecost. 16th Sunday after Pentecost. 17th Sunday after Pentecost. 18th Sunday after Pentecost. 19th Sunday after Pentecost. 20th Sunday after Pentecost. 21th Sunday after Pentecost. 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. 25th Sunday after Pentecost. 26th Sunday after Pentecost. 27th Sunday after Pentecost. 28th Sunday after Pentecost. 30th Sunday after Pentecost.5. Fixed Feasts.
Sunday After the Elevation of the Holy Cross. Sunday Before Christmas. On Christmas. On New Year's Day. Sunday Before Epiphany. Sunday after Epiphany.6. Different Subjects
Luxury and Love.
1. Sundays before Lent.
Sunday of Zacchaeus.
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:1-10).
These are the words which Jesus spoke to those who began grumbling against His actions. But why did they protest and begin their grumblings? What evil did Jesus do? He never sinned, nor was any bad or evil word found on his lips. What were their motives? Simply because Jesus visited the home of a tax-collector named Zacchaeus. All the people who saw it started grumbling, "This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner."
Dear brethren, Socrates, this superb mind of the ancient world, used to say that in order for man to be happy on earth, he should know "virtue". He not only considered true knowledge as an indispensable term of right action, but he believed and insisted that without correct knowledge of virtue, not only perfect virtue, but no virtue of any kind, can exist at all. Correct action is inevitably the outcome of "true knowledge." In other words the canon (rule) of Socrates was knowledge. If man is in a position to know what virtue is, he will be able to exercise it and execute his correct knowledge. It is not our intention to censure the philosophy of Socrates, but we must admit we disagree because experience tells us knowledge is one thing and virtue (the practice) is another. There is a great distance between the two. Many people very well know what is virtuous and right, but they practice what is wrong and unrighteous. Therefore, Socrates' ideal knowledge cannot bring happiness to the world.
Now from Socrates we take a huge leap and come to another philosopher, quite contemporary from the last century, the tragic Nietzsche, a priest's son. What did he say? He wanted to elevate the power of man, to be a superman. Morality does not depend upon nobleness and goodness, but upon the power of the strongest. Thus the final purpose of man and society is not to develop everyone to be happy, but only the chosen few, the strong ones. Love is not a virtue. The manifestation of righteous people is weakness of the weak people. When man loves, he cannot decide and make great and serious decisions because he is influenced by love, which, when examined by itself, will be found to be evil. What is good? To be brave is good. Have one goal to your life, to be hard upon the others in order to reach the final goal. Others will be the means and climax upon which to step in order to climb higher and higher. So Nietzsche hoped that power and supermen would bring about a new world full of happiness and prosperity. The Germanic people were fed and educated in these teachings of Nietzsche at the beginning of this century. They believed that they were the "supermen." That only they had the right to govern and rule other peoples. Some of the results are well known, such as the "Wall of Shame" that separates Berlin. Many centuries will pass in order before the descendants will wash out the shame of their forefathers. The furnaces and the crematories in which millions of people burned like lamps, will remain to testify what the influence and impact of their philosopher, the "Superman," was.
Now we come again to our Teacher, the poor Jesus of Nazareth. He said "Love" will regenerate all of mankind, the whole world. It will make a new generation, a new dough. It will bring the world nearer and closer to God, because God is Love. This is the most perfect and complete definition which John, "the disciple of love," gave. He said, "Children, love each other. God is Love, and whoever lives by love, lives in God, and God lives in him." Love diminishes fear, separations, and hatreds. There is no fear in love: perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in the one who fears, because fear has to do with punishment.
Here is the central teaching of the Gospel Love which begins with God is given to men. God, moved by love, became man in order to reform man into a small God. Here, we think it appropriate to quote the words of St. Gregory the Theologian from his sermon, On the Theophany or Birthday of Christ. "I too will cry the power of this day. He who is not carnal is incarnate, the invisible becomes visible, the untouchable becomes touchable, the timeless comes in time. The Son of God becomes the Son of Man. Jesus Christ yesterday, today and forever."
The holy father admires the mystery of the incarnation and confesses the inability of the human spirit to penetrate into the depths of the mysteries as well as in the knowledge of the divine essence of God: "The Divine Nature then is boundless and hard to understand; and all that we can comprehend of Him is His boundlessness."
The fleshless takes on flesh and the Son of God becomes the Son of Man and descends from the former glory he had with his Father. "O Father! Give me glory in your presence now, the same glory I had with you before the world was made" (John 17:5). Jesus comes down and enters into the house of a sinner, a tax collector Zacchaeus, to break bread with him and to save one soul. Indeed, great is the mystery, and its meaning is beyond the limits of human comprehension. Again we repeat Gregory the Theologian, "What is the riches of His goodness? What is this mystery that is around me? I had a share in the image; I did not keep it; He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the image and make the flesh immortal. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride, let the heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge."
Brethren, Christ is Love, and He passes the front of your walk and wishes to enter your home, which perhaps you broke up, and where family happiness ought to prevail, and where now Satan dances with all his followers. Christ passes over your business places on which you dedicate and devote all your abilities, natural and spiritual. You cannot see anything else higher and more serious than awaiting the hour to open your register to count the money. Christ also approaches all roads and streets, knocks at the doors and begs the people to hear His voice and open it to Him.
In order to secure a view of Christ you should struggle, as Zacchaeus did. He climbed a fig tree in order to see Christ. What are you doing? Maybe you follow the current of the huge masses of our times, as the people before the cataclysm (the Flood) did, about whom Jesus speaks so vividly and characteristically, "Just as in the days before the Flood, people ate and drank, men and women married up to the very day Noah went into the Ark; yet they did not know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away" (Matt. 24:38-39).
The righteous conscience of Zacchaeus, which was veiled with the ruins of destruction, woke up and with a frank and true voice confessed to Jesus, "Lord, indeed if I stole the property of any one I decided to give double, and if I have cheated anyone I will pay him back four times as much. To the poor people, I promise you, I will give my belongings." Let us say to Christ, "From now on I will become a disciple of your love. I am giving all my belongings. I want one thing in my life and it is You." There are many who have sacrificed their loves, secular dreams, visions, prosperous life, and properties for Christ's love. These are Saints of our church, the Fathers, monks and the clergy including priests, their numbers being countless.
Christ cries out to the people, "Salvation has come to this house today; this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham."
Brethren, you must make a small and quick decision in your life. Taking one step forward, or to the right, or to the left, you will meet Christ. He wants you to open your door and have supper with Him. Will you open the door for Him, or not? Give an answer.
"For the Son of Man came to see and to save the lost."
Acertain historian, who was a patron of St. Chrysostom and a great admirer of the saint's virtue, has preserved for us the following account. A statue of the Byzantine Empress Eudoxia was erected outside of the cathedral church of St. Sophia. The people, rather than going to church as usual, remained outside during the Divine Liturgy, dancing around the statue and celebrating its erection in front of their church. Those who were at Divine Liturgy began to leave during the sermon, in order that they might join the crowd that was already outside. Finally, only one old woman remained. St. Chrysostom did not lose his temper; rather, he preached all the more zealously. At the conclusion of the sermon, when he re-entered the holy altar, Chrysostom was asked by one of the priests why he had continued to preach after all the people had left, and whether he thought it worthwhile to concern himself with one old woman. The saint's reply was superb: "Had I achieved the salvation of that woman's soul," he said, "I would be the most fortunate priest in the whole world. For, had she been saved, there would right now be rejoicing in heaven among the angels of God because of that one soul." St. John Chrysostom, who was known as "the golden mouth," preached such fiery sermons that he managed to touch, and to move to tears, even those who hitherto had been so hardened in their sinful ways that nothing could reach them.
If but one soul is touched, is moved, after having read this sermon, it will have served its purpose, and I will be content. I would hasten to add that I would not dream of comparing myself with St. Chrysostom; nor, due to my great unworthiness, would I compare the scope of my mission with his.
My subject is not particularly attractive, nor is it especially contemporary. I wish to speak concerning the Triodion. The Triodion is a part of the movable cycle of our ecclesiastical calendar. This year it begins today, and it will draw to a close with Vespers on Easter Eve, Great Saturday. The hymns of the Triodion are extremely touching. Whoever studies the Triodion carefully immediately senses the great wisdom with which the fathers of the Church composed it. It blends together harmoniously. It is perhaps the best way for Christians to prepare themselves for Easter, not passing the time in mere frivolity, but in worshipful participation in our Lord's passion and resurrection.
It is indeed unfortunate that many of our own people, the Eastern Orthodox, choose to ignore both our Church's great wealth of hymnology and the road which leads to holiness. We who are priests must share the blame for this situation with the laity, for priests are responsible for the abbreviation and gradual "phasing out" of many of our beautiful services of worship, such as Vespers, Orthos, and the canons. Many parishes begin their Sunday worship (and end it) with the Divine Liturgy, omitting its beautiful liturgical introduction, the Matins. When the priest does serve Matins, few people attend, and those who do are generally the elderly. The great majority of the people come only for the Divine Liturgy, and many of them come when it is almost over, in order that they might venerate the cross and receive the blessed bread, the antidoron. Their coming at all is more than likely a mere salve to calm their consciences, and to enable them to say that they have been to church. I am sure that these very people would be highly insulted if they had invited guests for dinner, and most arrived when the meal was nearly concluded, and then refused to eat anything, with the exception of dessert. Yet these people see nothing wrong with treating God in this way. Our divine services are set up in such a way that Christians are to begin their worship on Sunday morning with Matins the service of morning worship, and then participate in (not just attend) the Holy Eucharist the Divine Liturgy.
Getting back to our discussion of the Triodion, just what purpose does it serve in Orthodox divine worship? It endeavors to reach the cold heart of unrepentant man, to lead him back to God through sincere repentance, to restore him to his adamic state of innocence. For this cause the Epistle and Gospel Lessons are arranged to further this end. On the first Sunday of the Triodion we hear of the Publican and the Pharisee, a contrast between prideful haughtiness and virtuous humility. On the second Sunday we hear of the Prodigal Son and his sufferings as he separates himself from his loving father. The Gospel Lesson for the third Sunday is both dreadful and beautiful dreadful for those outside the saving grace of Christ, beautiful for those trusting in Him. It is an account of our Lord's second coming, and the subsequent judgments.
On the Sundays of the Triodion, three very touching hymns are sung at Matins after the reading of the morning Gospel Lesson. The hymnologist addresses himself to the Lord Jesus, whom he calls the Life-Giver, beseeching Him, first of all, to open the doors of repentance to the poor sinner; and secondly, to accept him back, even though both his soul and body are polluted by sin. In spite of his unworthiness he dares to approach Christ, knowing that the Lord is compassionate and merciful: Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-Giver; for early does my soul betake itself to the temple of Thy holiness, journeying in the temple of my body, wholly polluted. But since Thou art compassionate, purify me by the clemency of Thy mercies.
The second hymn is addressed to the Mother o£ Jesus, who is our Mother as well, the Most Holy Theotokos. Despite her exalted position, the Theotokos does not save. She intercedes, helps, and prepares the way for our salvation. She is not the Lord; she is but a "handmaid of the Lord." She is not the King, but the Throne of the King. She is not the sun, but the moon which reflects the glory of the sun. She is not the fountain, but the source of the fountain. She does not save, but extends a helping hand to those who are seeking salvation.
Prepare for me the way of salvation, O Theotokos; for I have profaned myself with coarse sins, and my whole life is consumed by procrastination. But by thine intercession, purify me from all uncleanness.
The third hymn is equally profound. The hymnologist reviews his past life, and in the light of the awesome day of judgment beholds all his sins. Seeking a plea for mercy, with trembling he remembers the compunction of Kind David, and from the depths of his soul he cries out to God, Kyrie eleison.
When I contemplate the multitude of my transgressions,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgment. But, trusting
the clemency of Thy mercy, I cry to Thee as did David:
have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.
The purpose of my sermon today is to extend a warm invitation to repentance. I implore you to correct your lives, to amend your ways. This is the season for tears and forgiveness. If in the past we have habitually arrived late for church, let us now make a firm resolution that, at least during this period of the Triodion, we will be present at all of the morning services, in order that they might help us to achieve, with piety, loyalty and hope, our Lord's saving passion and resurrection.
Publican and Pharisee.
Humility and not Tapinology.
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:10-14).
It is a threefold celebration that our Church marks today. First, the Presentation of Our Lord into the Temple, at which time the righteous Simeon accepted Him into his arms. Secondly, it is Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, the beginning of a new world, as the Fathers characterized it. And thirdly, for this particular year, it is the beginning of the Triodion, starting today and ending on Great Saturday night, when the triumph of the Resurrection will be heard "Christ is Risen." All of the Apostolic writings and the Gospel readings for these Sundays are geared to prepare the Christian for the spiritual struggles of the fast. Four virtues, molded by the divine art, are pictured in these Gospel readings. The first is humility, the humility of the Publican. The second is repentance, the repentance of the Prodigal Son and the forgiveness of his merciful father. The third is mercy, as written in the parable of the Last Judgement: "I was hungry and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger and ye gave me lodging." And the fourth virtue is fasting, the real fast, as St. Basil writes, "the freedom from evils."
In order to stress the importance of humility, our Lord Jesus Christ told the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Two different men went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee, traditionally considered by others as a religious person, and the Publican, who because of the nature of his work, was looked down upon as a very sinful person. The former (the Pharisee) boasted and was elated with self-praise, lifting himself higher than the stars. He, of all people, forgot what the wise Solomon had warned: He ignored the admonition of the Prophet Daniel against proud people, and their destiny: "All the proud people will be humbled by the Lord." His attitude about himself was very selfish and egocentric, even while standing in the Temple of God. Instead of praying, he began to list all of his non-existent virtues. He stood and began his conversation with God. An equal to an equal, comparing human virtues with the virtue of God.
Unfortunately, society today has an over-abundance of this type of person, and the Church has more than Her share. Usually we can find them on the Church Board standing in the back of the Church, talking incessantly, greedily counting the "day's take," and, of course, criticizing the priest's sermon. They are very easy to detect they know all the parish gossip and are willing to share it "just with you." They "know" all about the Church especially the priest's responsibilities and naturally they are very much above the ordinary Church-goer. Always expect little participation from them, however, in Church worship. And never expect a contrite heart or pangs of conscience. For such individuals, the woeful cry that shakes the very foundation of the Church, the prayer of the Publican "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" has very little meaning. According to St. John Chrysostom, the proud man is capable of committing any evil. Why? Because pride sets man at a very great distance from God. It falsely uplifts his abilities, exaggerating their true value. A proud man ignores the opinions of his fellows. And most terrible of all, he equates the majesty and power of God according to his own false standards.
Socrates, the father of philosophy, calls the proud and those that boast about themselves, foolish and inflated skins: "skins (hides) are inflated by air, and the foolish man by pride." The philosopher and moralist Diogenes wrote: "that the man ensnared by the passion of pride becomes a slave of it; and as the shepherd leads his flock, in the same way the proud man is lead by his passion." This is exactly what befell the Pharisee in the holy Temple of God. He thanks God not for his health, or for his wealth, but for not being like the rest of the people: "exhortationers, unjust, adulterers." It is amazing that the Pharisee found the Temple of God the proper place to accuse others.
A wise, good and virtuous man never applauds himself, no matter how good he may be. Socrates was a philosopher and a wise man, but he both privately and publically called himself ignorant. He used to say: "The only thing that I know is that I know nothing." A saint, even upon reaching the height of virtue, in the end exclaims: "Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trust not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." The good man knows and repeats but one thing: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
The opposite of pride is humility, i.e., not to exalt one's self above others. As St. Paul says: "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think." Which is that humility that is accepted by God? It is not simply the tapinology the study of humility i.e., humility via lip-service. But it is an internal feeling and consciousness what I know in comparison with and in relation to what I don't know. Who am I and what am I able to become? We are fed up with tapinology. Especially we, the clergy. We are aware of tapinology and all of its improvisations. For example, we often hear from bishops, priests and clergy in general, especially when about to assume their duties as such, that they are unworthy of any honors or serious responsibilities. However, when they are invested with honors, privileges, and responsibilities, it becomes an impossibility to offer them criticisms or suggestions of any kind. And if you do, your name could very well be eliminated from the Church's diptychs! This, of course, is not humility, but blatant tapinology.
Dear brethren, we do not pretend to offer any answers to the problems raised in today's parable, involving two men, both of them coming down to the city of Jerusalem as righteous. However, we do repeat and urgently stress that the words of our Lord be forever in our hearts and minds as the only norm in maintaining a Christ-like balance, in regards to humility and pride: "For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Amen.
"It was meet that we should make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost and is found" (Luke 15:11-32)
One of the most beautiful of all the Gospel Lessons in our Church year is this Parable of the Prodigal Son. Only the Lord, who searches and knows the human soul, its every rising and falling, could have delivered such a parabolic masterpiece. No other parable adequately portrays the depth and the mysticism of the goodness of God towards His prodigal sons. The Fathers of the Church purposely appointed that this parable be read the second Sunday of the Lenten Triodion, in order that young people might hear it, and that pastors might explain its significance in their lives. Another scholar of Sacred Scripture and Theology writes that the fathers placed this Gospel Lesson where they did because this is the time of year that many youths left home to seek employment elsewhere, some emigrating to other countries. Let us hear again the words of this beautiful lesson:
We hear of a father with two sons, a wealthy man, a good steward and master of his household. He had great love for and interest in his children, and he tried to give them an appreciation for the finer things in life. But one day he is approached by the younger son, who demanded his freedom. The kind of freedom he wanted is the freedom that the world talks about today: the freedom in whose name crimes may be committed, revolutions conceived, riots incited; in short, license, for which so much blood is spilled today in our streets by those who want their privileges, with no regard for the rights of their neighbors. The younger son foresaw for himself a bright future. In modern terms, he wanted to turn on to narcotics, to engage in lotteries and sexual passions to appease his lust. Today's prodigal son is enticed by the world, with its hippies and yippies, its existentialists, nihilists, and revolutionary anarchists. He wants no part of self-discipline, a prodigal son. He wants his FREEDOM.
So our young man is enticed by the world and all its sinful allurements. He unashamedly stands before his father and demands his "rightful share" of his father's estate, as if his father were already dead. The only time many young men today realize that their fathers exist is when they are in need of money. And the father in our parable, like so many fathers today, could not say no to his son; he gave him all that he asked for. And even then he did not stop loving him. As soon as the young man got what he was after he skipped town off to the bright lights to the big city to wine, women and song, with perhaps a few perversions thrown in for good measure.
Away from the watchful eye of his loving and concerned father, the son could indulge in any type of sin he chose no matter how depraved. Freedom from father freedom from moral law; the young man had the freedom he wanted so badly, but he soon found himself enslaved to a dreadful master sin. Well does St. Paul warn us, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Corinthians 10:12)
In a short time, the young man's money was gone, and so were his friends. Meanwhile, the local harlots were quite a bit wealthier, and the young man began to learn about the wages of sin. He had thought himself a slave in his father's home. Was he free now? Was this freedom, starving to death in a cold gutter, laughed to scorn by those who now had his father's money? "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12)
The young man had discovered that our lives are like a train on a track. As long as the engineer obeys the laws of safety while operating the train, it will reach its destination safely. But the moment that engineer becomes careless, the train can easily be derailed and smashed to pieces before the engineer even realizes what's going on. The same happens when we disregard the immutable moral laws that God set in motion when He created the universe. Broken laws when they are God's laws carry their own automatic punishment. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) But there's a bright side to that picture, because the second half of that same verse reads, "BUT (and someone has called that the most beautiful "but" in the Bible) the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Praise God!
No unrepentant prodigal ever comes into everlasting life, beloved; fortunately for him, our prodigal came to his senses. He grew tired of eating with the hogs he was tending. He decided to return to his father as a bondservant. Yet he was most pleasantly surprised; his father reinstated him as his son. And that is just what happens when we approach God through Jesus Christ. God adopts us as His own children. What a merciful Father! The prodigal in our parable decided it made more sense to return to his father than to continue in sin, which would eventually take his life. What about you? Aren't you tired of rebellion; aren't you sick of torturing yourself? Come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Give your life to Him, and find out what life is all about.
The "Last Judgement."
"When the Son of Man shall come" (Matthew 21:31-46)
Today's gospel reading, Dear Brethren, tells us about the Second Coming of Jesus. When Christ came the first time, He came as a very humble infant to the stable of Bethlehem. The second time He will come in His glory and in His dignity. The first time He came many people did not notice His arrival and instead of giving Him a throne to sit on they put Him on the cross. Next time He will come sitting on the throne of His glory to judge the living and the dead. Upon His first arrival angels escorted His entrance into the world. Upon His second coming angels will accompany Him again, "And all the angels with Him." St. Paul more vividly describes the picture of His second coming, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the angels' call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (I Thessalonians 4:16). Why will He be escorted by the angels? St. Chrysostom answers: "Because the angels brought to men the messages and commandments of God which concern their salvation." In other words, the angels will be present as witnesses to the great court. What will follow thereafter? The resurrection of the dead and the gathering of all peoples of the world, everyone since Adam and Eve. "Before Him will be gathered all the nations."
The resurrection of the dead is a universal hope of all people. Every liturgy we hear, "I wait for the resurrection of the dead" when confessing our faith. The Prophet Isaiah sees with his prophetical eyes the resurrection of the dead and with hopeful voice he cries out, "The dead shall rise and they that are in the tombs shall be raised" (Isaiah 26:19). St. Paul when he visited Athens preached the truth of the resurrection to the Epicurian philosophers who were mostly materialists and atheists, "because He had appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He had ordained; whereof He had given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Socrates, the philosopher, during the last moments of his earthly life in prison, discussed with his disciples the soul and the life that will continue beyond the grave. The discourse with Phaido is a metaphysical aspect of the other life. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept" (I Corinthians 15:20). The Prophet Ezekiel received an order from God to preach to the dry human bones, "Ye dry bones hear the word of the Lord." After the sermon the bones began to move and join each other. "So I prophesied as the Lord commandeth me: And it came to pass while I was prophesizing that, behold, there was a shaking and the bones approached each other one to his joint" (Please read the whole 37th chapter).
What will follow the resurrection? The separation of the sheep from the goats. Palestine's sheep were usually white, and the goats usually black. Christ spoke to the people in the language and mentality they were able to grasp easily. The sheep, in their goodness, lack of slyness, gentle disposition, and their unprotesting manner in giving their milk and wool characterize the first group. The goats, because of their undomesticated, ungentle and destructive ways characterize the second group. One of the Church Fathers said, "Goats do not walk straight paths but deviate and walk precipitous ways." The law and basis on which the separation will be based is love not knowledge, education, science, wealth nor gains but the love of man to his fellowmen. The first group, the sheep, will hear, "I was hungry and you gave me food," and the second group, the goats, will hear, "I was hungry and you gave me no food gave me no drink did not clothe me did not visit me." Blessed are the first who were full of love, and cursed are the second who did not have any trace of love but lived only for themselves. The first inherit and the second are disinherited from the paternal property. Whatsoever the first and the second sowed, they will reap; the righteous will inherit as children of the heavenly Father, the natural inheritance.
Christ does not demand great and difficult things of us except love and understanding to the needs of others such as extending a piece of bread, a glass of water (considered very important in Palestine due to lack of water), clothing for the naked, visiting the sick and a good word to those jailed. Love as "giving" and as "offering" has no limits either to the higher or lower classes. The former gives of his excess wealth and the latter offers of his inadequate funds. Those who have nothing to give or offer can extend a glass of cold water and offer the sick companionship. Sometimes it happens that this kind of offering is the worthiest, because the offering is like the "two mites" of the widow. "Verily, verily I say unto you that this poor widow hath cast more in than all which have cast into the treasury" (Mark 12:42-43).
The first group protest saying, "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink?" The latter also protest saying, "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned and did not minister to Thee?" Prophet Isaiah answers this question for us, "For my counsels are not as your counsels, nor are my ways your ways saith the Lord, but as the heaven is distant from the earth, so are my ways distant from your ways, and my thoughts from your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Dear Brethren, Christ in today's lesson solves the problem and gives us an answer that are His counsels and His ways, what we should show our neighbors and any man who is in need and needs our help. Our brother is also the brother of the Lord. How different would the present world be if we Christians observed and practiced things as described in today's gospel. Maybe the welfare and other institutions for the poor people would be unnecessary. They are in reality, an embarrassment to the Christian society. There would be no need for compulsory tax laws to support welfare projects if each Christian would be a treasury for his brother. Justification is needless. We all have some ways and means to help our brothers. If we do not have any material means, at least we have a glass of cold water to extend, a good word to the man who needs it, and be good company to the sick. The Lord does not demand anything which is beyond our powers and means.
"Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21; Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:14-31).
Many of the laws and regulations of our Orthodox Church have been greatly misunderstood by our people. Even the educated and the spiritually developed among our membership prefer to ignore many of these laws, in order that they be not burdened with them. Generally speaking, the great masses of our people have little understanding of our Church regulations. Moreover, only a handful of those who actually observe these laws have any sort of understanding of them that goes beyond the letter of the law. One such law of the Church, a law that has been greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted is the law of fasting. To be more precise, most people acknowledge this law merely by abstaining from certain foods on certain days of the year.
The fast was proclaimed and spoken about by our Lord Jesus Christ, but what kind of fasting was He speaking of? He spoke concerning a genuine fast, a fast with a deep spiritual purpose not the kind of fast with which most of us are probably familiar. He spoke of a fast that was not only abstinence from food, but (and more important) abstinence from sin as well. Fasting is made necessary by the spiritual condition of man. Thus, virtually every religion that has ever been practiced on the face of the earth has embraced some sort of fasting. But "Christian fasting," as it were, is markedly different from the fasting practiced by other faiths.
Fasting, in itself, is not a religious virtue (although it is certainly healthy); rather, it is the means whereby man can achieve virtue. Thus, in today's Gospel Lesson, Jesus insists that fasting be accompanied by two virtues: that of forgiveness, and that of almsgiving.
The Pharisees fasted very strictly and ostentatiously. Their eyes were gloomy, their attitude sorrowful. And, most terrible of all, they put ashes over their heads to show people that their fast was a strong and a difficult one. In the presence of other men they beat their breasts, loudly lamenting their sins. On the other hand, although they boasted of their strict fasting, they continued to oppress the poor especially widows and orphans. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation" (Matt. 23:14). These hypocrites whom Christ was addressing attempted to prove their worthiness not to God, who knows every inner thought of man; rather, they concentrated on impressing their fellowmen with their arrogant and counterfeit righteousness.
Fasting abstaining from all the forbidden foods has little value if we persist in gossip, slander, and hating our brother, refusing to be reconciled with our fellow man. The purpose of fasting is, under these conditions, perverted and destroyed. Yet, very unfortunately, many who consider themselves exemplary Orthodox Christians practice just this type of fasting. Of course, even they are better than those who completely ignore the fasting rules, and continue at the same time in their life of sinful pleasures. St. John Chrysostom wrote these eloquent words on the subject of fasting:
The fact is of real value only when it stems from a pure heart; when one is ready to deny wealth, and stand above money; when one is ready to give alms to the poor; when one has love and affection, not only for one's own children, but also for the orphans and the poor. One manifests real fasting when he is ready to deprive himself of food, in order that the hungry and destitute might be fed. One really fasts when he maintains his equilibrium under all stress, never allowing himself to lose his temper and explode like a volcano, destroying everyone around him. A genuine fast involves the willingness to discard all vain ambition, which often results in destruction not only for those who practice it, but for all who are close to them. One who is actually fasting never manifests covetousness.
The saint hastens to add that he is not condemning the practice of fasting: "God forbid; rather, I extol it!" Yet he insists that, unaccompanied by virtue, fasting is worthless. In the enumeration of virtues, fasting comes last; the first three are love, forbearance and charity. To really fast, we must abstain not only from food, but from sin. Otherwise we dishonor the holy period of Great Lent. What is the use of not eating meat, if we cannot abstain from criticizing our brother behind his back?
Tomorrow, my brethren, Pure Monday, the first day of the Fast, let us begin our spiritual preparations for the great and holy banquet the passion and resurrection of Christ. During this period, we know that many will completely disregard all that they stand to gain by fervent and active participation in the Fast. For such people, the Church calendar of feasts and fasts is non-existent. I would hope and pray that you are not of such mind. As your spiritual father. I beg you: pray; fast; abstain from sin. Try sincerely during the Fast, and you will gain new strength for the rest of our life. May God bless you.
The following is one of the greatest sermons ever preached on the subject of fasting, from any Christian pulpit anywhere.
Saint John Chrysostom (13th Homily concerning the Statues).
Let us not then despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears! We have this fast, too, as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession. Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveller boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest. So too, when Lent makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickles; and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travellers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and a sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveller. Hence St. Paul saith, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole armor of God." Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed? How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly business, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual armor, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with the spiritual armor, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the Devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow. Cultivate thy soul. Cut away the thorns. Sow the word of godliness. Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of divine wisdom, and thou hast become a husbandman. And Paul will say to thee, "The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits." He, too, himself practiced this art. Therefore, writing to the Corinthians, he said, "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on. And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing the body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things.
I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins, too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. "For the wrestler," it is said, "is not crowned unless he strive lawfully." To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted, in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it. The Ninevites fasted, and won favor of God. The Jews fasted, too, and profited nothing, nay, they departed with blame. Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not "run uncertainly," nor "beat the air," nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow. Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskillfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named.
I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of it consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages it. Does thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! Is it said by what kind of works? If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him! If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him! If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not! If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from plunder and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. "Thou shall not receive a false report," it says.
Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what doth it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eateth the flesh of his brother, and biteth the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, "If ye bite and devour another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." Thou hast not fixed thy teeth in the flesh, but thou hast fixed the slander in the soul, and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; thou hast harmed, in a thousand ways, thyself and him, and many others, for in slandering a neighbor thou hast made him who listens to the slander worse; for should he be a wicked man, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness; and should he be a just man, he is lifted up to arrogance, and puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagine great things concerning himself. Besides, thou hast struck at the common welfare of the Church; for all those who hear not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the reproach is fastened on the Christian community; neither dost thou hear the unbelievers saying, "Such a person is a fornicator, or a libertine"; but instead of the individual who hath sinned, they accuse all Christians. In addition to this, thou hast caused the glory of God to be blasphemed; for as his name is glorified when we have good report, so when we sin, it is blasphemed and insulted.
In the meanwhile I desire to fix these precepts in your mind, to the end that you may accomplish me these during your fast: to speak ill of no one, and to hold no one for an enemy. As in a given field, the husbandman, digging it all up piecemeal, gradually comes to the end of his task; so we, too, if we make this rule for ourselves, in any wise to reduce to a correct practice these precepts during our present fast, and to commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the rest; and by this means arriving at the summit of spiritual wisdom, we shall both reap the fruit of a favorable hope in the present life; and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence, and enjoy those unspeakable blessings; which, God grant, we may all be found worthy of, through the grace and loving kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
1st Sunday of Lent.
"Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and See" (John 1:44-52).
Philip, full of joy, one day met his friend Nathanael and related to him the joyful message, saying, "Nathanael, we have now found Him, whom for years we have asked. We have found Him of whom Moses wrote about in his God-inspired book, that 'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which He shall speak in my name, I will require it of him' (Deut. 18:14,19). Nathanael, we have found Him of whom the Prophet wrote, 'Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel' (Isaiah 7:14). We have found Him 'which should have redeemed Israel' (Luke 24:21). We have found Him, Please come to see Him. He is from Nazareth, Jesus, the Son of Joseph."
Nathaneal remained insensitive and unmoved by Philip's message and moreover added the much-used objection, the objection many people to this day give, "can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip insisted, inviting him to come, and with his own eyes to verify the truth. "Come and see. Come, first speak with Him, and you will see that never has any man spoke as he does. Come and you will see the wonderful and extraordinary works of the divine power of this Jesus from Nazareth, the supposed son of Joseph, in that 'the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor fishermen have become preachers, and those who repent receive forgiveness' (Matt. 11:5), any many others that surpass the limits of the competence of human power and authority."
Come and see, and I am very sure that you will cry out with Peter, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel." Come and see, O Man of the twentieth century and inquire to learn about Jesus, with a spirit of humility, with a spirit of humiliation, with the inner desire that you indeed want to learn the truth, and not with the spirit that is selfish and prideful which betrays as one that only seems to know everything, but does not need His teaching. O Man, do not boast because you have accomplished going to the stars. He is above the stars and the whole universe. He is their creator and they are under His authority. "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who has set thy glory above the heavens. When I consider thy heavens the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained" (Psalm 8:1-3).
Come and see, and carefully study the historical events; the narration in the gospels, the sayings of the prophets, and the testimonies of the others, His supernatural conception, His birth, the opening of the heavens, the descent of the angels, the veneration of the Wise Men from the Orient, and the massacre of the infants. Come and see the superbness of His doctrinal teaching, the perfectness of His morality He relinquished to us for moralization of the human race, and as such surpasses all human teaching and morality. Come and see those great men; the philosophers, moralists, artists, doctors, mathematicians, architects, and generally speaking the specialists of the spirit and good works who spend all their life studying the divine and human things, they all remained speechless and amazed before the superbness of Christ's teaching and testified with the servants of the high priests and Pharisees. "Then came the servants to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said unto them, 'Why have ye not brought Him (Jesus)?' The servants answered, 'Never man spake like this man' " (John 7:45,46).
Come and see the Church of Christ, which is His presence on earth. How was she established? When was she established and what were the means she used in order to penetrate most of the uncivilized world. Knowing what she experienced during her development, the persecution, the fire and the iron, you will learn her power which is the power of Christ. Listen to what St. Chrysostom says about her. "How many have assailed the Church, and yet the assailants have perished while the Church herself has soared beyond the sky? Such might hath the Church; when she is assailed, she conquers; when snares are laid for her she prevails; when she is insulted, her prosperity increases; she is wounded yet sinks not under her wounds; tossed by waves yet not submerged; vexed by storms yet suffers no shipwreck; she wrestles and is not worsted; fights, but is not vanquished."
So, dear friends, come and see the extraordinary and supernatural events of Christianity, and I am sure that you will testify with Nathanael, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." Come and see, and you will say with St. Paul, "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Come and see all these with a humble heart, the mind desireful to learn the truth and you will by all means capitulate with John, the beloved disciple of Christ, and will preach, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-14).
Come and see the events which followed after Him, and in His name; the blood of the martyrs, the dedication of many people, the self-denial of the missioners, the influence of Christianity in the building of society, the destruction of slavery, and surely with St. Peter we will say, "Neither is there salvation in any other: For there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Come and see, and study His Passion, its reason and purpose, and you will understand what the Prophet Isaiah said centuries before concerning Christ, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4-7).
The modest man always wants to find out and to learn, and as much as he learns, he wants so much to learn more and more and more. He does not boast about his knowledge; rather he knows how to be humble and subordinate to the will of God. He knows it well and testifies to it with the wise Socrates that "one thing that I know well is that I know nothing." The puffed up and presumptuous man who thinks himself above the rest of men, interprets everything heavenly and earthly, divine and human, according to the imagination of his mortal mind and accepts very few, only as well as he can understand.
Dear brothers, in the latter part of the fourth century A.D. the Roman Emperor Julian tried to turn back the clock; he tried to destroy Christianity, to rebuild the ancient pagan temples, to revive the ancient worship, and bring back the ancient gods. For a time it appeared serious for the Christian Church; but on a campaign in Persia, Julian was fatally wounded in battle. The historian tells how, as he was dying, he took a handful of his own blood from his wound and flung it into the air saying, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilaean." A dramatist made him say, "To shoulder Christ from out of the topmost niche of fame was not for me." In the end Christ is victorious, those who seek to destroy Him end by destroying only themselves.
Come and see.
Sunday of Orthodoxy.
The first Sunday of Lent is dedicated to our Orthodox faith; to the victory of truth over error, of light over darkness. For more than 100 years Christianity had been turned upside down over the question of icons. Leo the Isaurian, a great and patriotic Byzantine Emperor, seeing the enthusiasm of the youth of his era for the monastic life, and witnessing great multitudes of his subjects devoting much of their time to celebrating the feasts of the saints and their icons, felt that he had been chosen by God to enact a great reformation. In the year 726 he issued his first edict, which ordered the elevation of the icons in all churches, so that they might no longer be venerated by the faithful. Three years later another edict followed, ordering the expulsion of the holy icons from all churches. Clergy and laity had been divided. Many of the clergy took the part of the Emperor.
Those whose responsibility it was to enforce the imperial decree were ignorant and rude. They provoked many atrocities. They burned invaluable manuscripts; they destroyed priceless works of art, of which any library or museum would be justifiably proud today. Much blood was shed. Those in favor of the icons suffered many afflictions. The entire nation was divided into two camps, each trying to destroy the other iconodules versus iconoclasts.
Leo's son followed his father's tactics, as did his sons. Sometimes they even surpassed the crimes of Leo. They gouged out eyes, cut off noses, etc.
In the year 787 the throne was occupied by Irene the Athenian. Being a widow, she was acting regent for her young son. According to historians, she was very clever. She convened a great synod in Nicaea (the Seventh Ecumenical Council). The Council decided to restore the holy icons to the churches. After the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, however, the divisions among the people continued, since some of the Emperors chose to ignore the decrees of the Council. Theodora, wife of Theophilus, convened a great council in 842 at Constantinople. Methodius, a respected and inspired man, was Patriarch. The council restored the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council as obligatory. On the first Sunday of Lent, with pomp and ceremony, and with great reverence, the holy icons were restored to all the churches, as well as public places and private homes of the faithful. Thus that Sunday came to be known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and ever since then continues to be panegyrically celebrated. The unity of the nation was once again restored, and the Church regained her much-needed peace. In the end, as always, the Church conquered, and ορθη prevailed.
Therefore, it is most proper on this day to speak briefly concerning the Church. The first thought that comes to mind is, "What is the Church?" In the New Testament, and especially in the epistles of St. Paul, there are many definitions and descriptions for the Church, but the most frequently used expression is "the Body of Christ." Another New Testament expression for the Church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). Androutsos, a noted Orthodox theologian, describes the Church as "that holy foundation made by the Incarnate Word of God for the salvation and sanctification of men, bearing His own authority and authenticity, made up of men having one common faith and sharing the same Sacraments, who are divided into laity and clergy and the latter, who rule the Church, trace their beginning in unbroken succession to the Apostles and through them to the Lord." In this definition lies the whole meaning of the Church: (1) The Church is established by the Lord, and as such is divine. (2) The purpose of the Church is to save and sanctify all those who are led to confess their faith in Christ and participate in the divine grace given through the Church by means of the Sacraments. (3) The Church is composed of both clergy and laity.
Is this definition relevant to us today? Have these dogmas any practical meaning for the common man? We know that today a revolutionary current is blowing, and an impulse to change everything preoccupies modern man. Everything is examined in the same manner; all must conform to the same measure. For today's man, nothing is divine. If divine things do exist, he reasons, they should be modernized to conform to contemporary thought and mores. Many "good Christians" and other honest people view the Church as a completely human institution, one which is good and useful, especially insofar as it keeps the lower elements of society the common people in their place, mostly through her teachings of heaven and hell, rewards and punishments. Moreover, the Church is good because she performs useful social functions: caring for orphans, operating homes for the elderly, maintaining parochial schools, etc. Thus, it is wise to invite the Archbishop or priest to civic affairs, since this will almost certainly result in additional votes, more money, and additional popularity with religious people for those who organize such affairs. The Church is viewed as a kind of "service club" which contributes to the overall good of the community, and is therefore socially acceptable.
But, dear brethren, when Christ established His Church, He did not do so with commercial, political or social considerations in mind. The Church exists to fulfill a spiritual and religious function. Certainly there is a social character to the Church; this is undeniable, but it is not all-important. The primary purpose behind the Church's existence is the salvation and sanctification of men. The clergy are neither social workers nor political servants; rather, according to the inspired words of St. Paul, they are "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." The clergy are ministers of the divine grace of God and of His Gospel. If a priest is excellent in fulfilling his social functions, due to his being gifted in diplomatic language or effective communication, but lags behind in his duty to be a good steward of the mysteries of God, then he is not a priest of Christ, but a mere charlatan.
The Church is not a human institution per se; although she embraces much that is human, she is fundamentally divine. She is vivified by the very Spirit of God, being made continuously alive to every truth. If the continued existence and progress of the Church were dependent upon man, she would long since have disappeared, since we can easily prove that her servants and ministers have often been most unworthy of their calling. Moreover, many enemies of truth have sought to destroy the Church. I think the words of St. Chrysostom are appropriate here: "How many have assailed the Church, and yet the assailants have perished while the Church herself has soared beyond the sky? Such might hath the Church: when she is assailed, she conquers; when snares are laid for her, she prevails; when she is insulted, her prosperity increases; she is wounded yet sinks not under her wounds; tossed by waves yet not submerged; vexed by storms yet suffers no shipwreck; she wrestles and is not worsted; fights but is not vanquished." The Fathers of the Church teach that wherever the Church exists, there also exists the Holy Spirit; wherever the Holy Spirit exists, there also exists the Church, and Divine Grace "Ubi Ecclesia, ibitet Spiritus Dei; et ubi Spiritus Dei Hie Ecclesia et Dominis Gratia." Furthermore, the Fathers characterize the Church as the Ark of Salvation. Just as the ark saved Noah and those with him from the cataclysm of the flood, in the same way the Church saves those who take refuge under her wing. The question remains from where does man expect his salvation; from heaven or from earth; in whom or in what does he place his faith; in God through Christ, or in the world? Is man's first love his soul or his body?
It is certainly true that people today are earthly-minded; friends of the flesh and of the world, rather than friends of God. They want nothing beyond their T.V. and recreation. Because we live in the age of automation, we expect the learning of metaphysical truth to be as easy as turning a knob or pressing a button. Yet, in order to comprehend Divine Truth, we have to work; we have to contemplate.
In the Holy Scriptures, the Church is also characterized as the "light of the world," and the "salt of the earth." She is the light of the world, leading men to their spiritual destiny the Lord Jesus Christ. She also preserves the people from moral decay, just as salt was used in the time of Christ to preserve food. The Church restrains the people who work in factories, among machines, in order that they may not lose their personalities and become machines themselves. She tries to keep those who work in the darkness of the earth, in mines, lest they lose the light of Christ. Thus the Church is indestructible. Jesus Christ said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Fear him rather who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28, New English Bible).
Dear brethren, I think it is most fitting to conclude my sermon with the words of St. Paul: "Be on your guard; do not let your minds be captured by hollow and delusive speculations, based on traditions of man-made teaching and centered on the elemental spirits of the universe and not on Christ." Remain in the Church, not as mere "attenders," nor yet as puerile instruments, but as active members, full of life and action. Participate always in the sacramental life of the Church, in the Mystical Body of Christ. Outside of the sanctified environment of the Church, there is no salvation. In the words of St. Cyprian, "Extra Ecclesiam nula salus." St. Photius said, "Whoever leaves the Church delivers himself up to Satan." And St. Chrysostom, grasping the circumstance of Eutropius, who of his own will abandoned the sanctuary of the Church and was captured and executed by the army: "Abide with the Church, and the Church will not hand you over to the enemy: but if you flee from the Church, the Church is not the cause of your capture. If you are inside the fold, the wolf cannot get you; but if you leave, you are liable to find yourself the prey of the beast."
2nd Sunday of Lent.
The Starry Heaven and the Moral Law.
"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the works of thine hands" (Heb. 1:10).
Last week in one of my classes in a theological seminary I taught about the creation of the world. I taught, of course, what the Scriptures say; what the Church says; the tradition of the Fathers, and the position of our Church today. I did not ignore the opinions of men who are specialists in this very heated subject, many of whom do not want to connect scientific results with scriptural sayings.
I entrusted one of the better students to make a brief research about what the geologists and the astronomers say regarding the creation and how the world was derived, and to bring the report to class.
The student zealously and devotedly worked, then brought the report to class and read it. The general conclusion was that none of the geologists and the astronomers agreed concerning the origin and age of this world, because all began from the theoretical hypothetical presuppositions of the most lean kind. Great and famous geologists say that the earth is millions and billions of years old. Kalvin says that the age of the earth is twenty-five million years; Osmpron, one hundred million; Huxley, four hundred million, and another estimate one billion six hundred million years.
They also disagree about the earth's origin. There are as many theories and opinions as there are scientists. The materialists and rationalists say that the world is made of matter that pre-existed. Others say that the earth was created by chance. Neither theory satisfies us.
A wrist watch presupposes a watch-maker. Somewhere there must be a watch-maker. Can we say that by chance all those wheels, levers, jewels, and springs formed themselves? Did they by chance set themselves going? Was it by chance that a wrist watch became an instrument that counts and tells the hours, minutes and seconds? I do not think so, and no logical man does either. The shoe presupposes a shoemaker; the automobile presupposes a factory, and previous to that a man's brain which conceived the shape, design and produced the car; and the airplane which flies above the clouds and is invisible to the human eye presupposes pilots and mechanics.
Many of the geologists, astronomers and philosophers who are geniuses express their opinions, but they do not stop to say and confess that beyond the creation and behind the perfect natural law is the creative and providential hand of God. The great philosopher Kant used to say that two things convinced him of God "the starry heavens above me, and the moral law within me." Xenophon, in the memorabilia, tells how Socrates argued about the divine pronoia, providence and forethought from the structure of the human body. "Are there not other contrivances which look like the results of forethought? Thus, the eyeballs, being weak, are set behind the eyelids, that open like doors when we want to see, and close when we sleep. On the lids grow lashes through which the very winds filter harmlessly; above the eye is a cropping of brows that let no drops of sweat from the head hurt them " And Cicero used to say that "the musical harmony of the world would be impossible without a mind behind it." And also says, "the belief in God is only strengthened by the passage of years, and grows more deeply rooted with each successive generation of mankind. Men of all nations have engraved in their minds an innate belief that gods exist."
But why am I relating all these opinions of the philosophers? We have the word of God which speaks; the revelation unhesitatingly and unequivocally lays down its belief in God the Creator. The very first words of the Bible are: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). The Prophet Isaiah describes the Lord as the one "who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it ... and hears God say, 'I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens and I commanded all their host' " (Isaiah 42:5, 45:12).
In the New Testament there is a strong line of thought which connects not only the Father but the Son also with the creation. Speaking about the Eternal Word, who as Jesus became flesh, John in the fourth gospel writes, "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made" (John 1:3). St. Paul, in order to overthrow the teachings of the Gnostic heresies who did not accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God, wrote to the Colossians saying that "in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities all things were created through Him and for Him." Finally Paul, in order to point out the unity and the connection of the Old Testament with the New Testament, borrows a passage from the Psalmist in writing to his compatriots that the belief of the New Testament concerning the creation of the world is the same as in the Old Testament, "And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the works of thine hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as doth a garment" (Heb. 1:10-11).
The Scriptures do not mention the method God used in creating the world; it only states, "And God said and it was so." Androutsos, a great theologian and philosopher, says that "the Holy Scriptures is not a book on natural science, but presents its content in a form and language agreeable to the ideas and comprehension of those for whom it was written. It has in view the purpose of ascribing the genesis (beginning) of the world to God."
As a conclusion of this sermon, I want to mention the opinion of Dr. Wernher von Braun, a key man behind America's moon trip. "Through a closer look at creation, we ought to gain a better knowledge of the Creator, and a greater sense of man's responsibility to God will come into focus. We must learn to consider God as Creator of the universe and master of everything." He says he now finds it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.
We are small and unwise. We do not have anything more to add except to confess with King David the Psalmist, "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth: who hast set thy glory above the heavens. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which thou has ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: O Lord, Our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth."
3rd Sunday of Lent.
The Cross of Christ and the Crosses of the World.
Dear brethren, today is already the Third Sunday in the Holy Lent, the Sunday of the Veneration of the holy life-giving Cross. The priest decorates the Holy Cross with spring flowers and places it out for veneration by the faithful. Respect and reverence for the Cross is as old as Christianity itself. St. Chrysostom writes: "In the middle of the Holy Fast, the Church takes the holy and life-giving Cross and presents it to the people for veneration. Today is the day of veneration of the Holy Cross." Another Father, Cyril of Jerusalem, writes: "While the Fast weakens the body and makes it useless for sin, the pure and spiritual veneration of the Holy Cross lifts up our minds to the Kingdom which is above us." The veneration of the Cross always reminds us of our Lord, and of the hope of the resurrection. The Cross, concerning which our Lord spoke to His disciples so descriptively just prior to His Passion, is for us the symbol of Christian duty. It shows us how to act. Our duty is a cross, and each cross of the Lord is an additional duty for us. Our duty is to follow the exact teaching of our Lord. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." People in our day are not at all willing to bear burdens and crosses. Yet they are more than willing when it comes to rights and demands. In the United Nations, for example, with high-sounding expressions and empty words, men speak about the rights of the people men who never respected any human right.
But Christianity involves duty. Christ said: "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." To one who was considering becoming one of the Lord's followers, Christ said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."
While we can and should sacrifice our rights and privileges, we must never shirk our duties. How often is the opposite the case. Men so easily forget their duties, while remaining so adamantly imperative and demanding concerning their rights. A good example of the case in point is our own children. They inform us, "You must send me to college, I must go away for a vacation, I need a car, I must have money." But let a parent ask something of his child, and the response is almost sure to be, "This is my life; it is none of your business." The word "responsibility" does not exist in the vocabulary of the child. But life is a duty, a cross, the Cross of the Lord. He set us an example to follow. "The Lord ascended His Cross first," writes St. Chrysostom, "leaving us an example, a pattern for all who would follow." And here is the curious thing about man. While he thinks that the Cross of Christ is so heavy, the road so steep, that he invents many excuses as to why he cannot accept the Cross of Christ, and finally rejects it; yet the same man is so eager to accept such secular crosses as smoking, drunkenness, games of chance, and immorality, which totally and catastrophically destroy him.
Christ assures us that His Cross is light, that it elevates all who lift it, all who will accept it. Christ calls all who are weary of their secular crosses to take up His light yoke: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Men do not heed the Lord; they listen to the words of the world, which lead them to believe that our Lord's Cross is so heavy that it is unbearable, that the Lord's commands are too strict, that man loses his freedom in service to Christ. He can no longer enjoy himself. Thus, many deceived people reject the Cross of the Saviour and bear burdens that are heavy indeed.
We do not say that it is easy to be a Christian; the way of the Cross has its difficulties. Yet the way of the Cross leads to the Resurrection, while the way of the world leads to destruction. At first secular crosses offer pleasure, but in the dregs of enjoyment is hidden poison, deceit and pain. Also, we must remember that we are not called upon to travel the way of the Cross alone; our Lord Himself is with us every step of the way. Just as Simon of Gyrene helped Jesus with His Cross, even so does the Lord promise His help to us. Just as Simon helped the Lord, so the Lord helps all who sincerely wish to carry His Cross. Those who bear secular crosses, however, are without help, without grace; they are alone, deserted, with the heavens as brass and the earth as iron.
Dear brethren, the Cross is such an immeasurably precious message, my pen and my language are much too poor to give it. I can only assure you, if you bear the Lord's cross you have nothing to fear; He himself will walk beside you every step of the way. Saint Anthony was suffering much from temptation; when it finally passed, he prayed, "Lord, where were You in my hour of temptation?" And the Lord answered, "Anthony, I was closer to you at that time than ever before." We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when persecution broke out in Jerusalem, and the Christians were scattered all over the Mediterranean world, "the hand of the Lord was with them." Saint Peter adds, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you."
Dear brothers and sisters, if you are struggling to bear some sort of worldly cross, throw it from you quickly; sooner or later it is bound to lead you to catastrophe. Do not be deceived your end is certain destruction. Venerate with humility and piety the honorable wood of the Cross, asking its protection in all circumstances. He who ascended that Cross will give you the perseverance to bear His cross with joy, and will free you from the cross under which you have been laboring. Learn with St. Chrysostom the meaning of the Holy Cross. He writes, "Through the Cross, redemption and regeneration for all things." We adore Thy Cross O Christ, and Thy Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. Amen.
4th Sunday of Lent.
What Does the Church Have to Say?
"Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit" (Mark 9:17-31).
Dear brethren, today's gospel reading tells us that a father brought his child to Christ to be cured of his sickness saying, "Master, I have brought you my child. He suffers and is in pain. You are my last hope. Please make him well." Christ inquired how long the child had suffered. The father answered, "paedeothen" that is, from childhood.
Today's sermon is about our children. The sermon is timely. It is very necessary because our children are, these days, near destruction. They face dangers from all directions. It is not my intention to repeat the events and situations we all know and speak about. After all, as a popular proverb says, "a village in view needs towards it no guide." Everyone now relives the tragedies through the newspapers, periodicals, radio, television, and by other news media.
What does the Church say concerning children? Or rather, does the Church have the right to speak about children? We have received many letters from parents who read this column begging us to write something about children. The time has come to write, not to the children, but to the parents. Regarding the second question, we insist that the Church has all the right to speak about children.
What is the Church? It is the Great Mother of Christians which gives rebirth, feeds, and instructs (or paedagoges) the believer for and to salvation. Basil the Great calls the Church "Mother of all and the nurse." How come? The womb of the Church is the holy font where we regenerate ourselves and through it come into the world of true life. The Church is the nurse trophos which feeds us with Holy Communion. The Body and Blood of the Lord is the heavenly manna, the divine food that remains eternal. The divine word the kerygma is the "living water" which comes from the Holy Spirit, irrigating and watering the souls of men. It is the affectionate mother, the mother who covers, who loves, who warms, who becomes the consolation and balm for the sick, the naked and those who go astray.
But before the child goes to Church, he first goes home, to his parents. Children are not born like animals. We have two proofs of that. The first is from Scriptures; the difference in the creation of the animals and of man. The animals and the rest of the creatures were created through the order of God. As for man, God being especially concerned paid extraordinary attention in his creation. He first created the body and afterwards blew into him the breath of life. "And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 1:26-27). The second proof is from the natural birth. When an animal is born, it is armed or equipped with all the means to face life and natural enemies. Man is born naked and unable to face life alone, thereby in need of protection. Most of the animals live to the age of a young man, that is about twenty years, then they die leaving no trace. Man is born and he looks toward heaven. His life does not end at the gravestone, but continues in the bosom of eternal life. "God created man for incorruption," the Scriptures say. Animals have no meaning of the future and for this reason do not understand death and its meaning. They live for the moment and care for the moment. Man thinks. He remembers the past and from its experience builds the future. Until the infant can think, that is reaches maturity, he needs direct help and assistance. First of all, he needs his mother's help, then afterwards his father's. There is no better picture in life and no more beautiful one than the picture of a mother who embraces her child in her arms and transplants, by her maternal milk, life and immortality to her child. The mother supplies him with food and the father begins to breed, groom and educate him. The Greek word for food is "trophi, and education is "anatrophi." The food trophi is concerned with development and bodily health of the child. The breeding anatrophi concerning the formation of the soul and the education of character is equally important. If the child lacks in health of his soul and in the formation of his character, having only strong muscles, he becomes the means and tool of destruction. The child becomes a wild beast, who lives not in the forest, but in the city. We have many such young people today, who burn banks, homes, overturn cars, kill and do other evil things. They are healthy in body, but sick in character.
The parents direct their interests only as to how their children will be strong bodily. Therefore, the parents are the initiative sources of the child's progress. This, Gregory of Nyssa, from his personal family experience, had in mind when he said, "From the family's fireplace men take the fire of holiness, and the home is the factory (or the shop) of virtue." St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "You are God's building" (I Cor. 3:9). If all the Christians are the edifice of God, young age is the foundation of the whole building. No architect, engineer or logical man builds a building on a decayed foundation, because with the first rattling, the edifice or building falls; "and great was the fall of it" (Matt. 7:24-27). The foundation of the building is Christ. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
Faith to God is first. We must teach our children, not how to become materially rich, but how to become good men not "efporoi" (rich), but "eftropoi," with good manners. The example of parents is the greatest teacher. The small children not only accept and learn what they hear, but what they see is imprinted in their minds also and they imitate likewise.
After his family life, especially here in America, a child enters church life. We cannot say anything about school life, because even that typical and dry prayer was thrown out from public schools. According to the expression of a moralist, the school has become a focal point of revolution and of anarchy. The student has ceased to be a person, but rather a number. There is no personal interest for the student. Children of the first and second grade smoke without any shame in front of their teachers, that is, teachers who are unbalanced and without moral foundations. For this reason the Church's responsibility is doubled. The priest is a priest, but he is also the teacher of religion. What did the father in today's gospel do? He took his sick child and brought him to Jesus Christ. The parents of today's society should do the same, leading their children to the Church. The Church is a private clinic and a sanitorium without salary. It happens that when a child goes to church a conversion and some kind of an alteration takes place by the right hand of the Highest. A child goes into the Church and leaves as another. The Church is the treasury of divine grace that she grants to her children through her sacraments. The parents who bring their children to the "courts of the Lord" are blessed, while the parents who do not are unfortunate, and their children still more unfortunate. Instead of leading their children to church every Sunday, the parents lead them to other places. Such parents will mourn tomorrow because of their negligence to their children, and their mourning will be too late.
We have to understand once and for all that children without Christ are available or susceptible to any kind of crime. Therefore, it still remains for you to bring your children to the Church, exactly as the father in the gospel brought his child to Jesus Christ. Amen.
5th Sunday of Lent.
"Whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all" (Mark 10:32-45).
Dearly beloved in Christ, we have now reached the 5th Sunday of Lent, as we continue to approach the life-giving passion and resurrection of the Lord. The time grows short. The eyes of the enemy of our souls are ceaselessly upon us. It is time to remind ourselves of the words of our Lord to His disciples, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may be spared the test" (Luke 22:46). Speaking of the demons who torment our souls, our Lord said, "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).
The Lord, taking leave of Galilee and Samaria, crosses the Jordan river, passes by Jericho, and climbs the uphill road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem, that great city which throughout history killed the prophets of God, and stoned those sent by God to help her. As Jesus walks along, the roads are overflowing with Jews, coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The pilgrims sing the beautiful words of the Psalter: "My heart was glad when they said unto me, let us go up to the house of the Lord." In place of these joyous songs, however, Christ has only this dirge: "Behold, we go to Jerusalem; and the Son of God will be delivered into the hands of men." The disciples cannot comprehend the meaning of these words. They dream. They wonder whether Christ's prophecy of His own passion will actually be fulfilled. One looks at another. No one knows the answer. They had all been looking forward to royal positions, to an earthly kingdom, to secular thrones on which they were to sit judging the twelve tribes of Israel. What a disappointment! St. Chrysostom comments, "The cross still loomed ahead in the future; neither had the grace of the Holy Spirit been granted them. After the crucifixion, after Pentecost, after the advent of the Holy Spirit, they would understand fully the significance of their positions."
But Christ continues His prophecy. He does not stop with the cross. His is a message of hope. For the first time in man's long history, the glimmer of hope appears on the horizon. "Courage!" He proclaims. "On the third day I will rise from the dead!"
In the midst of this prophecy, Jesus is approached by the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, who have a rather unique request to make of the Master. Matthew informs us that their mother aided them in this venture: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down, and making a request of Him" (Matt. 20:20). They ask for two thrones of secular authority, one on the right hand and one on the left hand of Jesus. They did not understand the prophecy of Christ: where, in a few days, two bloody crosses would stand, one on either side of the redemptive cross of our Lord, The two brothers instead pictured two princely thrones. Jesus replies, "You don't know what you are asking." How well these words of Christ apply also to us today, for today's people do not know what they are asking of Christ; neither do they know what He is asking of them. How many times do we ask of Christ those things which are the world's to give us: human glory, wealth, sensual pleasures, power and dominion over others. These things we ask of Christ, and from the world we ask those things which only Christ, through His Church, can give us: genuine life, truth, salvation, grace, redemption, sanctification. In this way, a respected and noted author wisely writes concerning the confusion of our age: Christians use the language of the atheists, and atheists use the vocabulary of Christians.
To speak more concretely, the people in our parishes, in our communities, often expect the wrong things from the Church. The laymen want to exercise the position of the clergy, while the clergy are overly interested in the affairs of the laity. How fitting these words of Christ are for us: "You don't know what you are asking." We wish to get ahead by exerting mastery over others, by grasping the lead with our own powers, whether or not they happen to coincide with the Christian ethic.
How different is Christ's concept of being first. He who would be first must be the voluntary servant of all, expecting nothing in return. Let him who thinks himself superior take the basin and towel of Christ, and let him wash the feet of his brothers. True Christian dignity and glory are based not on the occupation of the highest places at banquets, nor yet on pride or arrogance, but upon the humble, loving service a Christian renders to others. Christ is completely indifferent to the number of high-society friends you have. He cares not to whose exclusive party you were invited. Rather, you are numbered among the first when you visit those who lie alone in hospitals, when you wash their wounds, when you feed the poor, when you lead the blind, when you wash the feet of your brother, placing yourself beneath him. "Not in the brightness of the crown," writes St. Photius, "but in the heroism of the basin in which our Lord washed the disciples' feet, is judged the value and genuineness of a true leader."
Empty barrels make the most noise; those full of oil are quiet, yet firm. Before the harvest, the standing grain in a wheat field stands straight and tall; but when its ears are heavily-laden with golden grain, it is stooped over like an old woman.
St. Paul exhorts us, in I Corinthians 12:31, to earnestly desire the best gifts, the most worthwhile talents and qualifications not those that bring glory from the lips of men, but those that enable us to serve God and aid man. These gifts we must seek the only moral way through prayer and inner struggle. If you would be first in our Lord's estimation, you must imitate, not the rulers of this world, but the humble spirit of the Master Himself, who told us, "I am not come to be ministered unto, but to serve."
He Who Is Coming.
"Blessed is the king of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13).
On Palm Sunday, dearly beloved, our Holy Church commemorates the royal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. This entrance, according to Scripture, took place exactly six days prior to the Jewish Passover: "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany " (John 12:1). The triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem was prophesied 745 years in advance by the prophet Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). There is not one prophet in the entire Old Testament who does not mention, who does not prophesy, at least one event in the life and/or ministry of our Lord.
Christ comes willingly to Jerusalem, his reason being that stated in His High Priestly Prayer: "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee " (John 17:1). At other times during His public ministry when Jesus had faced death, He had fled. But now He comes to confront His enemies face to face. This should serve as an example for us: let us not cower in fear before the enemies of the Gospel, but stand up to them boldly.
Before the triumphal procession moved towards Jerusalem, Jesus stopped at the home of His friend Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. There were two persons at the supper that distinguished themselves by their behavior: Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the disciple of Jesus, whose surname was Iscariot. Mary, sensing somehow that the earthly ministry of Jesus was drawing to a close, takes a pound of pure and expensive alabaster and anoints the feet of Christ, wiping them with her hair. The house was soon permeated by the sweet fragrance of the alabaster. Judas, however, always acutely conscious of the monetary value of everything, censured the pious act of Mary, charging her with the wanton waste of that which "might have been sold for much, and given to the poor" (Matthew 26:9). We then see Jesus in His role as Defender of the poor and the oppressed. Chrysostom remarks that the piety of Judas here is certainly hypocritical, as is his condemnation of Mary. St. Paul tells us that Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. (II Corinthians 11:14). Judas is unsuccessful at hiding his real motive; he would have liked to have stolen the ointment, and sold it for his own personal profit. Many of us today are guilty of this sin of Judas, particularly those that would rob the church of its liturgical appointments, condemning them as luxuries. Not that they would steal from the church; but whenever a new chalice is needed for Holy Communion they will object that the money is being squandered foolishly, and the same with vestments, icons, and even with Bibles for the Sunday School. Any money spent for religious purposes, and especially for bringing others to the saving faith of Christ, is, according to these people, not necessary. It would be superfluous to comment upon the spiritual condition of these avaricious souls.
During the supper, a crowd of people from Jerusalem was congregating outside the house. They wanted to meet our Lord; they also wished to see Lazarus, whom they heard (and correctly) Jesus had raised from the dead. These people were simple and frank in their words and behavior. They were also very easily swayed. For these same people, who greeted our Lord with palm branches, and shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David," would in a few days' time be screaming for Jesus' blood, and demanding the release of Barabbas in place of Christ. The audacity; The utter depravity! Exchanging a thief for the incarnate Son of God, who had healed their sick and raised their dead. Yet history is full of such examples. The good are condemned; the obscene are glorified. Jesus meekly entered Jerusalem, allowing the crowd to have its way in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Chrysostom contrasts the entry of Christ with that of a conquering military hero, pointing out the supreme humility, the great meekness, of the Son of God. The disciples themselves did not understand these events until they had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost.
Beloved, how will you receive Christ today? To ignore Him is tantamount to rejecting Him. He does not ask you to hail Him with palm branches; He asks only a contrite heart. He seeks entrance today, not into Jerusalem, but into your soul. Accept Him as your Savior; did He not bear your sins on the cross? Accept Him as the Victor over death, and reign with Him in everlasting life. "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Amen!
Christ Is Risen!
With hearts and faces of radiant joy, dear brethren, we celebrate again this year the Divine Resurrection the miracle of miracles of our faith, and the greatest event in all of history. The resurrection is simultaneously an historical event and an extraordinary miracle. As an event, it occurred in history, certified by men in the same way as other historical events. As a miracle, it remains beyond time and space, as well as the comprehension of man. It is explicitly a miracle, and naturally inexplicable. For this reason, the Church does not seek to explain the Lord's resurrection; she merely proclaims it in faith. Such metaphysical acts of God cannot be scientifically researched by the believer. Rather, they must be venerated in faith.
The Apostles, as eyewitnesses of the resurrection, presented themselves to the world, not as interpreters of how Christ rose from the dead, but as preachers of the fact that He did rise! With this faith they ended their lives, more often than not with martyrdom, "for we cannot keep from telling what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
The resurrection can be demonstrated to be an historical fact; but, as an incomprehensible miracle, it cannot be explained. As an event of history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis and foundation of all of the Church's preaching over the centuries. The Church herself is a living testimony to the authenticity of Christ's resurrection. How else could the Church have come into existence? "It is what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have beheld, what our own hands have touched, about the very message of life and that life has been unveiled to us, and we have seen it and now testify to it, and we now announce it to you, yea, the eternal life that was with the Father and has been unveiled to us. I repeat, it is what we have seen and heard that we now announce to you, so that you too may share this fellowship with us, for this fellowship that we have is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1: 1-3) And St. Paul penetrates even deeper into the mystery when he writes: "And if Christ didn't rise, our preaching means nothing, and your faith means nothing" (I Corinthians 15:14) Thus we see that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is inseparably linked with the Christian message and its proclamation. Our preaching and faith would be empty indeed, were it not for the life-giving resurrection of our Savior. The preaching of the Apostles was not founded upon clever myths, nor yet upon philosophical ideologies, but upon unquestionable historical fact. "We didn't follow any clever myths when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and His coming. No, with our own eyes we saw His majesty" (II Peter 1:16)
The resurrection of Christ, as something that occurred within the limits of time and space, is not only witnessed by the existence of the Church, but by the tremendous influence that the Church has exerted upon the secular world for nearly two thousand years. If the resurrection of Christ can be denied, then so can every other indisputable historical event. This same Jesus "showed Himself alive ... by many infallible proofs" (Act 1:3); for forty days and nights speaking to His Apostles, appearing to them, allowing them to touch Him, eating with them, walking with them, and teaching them. They felt His presence so vibrantly that their hearts were aflame. Who ever saw or heard of a dead man exerting such influence on the living; arming them with such power and wisdom; emboldening and enlightening such simple, uneducated men. St. Chrysostom writes, "A great proof of the resurrection of Christ is the great power He manifested after His death. His resurrection convinced the living to abandon their country, their home, their friends, their relatives, their wives, children and parents, and to take little thought of the danger to their own lives. All these are the achievements, not of a dead man who remained in his grave, but of a resurrected God."
The resurrection of Christ as a miracle, is not only an historical event, but something which we live every day. Not only in apostolic times, but even in our modern epoch, numberless are the people who preferred to die rather than deny their Lord's resurrection. The Gospel proclamation that the Lord is risen is a witness to the historic faith of the Apostles, the martyrs, the righteous; it justifies all of their struggles, even the blood which they shed for the mysteries of the faith. The Apostles knew that their Lord was risen. Out of this faith and conviction was born the Hristos Anesti which the Church so gloriously proclaims for 40 days; and the witness of nearly 2,000 years answers joyously, Alethos Anesti Indeed, He is risen!
2nd Sunday after Easter.
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God" (John 20:17-31).
We call today the Sunday of Antepascha, dear brethren, because it is today that the feast of Easter draws to a close, although we continue to sing joyous paschal music until the feast of our Lord's Ascension. We call the week following Easter "Bright Week," from the Latin "Dominica in Albis," for in ancient years the newly baptized wore white robes from the day of their baptism, Great and Holy Saturday, until the Sunday of Antepascha.
This day is also known to us as St. Thomas Sunday, because eight days after Christ's first appearance to His disciples, at which time Thomas was not present and refused to believe, Christ appeared to all of the disciples, and bade Thomas "reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27).
Christ had nothing to fear from scientific research then, and He has nothing to fear today. Rather, He helps all those who with good intentions and feelings seek to know and learn about Him, and to meet Him. Christ does not attempt to force us to believe in Him. He forces no one, but invites all to follow Him, and as many as follow Him freely, He freely accepts. Jesus respects the freedom of will with which man was created. Many will reject Him, initiating horrible persecutions of all who unconditionally accept Him. Atheists and unbelievers will continue to plan lessons and special courses to contradict His teachings. Scientists will run the words of Jesus through their man-made computers in vain attempts to prove that those words are not authentic. Meetings and conventions will continue to be organized to oppose Christ. The very passions of sinful men will oppose Him. Yet, over and above the voices of the persecutors, the atheists, and the unbelievers, we can still hear the voice of Thomas crying, "My Lord and my God."
Thomas' first attitude of "unless I see I will not believe" is illogical. We don't apply it to everything else; why apply it to religion? How could schools function on this attitude? How could teachers prove to students that Socrates, Plato, Napoleon, Lincoln and even Eisenhower actually lived? How could teachers prove that the conquests of Alexander the Great and the battle of Waterloo took place? And how could a court convict a single criminal, if the entire jury had to see the crime take place in order to give a verdict of "guilty"? How illogical is all this!
We live and are moved by the confidence that others have in us, and that we have in them. Ten of the best friends of Thomas, whom he had known for at least three years, assured him that they had seen the Lord. Their stories all agreed. They were sane men. Yet Thomas refused to believe without seeing. Many people today repeat the words of Thomas, especially those who would destroy the major doctrines of the Christian faith.
If people are going to take this attitude of "I won't believe it unless I see it," one would think that they would at least bother to investigate carefully. Some time back a young man said to me with great arrogance, "Father, I believe that Socrates was greater than Christ." I told him, "If you can back up what you say by concrete proof, I'll believe that too." He began to comment upon the "writings" of Socrates, noting that Christ wrote nothing. How confused he was when I explained to him that Socrates himself wrote nothing, and that all we know of him is what we can glean from the writings of such men as Plato, Xenophon and Plutarch. He refused to believe me until I showed it to him in black and white in an encyclopedia. If careful research and preparation have no part in your studies, you will become like an empty barrel, having no content except for inarticulate sounds.
At a hotel in New York City a person was complaining about business. Someone said, "Don't worry; the rich will die just as we will, and their wealth won't do them any good in the future life." The first man replied, "Do you really believe in such mythical nonsense? Who ever returned from the dead? I believe heaven and hell are right here on this earth." At this point I felt I had to enter the conversation. "Why don't you investigate, and see whether anyone ever returned from the realm of the dead," I suggested. "Do you know what the Bible teaches about heaven and hell, and about One who returned from the dead? Have you ever seriously investigated the Christian religion?" The answer, of course, was no. He knew nothing whatever about religion, yet still expressed his opinion that heaven and hell do not exist as distinct places. How can a person possibly claim the right to an opinion about a subject concerning which he admittedly knows nothing?
Yet such is the concern of Christ for one soul, beloved, that He condescends to the doubting Thomas, permitting him to see and touch Him, thus verifying the truth of the resurrection. "Be not faithless," He says, "but believing."
St. Chrysostom writes, "In beholding the infidelity of the disciples, we see and understand the great love of our Lord, who lowered Himself to the test of a faithless disciple." When Thomas saw the Lord, he instantly believed, crying out, "My Lord and my God!" The reply of Jesus is intended for each of us: "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
3rd Sunday after Easter.
The Myrrh-Bearing Women.
"It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve the tables" (Acts 6:1-7).
I read the other day an article in a newspaper concerning the sermons of contemporary preachers. The title was, "What Is Lacking Today From the Pulpit"? The newspaper columnist expressed a real truth which we the priests often discuss. There doesn't exist a strong sermon which can attract people to the church and inwardly shake them up like an earthquake does. I heard a preacher, on St. Nicholas Day, speak about the life of the saint. Among others, he said that St. Nicholas is honored by the Protestants and Catholics. And the cantor of the church murmured, "Oh the poor priest doesn't know that the Catholic Church excommunicated, by her agiologion, St. Nicholas from the catalogs of the saints. If a powerful sermon is lacking today in the Orthodox churches, are we, the priests, totally responsible? Is it due to our negligence, or due to our work which is many-fold and complicated? Do the priests have time to work and to prepare for a good sermon, or have they not? The answer is given to us in today's epistle reading from the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-7). The text is very instructive and very timely and we have to pay special attention to it. The church, as well as the laymen and board of trustees, very unfortunately expect a priest to do everything. After Pentecost the number of Christians astonishingly increased daily. The first church, along with delivering the sermon, undertook the responsibility of feeding the poor people. That means the apostles, besides their pastoral work, were busy not only with the sermon but also with serving the tables. Complaints started from the first days as always happens to the Church, "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily administration." The apostles could not give all their attention to the administrating of the tables and to act as waiters. But on the other hand, it was also the obligation of the church. The church cannot ignore and must not ignore the poor, the sick, and the needy. "For I was ahungered and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, I was a stranger and ye took me in, naked and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison and ye came unto me" (Matt. 25:25-36).
When the apostles saw that the work of administering the tables was becoming a failure, they decided to solve the problem differently. They could devote themselves to the tables. The first is first. St. Chrysostom says, "We cannot put the head to the feet or vice versa, the feet to the head." The holy apostles, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, neither neglected the sermon nor were indifferent to the poor. What they did, the Book of the Acts relates to us. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, it is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God and serve the tables." Then they entrusted all members of the church to elect seven faithful people with fear of God, modesty, tender heart and delicate feelings with whom they could charge the care of the poor. "Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." It is difficult for the priest to do everything in the imminent field of the church. On the other hand, all laymen are not properly qualified for ecclesiastical office administration. The office requires much attention and much prudence on the church's part as well as on the people's part. Many times the people choose the most improper and most indifferent people to serve as co-workers of the priest and servants of the people. Such people have only one purpose, how to counteract the work of the priest and his mission and the mission of the church, and how to perpetuate their own teachings and theories on the administrating of the church. How many such examples do we have? Such people who would probably not be permitted to stay in the courts of the church, due to their immoral life and uncharacteristic social Christian behavior, have offices in the church. Now we need not elaborate more about this subject, because we respect the principles and rules of the sermon.
The many that serve and work in the church should be people with wisdom, prudence and with fear of God, "Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom." The priest would not be distracted; instead, he could be occupied with the spiritual works: performing the divine liturgy, preaching the word of God, preparing himself for the extraordinary charisma, confessing the people, visiting the sick and staying with them one, two or three hours and performing spiritual and priestly works that his co-workers cannot do. As the apostles said, "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." Prayer and sermon are the first and most important tasks of the priest. When I say "Prayer" I mean in general the whole worship and the sacramental life of the Church, among which the divine liturgy takes precedence. Unfortunately, many of these important facets of our religion today are of necessity sometimes neglected. We, the priests, in many cases do not have enough time for prayer and the ministry of the word because of the time we must devote to things which are irrelevant to our divine ministry. Many tasks, such as arranging for bazaars, films, dances, banquets, and picnics, can be performed by the laymen without encroaching on the limited time available to the priest.
In a parish where the laymen do not accept their responsibilities regarding these non-priestly activities, a strong and inspired pulpit sermon may be lacking, and other important facets of our religion are sometimes neglected. The first and main purpose of the Church is the saving of souls and not providing recreation for the people. The duty of the priest is to perform the holy worship and to preach the Word of God. He should also take an interest in the poor. We should leave the responsibilities for all other activities in the hands of the priest's co-workers, mainly to the members of the board of trustees. These men must be "men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." Efficient co-workers and deacons will see the church as the center of the whole community life, as the ark of salvation, and will regard the priest not as a hired clerk but as the Father of the community and the representative of Christ.
4th Sunday after Easter.
"Lord, I Have No One."
"Lord, I don't have anybody to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. And while I'm trying to get there, somebody else steps in ahead of me" (John 5:1-15).
This Sunday, dearly beloved, is known in the Church as the Sunday of the Paralytic, for today's Gospel Lesson refers to the miraculous healing of the paralytic of Bethesda by the Lord Jesus Christ.
St. John the Evangelist tells us that on this particular day (perhaps it was the feast of Pentecost) Jesus was visiting the city of Jerusalem. One of the sites He visited there was the pool of Bethesda, which had five great porticoes, or porches. The pool was located outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Its Hebrew name means "House of Mercy." It was so named because, as our Gospel Lesson informs us, there were always a large number of unfortunate people there such as cripples and blind folk. At certain times an angel would come down to the pool, making small waves in the water. When this occurred, the first person into the water was healed of whatever malady he was afflicted with. Naturally, such a miracle defies the explanations of science, just as do modern miracles, such as those which occur on the island of Tinos, a part of Greece. Although we cannot explain these miracles, we nevertheless believe in them.
Now, had there been at Bethesda a guest register of sorts, we would find recorded therein that the man in our Gospel Lesson this morning had lain there longer than 38 years. The best years of his youth had been spent there, waiting for the rippling of the water in the pool. Yet he had no one no parent, no relative, no friend, who would help him. Everyone at Bethesda was concerned with his own problems; everyone was selfish. So, the story was always the same, year after year. The water would be troubled, and before the lame man could get there some newcomer was already in the pool, Imagine, 38 long years without laughter, without friendship, without joy, and, certainly towards the end, without hope. One would think that one of the many people who had been healed would have stayed long enough to help this poor man. But no one stayed. No one cared.
One day, the lame man heard someone speaking to him. That in itself was strange. No one ever spoke to him. It must have taken the man a while to realize that Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, was talking to him. Even then, it's very likely that he didn't even know who Jesus was. Jesus asked the man, "Would you like to get well?" What a question, after 38 years. Yet, the man patiently explained to the Son of God why it was that he could not get rid of his paralysis. He had no one no one in the world who cared about him. It's not very pleasant to be alone in the world, is it? The world can be a pretty frightening place when you're on your own no one to care, no one to help. Imagine the man's reaction when Jesus said to him, "Get up." Get up! Was He trying to be cruel? Did He enjoy tormenting cripples? But wait! Those eyes! That compassionate voice! He cares! He cares about me! The man leaped to his feet, healed instantly by the incarnate Son of God.
The world has not changed a whole lot in 2,000 years, brethren. That is, people haven't changed a whole lot. In many ways, the world is a much lonelier place in which to live than it was in the time of Christ. Consider New York City. Millions of people crowded into a tiny land area. And yet the people many of them are terribly lonely. And it's not only New York. There are many people in the world this morning whose desperate, muffled cry is, "I have no one no one!"
We have a lot of things today they didn't have in Jesus' day: huge hospitals, trained specialists, insurance policies, and church- and state-related welfare programs. But for human loneliness there is no cure, or so it would seem. We don't like to trouble ourselves with the problems of others. There is a Greek proverb which says, "Remove the evil out of my sight." We like to forget unpleasantness. Suffering people annoy us we who are supposed to be Orthodox Christians. And perhaps we who are clergymen are more guilty than anyone else.
The urgent, pressing duty of the Church, dearly beloved, is to go out after these lonely, suffering people, to bring to them the love of Christ, and to bring to them our love as well not our pity, but our genuine love and concern. There is a way, some way, in which each one of us can help.
The good news of this hour is that everyone has Someone. The Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins. He died for my sins. He died for the sins of all men. And He loves us with a love that we cannot begin to understand. This must be our faith, our conviction, our message of reconciliation, which we must bring to all the world, beginning next door. God help us to do so. Amen.
5th Sunday after Easter.
"It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:19-30).
The Book of Acts, dear brethren, gives us the history of the Church during the Apostolic Era. Its purpose is related to us by its author, Luke, in the prologue: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The marvelous poet Aeschylus describes in one of his tragedies the capture of Troas by Agamemnon. In order that it might be known in the palace of Atridon, he built a bonfire on the peak of the mountain Eola, whose flames soared to the skies. The fire was relayed from mountain-top to mountain-top until it reached the mountain of Aralimaeus. There one of the palace guards caught sight of it and joyfully informed the rulers of the capture of Troas. Luke employs a similar device in Acts. He takes the holy flame that issued forth from the tomb of Christ, becoming a huge flame on the day of Pentecost, and relays it from Jerusalem to Samaria, from Samaria to Damascus, to Antioch, to Tarsus, Cilicia, Lystra, Derbe, Galatia, Mysia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus and, finally, to Rome, into Caesar's household. Thirty years of Pentecostal fire are described by Luke in his outstanding Book of Acts beginning with our Lord's Ascension into heaven and ending with Paul being brought in custody to Rome and cast into prison.
Let us look into today's Epistle Lesson, concerning the sufferings and persecutions of the Christians at Jerusalem. The deacon Stephen was viciously murdered, stoned to death by religious fanatics. The rest of the Christians who remained in Jerusalem, with the exception of the Apostles themselves, scattered as far as Phoenicia, Damascus, Cyprus, and even to the seacoasts of Asia Minor. But more came to Antioch. Their persecutors at Jerusalem must have rejoiced in their supposed "destruction" of Christianity.
Brethren, here is ample evidence of the truth expressed by Paul in the words, "All things cooperate for the good of those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Persecution caused the Church to grow. Affliction produced great joy. The stones beneath which the bodies of martyrs lay were used in the construction of churches. The persecuted Christians became dynamic witnesses and preachers of the Gospel, telling the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of the people opposed them, but the hand of God was with them mightily. "And a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:21). Many disciples gathered in the city of Antioch, due to its political and geographical position. Up until that time they had been known as Disciples of Christ, or Disciples of the Apostles. Henceforth they were to bear a new name. "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). In those days, the name Christian was associated with people who were set apart from the rest of society, who were overflowing with love, kindness, ready to sacrifice themselves for the needs of others. The name Christian was synonymous with virtue. Martyrs and confessors were proud to die for that name; the thought of denying it never occurred to them. They would rather be food for hungry lions than renounce Him who had loved them, and who had given Himself for them. Often their last words, upon being thrown into the arena, were, "We are Christians."
Just what is a Christian? Exactly who has the right to wear that name? In a recent issue of the official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, there appeared a survey of the numerical strength of the various world religions. It listed:
14,000,000 Jews 1,100,000,000 Christians
According to the survey, 142,433,000 Christians consider themselves Orthodox Christians. Are all of us professing Orthodox Christians really Christians? Do we live as the first Christians lived? Do we understand what Christianity is all about? Do we understand the duties and obligations, as well as the rights and privileges, of being a Christian? What have we given up for the Gospel? What great sacrifice have we made? What have you or I personally done to reach other people with the Christian message? If many of us gave to the Church what we claim to give on our income tax form, the churches would be prosperous indeed. What is a Christian? Baptism in the name of the Trinity is a part of it, but by no means the whole criterion. Those who are baptized, but are not living the Christian life, are "Christ-sellers," making profit from the name of Christ. St. Chrysostom writes that to be called a Christian, a man must be a Christian in his heart, and living a victorious Christian life as well. Those who call themselves Christians and live in this world, reveling in its pleasures, are as counterfeit as the play money with which we amuse our children. They may have all the external characteristics of a real dollar, but they don't have the market value. "A Christian," writes St. John of the Ladder, "testifies by means of his life and work that he believes in Christ." A contemporary author writes: Real Christians always prefer the truth to a lie. They are people of faith, and do not make a mockery of God, truth or virtue. They remain steadfast in their obligations, and unmoved from their principles, even when the scales of life seem to be tipping the other way. They remain clean and pure examples for children; respectful of the wives of others. They have the inner strength and reserve to conquer their base desires, and to keep them in check. Really great people, they have the utmost respect for the lowly.
To this we would add: they give all they can to bring the good news of God's love for men in Christ to those who have not heard, or who have failed to accept this truth in their lives.
6th Sunday after Easter.
"Licter Expedi Virgas and Verbera."
"He rejoiced, and so did all his family, that He had become a believer in God" (Acts 16:16-34).
Dear brethren, in order to fully understand today's epistle reading, we should explain the whole chapter as well as the historical background. St. Paul was in. Troas. The city was very famous from Homer's era. Troas was the end of the East and beginning of the West. Two different worlds were united there: the world of Asia and the world of Europe. Alexander the Great, the young King of Macedonia, brought through Troas the gifts of Europe, the Greek language and philosophy to the East, as far as India. When he arrived in Troas, he came forth from his ship in full armor and offered a sacrifice to his hero Achilles. It is said that Caesar of Rome wanted to transfer the Empire's capital from Rome to Troas in order for the capital to be the link of the two worlds.
So our hero, St. Paul, was in Troas with his two disciples, Silas and Timothy. There he met Luke for the first time. He was thinking of where to go; to the seacoast of Asia Minor or to Bithynia; but whereas man cannot give an answer, the Spirit of God provides one in his manner and dissolves the doubts. During the night a vision appeared to Paul. The vision was of a man from Macedonia, standing there pleading with him. "Come over into Macedonia and help us," the man said. The explanation of the vision was given by the Apostle. "For we concluded that God had called us to tell them the Good News." "Come Over" to help us, is sound to our ears, of the voices of many people from the many corners of the earth. The people are asking for help, they ask for the Good News.
The day Paul left Troas for Philippi was a great day in the history of mankind. Why? Because for the first time the Christian sermon was being extended beyond the borders of the East. Until then the sermon was preached mostly in the synagogues. Now the sermon would be preached to the philosophers of Athens.
The first city Paul came to was Philippi. This famous city's original name was Krenidae, due to the many curing fountains which were there. But Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, enlarged the city both militarily and economically. For this reason he gave the city his name, a popular custom of the ancient world. There was no synagogue because of the few Jews living there, but there were enough to permit the formation of a council. Even though the Jews had no synagogue, they had an enclosed place of prayer, probably a fenced grove called a "proseuche." There Paul erected his pulpit "and began to talk to the women who had come to the meeting." The first person who believed in Paul's sermon was a rich lady from Thyatira, a merchant in expensive purple, named Lydia. Behold what the great theologian and Paulologist says about the Christian women. "The women were the last ones to remain by the Cross, and they were the first at the empty tomb. The gospels have a sad story of hypocrisy, hatred, persecution, calumny, treason and cowardly flight to tell, but these things are never told about women. The men are in the spotlight as the heralds of the Gospel, as the great missioners and the representatives of religion. But where would Christianity be today without the Christian woman in her role as mother, wife, sister, and the dispenser of charity in a thousand different kinds of misery?
The second step of St. Paul was to heal an unfortunate slave from an evil spirit. She was said to have a pythonic spirit, or she was a "pythia," one of the oracles that was under the protection of Apollo, who was the god of divination. We can compare her to today's fortune tellers who predict many things, and some of them can come true. As we have said before, Satan uses them to complete his plans. "There is nothing surprising about that; Satan himself masquerades as an angel of Light" (II Cor. 11:14). But there exists one difference between today's fortune tellers and that slave. While those of today are rich and keep the money they gain from that profession for themselves, that unfortunate slave was a source of income for her masters. She was very poor, having one pair of slippers and a cheap cloth to cover her nakedness, with which she was satisfied. She had duties without any rights. How many such slaves exist all over the world who await the sermon of Paul? The curing action of St. Paul: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her," provoked the wrath of her master. They seized Paul and Silas and forcibly led them to the city square before the town officials. The apostles were arrested. The judges did not ask much about their status, but sentenced them summarily to be "beaten with rods." Lector, Expedi Virgas, ad Verbera (untie the rods, flog the prisoners). Wounded and bleeding, in pain and affliction, they were thrown in jail. And we continuously complain about our old model car, about our old furniture, and because our church's carpet is not wall to wall.
Paul was bound in prison, but free in Christ. Here is the real freedom; to be in jail, and to feel free in Christ. "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners listened to them." This may have been their prayer:
"When the Lord brought back the captivity of Sion, We became like men comforted. Then was our mouth filled with gladness: And our tongues with joy. Then shall they say among the Gentiles, The Lord hath done great things for them (Psalm 125:1).
A great earthquake occurred after the prayer. Sometimes God makes a storm His messenger, or an angel, or fire; but this night an earthquake was the herald of His will. The prison was dissolved. The doors were opened. The chains fell from the apostles' hands. The guard of the prison was ready to commit suicide, but Paul stopped him saying, "Don't injure yourself, we are all here." The jailer understood that this sign was great and beyond the limits of rational reasoning and natural laws. He asked advice for his salvation, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Only the hardened and the corrupted see the signs of God and refuse to comprehend them and refuse to come to realize themselves and to repent. The answer Paul gave him is the same one he gives us, "Commit yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and your family will be saved." Salvation is not a matter of time, but is the internal intention of the man. Salvation is already "prepared" and awaits any man. Before his baptism the jailer washed the wounds of the apostles. He was then baptized with his family and afterwards provided the apostles with a good meal. "And the whole family rejoiced." The door of salvation remains open. O man, what do you expect?
Drunk With The Holy Spirit.
"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18).
These words Christ addressed to His beloved disciples, shortly before His passion. He assured them that, after their separation, He would not leave them orphans (the literal Greek meaning of the word translated "comfortless" in the King James Version), but would send to them the All-Holy Spirit. This prophecy was literally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. On that holy day the Father, in the name of Jesus, sent "the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father," in order that He might teach the disciples of Christ, reminding them of the eternal, divine truths they had already heard from the lips of the Lord Jesus during His public ministry. "But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you" (John 14:26). And, true to the words of Jesus, 50 days after Easter, "when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4). And what were the results of this wondrous outpouring? Listen to the words of Holy Scripture: "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they began to be amazed, and to marvel, saying, 'Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.' And they continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' " (Acts 2:6-8,11,12). Moreover, Peter, who just 50 days ago had denied Christ, now hails Him publicly as Savior and Lord: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 2:36, 4:12). As St. Chrysostom observes, the rabbit is transformed into a lion, the midget into a giant, at the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The Church, which prior to Pentecost had numbered only 120 souls, found her ranks swelling to 3,000: "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Some, however, did not believe. Some were indifferent. Others came up with sarcastic accusations, endeavoring to solve the question ("What does this mean?") by means of their poor human logic. "Others sneered, 'They're full of new wine'" (Acts 2:13). They thought the disciples were drunk. According to them, nothing supernatural was involved in the matter. These men have many spiritual descendants today. Although these men intended to mock the disciples, there was a glimmer of truth in their accusation. For the disciples were indeed drunk; they were drunk with the Holy Spirit of God.
Of course, the two kinds of drunkenness in question are quite different one from the other. Those full of wine make fools of themselves, demean themselves in the eyes of others. St. Chrysostom writes that drunkenness makes men worse than swine. Those full of the Holy Spirit, however, loudly extol the praises of God. For this reason St. Paul exhorts the believers at Ephesus: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (5:18). Those full of wine are full also of loud cursing, and all manner of profanity, while those filled with the Spirt sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in their hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). Drunkenness of the usual (alcoholic) variety lowers, abases, destroys, not only the drinker, but his family, his loved ones, and, ultimately, society itself. That drunkenness which is of the Holy Spirit, however, renews and regenerates man. The Holy Spirit brings new feelings, new senses, in order that man might see and hear all the more clearly the wonderful and pleasant tidings of the Gospel God's good news for fallen man. He (the Holy Spirit) enables man to continue to live in the world, yet without being part of this world.
It was this drunkenness of the Holy Spirit that led the Apostles, confessors, fathers, preachers, righteous, and the cloud of martyrs to disregard suffering and affliction and persecution, and even the loss of their own lives, for the glory of Christ.
It is indeed unfortunate that we cannot understand these things perfectly, for the reason that we have never been drunk with the Holy Spirit of God. This is not knowledge which can be comprehended by the human mind; rather, it is an experience which fills the heart. The spiritual prosperity which the divine fires of Pentecost bring can be really understood only by those who permit the Holy Spirit of God to permeate their whole existence.
If you wish to hear about the various gifts that the Holy Spirit can bring to your heart, listen to these stirring words of St. Gregory Nazianzus, the Theologian:
He was ever being partaken, but not partaking; perfecting, not being perfected; sanctifying, not being sanctified; deifying, not being deified; Himself ever the same with Himself, and with those with whom He is ranged; invisible, eternal, incomprehensible, unchangeable, without quality, without quantity, without form, impalpable, self-moving, eternally moving, with free-will, self-powerful, All-powerful (even though all that is of the Spirit is referable to the First Cause, just as is all that is of the Only-begotten); Life and Lifegiver; Light and Lightgiver; absolute Good, and Spring of Goodness; the Right, the Princely Spirit; the Lord, the Sender, the Separator; Builder of His own Temple; Leading, working as He wills; distributing His own gifts; the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of wisdom, of understanding, of knowledge, of godliness, of counsel, of fear (which are ascribed to Him) by whom the Father is known and the Son is glorified; and by whom alone He is known; one class, one service, power, perfection, sanctification.
May the Holy Spirit of God direct and enlighten our lives, as He did those of the Apostles and martyrs over the centuries. Amen.
4. Sundays after Pentecost.
The Pastors of the Church.
"Let a man so account of us, as of the Ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Corinthians 4:1).
In the Church there is to be an order of things. St. Paul writes, in his first Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 40, "Let everything be done in a proper and orderly way." God Himself has established this order in His Church, and no man or organization of men can violate it or overthrow it. Yet there has always been some amount of disorder in the Church; it is for this reason that we have had so many heresies and schisms over the centuries. In the times in which we now live, however, a revolutionary wind, and a spirit of disobedience seem to prevail everywhere, even among the co-workers of the priest. Sometimes these people, lacking in proper understanding of the priesthood and/or the Church, adopt methods and manners not only foreign to the Orthodox Christian faith, but diametrically opposed to it. The results are endless arguments and controversies and hurt feelings on the part of all involved, and sometimes, in the end, a good priest is forced to leave his beloved community. My sermon this morning has one unique purpose: to demonstrate and prove clearly from the Holy Scriptures and tradition the place held by the pastor of a church. I must state at the outset that were I to quote every Scripture passage from the New Testament alone that deals with this subject, my sermon would go on for hours without interruption. Thus we will examine but a few. I repeat once more that the disorder we see in the Church today has as its basic cause the ignorance, on the part of clergy as well as laity, of the function of each in the Church. We do not know our duties or our positions. The Fathers of the Church likened the Church to a ship, the "ark of salvation." Today, in our stormy epoch, we are all of us in danger of drowning in the social ocean; for not only do we not know our task, we do not know the Captain of the ship, let alone who is the boatswain and who the sailor. All of us together, clergy and laity, are the "pleroma," but each has his separate position, his separate mission.
What is a pastor? How are we to view the pastors of the Church, and the work assigned to them? Let us hear the words that Jesus Christ addresses to His Apostles: "He that listens to you, listens to me, and he that refuses you, refuses me; and he that refuses me, refuses him that sent me" (Luke 10:16). These words the Lord Jesus spoke to the first 70 preachers of His Gospel of Grace. The whole mission of the Apostles, in their sermons and in their lives, was to present Christ. The attitude of the people to those who preach the Gospel of Christ is indicative of their attitude toward Christ Himself, and toward the Father who sent Him.
After our Lord's resurrection, when He first appeared to the Apostles, He breathed upon them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles were completely "filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit gave them power of speech" (Acts 2:4). Here was manifested the divine calling and mission of the Apostles, the spiritual authority that has its derivation not from the world (Christ said, "My Kingdom is not of this world"); rather, this spiritual authority conies from God through Christ. It is divine authority. Only God can forgive sin. Only God can transform a lost sinner into a radiant new creature in Christ. The Apostles were to preach repentance and forgiveness of sin; for this reason Jesus told them, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you hold fast the sins of any, they are held fast" (John 20:23). St. Paul writes that "Through him I have received grace and been appointed an Apostle " (Romans 1:5). This truth St Paul declares in almost all of his letters, usually at the beginning, in order that his readers may realize that he is appointed, not by a majority of the people, nor by any secular authority, but by "His Grace." This gift this grace is a special gift which the pastors of the Church possess. It has been transmitted from Christ to the Apostles, and by them to their successorsthe bishops, priests and deacons.
Many are the verses in the Acts of the Apostles which testify to this transmission of authority from the Apostles to their successors. Peter and Barnabas preached the Gospel to the people of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and "in every church they chose elders (presbyters) with prayer and fasting, and commended them to the Lord, in whom they believed." Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, whom he had left at Ephesus, "Do not neglect the spiritual gift that is in you, which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the elders laid their hands on you" (I Timothy 4:14). The prophecy of which Paul speaks is the same that he mentions earlier in the same chapter where he refers to sanctification "by the word of God and prayer" (I Timothy 4:5). In II Timothy 1:6, Paul writes, "Therefore I would remind you to fan the flame of that spiritual gift of God, which is yours by the laying on of my hands." To Titus, whom the Apostle Paul left in Crete, he writes, "I left you in Crete with the intention that you should finish putting things in order there, and appoint elders (presbyters) in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). Finally, at the great gathering of presbyters which took place in Miletus, St. Paul spoke these words that carry a vital message for us today: "You know how I spent the whole time I was with you, from the first day I arrived in the province of Asia Take care of yourselves, and of the flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to feed the church of God, which he has made his own with his own blood" (Acts 20:18-28). From all these testimonies it is evident that there exists in the Church a special order, that of the clergy, to which has been given a spiritual authority "to feed the church of God." This is the position and the duty of the pastors, of the sacred clergy who received their uninterrupted succession from the Apostles. Bishops, presbyters and deacons are not employees in the same sense as those who are privately or publicly employed. The priest is divinely called and appointed by God. He has as a pastor the spiritual authority necessary to shepherd his flock.
What is the pastor's mission to the world? Is he to be a social worker, an architect, or a social butterfly, whose business is to erect schools and recreation centers, to raise money through dances and banquets, raffles and bingos? Many people today seem to think in this vein.
But the New Testament conception is totally different from this warped picture. "Then Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you; as the Father sent me, I send you" (John 20:21). Thus we see that the Apostles were to continue the mission of Christ to the world. In the High Priestly prayer of Jesus before His passion, He prays, "As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). And what was the mission of Christ to the world? Listen: For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life (John 3:16). "And this is eternal life: for men to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent" (John 17:3). "God has raised this very Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses to this fact. Therefore surely know that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32,36) The mission of Christ was the salvation of the world, and this is to be our mission as well. St. John the Evangelist writes in his first Letter that the Father "sent his Son, Saviour of the world." The very name of Jesus is demonstrative of His mission. As the angel of God explained to Joseph, "And thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins." This is plainly the work of the pastors today. St. Paul writes, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). And to these faithful preachers, St. Peter writes, "You are winning the reward of your faith, that is the salvation of your souls" (I Peter 1:9).
St. Ignatius the Theophorous wrote: "Without bishops, presbyters and deacons the Church does not exist." St. Chrysostom views the calling and ministry of the priesthood as above that of the angels. St. Basil thinks that there is no mission more important than that of the priest. And St. Paul calls the priests "ministers and stewards of the mysteries."
"You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:1).
Today our Church celebrates the memory of the Fathers of our Church, who in the year 451 assembled in Chalcedon of Bithynia for the Fourth Ecumenical Synod. Six hundred and thirty bishops from all over the world gathered to condemn the heretic Eutichus, together with his followers. The Gospel Lesson appointed for today is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew, verses 14-20. In these verses (an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus speaks concerning the pastors of His Church, and concerning all Christians as well.
The Holy Fathers of the Church, dear brethren, are those who have both observed the precepts of the Gospel in their own lives, and preached that same Gospel to the world. When we say "Fathers of the Church," we refer to those who were specially gifted, particularly in the twin realms of holiness of life and correctness of faith. Holiness and wisdom must go hand in hand. Of the two, however, by far the most important is holiness. We have examples of Church Fathers who were not particularly wise theologians nor prolific writers, but who distinguished themselves by their holiness of heart and life. Yet who could name for us a Father renowned for his theological knowledge despite the fact that he was lacking in personal holiness? Of what value is science without virtue? Plato used to say that educated culture without virtue is not culture at all, but mere cunning. What good is theology without piety? Christ said, "Whoever both does and teaches thus shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." In other words, the person who accepts and applies to himself the teachings of the Gospel, and secondly preaches them to others, shall be called great, even if he is not particularly well-educated, and lacks the fine skills of homiletic elocution. The important thing is that the teachings of the Gospel be mirrored in our lives. The example of a consistently holy life is of infinitely greater value than the best sermon preached by one who leaves much to be desired in his moral life.
The Gospel, dear brethren, is a way of life, and the best Gospel sermon is a life of virtue and good example. Each of us is called to be an active member of the Church, a living example. Our heavenly Father is a Person. Christ is a Person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. The saints are persons. All serve as examples for us. Our Orthodox Christian Faith is not a formal lesson based on theories, axioms, or human word or wisdom; it is the living word of God, alive first of all in the earthly life of Christ, and secondly through the saints and through us as well. The Church in the world is like a city built on a mountaintop, and also like a candle or light bulb. The city on a mountaintop is symbolic of our individual lives as Christians; the light is symbolic of our true belief and teaching. Our lives must illumine the world our example must be permeated by our beliefs.
Who exactly are members of the Church? Only the clergy? Does Christ address only clergymen in the Gospels? Are they alone the city on the mountain, the light in the home? If such were the case, the great honor of the clergy would be totally eclipsed by the unbearable burden, to say nothing of the huge injustice. We all have our distinct place in the Church. The clergy lead the way, but the people must follow. They are the shepherds, but the people must be the sheep. Can there be a shepherd without sheep, or a general without troops? Each one of us is to be a teacher and preacher of Orthodox Christianity. Our best means of preaching is through our families the members of our own households. The house of each Christian should resemble a temple, and their family life a Holy Liturgy. Children born and raised in joy and love, prayer and work, respect for property and law and order are a living Liturgy, a sacrifice of praise. Surely this is the way to "let our light shine before men, that they may see and glorify our Father in heaven."
In the minutes of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod we read: "We follow the Holy Fathers." This is the order of Orthodoxy. The Apostles followed Christ, the Fathers followed the Apostles, and we follow the Fathers. Until us the Church of Christ is one unbroken chain. Let us keep this order, maintain this line. Let us remain close, faithful and dedicated to our Church, so that with the Apostles and Fathers we may be with Christ. For to possess Christ is to possess God, and to possess God is to possess eternal life.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost.
Work And Obedience.
"And they left their nets at once, and followed him" (Matthew 4:20).
Behold the faith and obedience of these first two Apostles, Peter and Andrew. Jesus called them as they were performing their secular jobs. Yet they did not seek to postpone the call; they offered no excuses. They did not say, "Give us a few days to think it over." They left everything and they followed Jesus. St. Chrysostom, commenting upon today's Gospel Lesson, writes that when the time came for Jesus to begin His public ministry, He chose twelve disciples; after His resurrection He would send them throughout the world to preach the Gospel, the Good News of the reconciliation of man to God by the death of Christ, and to bear His name before kings and authorities. This task of monumental importance Jesus did not entrust to powerful or educated individuals. Rather, He sought out simple men, and invited them to become His disciples. Why? Because the Gospel itself is the wisdom and power of God, and stands in no need of human backing.
Today we are greatly in need of this wisdom and power of God the Gospel something (actually Someone) to which we can offer our faith, our love and our wholehearted dedication. Let us hear once again our text for today
Two things, dear Christian brethren, impress me in this Gospel Lesson. The first is diligence, the second obedience. Let us speak concerning the first. Christ found Peter and Andrew, James and John engaged in their work: two of them were casting out fishing nets into the sea, while the other two were repairing nets. These were men who lived by manual labor by the toil and sweat of their own two hands and it was not by accident that Jesus called such men to follow Him. During the course of history, many ignorant people have stigmatized Christianity as a religion that does not recognize the value of hard work, as a religion that demands the constant recitation of prayers and ceaseless meditation upon spiritual writings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a time for work, as well as a time for worship. A basic principle of Christianity is what Paul expressed to the Christians of Thessalonica when he wrote, "And while we were with you, we gave you the order, 'If anyone doesn't want to work, he shouldn't eat.' We hear that some of you are living a lazy life, not doing any work, but being busybodies. Such people we order and encourage by the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and eat their own bread" (II Thessalonians 3:10-12). It is the teaching of Christianity that every honest labor is blessed by God. Christ, Himself God, worked here on earth, and said, "My Father is still working, and so am I" (John 5:17). Many consider work to be a sort of punishment; they consider certain types of labor to be shameful, and so they avoid working at all. Others lazily proclaim that we must change the system in order to provide a maximum wage for a minimum of labor. Faithful Christians, however, understand that every kind of honest work brings with it its own particular blessing. We should work to support not only ourselves, but the poor and needy as well, following the example of our Lord and His Apostles.
The second thing we notice about this morning's Gospel Lesson is that the Apostles possessed a spirit of loving obedience. This is a great virtue, and also a necessity in life the obedience of the young to their elders, of the Christians to their Church the obedience of all men to the call of God. As soon as the Apostles heard the summons of Christ, they left all and followed Him. Why? Because there is a system of values in life. The number 4 is higher than the number 3. $100 has more commercial power than $50. Someone will say, "Alright, Christ called His Apostles and they followed Him, full of faith and confidence. If Christ were here on earth now, and He called me, I would follow, too." Dear brethren, Christ is calling you now, even though He is not bodily present on the earth. The Gospel we preach is the Good News of Christ. The Church which teaches us is Christ's Church. And the Church does not ask us to abandon our jobs, our parents, our wives or our children in order to follow Christ. On the contrary, the Church bids us work diligently at our jobs, to tenderly care for our parents, to love our wives and children. But we pay no heed to the voice of the Church. We would much rather listen to the rabble-rousers of this age, to those who with their sweet language and cunning words seek to separate us from our Savior and from His Church. Rather than heed the pastor's call to Sunday worship, we listen to those who call us to a weekend of "kicks and thrills" and sometimes death.
Dear brethren, work and obedience are two wonderful virtues. We must work for the good and obey the good. And to the person who will ask, "What is good?", we reply that we have no personal good, that good is whatever Christ demands of us, speaking through our conscience, through the Bible, through dedicated preachers, through the Church. This goodness we see exemplified for us in the lives of the saints. Work and obedience were attributes of the Apostles. They worked for the good and obeyed the good; in a word, they worked for and obeyed God. Therefore the will of God for us is honest work and obedience. Let us observe these two virtues.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost.
The Christian's Prime Concern.
"So I tell you, stop worrying about your life, as to what you will have to eat or drink, or about your body, as to what you will have to wear. Is not life worth more than food, and the body worth more than clothes?" (Matthew 6:23-33).
Today's Gospel Lesson, dearly beloved, is a part of the well-known Sermon on the Mount. Practically the entire reading is concerned with the Divine Providence of God towards man, and towards creation as a whole. Should we try to explain this Gospel Lesson in our own words, I am very sure that no one would pay us any heed; for, as someone has written, "Such sermons are not for our times. Our relationships today are governed by financial exchanges." Wisely the Church prescribes the words, "The Lord said," to begin each Gospel Lesson. When the Lord Himself speaks, who can have a differing opinion? If anyone does disagree, his arguments are false, based upon purely human logic; while "the word of the Lord" according to the psalmist, "abideth for ever."
Christ, then, says, "Take no care." Perhaps many will misunderstand us. How can we live without taking care, without planning ahead? Society would be destroyed, financial prosperity would disappear, all would become paralyzed. St. Chrysostom writes (interpreting the words of Christ) that Christ did not condemn work; rather, He condemned slavery. He condemned the worship of work, and of the profits which result from work, to the complete neglecting of our spiritual responsibilities. Thus, Christ condemns most of our society today. He condemns those who eat with one hand while with the other they keep an eye on the stock market reports in the Wall Street Journal. Such care, far from adding to the fullness of our lives, robs us of our health and vitality, and makes us slaves to our business.
Much of that for which we exercise great care is not only not good for us, it is downright harmful, adding not an inch to our stature. And what irony! At long last the day comes when the futility of our rat-race is revealed to us in crystal-clarity. The other day the newspapers carried the story of former President Truman's recovery from a recent illness. It mentioned that, for breakfast, Truman's doctors allowed him only one egg, one piece of toast, and one cup of tea. The total value of this breakfast in dollars and cents: about 20^. The Gospel says, "Take no thought as to what you will have to wear." Now, Jesus was not advocating nudity when He said that. He meant that we should avoid preoccupation with our dress, and that we should shun the vain waste of useful clothing material. Here in America such waste is beyond belief. Many demented clothes-horses (particularly women) would die before they would wear the same outfit twice. A newspaper recently reported that, if we could salvage all the wasted clothing in America, we could clothe all the naked and needy people the world over.
The psalmist urges us to trust in the Lord, "and He shall feed thee." By this the psalmist does not mean that we should fold our hands and wait for God to rain manna from heaven. The word of God nowhere teaches such utter folly. We are to work, but simultaneously to entrust ourselves to the loving care of our Heavenly Father. Shall He who cares for the birds, for the wild flowers of the field, abandon those whom He has created in His image and likeness?
Our Gospel Lesson ends with this superb verse: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." God has, so to speak, built into His creation a certain order of things. This order cannot be overthrown by any mortal. For example, animals are not intellectually superior to man. Neither is the pampered dog or cat of an aristocratic high-society lady of Fifth Avenue worth more than any black child in Harlem, or any needy child of India. And man himself is subservient to the angels. We are speaking here of priorities. Two is always greater than one. Nine is always larger than four. The Kingdom of God is to be given first priority in our lives, far above wealth, glory, etc. Things here below change. They get old. They pass away. But the Kingdom of God abides forever. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you."
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who didst bless the five loaves and didst therewith feed the five thousand: Do Thou, the same Lord, bless our loaves, our wheat, wine, and oil; and multiply them in this holy temple, and in all Thy world; and sanctify all the faithful who shall partake of them. For it is Thou, O Christ our God, who dost bless and sanctify all things; and unto Thee we ascribe glory, with Thy Father which hath no beginning, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. (Prayer of Artoclasia, Blessing of Loaves, from Litiya).
4th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Faith of an Officer.
"Let it be as you believed" (Matthew 8:13).
This person who comes to Christ in today's Gospel Lesson, dear brethren, is far from being a simple, uneducated, jobless individual. On the contrary, he is a great man, wielding considerable authority. He is an officer, a representative, of the glorious and world-ruling Empire of Rome. St. Mark, although he wrote his Gospel in Greek, nevertheless wrote it from Rome, and preserves for us the Latin word "centurion": "And when the centurion, which stood over against Him, saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39).
History tells us that Rome was most proud and naughty, particularly towards those conquered peoples who endeavored to regain their lost freedom. We would expect this officer of Capernaum, then, to be exceptionally harsh and cruel. But he was not. He was a kind man, with human feelings humble and pious in spite of the fact that he grew up in heathen Rome. He realized that the religious convictions of others differed from his own, and he accepted this, unlike the fanatical Pharisees who felt that they possessed the whole truth, to the exclusion of everyone else.
The centurion had a serious problem that troubled him greatly every day. Which one of us, dear brethren, does not have problems. Just when our lives seem peaceful and calm and unbelievably happy, all of a sudden some pain, some source of sorrow appears, and our happiness fades. Perhaps it is a bodily ailment, a physical pain. You go to the doctor immediately, and he admits you to the hospital. The doctors diagnose a serious sickness. The illness is incurable, and the only solution is death. I was once having lunch with a bishop in an exclusive, high-class restaurant. As we enjoyed our lunch, the bishop was boasting of his good health. "I am 62," he told me, "but I feel 18. I walk 5 miles every day." A few days later he was admitted to the hospital, and in a few days more he was dead, he who had so recently boasted of his health and power. Life is full of problems. You care for your children, you sacrifice for your posterity. You hope to educate them, to see them one day married to the right people. You try to instill in them the advantages of a good home life, and a feeling for family. You have dreams for their future. And in the midst of, and in spite of, all of your concern for your child's welfare, suddenly he leaves home without a trace, just like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel. Only last week I was visiting one of the communities which I had formerly pastored. While there I learned that a young man whom I had previously counselled many times had run away to Hollywood, where he had been stabbed to death. The police had kept his body for over a month, not knowing where he was from and assuming that he must have parents somewhere. During my visit the body was brought home and I helped his pastor serve the funeral. Such are the problems of life!
The problem of the centurion, however, was slightly different. His servant was ill, and the phyician St. Luke informs us that he was close to death. "There was a Roman captain who had a slave that was very dear to him, and he was sick and at the point of death" (Luke 7:2). Although historians of this age inform us that the children of slaves were considered to be of so little value that their flesh was given as food for the fish in the Imperial lakes; although we read how an uncle whose nephew complained to him that he never got to see any bloodshed immediately ordered the slaughter of seven slaves; in spite of all this, we find a centurion who loved his slave. He was not a cruel man. Even though he was not a Jew he had within himself what St. Paul describes in the first two chapters of the book of Romans, what Justin Martyr referred to as the Spermatic Law, in his heart. "Indeed, when heathen people who have no law instinctively do what the law demands, although they have no law they are a law to themselves, for they show that the deeds the law demands are written on their hearts, because their consciences will testify for them, and their inner thoughts will either accuse or defend them, on the day when God through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the good news I preach, will judge the secrets people have kept," (Romans 2:14-16). This centurion, this Roman captain, heeded the voice of the great and true God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world. It did not matter to him that his slave was a slave; he was a human being, an icon and image of God. "From one forefather He made every nation of mankind, for living all over the face of the earth, fixing their appointed times and the limits of their lands, so that they might search for God, possibly might grope for Him, and find Him, though He is really not far from any of us. For it is through union with Him that we live and move and exist .." (Acts 17:26-28). Thus preached the Apostle Paul to the philosophers of Athens. As the text of our Gospel Lesson indicates, the centurion first went to the physicians, spending there quite a sum of money, yet not receiving healing for his ailing slave. There was no hope no hope but Jesus! Dear brethren, how often is Jesus our last hope, when He should be our first, our greatest, our strongest hope! The centurion had doubtlessly heard about, and perhaps even witnessed, some of the miracles and supernatural acts of the Savior. In touching faith, the centurion begs Jesus just to give an order from a distance, with confidence that this will bring about the healing of his slave. With surprised astonishment Jesus admires the faith of the centurion, saying, "Not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Luke 7:9). God is always pleased by the faith and works of His children when they are in accordance with His moral law. The servant boy's health was restored to him. " 'Go,' Jesus told the captain. 'Let it be as you believed'" (Matthew 8:13). St. Mark records for us in his Gospel the words of Jesus to His disciples just prior to His Ascension, words addressed to all who have faith in Him: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:15-18).
Historians tell us that when Alexander the Great had conquered a city, he would light a huge bonfire. All who surrendered to him before that fire went out had nothing to fear. They would not be killed or enslaved; they would be freed. Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ kindled a fire on this earth. Its flames of Gospel teaching are spread over the whole world. All who will come to the Lord Jesus before the lamp of their lives is extinguished have nothing to fear; they will be blessed and happy. They will hear the words of the Lord Jesus: "As you have believed, so let it be done to you."
5th Sunday after Pentecost.
Zeal and Fanaticism.
"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:1-10).
Dear brethren, today is the Fifth Sunday of Matthew. One Sunday prepares for the next. Time passes as explicitly as the water runs from the river bed in order to get to the vast ocean. We of this life are like passengers running for eternity.
The apostolic reading of which we will speak today is in the epistle to the Romans, chapter ten, verses one through ten. Indeed, it is a superb passage. Paul speaks for that religious fanaticism which damages religion, any religion, and nothing else.
As we all know, Paul was a Jew by heritage, a fanatic for the traditions of his father; a very severe persecutor of the Christians. He was supplied with introductory letters from the Archpriest of Jerusalem, and he leaves for Damascus with one purpose in mind to arrest the Christians there and bring them back to Jerusalem. On his way to Damascus, not far from the city, Christ appeared to him. Paul became the greatest figure of Christendom. The herald of Christ. The trumpet of Apostles to all Gentiles. No one before then had the power and strength to preach Christ to the idolatrous Gentiles. Paul turned the attention of his sermons to the ears of the pagan peoples. He wanted to bring them into the Christian family.
Nevertheless, his heart was fired with patriotic pain. He dreamed that all the Israelites would accept Christ, for whom all the prophets of the Old Testament spoke. But the Jews accused him as a denier and traitor of the Hebrew heritage. This is always a very easy accusation, which many people, even today, very easily and with much irresponsibility repeat against those who have the courage and the power to say the truth, to open new roads, to recognize the new times, the new circumstances. Of course, they have zeal of God, but their zeal is not according to knowledge.
St. Paul was not a traitor or a denier of his father's traditions. On the contrary, he felt a great desire and his every-day prayer was a plea to save the people of Israel, to help them accept the Messiah, and to help them take the first position in the Christian Church, to become the pioneers of salvation which took place through Jesus Christ. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved."
Unfortunately his patriots did not want and they could not understand the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ. Of course, they had zeal of God, they were interested in religious matters. They cared only for the dry letter of the law. But their zeal was unenlightened and blind. It was an intolerant religious fanaticism and nationalistic pride.
A very great contemporary preacher writes concerning the religious fanaticism as follows: "Very unfortunately, many of the nations have such blind feelings, and especially those nations which history happened to bless with a great and huge heritage. They endanger them when they boast only of the fatherly traditions and pride themselves on the glory of their ancestors, to prove themselves unworthy of the history and this heritage. It is not sufficient to have zeal for our Orthodoxy and to be proud of its national derivation, if we cannot keep and cannot continue this heritage with humility and faith. Otherwise, we will be likened to Jews of the days of St. Paul, who had zeal of God but their zeal was not according to knowledge."
Really, my dear brethren, such zeal is better absent. It is said that the Communists and atheists of Moscow, in order to prove that God does not exist, use examples which they took from the lives of Christians, and which they exposed in the magnificent churches of Russia which they changed to atheistic centers, calling them museums of art. So they expose there the intolerance of the inquisitors of the Middle Ages, who, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, burned people in fires because they disagreed with them in religious matters. In another place, they expose the Crusades of the West against the East. What kind and how many destructions, slaughterings, knew the people of the East at that time. The Crusades also began in the name of Jesus Christ. In another place, they expose the luxury, the wealth, the prosperity, the gluttony of the popes, the bishops, the archbishops, the tzars and the Christian kings on one side, and on the other, the poverty and the sufferings, the starvation and pain of the peasantry. Behold, dear brethren, the over-zealousness. Zeal but not according to knowledge, brings damage to religion and gives weapons to the hands of the unbelievers and atheists, who throw it at us as arguments.
Brethren and friends, the Christian message and piety conquered the whole world, while wherever intolerance and fanaticism penetrated, there was created only enemies. Do we want to preach Christ? Do we want to preach Orthodoxy? Do we want to preach our heritage? Our superiority! Let us live to preach those things through our good works. Not only with our mouth and empty words. But with good works in our practical lives. Amen.
6th Sunday after Pentecost.
Sickness and Health.
"Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Courage, my son, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:1-8).
Our modern era, dearly beloved, has been characterized as the atomic age, the era of splitting the atom. I think we will all agree that, in all fields of scientific achievement, no age has been more revolutionary than ours. Evidence of this is all around us. Sad to say, however, while human science dashes madly ahead, our morality, our time-honored traditions, and everything we once held sacred, seem to be crumbling in ruins around us. Students rebel against all authority on campus, and we see incidents such as that which occurred at New York University, where militant student leaders took violent possession of the office of the president, overthrew the furniture, and sat atop the overturned files, eating sardines. I really fear that, when the atom was split, man's personality was split as well. In theory, the average American claims to be a Christian, a morally free spiritual entity. He theoretically respects the property of others, together with their honor, their reputation. In reality, however, he is a crass materialist, this modern American. He believes only in that which is material; and, when his interests are endangered, he is more than willing to react violently, even murderously. In short, man today is full of inconsistencies, of contradictions; he is often openly and unashamedly two-faced.
Are the student riots the fault of the students alone? I don't think so. Overnight, relations between teacher and student have been drastically altered. In many cases, the student feels that he is no more than a number in a computer. And no matter how perfect the computer, it remains a lifeless, soul-less machine. Furthermore, our teachers today are no longer philosophers. (Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule.) The teacher who can look beyond the material tools of science, beyond chemical reactions, to a Primal Cause which defies laboratory analysis this is a rare teacher in today's classrooms. The Aristotelian concept of the Unmoved Mover is slowly being phased out, or so it would seem, from our educational programs. The other day I sat in a biology class at a church-related university, listening to the professor elaborate on the Darwinian Theory of man's evolution from the ape. A few of the students protested on Scriptural grounds. The professor replied, "Gentlemen, I am here to teach you science. Your religious views are of no interest to me." The sad result of students being taught that they evolved from apes is the fact that they revert to the behavior patterns of these prehistoric forebears.
As we all know from the various news media, our psychiatric hospitals today are overflowing with young people. The Scandinavian countries in particular seem to have an unusually high incidence of mental disturbances in youth. Is it perhaps just a simple coincidence that these countries are also notoriously well-known advocates of free sexual expression? Material wealth seems to add to the unhappiness of these young people, who apparently don't know what to do with their affluence or their sexual. freedom. Let us suppose, for just a moment, that Christ were to visit one of these psychiatric hospitals, and behold these poor young people lying there. Might His words upon encountering them not be identical with those He uttered to the paralytic in today's Gospel Lesson: "My children, your sins are forgiven"? You see, we begin at the wrong end. We try to treat the symptoms, rather than the disease, which is sin. On the one hand we allow our youngsters to destroy themselves (sometimes helping them along ourselves) through immorality, gangsterism, alcohol, narcotics, and so forth, and then we analyze them clinically to try to detect what "made them go wrong." Is this not the very height of foolishness? It is like tenderly nurturing and caring for the leaves of a tree, while we allow worms to live in the trunk and at the roots. Our children are morally and spiritually ill. They require moral and spiritual healing, which can come only from the Physician of Souls Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Chrysostom agrees. He writes, "Most physical illness is induced by sinful and riotous living." A dynamic encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ is what is needed to straighten out the lives of our young people, and the lives of some of their parents as well. Jesus invites us to come to Him. He has no office hours; He is always ready to receive us, to assure us that our sins are forgiven. Are we ready to receive Him?
7th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Tongue: Asset or Curse?
"But the Pharisees kept on saying, It is by the help of the prince of the demons that He drives them out" (Matthew 9:27-35).
St. Chrysostom says that nothing is worse than ingratitude. And indeed, dear brethren, nothing annoys man so much as the behavior of an ungrateful person. When someone gives you even so small a thing as a glass of water when you are thirsty, the rules of etiquette prescribe that you thank him. Even a simple person, who knows nothing of etiquette, says thank you out of common courtesy. I shall never forget when I was a student in Constantinople and wished, after a day of shopping in the city, to get a ride back to my lodging on a bus. Much to my embarrassment, I found that I had not one cent left in my pocket with which to pay the driver. Just as he was about to slam the door in my face, a stranger, a Turk, paid my fare for me. I shall never forget the favor of this modern-day "good Samaritan."
Today's Gospel Lesson, however, does not deal with material goods which, regardless of their value, remain lifeless matter; rather, the Gospel Lesson relates the healing by Jesus of three grievously afflicted people two blind men, and one deaf and dumb. Both miracles are noteworthy, else Matthew would not have recorded them for us. St. John writes, "There are many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were all written down in detail, I do not suppose that the world itself could hold the books that would have to be written" (John 21:25). But what about those things Jesus said and did that were not recorded for us? These became Tradition, passed on orally from one generation of Christians to another. The Church has been and remains the guardian, the judge, and the touchstone upon which was decided the integrity and genuineness of that which has become known as Tradition.
Matthew does not describe for us the attitude, the behavior of the blind, deaf, and dumb after their healing. We presume that they were grateful to the Master, unlike the nine lepers of Luke 17. Matthew does describe for us, however, the attitude and behavior of the Pharisees. These leaders of the Jewish people, because they could neither deny nor doubt the reality of these miracles, instead launched a vicious accusation, not only against Christ, but against the Holy Spirit as well: "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." Previously they had accused Him of violating the sacred character of the Sabbath. Once before they had accused Him of permitting His disciples to eat without washing their hands. Another time they accused Him of eating with tax-collectors and sinners. This accusation, however, was the worst of all. Why? Because there have always been (and still are) simple people who are all too ready to believe vicious slander about a person. In America the thing to do is accuse the person you don't like of being a homosexual. In Greece you call him a communist. In first-century Palestine you accused him of dealing with evil spirits a sure way to get rid of your enemies.
The ancient philosopher and moralist Theocritos was once asked which of the wild beasts he considered to be the worst. He wisely replied that, while in the hills there are lions and bears, yet in the cities there are the tax-collectors and sycophants the latter much more dangerous than the former. It was for this reason that King David used to pray, "The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart" (Psalm 119:69).
Because the people considered the Pharisees to be great and distinguished men, and because the Pharisees were incapable of duplicating the miracles of Jesus (and who among mortal men could?), they had to accuse Him, and their accusation was horrible: "The ruler of the devils helps Him drive out the devils." St. Chrysostom points out that, not only was the accusation brought about by envy, it was utterly foolish; for, the father of the Church continues, the healing ministry of Christ was not limited to casting out demons: "And He cleansed lepers, raised the dead, calmed the stormy seas, forgave sin, proclaimed the Kingdom of heaven, and much more." Dearly beloved, very often the false accusers, drunk with the zeal of their envy, know not where to start nor where to stop. They have but to open their mouths, and out flow slander and calumny without logic and without limit. The evil becomes multiplied when the slander turns into an organized "smear campaign," as we see in today's Gospel Lesson, where all the Pharisees take their lying stand opposed to the Son of God.
An old legend relates that an Egyptian king once sent a dead animal to be used in sacrifice to the philosopher Pittokos, in order that the latter might determine which part of the dead animal was the most valuable, and which part the least value. The philosopher cut out the animal's tongue and returned it to the king with a short note: "This is both the most valuable and the most worthless part of the animal." Naturally, the philosopher was speaking metaphorically of the human tongue. St. James writes, "The tongue is a little organ but can boast of great achievements The tongue is a fire, and takes its place among the parts of our bodies as a world of evil; it soils the whole body and sets on fire the circle of man's nature, and itself is set on fire by hell... It is an evil incapable of being quieted, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth flow blessing and cursing" (James 3:5-10).
God gave us our tongues to use for good, not for false accusations. Out of the whole creation, man is the only creature that can slander, calumniate and lie. "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). Let's remember that we do not possess a monopoly on virtues; our neighbors have some, too. And let us remember these awesome words of our Lord: "I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).
8th Sunday after Pentecost.
"And they did all eat, and were filled and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full" (Matthew 14:14-22).
Matthew slarts the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel with one of the saddest historical events of his lime namely, the beheading of St. John the Baptist. They who committed this heinous crime were not men of the streets, men of low birth, men of the ordinary way of life, but were those who were supposed to be responsible for keeping watch over the moral and political laws of society. They were the blood-thirsty Herod and his sinful mistress, Herodias, Herod's brolher's wife. Why did they kill the prophet? Because they could not endure the truth which was spoken by the courageous prophet every day that is, that Herod and his wife were scandalous and hypocritical in their adulterous state. St. John was tenacious in his principles and continued to harass the leaders by saying: "It is not lawful for thee to have her." The prophet lost his head in prison and so Herod seemingly rid himself of the voice which persisted in telling the Truth, which was determined to utter God's law in spite of all dangers. Although the prophet's earthly voice was brought to an end, his language continues to censure the behavior of all similar immoral leaders who continue even to this day to live in disgusting adultery and hypocrisy. St. John was relentless, and still is, in his demands that exemplary people should live exemplary lives.
Thus, my people, we have before us a superior example of the mission of the prophet, of the priest, of the man of principles. The road to truth is a difficult one; speaking truth is dangerous and unpopular. It loses would-be friends, makes dire enemies, and demands that the apostle of God's words be without ulterior motives. Vote-getting, profit-making, comfort, self-agreements, cannot be concerns, for they do not come to those who have the courage of their convictions. Just as John lost his head for such a role, you too must think in terms of suffering for Christ and the truths that he preached.
The mission of a true leader is to open new avenues to his followers, to be exemplary in word and practice, in short to be a shepherd of high standing, as were Jonas, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, Moses, Hesikiah and others of the Old Testament.
The news of the atrocity the beheading of the one who went before Jesus Christ was brought to our Lord. "When Jesus heard this he withdrew by boat to a desert place apart." However, Christ did not escape from the mass of people, men and women and children, who followed him anxious to hear his words. Again the words of the prophet are fulfilled: "Rejoice O desert and be happy O Desert and flourish like a carnation." Our Lord busies himself teaching of the Kingdom of God to the religion-thirsty crowd. Time moves on toward evening and the disciples become anxious, urging Jesus to allow the people to go off to the cities in order to eat and refresh themselves. However, Christ says no; "they need not depart, give ye them to eat." In similar fashion, my good people, we are too often concerned about our bodily needs instead of our spiritual requirements, which are indeed of a higher order. Christ is quite clear, if not forceful, about the fact that the people at this moment need spiritual guidance and leadership. He is uncompromising about his position as a responsible and devoted preacher of truth and justice.
Notice how lyrically St. Chrysostom states the meaning of the scene: "Although the place is a desert, He who feeds the universe is present. Although the day is over, Christ and His words are ever-present, never submitting to time or element, never yielding to mortality."
Notice how negative the apostles' reactions were. "We have here but five loaves and two fishes," they said regarding the Master's plan to feed the multitude. In like manner, we too are often negative about the means of the Lord. Instead of being positive and offering Christ the five loaves and two fishes for his distribution no matter what their own wonder might have been, they somewhat shied away from being committed to the principle of being helpful to the human community. We too do not wish to get involved when the cry of the needy goes up for aid. We too want to leave the work to "the other fellow." "Why doesn't Rockefeller help the poor; he has more money than I." We tend to want to build our little costly nests and not worry about "the little children," about whom Christ so tenderly talks. We would rather not "get involved" for it might be complicated; it might take some time. We would rather take care of our own family, our own self-interest, our own little worlds. Unlike St. John the Baptist, who took it upon himself to get involved in God's mission, and Christ who bore the inconvenience of talking to the thirsty and hungry throng of people who needed Him (even though He wanted to be alone and mourn for the loss of His baptizer), we would prefer to spend our excess money eating steak and lobster while others go without anything to eat. We would rather live in our palaces while others live with rats and roaches, and other forms of low animal life. We would rather buy new clothes and hide our hungry souls in them while others scarcely have enough rags to wear. We would rather spend our extra time going to foul movies, and watching idle television programs than give of our time and effort to help the sick, the needy, and the destitute. We call ourselves Christians and do not act like Christ. We talk of our neighbor's hypocrisy, if not of his adultery, and do nothing about our own. Such are not the ways of the Lord, I must admonish you, my friends. Finally, my brethren, as Christians could we not find it in our hearts to give our excess to the hungry, the naked, and the cold? Is it too much to ask of any of us to give that which he has stored away in his closets, in his cellars, in his attic? Our responsibility to love does not stop with our friends and loved ones, but includes our enemies as well, for they too are creatures of God made in His image and likeness and will share His eternal goodness. Chrysostom finds a beautiful mystical meaning in the number twelve. He says: "There were twelve baskets of left-overs in order that Judas should have one too." If one Who was to be so painfully betrayed could consider His betrayer with such love, could we not find it in our hearts to practice philanthropy and goodness for all God's creatures?
9th Sunday after Pentecost.
Anchored in Christ.
"Courage! It is I, do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:22-34).
The spiritual as well as the material supper with which Christ had fed the multitudes who had followed Him was over. Five thousand men (not counting women and children) were satisfied with the teaching and the food. The left-overs were saved, in order to satisfy hunger elsewhere.
Christ tried to convince the people that it was time for His departure. His desire was to remain alone, in order to communicate with His Heavenly Father. The multitudes departed, and the disciples of Christ took their small boat and put out into the open sea. Christ went alone up to the mountain to pray. He prayed, in order to teach us our supreme duty. O you sons of men who do not pray! Why do you not see that you are living like irrational animals! Open the pages of the Holy Bible. There you will discover many great men who prayed throughout their lives. Open to the New Testament, and you will find that our Lord Himself, in days of triumph and joy, in days of human temptation, and even dying on the cross for our sins, prays! The evangelists inform us that He spent most of every day caring for the needs of men. By evening He would be exhausted. But always He disregards His exhaustion. He kneels. He prays. With the psalmist, let us pray: "Answer me when I call, O God, maintainer of my right; I was hard pressed, and Thou didst set me at large; be gracious to me now and hear my prayer. Mortal men, how long will you pay me not honor but dishonor, or set your heart on trifles and run after lies? Know that the Lord has shown me His marvelous love; the Lord hears when I call to Him" (Psalm 4:1-3).
With what weapon other than prayer can we fight the antichrist who so relentlessly pursues us? "Little children, it is the last hour, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, and already many antichrists have appeared; so we may be sure that it is the last hour" (I John 2:18).
While Christ is praying on the calm mountain-top, down on the lake the patterns of everyday life continue. The disciples, in their small boat, proceed across the sea. The evening wind caresses their tired brows. The journey becomes more pleasant with the soft breeze. The disciples exchange thoughts about their Master and His latest supernatural works. Later on, they will proclaim that He is the Son of God. Judas was most likely figuring out how he could sell some of the miraculous left-overs, in order to make some money. Suddenly, the scene changes. The sea is aroused. A storm. An everyday occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. Huge waves opened their greedy mouths to swallow the small fishing craft whole, along with its passengers. The disciples cannot control the boat; the wind is against them. Their daydreams are rudely shattered. They give a cry of "SOS": "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"
Today's Gospel Lesson is not without deep meaning. There is a mystic symbolism behind the reality of the events. In this narration I see mirrored the life of man. The sea is our short life. The boat is each one of us. The storm is the various adventures and trials of our lives, the pains and afflictions which we face every day. Sometimes the sea is very calm, as our lives roll along smoothly. At other times, completely unexpected, the storms of life surround us, just as the waves of the sea trapped the helpless disciples. Pain is present everywhere, from the palaces of kings to the huts of the poor. Precisely as the salt of the sea water is found throughout the entire ocean, so it is with human pain.
The disciples struggle in vain against the waves. The Lord does not immediately still the waves. Why? St. Chrysostom gives us the answer: "The Lord delays rushing to the rescue in order to teach us that, when we are suffering sorrows or pains, we should endeavor to bravely endure them, rather than asking to be immediately free from them." We must say, with the prophet Jeremiah, "But Thou knowest me, O Lord, Thou seest me; Thou dost test my devotion to Thyself" (Jeremiah 12:3). The Lord knows that nothing causes men to turn to Him for aid and comfort so quickly as does disaster, especially when it is sudden. Thus we can understand why even some of the holiest men of the Bible were sorely tempted and tried, that they might come forth refined in the fires of temptation, pure as beaten gold.
Behold, Christ descends the mountain. He walks across the stormy sea. The disciples do not know that this is their beloved Master. They must assume that it is some sort of sea-dragon. Their situation has now become worse. St. Chrysostom writes that it seems to him, whenever we seek to rid ourselves of our afflictions, they only multiply, and our plight becomes worse. We need to remember, however, that the victory always belongs to Christ. It behooves us to have faith and confidence in Him. Our sufferings are but imperfect copies of His sufferings. St. Paul writes: "As Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so Christ makes our comfort overflow ... I delight to suffer for you now and in my body am enduring what still needs to be endured of Christ's sorrows for His body, which is the church" (II Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24). Finally our Lord appeared to His frightened disciples with the words, "Have courage. It is I. Don't be afraid." At that very moment, the scene changes again. Wherever Christ is, fear disappears. Danger becomes joy. Where the rays of the sun of righteousness penetrate, the darkness is dispersed. The moment Christ entered the boat, the wind ceased. The ship, dear reader, is your home, your heart. If you are tired of the stormy waves of the sea, accept Christ not as just a visitor, but as a personal Savior and Guardian of your life. Fall reverently at His feet and, with the Apostle Peter, confess your discipleship: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
10th Sunday after Pentecost.
"Call Unto Me, and I Will Answer Thee."
"Bring him here to me .. . and the boy was cured that very moment" (Matt. 17:14-23).
What is life, dear brethren? Behold, a question which is daily before us! Some say that life is eating and drinking, and having a good time. Others would add to eating and drinking, a luxurious, $300,000 home in Beverly Hills. To others, life is constant travel, with its resultant first-hand knowledge of the whole world. Still others associate life with the thrill of sports. We, however, as Orthodox Christians, see life from another viewpoint. For us, life is a road, a continuous procession. The traveler is man. As to where he is going, and what he expects to find on arrival this can be summed up in one word: salvation. The objective purpose of human existence, then, is salvation. Otherwise, life has no meaning; it is without goal or purpose. Our moral struggle becomes empty and meaningless. The pain and affliction which we encounter every day of our lives is without rhyme or reason. A boat does not remain forever in stormy waters. The day comes at last when it arrives in a calm harbor, there to cast anchor. Yet the journey to the harbor is by no means easy; there are strong winds to be faced and, sometimes, shipwreck. Human life is something like that. Life is not at all easy. God is in heaven, man on earth, and a road of pain and agony lies in between. Many other roads exist, but they do not lead to heaven. "The gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are going that way." There is no harbour at the end of this highway only chaos, fire, a burning lake, eternal fire, and gnashing of teeth, as the Scriptures warn. On the other hand, the road to heaven is narrow, the gate small, the curves many. Few choose this road. Most prefer the super-highway that leads to hell. The gate to the path of holiness is much too narrow for those who have spent their entire lives feeding their bodies, to the everlasting neglect of their souls. All their lives they cared only to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." And die they shall; everlasting denial of the presence of the Most High is the eternal death which awaits them. Some have followed this course through ignorance: "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance " (Acts 3:17). Others acted out of frivolity and crass indifference: "I have just bought a piece of land and I must go and look it over ... I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them ... I have just gotten married, and so I cannot come" (Luke 14:18-20). Nevertheless, to all of them apply the hard, yet just, words of Christ: "O you unbelieving and perverted people of the times! How long can I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17). To all classes and categories of man, to "whosoever will," Christ addresses His gracious invitation: "Come to me, all of you who toil and carry burdens, and I, yes, I, will lead you into rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for the yoke I offer is easy to wear, and the load I ask is light to bear" (Matthew 11:28-30). We all need Christ. None of us is anything without Him. Were it possible for man to effect his own redemption, without the sacrifice of Christ, His coming and death would have been tragically wasteful. Christ taught that all the good deeds in the world could not bring us one step closer to God. "So you, too, when you've done all you were ordered to do, say, 'We are slaves who claim no credit. We've only done our duty' " (Luke 17:10). St. Athanasius seeks to drive home the same truth when he writes: "The Word became flesh, in order that we might become acceptable to Divinity. He was incarnate in order to deify us. He became man in order that we might become gods participants of the Divine nature." And St. Paul states, perhaps more clearly, "It is God who has delivered us out of the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of His dearly loved Son" (Colossians 1:13). The anguished father who brought his ailing boy to the Savior understood this truth. With great tenderness of heart he addresses to
Christ these simple, yet sincere, words: "Lord, have mercy on my son."
Indeed, dear brethren, out of all our supplications and entreaties to God, by far the warmest, the most powerful, is the simple Kyrie eleison Lord have mercy. For this reason our Church repeats this prayer many times at all of her divine services. The words "Lord have mercy" include in themselves the entire human and divine truth. What is man? What is God? What is the relationship between them? "Lord have mercy" is the bridge which unites the two worlds of earth and heaven, human and divine, man and God. In moments of deepest pain, when from the depths of our soul arises the Kyrie eleison, then God inclines His gracious hand to help us; the Almighty Himself enters our human drama with the words, "Bring him here to me." In those moments when pain and affliction have become our most faithful companions, then let us, dear brothers, lift our eyes to the heavens, and from the depths of our soul let us say, Lord have mercy Kyrie eleison.
11th Sunday after Pentecost.
On Fighting Kicks With Kicks.
"This is the way my heavenly Father too will deal with you, if you do not, each one, heartily forgive your brother" (Matthew 18:23-35).
Plutarch, dear brethren, is one of the most famous and prolific authors of antiquity. Historian and moralist, he lived 46-120 A.D. He wrote many books, among which stand out comparisons and historical personalities of the ancient world. He wrote moral essays which have a great similarity to Christian morality. Some critics insist that Plutarch was influenced by the teaching of the Christian Gospel and especially by St. Paul. In one of Plutarch's essays concerning the education of youth, there has survived to us the following information relative to the life of Socrates.
One day Socrates was teaching in one of the public squares of Athens, when a bold and impudent youth happened to stroll by. With no apparent reason, he kicked Socrates. Socrates said nothing. The youth fled, for the crowd had become indignant. They protested to Socrates: why did he not react? The philosopher calmly answered the anguished crowd thusly. "If a donkey kicks you, do you think that you gain anything by kicking the donkey back?" The youth, as it happened, received his just punishment, for the people began calling him Λακτιστην the kicker, which nickname was such a source of shame and embarrassment for the youth that he finally took his own life. From this account, Plutarch concludes his moral teaching, that a characteristic of the wise man and the philosopher is meekness, with great reluctance to anger.
However wise the words of Socrates, dear brethren, they are but human wisdom. Socrates himself never insisted that his words be accepted as dogma, as absolute truth. As a modern philosopher points out, Socrates does not call people to himself, neither does he offer to them any kind of relief from the burdens of life. Socrates prepares the way for the science of logic. He asks questions, as other great champions of truth have done. He is a great philosopher, a symbol of man's painful longing for and striving after truth. Yet he remains a man. Never does he say: "Come to me, all you who are working hard and carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest."
Dear brethren, who is Christ? He exists as an historical personage, in contemporary life, in perpetual life. He is not a dead figure of the past, lying dormant with the rest of human history. He lives. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. He is the center of history. Socrates spoke to people, hinting to them of earthly things. Christ invites men to come to Himself, and then speaks to them of heavenly things. He speaks of a kingdom of life, beginning when this life ends. He speaks not of theories and possibilities, but with assurance, with authenticity: "Truly, truly I say to you." And He speaks with authority; and for this reason His words are divine, obligatory. He speaks in parables, due to human lack of understanding; the truths of the parables speak to the soul of man. One of these parables is related in today's Gospel Lesson the parable of the two debtors. One of these men owed his lord 10,000 talents. In today's money, the sum is astronomical 10 million dollars. The second man owed the first debtor a hundred dinars about 20 dollars, which of course was nothing in comparison with the first amount. The lord forgave the first servant the debt of 10 million dollars. But this same servant could not find it in his heart to forgive his fellow servant the go-dollar debt. As we read, he had him thrown into prison until such time as he could pay the debt. This parable reflects the way in which we so often behave. We who have been forgiven so much by God remain unwilling to forgive others in the smallest matters.
How different life would be if men were very strict with themselves, and lenient with others, instead of vice versa. Life on earth would become like life in paradise. It is useless to fight fire with fire. Hatred does not cancel out hatred. A kick in response to a kick solves precisely nothing. Let us rather extend the love of Christ to those who are indebted to us.
We are all debtors to God. We are all judged according to the same scale. Some owe less; some owe more. Let us, trusting in the righteousness of God, learn to forgive and love one another.
12th Sunday after Pentecost.
No Perfection Without Sacrifice.
"If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come back here and follow me" (Matthew 19:16-36).
These words spoke Jesus to the rich young ruler whose heart was inflamed with a desire for eternal life. They are not human words, but divine words of unchangeable, eternal value, inasmuch as they are the words of the Son of God. When the American astronauts succeeded in landing on the moon, the President of the United States made the following statement: "This is the greatest historical event ever recorded since the creation of the world." Of course, we must strongly disagree with the President in this matter. The moon landing, while it certainly seemed spectacular at the moment, was but an historic human event which, like all such events, will before long become "stale news" something about which people are already tired of hearing. The other day a Pennsylvania judge celebrated his 100th birthday. A newspaper reporter asked him what he considered to be the most noteworthy event of his lifetime. The judge's reply was "the invention of the automobile." For the judge, in his time, it was astonishing. For us, it is nothing.
The greatest historical event since the creation was the second creation the Incarnation of the Son of God, which was to result in the restoration of the first creation. God, as St. Athanasius points out, entered the stream of human history in order that He might regenerate (renew) the human race. Ever since that time, all human history has been divided into two great periods: B.C. and A.D. Through our intellectual and physical powers we can now travel to the moon, and eventually most likely we will reach the other planets in our solar system as well. Yet it is through Jesus Christ that we can soar to the very heights to the very Kingdom of God. On the moon we behold little else but rocks, and the tranquil lunar "seas." In the Kingdom of heaven, we shall see God Himself face-to-face. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known" (I Corinthians 13:12). Today, Jesus Christ is the goal, as well as the life, of every true Christian, for He Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Moreover, He said, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). Who among mortal men would dare utter those worlds? (Perhaps a deluded politician?) Basil the Great, famous astronomer and observer of his era, wrote, "Each word, each action, of our Lord Jesus Christ is a paragon of virtue. The whole of His teaching is an entirely new system, a new covenant, which shall never become antiquated or pass away. Those who practice the teachings of Christ," St. Basil adds, employing a biblical metaphor, "shall renew themselves like eagles."
A young man approaches the great Rabbi, the great Teacher of Galilee. He was not a useless ruffian; this boy had ideals in life. He obeyed the Mosaic Law very strictly. (The three synoptics all agree here; cf. Mark 10:17-27, and Luke 18:18-27.) He was a good lad, and he wanted to become better. He was excellent; he wanted to be perfect. Although he lived amid the splendor of wealth, he wanted to become a citizen of heaven. "Good Master," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The Lord asked from him something that was monumental his life, his life of wealth and ease. "Go," said Jesus, "sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and you'll have a treasure in heaven. Then come and follow Me."
Perfection, dear brethren, demands sacrifice. We must deny ourselves. It is not enough to preach the truths of the Gospel with our lips alone; we must practice what we preach. God wants more from each of us than a "small contribution." Of him who has much, much is expected. Of him who has little, little is expected. And surely, even he who has nothing can give of himself, visiting the sick and lonely, etc.
Jesus told the young man that he was to dispose of all his wealth. Jesus Himself had nothing in the way of material possessions, as He Himself witnessed: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20). Jesus also preached, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Who are the poor whom Jesus is addressing? The drunken derelicts of the Bowery? The heroin addicts of Harlem? The self-proclaimed young social outcasts of California? Did Christ pronounce a benediction on these people. No. He loves them, but He cannot accept them until they are willing to accept Him, to give up living their way, and surrender their lives to His Lordship. Jesus' reference was to the "poor in spirit." St. Chrysostom observed that there are many wealthy men who are spiritually impoverished, and many poor men who possess the blessings of eternity.
The young man in today's Gospel Lesson heard the invitation of Jesus, but did not come. He bowed his head, and slowly walked away. He disappeared perhaps forever among the crowds of Judaean humanity, although there are those who believe that he returned at some later date and accepted Jesus on the Lord's own terms which, indeed, is the only way we can accept Him. At any rate, the Gospels are silent on this point. Centuries later Dante the poet was to imagine the young man furtively running to and fro in the regions of the damned. Some Church fathers, such as the illustrious John Chrysostom, believed that the youth was saved, despite the fact that he could not, at the precise moment of our Gospel Lesson, bring himself to a point of total commitment. Surely the Lord is patient and merciful, although we are warned many times in the pages of Holy Scripture not to try His patience, nor yet to tamper with His mercy.
Dearly beloved, the invitation that Jesus Christ extended to that young man, He extends to each of us today. And our destiny for all of eternity depends on how, or whether, we respond to His call of "Come; follow me." Be sure to count the cost, beloved. Jesus demands all of your life, every part of you. But He promises in return to transform you, to make you a new creature in Himself, to bestow upon you a life that is truly abundant, now, and throughout the ages to come. The choice is yours. The invitation stands. "Come, follow me."
16th Sunday after Pentecost.
" He sent his servants to the tenants to collect the produce due to him" (Matthew 21:33-42)
Our Lord, in order that man might understand divine truths, spoke in simple, easy-to-understand terms, highlighting His teaching with examples and incidents drawn from the daily, agricultural life of the times. He also uses illustrations from the life of a common shepherd. One of the most superb of these "parables" is that found in today's Gospel Lesson, traditionally known as the Parable of the Wicked Husbandman. The word "husbandman" is a 17th century term that perhaps today would best be rendered "tenant farmer," in the context in which we find it employed in the Gospel. St. Chrysostom, before explaining this parable verse-by-verse, gives a general synopsis, indicating that the parable has much to teach us. From it, we learn of (1) God's love for Israel; (2) Israel's habit of slaying God's prophets; (3) God's love for Israel regardless; and (4) the sending of God's own Son. We learn that God is unchangable throughout human history; He is the same in the New Testament as He is in the Old. We learn of the tremendous value of Christ's sacrifice of Himself on Golgotha. Finally, we learn of the calling of the Gentiles, and the temporary rejection of Israel.
Very often, too often in fact, we speak of God in our own finite, human terms, ascribing to Him our sundry passions. Well does the psalmist voice God's strenuous objection: "You have assumed the profanity that I am like you." If there is anything about God that is totally unfathomable to man, it surely seems to be His infinite goodness, and His love toward us, His creatures. God's omnipotence, His omniscience, are perfectly evident in the natural creation. Yet we cannot see intuitively that God is good. (A frequently used argument against the above-mentioned proposition is the problem of human suffering.) Many deny the very existence of God. And how many times do God's own people question His unfathomable purpose? "Where is God?" we ask. "Why does He not send fire from heaven to destroy the wicked from among men?" James and John once asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven for this very purpose.
Recently, one of our local Ukrainian Orthodox churches was vandalized. Those who were involved entered the church, profaned it, walked upon the Holy Table, broke the processional crosses, and caused extensive damage. A very pious woman asked me, "Father, if God really exists, why did He not supernaturally destroy those who pillaged the church, so that they could serve as an example for others?" The woman's faith was shaken by the incident. I replied to her, "My dear lady, you are bringing God down, lowering Him to our level. You fail to see God's great love and patience. He has no interest in displaying His existence by means of divine, retaliatory executions. Were God to forget love and mercy, He would cease to be God, and of course that is impossible. He would be making of Himself a 'bogey man' of sorts, someone with whom to terrorize young children. God is much greater than that. He has concern for the souls of even those vandals, who may never have heard the story of His great love for men in Jesus Christ."
When St. John the Evangelist reclined on our Lord's breast at the Last Supper, surely as he listened to the beating of the Savior's heart, he must have been deeply moved to contemplate the deeper mysteries of the Triune God, for, out of all of the New Testament writings, his are the most mystical. It is John that tells us that "God is love" (I John 4:8). God is unlimited Love. We cannot comprehend the depths of that love. St. Paul comes close to expressing this love when he writes, in Romans 2:4, "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentence?"
God sent His servants to receive the fruits He had coming to Him. But man neither pitied those servants, nor respected God. Most of the prophets were martyred. God sent to the heathen great intellectuals and philosophers; they were not heeded either. Socrates was condemned by the Athenians because he believed in one God, not in the multiform deities of the idolaters.
God sent to earth His own Son. Man nailed Him to the rough-hewn tree and crucified Him. God is still waiting for men to repent. He extends to us more and more time, in His goodness and mercy. He still sends His messengers, bidding men to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentence" to accept Christ, turning away from sin and toward God. Let us remember, beloved, that God is first of all a holy God. That means that, in addition to being merciful, He must also be just. No sin not covered by the blood of Christ will go unpunished. Our time is running out. One of these days God is going to bring human history to its close. One of these days our own lives will draw to a close. Are you ready? God is waiting, but how long will He wait?
17th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Fear of God.
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 6:16, 7:1)
Today's epistle lesson, taken from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, is divided into two parts. The first part of composed of admonitions from the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament Prophets. The second part is composed of the thoughtful advice of St. Paul, based, of course, on these Old Testament admonitions. We have here, clearly pointed out for us, the basic unity that exists between the Old Testament and the New. The fact that Our Blessed Lord, as well as the Apostles, often quote the Old Testament is ample proof that it is inspired Scripture. The Old and New Testaments are equally the word of God, disclosed gradually and progressively to man.
Today, brethren, we are going to examine the words of St. Paul which we quoted at the outset. These words are difficult for us, because they are not addressed to our intelligence, but, rather, to our heart. We cannot approach God with our intelligence alone; if this were the case, only the very intelligent could be saved. God wants all of us, and this is biblically symbolized by the heart: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:10). In I Samuel 16:7, we learn that "The Lord looketh on the heart." Now any cry to "Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" or to "Perfect holiness in the fear of God" does not seem to appeal to the heart of modern man, and because the heart remains unmoved, the mind summons logical arguments that will appear to justify this disobedience.
Honestly now, what is it that causes modern man to rebel so against God? Why is modern man so opposed to spiritual purity, moral health, and holiness? Why does modern man insist upon harnessing and perverting every conceivable scientific argument to prove God false?
We live today in an era of moral corruption, an era of moral decline and this under the pretext that we are free. Is this not what St. Peter warned against, when he spoke of "not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness" (I Peter 2:16)? But we foolishly claim that, with our scientific advancements and enlightenment, we can solve all of our own problems. Thus, proponents of the "new morality" brush aside every moral law and principle, and disregard the word and the eternal will of God, on the grounds that they are mechanical, irrational, unnatural, and illiberal. They cease to practice religion, cause others to leave the Church, and wander about aimlessly with but one desire to satisfy the lusts of the flesh.
But to satisfy the flesh outside of the fear of God, outside of marriage, is not enlightened and intelligent. It is corrupt and degenerate an abomination to the Lord. The satisfaction of each desire conceived within us is not power and freedom; it is weakness and enthralment; it is pollution of the flesh and of the spirit. In this the word of God is most explicit. There is no room for argument; there is not any room for empty rationalization, for making excuses in sin. And yet, there are those who, despite their filthiness, despite their sins, would still make excuses to justify themselves in the sight of God. Still others sink to even lower depths, in that they choose simply to ignore the Divine and the warnings that accompany it. It is not that they cannot come to know God and His love; they simply do not wish to do so.
Indeed, purity and holiness are difficult goals, even for those who wish to attain them. No one would claim that it is not difficult. If the achievement of virtue were not difficult, virtue would then have no value before God or before man. The Lord told us that the road to eternal life, to deification, is narrow, and that few choose that way. The road to brutalization, to destruction, on the other hand, is very wide, and most people choose it. Brutalization, though it be a harsh term, is nevertheless accurate, for when man casts aside the laws of God, he sinks to the level of the animals, and sometimes surpasses them in his filthiness.
There is one thing which can keep us close to the Divine Law, and this is the fear of God. And there is one power which can cleanse us from sin, and strengthen us so that we can attain holiness, and this power is Divine Grace.
The lives of the saints, their love, their hope, their piety, their worship, their purity, their holiness, and their wisdom, not only theoretical, but active, were built firmly upon the foundation of Divine Grace. We read in Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
The fear of God does not result in a feeling o£ confinement. St. Paul tells us that it is pure; i.e., it is free from any feeling of slavery and unworthiness. The fear of God is actually respect for God's great love for us. It is the only means by which we may tame or bridle our unruly flesh.
Fear of God and love for God are really one and the same thing; both are based upon our faith and hope. Faith accepts in confidence all that God has promised us. Hope awaits assurance of the fulfillment of these promises. With this thought in mind, St. Paul quotes the writings of the Prophets, in order to strengthen the faith of the Christians at Corinth in all that God has promised. He urges moral purity and holiness in order to revive the hopes of the Christians in the promises of God. Each Christian has a double responsibility in connection with his beliefs and hopes; he must purify himself, and perform holiness. Both are derived from the same source: the fear of God. Thus, according to the Divine promises, St. Paul says: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Fishers of Men.
"From henceforth thou shalt catch men" (Luke 5:1-11).
Dear brethren, in this passage we are carried by St. Luke to the Lake of Genesarret. We picture two fishermen returning from their work with empty nets. As usual, there were many people gathered at the lake. The fishermen customarily took their catch and brought it into the house of Anna and Caiaphs, and to the Roman authorities, after which they sold it in order to buy bread and other necessities for their families. But as the Gospel says, on that night the fishermen were in great despair as they sat washing their nets for the next day's work.
The task of a fisherman is hard and very painful. Nevertheless, for Holy Scriptures it is a very symbolic work. In the science of theology there is a branch called alieftike. In order to catch fish, the fisherman must be experienced and well-prepared. The same must be said about every fisherman of logical soul. In other words, every preacher, in order to attract human souls into the net of Christ, needs to be well-prepared and experienced. A fisherman must be patient and calm. Many times will he cast his net, and the results desired will be few and far between. The same can be said for the preacher. Many times he will preach, and oftentimes without favorable results. Yet, he will not give up. He will continue with greater fervor. The job of a fisherman is a trying one, what with the salt and brine; the dashing waves and freezing waters; the cold wind against the warm rain. The mission of the preacher is equally difficult. Man is very much like the sea capricious. When a fisherman takes in a good catch, he rejoices until he begins separating the edible from the non-edible and ends up throwing most of it back into the sea. Then comes despair. The same thing happens to the preacher. He preaches in Church and captures his audience in his net, as long as they are in Church. Later he worries because many of the people caught in his net are later to become his enemies. We have so many examples of like situations in history and our past experiences. How many people despise the grace and return the gift.
Amongst the multitude at the lake stood our Lord. He boarded the ship of Simon, who he later surnamed Peter (Luke 5:3). Jesus asked Peter to take his ship a little further out into the lake, that all might see. Jesus transformed the boat from a ship into His pulpit, and He began to teach "and He sat down and taught the people out of the ship." This might very well serve as an example for us, that the Gospel of Christ, the Word of God, "is not bound" to only one place, nor is it limited to the pulpits and places of worship. But the action of preaching is designed for all places, as Paul wrote to Timothy "preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine" (II Tim. 4:2). To be sure, the very office in which I am sitting and receiving people is a pulpit. The restaurant wherein I sit and eat my meal can very well serve as a pulpit. When I walk through the streets, or in the shops where people work, these too can become pulpits. Whatever I say must be guised in the edification of a sermon a sermon that will benefit my fellow man. So many times people say to us, "What a kind man he is," "How nicely he speaks." However, kindness in the Christian concept is quite different from any other. The real Christian is always careful about his language and is never flexible to the point that harsh words will follow or be substituted for kind words. The honest and genuine Christian never changes, no matter what threatens to damage his social behavior and contacts.
After the end of the sermon Jesus begged Peter to anchor his ship in a deeper part of the lake, and to cast his nets for one more try. Peter immediately raises the objection "Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing." This same pessimism afflicts many people nowadays, especially at the outset of a new task. Some familiar phrases: "It is impossible to do that. We should not have started this way. We should not have built such a huge church, we are a small community. The bishop or the priest had no right to do that." What a great mistake! The position of the Christian in society must be a positive one. Christianity is a positive experience, not a negation. The only area in which the Christian can afford negation is in his attitude towards sin. But for progress, he must believe positively that God is always with us. We trust in His providence, in His love, and in His paternal affection.
The Lord insists, and Peter casts his nets into the sea ... "nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net." The net, no sooner had it submerged, began to tear "and when they had this done they enclosed a great multitude of fish and their nets broke." Peter is astonished. Yes Peter, but do not be surprised. Last night you toiled endlessly in pain, but without Christ. Today your nets are cast with His blessings. How would it be possible for the nets to remain empty?
This lesson is also for us. Oftentimes we cast out our nets without ever remembering Christ; not even seeking His blessings. Many of us try to use force in working with the blessing of God. Undoubtedly, our efforts are in vain, our expenditures lost, our hopes hardly ever realized. Actually, without God and Christ, we can never achieve fruitful ends.
Peter's first reaction to this marvelous thing was a realization of his unworthiness. He said to Jesus, "Lord, I am a sinner. Leave my ship, please. It is not a place for you. You are clean." No, Peter, you are wrong. The Lord came for the sinners. It is the ill afflicted that have need of a doctor, He said once, and not those that are well. Perhaps this is the strangest thing with the sermons of Jesus the sinners become the greatest preachers.
Brethren, let us rejoice and celebrate. The sinners are becoming preachers, apostles, and fathers of the Church. "Simon, fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men." Dear brethren, come forth, Jesus Christ waits for you and me. Come, He has a place for you, that you might stand up in your own particular pulpit and preach about the greatness of God. He accepts, as St. Chrysostom reiterates, the last with the same manner as the first. He rewards the first as abundantly as the last. His job is indeed easy, and His burden is light. Amen.
19th Sunday after Pentecost.
"The Quality of Mercy."
"Be ye therefore, merciful as your Father is also merciful" (Luke 6:31-36).
One of the most outstanding verses of Holy Scripture, dear brethren, is contained in today's Gospel reading. The Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, was so deeply impressed by this verse that he not only repeated it often himself, but commanded his public officers to engrave it on all the walls throughout the city: "and as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Socrates had much to say; Plato philosophized endlessly; Aristotle imparted much to the sciences; and we, we study them diligently. But nowhere in their writings can we find a verse containing as much thought and depth as that spoken by our Lord. Many atheists and persons indifferent to the Faith, were readily converted upon hearing this one verse. Others that do not accept Jesus Christ as God, at least proclaim Him as an outstanding moral teacher.
Oftentimes we explain this reading. Our readers have read it and heard it on an equal number of occasions. And the more you read and study it, the deeper you go into its meaning, which opens up new vistas of thought on the subject. It is filled with wisdom and divine revelation. It encourages the right type of relations and behavior between fellow men. It exhorts men to be Christ-like and to come as close to God as possible in their virtues. In others words, not to reach God in quantity, that is, in His power and wisdom. This is beyond the natural capabilities of human beings. For example, it was from that very moment when Adam and Eve sought to know as much as God, when they tried to become as God, listening to the devil it was from this time that they were farthest away from God. What was it that the devil told them? "do you want to become as God? It is simple and very easy. Do not listen to God. Revolt against Him and His will." We know the results of the Fall. As Scripture otherwise says, a great gap was opened between God and man.
Nowhere in Scripture will we find one verse that exhorts us to become as equals to God in His knowledge, Power, or Wisdom, and the rest of the natural, divine attributes. And when man took the initiative in this area, he met instant destruction.
In the Old Testament, we read about man's attempt to reach God by climbing above Him in a tower, and from there trying to dethrone Him. The tower was the famous Tower of Babel. When commencing to build the tower, there arose mass confusion amongst the builders. They lost their understanding of their common language and were unable to communicate with one another. Eventually the tower collapsed and the men were scattered all over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:4-9).
Almost the same thing was said by Russia's first astronauts, during the reign of the supposed all-mighty Krushchev "they said to us that God is in the skies. We went there and we conquered the heavens. But we never met God. We travelled to the stars and we did not find God there. We went beyond our planet and we did not see God anywhere." In the language of the ancient Greeks this would have been considered as an insult. And the insultor would have been punished severely, by being excommunicated from the intellectual community as an offender against the divine realities. Today, in our own terminology, we call it blasphemy of the worst order. The results are well-known. Krushchev's end was very insignificant, to the point that many people are still very anxious to know what has happened to the former all-mighty boss of the Iron Curtain. Does he still live, or was he simply excommunicated? Yesterday it was Czechoslovakia, today Romania, and tomorrow Poland. Their influence dwindles every day because it is a proven fact that the religious convictions of peoples dedicated to God can never be squelched.
We must never forget that no man can ever find God when his purpose is evil; when he seeks God in order to blaspheme and humiliate Him. We must never seek to find God outside of ourselves, outside of our own existences. With much authenticity does Paul speak on this subject "know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."
The great eighteenth century German philosopher, Kant, in his moral proof of the existence of God moves from the moral law which exists in us "there exists an absolute moral law, catholic; previous and supreme, every human law which is expressed in positive command. Do not do evil, do good. Consequently, there exists a Supreme Law-Maker, who is the Absolute Mind, All-Mighty and Absolute Holy Being. This moral law is absolute and universal. The conscience even in a more deviate condition is in a position to make the distinction between good and evil."
We said before that we cannot reach God in the quantity of His power, nor does any scriptural verse advise differently. However, we do find many verses in Scripture which exhort us to reach God in the quality of His virtue. One such verse is the above mentioned "Be ye, therefore, merciful as your Father is also merciful" (Luke 6:31-36). The unfortunate Nietzsche used to say to his students, "Become strong and step on the weak, in order to climb up to separate the strong from the weak. Life is only for the strong." The Gospel tells us to love our fellow man in the same way as God loves us all. It is only that man who feels this love towards his fellows that will remain in God, and God in him . "God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him."
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that has no love can never know God, for God is love. God's love for us is so perfectly manifested because God sent His Only-begotten Son into the world that we might live in Him." I strongly suggest, beloved, that you read tonight immediately the whole Catholic epistle of John.
The ancient Greeks and Romans tried to describe their mythological gods as being full of power, wrath, and anger. One of the gods was charged with thunder, the other the tempests, and the third, storms. They were always ready to dash their powers against man whenever he became disorderly. But our God is full of goodness and love. He forgives, even when man commits sins seventy times seven. And for the salvation of humanity He sends His Only-Begotten Son.
My brothers, let us follow His example. Let us always exude our love and mercy. And in so doing we become imitators of our Heavenly Father "merciful as He is merciful." Amen.
20th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Same Gospel.
"But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-19).
The reading for today, dear brethren, is taken especially from the epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. Paul the Apostle writes to the newly converted Christians of the Church of Galatia concerning the value of the Gospel which he had preached to them. What is the Gospel? What is its value for the life of each Christian? Is it indispensable or not? In order to better understand the development of these questions, we must first review the circumstances that compelled Paul to write the epistle.
Paul himself evangelized Galatia and its periphery. During the second apostolic mission, A.D. 52, as indicated in the epistle, Paul remained in Galatia for a long time. We also learn from the epistle that while in Galatia Paul became deathly sick. The Galatians' concern for Paul was so intense, that even if he had asked them to pluck out their eyes on his behalf, they would have gladly obeyed . "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel unto you at the first and if it had been possible ye would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me."
Paul, after departing from Galatia, went to Asia Minor, Macedonia, Athens, and Corinth. And from Corinth he went to Ephesus. As soon as Paul departed from Galatia, the false teachers began to circulate. Some Judaizers accused Paul of not being a disciple of Christ, a genuine Apostle, that he was preaching a false message, and other similar accusations. Of course, while Paul was living in Ephesus, all of his accusers were silent. Why, you ask? Because the darkness is never able to overshadow the light. Wrong-doers, said our Lord, hate the light because it exposes them for what they are evil . "For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20). Such people much prefer to throw their shaft from behind.
Unfortunately, even in our own times, such individuals exist. I do not refer to the various heretics that with great success, and using money as their persuasive weapon, ransom the religious conscience of naive and "easy-believing" peoples. Rather, I speak about those teachers that dress in the cloak of conservatism, claim to be the only genuine orthodox, write against, accuse, sow the seeds of hate amongst the faithful, and separate and divide the body of the Church. They continually attack in their writings those holy men who, in their years of struggle and perseverance for the Church, have only ill-health and white hair as proof. The false teachers dare to put themselves above the patriarch and his synod. They have no respect for archbishops, bishops, or any authoritative principles. They presumptuously consider themselves as the only existing orthodox.
What was it that the false teachers said against St. Paul? Their lies were sharp and plentiful: they said that Paul was not an apostle. Don't listen to him. We have the circumcision. We are under the Old Law of Moses. We are followers of Peter, not Paul. The modern-day false teachers employ much the same method: don't listen to him, he is only the patriarch or archbishop. They will betray us. They will sell our faith, our Orthodoxy to the Protestants or Catholics. It is as though Orthodoxy were the vineyard of one individual and only he can do with it as he wills. But this is not so. Orthodoxy is the body of Christ and the body of Christ is preserved by the Church with eminent respect and great fear.
The other day I read a Greek newspaper, the efforts of a small group. The paper was written by hand and it was full of orthographic and syntactic errors. In one column the editor wrote, "I never will stop to fight the Church." Behold, in plain view, the mission of the editor and his paper war against the Church. Really, the word war may seem harsh, but it is the only word that can comprehensively establish the objective feelings of this individual towards the Church.
While in Ephesus, Paul was informed about the false teachers and their activities. Paul was greatly disturbed by the behavior of these pseudo-brethren. In all sincerity, he had to answer their charges. He took up his pen and began to write. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ what more proof could they demand than this. Paul, a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, resurrected by Him from the dead. O Galatians! The Gospel that I preached to you is not a human invention. I did not 'receive' it from any man. I was not 'taught' it by any man. But I received it through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Christ revealed His Gospel to me while I was walking at noonday on the hot, dusty road to Damascus, still an ardent persecutor of His Church. Our Lord stopped me, and in the flash of a moment invited me to become His Apostle, a vessel of choice, a herald for the nations, a trumpet for Christ.
In this, my beloved friends, we have from the lips of St. Paul a great witness for the Gospel a sure ratification of its value. Peter also said, "For the prophecy came not in by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21). Also, St. Paul repeats the same thought in his epistle to the Thessalonians, telling them that every scripture is God-inspired. When speaking about inspiration in Holy Scripture, we can best understand its influence by studying the prophecies of the Old Testament. The prophets, for example, when uttering their proclamations, were well aware of their position as instruments of God, through whom God spoke to His people. Therefore, in each prophecy, the prophet began "and thus saith the Lord," or "from the mouth of the Lord were spoken those things." When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He said to them, you are not speaking what you know or want, but it is the Holy Spirit speaking through you.
Paul begged the Galatians to hold fast the Gospel because it was from God. He emphasized this point by declaring that even if an angel should appear with another gospel, he is to be disregarded "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, then that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
It is this same Gospel, dear brethren, that the Orthodox Church preserves as an invaluable treasure for two thousand years. The Church begs us along with Paul to hold fast to this Gospel, and not to pay attention to the false teachers and new "movements" of modern society. Such movements and heralds of a new faith come and go, but the word of God is eternal. Let us keep the Gospel of Christ, permitting the faith and joy of its contents to govern our lives. Amen.
21th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Real Life.
"I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:16-20)
These words, my beloved brethren, are extracted from Paul's epistle to the Galatians which was read during today's Liturgy. Paul emphasizes two important people our Lord, Jesus Christ, and himself. If you read the last sermon, you will remember the account rendered of Paul's self-defense against the false teachers that attacked him and his gospel. In his defense, Paul stated emphatically that the Gospel that he preached and wrote was not of human invention. It is not a human teaching, but an apocolypse, a revelation "of Jesus Christ." It is really a supernatural event, beyond the frontiers of human conception, as to how God speaks to His people, through those whom He chose as vessels of the Word. As such, the Gospel as revelation of Christ is eternal and irreplaceable. The validity of the Gospel was not established only for yesteryear, but also for today and tomorrow. And actually, beyond that being for all ages and epochs; for all men, regardless of race, creed, or color.
St. Paul, in speaking about himself, relates how he persecuted the Church because of his zealous adherence to his fatherly traditions. Paul talks about his conversion to Christ and about that hour in which he was writing the epistle to the Galatians, when he crucified himself and died. Paul does not live, the old Paul has died. Rather, instead of him living, Christ lives in him: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
St. Chrysostom explains what Paul means by these words. St. John says that Paul was able to make this claim because in fact his will disappeared, permitting the will of Christ to govern his life. All his actions and activities, continues Chrysostom, all his behavior towards God and man were geared by the will of God.
The truth of the matter is, my brethren, that there are many things that we can neither teach, nor prove. Rather, we feel these things inside of us; an experience, as it were, that is unable to be outwardly expressed in terms of proof. In order for those around us to comprehend these things, they must experience them from within their own beings. Paul says, "Christ lives in me," He lives in the very essence of my inner being. It is an internal savor that can be tasted of only by living the experience of having Christ living within us.
People come to Church. They open their mouths to receive Holy Communion. They offer their mite to the Church. They listen to the sermon, and they read the humble words of their pastor. But they fail to proceed any further. They have yet to experience that same feeling for Christ as did Paul. They have failed to harmonize their lives with the life and will of Christ. They simply do not understand that supposedly man becomes a Christ-bearer, and as the first Christians referred to St. Ignatius, he is expected to carry "Christ in his chest."
Paul also speaks about the same subject in another of his epistles "and if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin but the spirit is alive because of righteousness" (Rom. 8:10). In other words, if we permit Christ to govern our lives, to make our bodies His temple, then our bodies will be dead to sin, and unable to commit sin. While on the other hand, the spirit (the spiritual man) will live, move, and direct us towards the achievement of virtue. Rather than permitting sin to direct us, we will subject ourselves to the will of Christ.
The will of Christ the life of Christ living in us is not in contradiction to, nor incompatible with, our natural life. In fact, it is only when we successfully harmonize our own life with the life of Christ that we will be able to progress both in body and spirit. Last week in my Patrology class at the Seminary, I reviewed the ascetics and authors of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. St. Antony, Pachomius, the two Macarii, Neil, Arsenius, and others. All of these Fathers lived to be eighty years old and over. Perhaps someone will argue with that old, over-used phrase, "But what do the monks do? They sit all day." This statement can be made only by those who are ignorant of the history of monasticism. However, it is not my task here to refute this argument and offer a defense on behalf of monasticism and its contribution to the world. But for a moment let us ask, Why do the monks live such a long life, and one that is filled with spiritual productivity? Simply because they permitted the life of Christ to govern their lives. They re-enacted in their own lives the words of Paul, "not I, but Christ liveth in me."
My beloved listeners, maybe you live a rich life, not wanting for anything that is good. Perhaps you possess all the good things in life like those mentioned in the parable, and are satisfied daily. And finally, you might even dress in the finest of clothing in purple and gold. But if Christ does not live in your bodies no matter how satisfied with wealth of food, money, and clothing you may be then the words of St. John in his Revelation, addressed to the angel of the Church of Sardis, apply to you, "I know thy works, that thou hast the name, that thou livest and are dead" (Rev. 3:1-2).
Be watchful and strengthen your lives. This exhortation "be watchful" asks that you open your eyes and try to understand life. Simply because a body moves, or runs, or makes sounds does not indicate that it is genuinely alive. Rather, such a body lives, in the words of Aristotle, the life of a grazing animal (Voskimatodes Zoi). Real life is the life in Christ; the life that was lived by Paul, the saints of the Church, and all good Christians of today. Find this life, my beloved, come to know its joy and peace, so that at your end you, too, may say with Paul: "I am crucified with Christ nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Amen.
22nd Sunday after Pentecost.
Many Reasons for Belief.
"And He said unto Him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded through one arose from the dead" (Luke 16:19-31).
Today's Gospel lesson, dear brethren, answers all the questions and doubts of those persons that disbelieve in the life after death. Man always asks for proof concerning that life, especially nowadays. They want proof and arguments to persuade them to believe. This proof, beloved, we find in the Word of God delivered today, and we will now try to explain.
The Gospel relates the lives of two men, in a real life situation (the story is neither a parable nor allegory and for this reason we emphasize the reality of the situation). One was wealthy, a possessor of many material riches, but in spirit very poor. He had but one concern to eat, drink, and sleep well, and to dress in the most expensive garb of his day "(he) was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." He paid little, if any, attention to those around him and he was not at all concerned about the poverty, affliction, and calamity that existed outside his door. He did not care for Lazarus the poor the second figure in the Gospel story who was full of sickness and in need of much. Lazarus was brought to the yard of the rich man to share the bones and left-overs with his dogs. The dogs of this wealthy man even provided him with a lesson in good behavior towards less fortunate individuals. They licked the wounds of Lazarus and brought him some relief "moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores."
The stage-setting of life's theatre did not remain unchanged for long. The Holy Gospel does not even mention the name or the age of the wealthy man. Perhaps the author preferred not to afford him such an honor as including his name in scripture. Lazarus died and the angels of God received his soul, and brought it to the bosom of Abraham.
Perhaps all the poverty-stricken will enjoy the same good fortune? No, absolutely not. Many of the world's poor, scourged by society, are the cause of their own poverty. They are poor because they do not have the ambition to better themselves. However, in the Gospel we encounter a good, kind individual, whose poverty is a result of and complicated by his illness. It is this type of poor that bear their cross with honesty and patience. It is oftentimes from the ranks of such poor families that are born the best citizens, well-educated and devoted to society. Very often the greatest scientists and public personalities are products of such backgrounds. And, so often, the prototypes of man-wife relationships and parenthood are to be found amidst the destitute and poor. It is, of course, for this type of "poor" that today's Gospel speaks.
A short while after, the rich man died and was buried. Along with his body was buried his name and his wealth. He left nothing behind to remind posterity of his passing. Perhaps he had a few relatives or mistresses, who rather than pray for his soul cursed him for leaving no inheritance. Many similar cases appear in our newspapers today. The other day I read about such a case in a Greek newspaper. An extremely wealthy man died in West Virginia and three women wanted to claim his inheritance, but none of them possessed the legal right.
Also mentioned in the Gospel are the five brothers of the wealthy man that perhaps lived a life equal to his "for I have five brethren that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." They were prodigals, materialists, selfish, and lacking ideology or metaphysical proclivity. They had no moral purpose in life "eat and drink because tomorrow we die." They were easily given to the motto of the Epicurean philosophy.
Having died, the rich man attained not heaven, but its opposite place. There existed a great gap between Lazarus and the rich man. It was impossible for them to come into contact with one another. The rich man saw Lazarus and called out for his help. But, as Lazarus explained, the distance is too great, and there was nothing he could do. The rich man addressed Abraham and asked him to send a messenger from heaven to his brothers, and forewarn them to forsake their earthly goods or end up in the same situation. Abraham answered "they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." The rich man replied that his brothers pay no heed to the prophets. They want proof, he continued; for instance, if someone from the dead would speak to them then they would believe.
Perhaps, dear reader, you have made the same demand. You expect someone from the other life to reassure you that the struggle here is worthwhile. But are you certain that even then you would believe, and have no further problems or questions? Are you not aware of what Paul says concerning the limitations in this life on the knowledge that we can attain? (I Cor. 13:12). In other words, now that we think that we see things through a blurred mirror, imperfect, as it were, we have many questions and unexplainable wonders. However, in the other life, we will see things clearer, because we shall see them directly; person to person. At this time, we can only see part of the truth. But in that time to come, we will receive perfect knowledge, bestowed on us by God.
Is it not enough, dear brethren, for so many perfect events to persuade you for the other life? We witness also to the sermon on the Apostles, the blood of millions of martyrs that disregarded all persecution and suffering for the other life. They struggled to witness to Christ and His truth. Is not the wisdom of the Fathers sufficient? Those supreme intellects who wrote not only for this life, but with great insight for the life to come. Do not the catacombs of the West and the Byzantine East speak loudly enough for the eschatological theology of the Church? It is not possible that so much of the ecclesiastical writings on these subjects were written for naught. And what about the missionaries traveling throughout the world to preach this message. Have all our worships, liturgies, monasteries, churches, priests, and seminarians passed in vain? Certainly not! All these things have but one purpose to improve man's spiritual situation while on earth, in order to prepare him for life everlasting; to improve man so that through his participation in God's goodness, he may become an inheritor of life everlasting. Amen.
23rd Sunday after Pentecost.
"Don't Persecute him."
"Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gerasenes round about besought Him to depart from them for they were taken with great fear" (Luke 8:26-39).
One of the more polite figures of the ancient world, dear brethren, is Aristedes, named the Just by his contemporaries. Aristedes lived from the middle of the sixth century B.C. until approximately the beginning of the fifth century B.C. He was a political opponent of Themistocles. Aristedes had wanted Athens to remain an agricultural city. But Themistocles desired to change Athens from an agricultural center to a naval power. The eternal Greek antitheses. In writing the life of Aristedes Plutarch tells us that he was a man of many virtues, and that the most outstanding was his proclivity towards justice "of all his virtues it was his justice that most impressed the multitude, because of its most continued and most general exercise. Wherefore, though poor and a man of the people, he acquired that most kingly and god-like surname of 'the Just.'"
Themistocles, with some of his fellow Athenians, decided to exile Aristedes, accusing him of abolishing the public courts and making decisions according to his own whim "that Aristedes had done away with the public courts of justice by his determining and judging everything in private, and that without anyone perceiving it, he had established for himself a monarchy, saving only the armed bodyguard."
The Athenians were invited to vote by writing the name of the candidate for exile on the ostrakon. If six thousand ballots were cast against the candidate he would be sent into exile immediately. The voting began "now at that time of which I was speaking," Plutarch says, "as the voters were inscribing their ostraka, it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristedes, whom he took to be one of the ordinary crowd, and asked him to write Aristedes on it. He, astonished, asked the man what possible wrong Aristedes had done him. None whatsoever was the answer, "I don't even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called the Just." Then Aristedes turned his face to the opposite direction, lifting his hands in prayer to God. He prayed, may no crises overtake the Athenians that should cause the people to remember Aristedes. Aristedes was exiled for only a short while. The Athenians felt his absence with great remorse.
There is another anecdote circulating in the communities which is very characteristic of the human thought process. A board of trustees meeting was held in one of our parishes. One of the topics for discussion was the priest; i.e., whether or not the pastor should remain with the parish. As soon as the meeting started, one of the board members was delivered into the arms of Morpheus; i.e., he fell asleep. While he was dozing, the discussion was whether or not the priest should leave. When it came time to vote, he was asked for his ballot. Suddenly he awoke, not even aware of the issue discussed, and began shouting, "I agree with the last speaker. The priest has to leave the community, and by tomorrow morning."
"Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gerasenes round about besought Him to depart from them for they were taken with great fear." The people from that district of Gerasene did not understand Him. They were overtaken by an ungodly fear and asked Him to leave. "And He went up into the ship and returned back again."
Where has man reached, allowing himself to be occupied with the interest and passion of hate? The Athenians exiled Aristedes, their example of justice. The board of trustees have nothing better to do than persecute the priest. However, in both cases the examples are relative. Aristedes is called the Just, but the word is elastic and relative. He was a man with human weaknesses. He should not have been exiled, but his compatriots were moved by the viciousness of envy. Envy deforms everything that it strikes. It is like a concave mirror that disfigures even the most beautiful body. A persecution by the board of trustees waged against the priest is not incomprehensible. In contrary, it is a very common thing nowadays. I mention this simply because, if they are to continue, they should not employ false accusations or vulgarity while doing it. Nor should they write about such problems, especially in foreign newspapers. And, of course, calling in the police, locking the Church, and throwing out the vestments of the priest, and making a court case out of the entire mess never helps in any way, shape, or manner.
There is a proper way to handle such problems. And, if you will, the Christian way. The Church has as Her head leader, the Archbishop. It is through the bishops and archbishops that any problems are to be aired. But, beloved brethren, in the first arid second cases, the confrontation is between men. In the third case, that of the Gerasenes, the situation is very different. On one side is man, while on the other stands God. Christ is neither the righteous Aristedes, nor the A or B priest, that no matter how good and active he is, still remains a man. Here is Christ, free from sin of any kind, never permitting even a vain word to pass His lips. It is Christ who asked that famous question, "Who will accuse Me of sin?" And so it was this same Christ that the Gerasenes drove from their district, absolutely amazed by his presence. He destroyed their illegal gains, taken in from their trading in swine. They were not concerned about the man possessed by the demons whether or not he would be well again. It was their loss of commercial profit that worried them. "So, Jesus, leave from us. We don't want you. Today you destroyed our pigs, perhaps tomorrow you will ask for our fields, and after for our children, and our cash registers, monies, properties, etc. And, finally, God forbid, you might even ask us to follow you. Leave from our place. We want to leave it as we found it." And as the Gospel says, He did not perform many miracles there.
It is not sufficient for good, per se, to stare you right in the face and demand your attention and appreciation. Rather, you must acknowledge that which is good and most of all practice it. God is able to save you, to change you. But you must desire to be saved, to be changed. For example, when the doctor prescribes certain medicines and treatments in order to cure your illness, you must either accommodate yourself to his prescriptions, or find yourself on a permanent journey leaving this world (Wisdom of Sirach 38:1-10).
Dear brethren, never in your lives try to imitate the obstinate Gerasenes. Rather than close your homes, communities, and hearts to Christ, open them wide. Our Lord always knocks at the door and waits for you to open, so that He might make the blind to see, the lame to walk, the lepers to be cleansed, the dead souls to be awakened, and the poor to become encouraged (Matt. 12:4-5). He waits for your doors to be opened: to come into your homes, to sup with you "Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door " (Apoc. 3:20). Open wide do not cast Him out. Amen.
25th Sunday after Pentecost.
Loving Our Neighbor.
"But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor" (Luke 10:25-37).
The lawyer who approached Jesus in this morning's Gospel Lesson, dear brethren, was far from being sincere when he asked the Lord what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Our text tells us that he asked the question in order to justify himself. After all, how can you love your neighbor if you haven't got one, or if you don't know who he is? This man was certainly a learned individual, as far as schooling goes. It was his job to study and interpret the Law of Moses. Yet he asked his question out of insincere motives, wishing to bait Jesus, to humiliate Him, to catch Him in His own words. Of course, the opposite happened. He got the answer he deserved. A Samaritan-hating Jew, he was forced to admit that "he that showed mercy on (the poor traveler)" was indeed his neighbor.
The lawyer was an intellectual giant, yet he was useless to God and to his own society, for he cared only for himself and his immediate loved ones. Instead of wasting time asking who was his neighbor, he should have been actively engaged in helping his neighbors all of those who needed his aid. As Jesus said to him, "Go, and do thou likewise." He is saying the same to us today, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ is not interested in fruitless intellectual and philosophical theories; He wants us to go "where the action is" to show love and mercy in His name to those who need it most. "Preachers of righteousness" today are a dime a dozen. What we need are activists Christians deeply committed to God. If our words are proved empty by our deeds (or by our lack of deeds), what can we expect from Christ but a stern rebuke: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:45-46). One who claims to be a Christian yet feels no compassion for anyone but himself and those loved ones that are but extensions of his own ego, had better investigate the genuineness of his Christian commitment.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a tremendously important part of the teaching of Christ, precisely because it was a new teaching, a distinctively Christian teaching. Every religion teaches man to care for himself and his family, but Jesus taught the world the true meaning of the word "neighbor." Today's era is one of unrivaled hypocrisy. We worry about pollution and ecology, about the starving Biafrans, about the people of Indo-China (Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia). We worry ourselves sick over people whom we don't even know, and whom we will, in all probability, never even see. But to the suffering people on our own doorstep, in our own backyard, we pay no attention. Who cares about the kids in Harlem? Who cares about the "yippies" of Chicago, or the "hippies" of southern California? Who cares about the young people, the elderly people, the sick, the poor, the hungry, in this city, perhaps in this parish? Most of us are the biggest hypocrites going. We shout about ecology, but we continue to litter our city streets. We scream and demonstrate against air pollution, but are unwilling to stop smoking, or to walk to the corner drugstore instead of driving. Everything is wrong, but nothing is our fault. We debate about democracy, and yet we are miniature tyrants in our own environments.
If we are endeavoring to accomplish anything at all, we are certainly going at it in the wrong way. We cannot love mankind and hate man in particular. We cannot ignore our next-door neighbor and pour forth streams of verbal love for those living half way across the world. Don't we realize that other people, that real Christians, that Christ Himself, can see right through us? Let's admit it; we don't care about anyone or anything outside of ourselves.
Do we care, now that we realize what we are like? Then let's try something old-fashioned. After all, we're always and forever reminiscing about the "good old days." Let's try repentance turning our backs on our sins and our self-centeredness, and turning our faces and hearts to the God who proves His love for us in the Person of Jesus Christ. For when we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, then and only then will we love our neighbor as ourselves.
26th Sunday after Pentecost.
On Wealth and the Wealthy.
"For a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15-21).
Today's Gospel reading, my beloved brethren, starts from verse sixteen in the Gospel of Luke, chapter twelve. But I will take as my subject topic the maxim presented in verse fifteen "for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." In other words, a man's life does not depend ultimately on his properties, nor can his wealth in general assure him a long and pleasant life. What moved our Lord to make this statement? Jesus had been asked by one of two brothers to interfere on his behalf, in seeking a fair and equal settlement from his father's inheritance. Of course, the Master refused to co-operate and said, "Man, who made Me a judge or divider over you" (Luke 12:14). And then our Lord followed His remark, in order to better impress His thought upon the mind of the inquirer, with the Parable of the foolish, wealthy man.
This Parable stands out like a diamond amidst the other evangelical parables. This is not the first time that Christ preached about the wealthy. On another occasion, He described the dispassionate and foolish attitude of a wealthy person who sat and worried about how he could store his wealth in his small barns without overloading them. Our Lord referred to this man as foolish and absurd. Jesus also spoke very strictly about the wealthy, as recorded in Matthew 19:23-24 "Verily, I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." This same line of thought was maintained also by the Apostles of our Lord in their preaching and writing. For example, St. James writes "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days" (James 5:1-3).
Now, all those endowed with shallowness of mind and thought will surely misinterpret the words of our Divine Teacher and His disciples. Naturally, they will rejoice to think that the Heavenly City of Jesus Christ is strictly for paupers, and very much closed to the wealthy. Of course, if their hypothesis were true, then Christianity would be nothing more than a continuous revolution against any man, simply because he has some innate inclination or inner desire to own material properties. But even the monk, locked away in a world all his own, abandoning as it were secular society, desires to possess some properties; e.g., his books, clothes, icons, etc. Are we to consider our Lord unjust in these matters concerning wealth and properties? No, my brethren. Our Lord never spoke wrongly; never did His lips utter false things. Our Lord, as quoted above from the Gospel, was not speaking against the wealthy or their wealth, per se. Rather, Jesus was admonishing those that misuse their wealth. For example, men that become one with their money, permitting it to direct their whole life; in the last analysis, soul-less, as their money is without feeling. Money and its use should depend upon man, and not vice versa. Money can never be regarded as the final goal in life, but rather as a means towards that goal.
When a man sets as his ideal goal in life the making of money increasing his wealth he jeopardizes himself by opening himself wide to all sorts of sin and transgression. He lets nothing stand in his way, including relatives, family, and friends. His frenzied craze for more wealth drives him to cheat, lie, usurp, and possibly even kill. Such a man fails to recognize any responsibility towards others, but he never fails to chastise others in their duties toward him. He hoards his money, and only with a trembling hand and a great fear that his wealth will diminish, does he deign to offer a stipend to charity. Last of all, and most pathetic, he becomes impious and totally irreligious, exchanging his religious and moral convictions for a cash register. He measures the value of everything by monetary standards, because the object of his love is his wealth and, consequently, the idol of his worship. Paul speaks on this very clearly in his letter to Timothy "but they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and heartful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6:9-10). It is of this type of wealthy person that our Lord spoke and offered criticism.
The ancient classic writers and philosophers had much the same opinion. Socrates, for example, said, "wealth is good, but not by sitting in the wallet; rather, by serving and supporting the needs of the people." The philosophers often considered wealthy people and their wealth as servants of God and man "the wealthy people must be servants of God and man, and care not only for their stomachs." In characterizing wealthy people that are evil and selfish, continuously hoarding their riches, Socrates says that for mankind they are entirely useless. He likens them to the sun setting on the horizon, unable at this point to enlighten anyone. A man who buries his wealth in vaults, or hoards it for his own use, can be of little help to anyone else. The moralist of the ancient world, Plutarch, searches deeper into the value of money. He believes that as an oversized dress obstructs the person from walking comfortably, in the same way, an excessive concern in financial affairs obstructs the moral developments of the soul.
Beloved listeners, the Lord of Heaven and earth, God the judge, in today's Gospel referred to a wealthy man whose soul was required of him as he sat in the middle of the night contemplating his wealth as a foolish man. O foolish and illogical man! You speak of your properties as "my possessions," unaware that all belongs to God. You are a steward of God. You are an administrator of the wealth and goodness of God. The amount or vastness of your property is immaterial. The problem is how you use your properties. Do not afford your wealth a meaning of quantity in regards to its value. Rather, measure its value according to quality. As St. Basil writes somewhere concerning wealth, we cannot put a big shoe on a little child's foot and expect the child to walk without stumbling. Be careful, my brethren, not to take on too large a load and find yourself stumbling under its weight. Make good use of your money, and do not depend on money to direct your lives, but let the use of money depend on you. Amen.
27th Sunday after Pentecost.
Christ Still Loves Sinners.
"Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity."
Dear Brethren, God loves nothing more than He loves man, and hates nothing more than He hates hypocrisy. When our Blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, was here on earth, He was full of love and mercy toward all men; only towards the hypocrites did He appear harsh and demanding. All of the sinners who came to ask His forgiveness He freely accepted, and with unspeakable goodness; but the hypocrites, who externally appeared to the people to be saints and men of kindness, these Jesus sorely chastened, even beating them with whips. Let us hear the words of today's Holy Gospel (Luke 13:10-17).
That sick woman who found her way into the synagogue that Sabbath (Saturday, the Hebrew day of rest) is a good example for each of us. Following her good and pious example, we should come to church each Sunday, for prayer and the preaching of God's Word (the sermon). It was for these two reasons that this woman went to the synagogue this poor creature who was so bent over in pain that she could not straighten herself even to walk. She came to find consolation the strength to bear her pains and her afflictions and she found much more than she was expecting to receive. She was completely healed of the illness that had troubled her for eighteen years. Picture her, listen with repentance to the sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sitting in some obscure corner of the synagogue, she was asking the mercy of God, and God prepared her to accept the Divine Grace. When, at the close of the sermon, she approached our Lord, He beheld not only her bowed body, but her soul bowed in deep repentance. He spoke to her: "Woman, you are free from your sickness." Then, in order that the Divine, lifegiving power might be transferred, He touched her with His holy hands. And because the words of God are in themselves Divine acts, the woman was instantly healed. Behold, dear Christians, how the love of God is manifested and poured out to men. No obstacle can come between God and the man who is asking His help. Not even the Sabbath. For the Law, the Commandments, and even the Sabbath, were created for man, and not man for them. Indeed, God's very laws and commandments are embodiments of His Divine Love for men. The same should be true of human laws, which must be for man's own good, not for his enslavement otherwise they become unrighteous and inhuman. Laws are made for evil people, in order to prevent them from performing their deeds of darkness. Good people, righteous people, need no laws. "It must be remembered, of course, that laws are made, not for good people, but for lawbreakers and criminals, for the godless and sinful, for those who are not religious or spiritual, for men who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the immoral, for sexual perverts for those who do anything else contrary to the true teaching" (I Timothy 1:9-10). For Good men, that is, for Christians, there exists but one law, the Law of Love. This Law is positive in its nature; it not only forbids the bad, it encourages positive acts of goodness. Nothing can resist this Law. Yet there is much that would keep us from the good. First and foremost is hypocrisy. What is hypocrisy? Hypocrisy is the sin of pretending to be upright and good, while inside we are rotten and sinful. In other words, hypocrisy is giving others the impression that we are something which, in reality, we are not. Hypocrites pretend to be concerned about the Law and the Commandments, but only so that they might frustrate the good. They would appear to men as guardians of the Divine Law, and those who fight for the preservation of human law, while in reality they wish only to uproot, burn, and destroy the very foundations of society. The hypocrite does not care if men lose their lives, if injustice appears as truth, if innocent people are crucified, if venerable institutions are demolished, and the fact that the Devil is dancing as he beholds all this only delights the hypocrite.
The official of the synagogue, had he been able to, would have killed Jesus and the sick woman both, and all for the sake of the Sabbath. He was not moved at all by the healing, right in front of his eyes, of the woman whom he surely knew to have been ill for years. He felt for Christ only hatred and envy. But he knew well how to cover up his passions, and to appear before men to be concerned only with God's Sabbath, all the while rejecting God's Christ! Probably the people who knew this official fell for his act completely but not Jesus. He openly called him hypocrite and impostor; liar and actor, who feels one thing, and says another thing.
Unfortunately, dear Christians, we have many such hypocrites today. We must be on guard to detect them. Externally, they appear to be saints, while inwardly they are full of evil. Yet, very skillfully they mask their true feelings in front of people; they cover themselves with the cloak of piety, and at the same time are ready for any evil. If you offer them a word of advice, they will not heed it. If you do for them a deed of kindness, they will feel no obligation. They cry loudly on behalf of the Law, the Commandments, the Holy Canons, order, and truth; yet they do not believe in their own words. No one denies the value of the Law, the Commandments, and the Canons. But, on the other hand, do not these exist for men, and not men for them? What good does it do to preach the Commandment "Thou shall not kill", if we will kill our fellow man regardless? What good is it to scream about the Canons, if thereby we are destroying the Church? Concerning Law, order, and truth, it is generally accepted that the people who cry the loudest for these things neither know nor respect them themselves. They only speak; they preach, but do not practise.
Dear Christians, Jesus Christ loved and still loves all sinners, the tired, the sick, the humble. He even loves the hypocrites, but He hates their hypocrisy! And the hypocrites hate Christ, for love and hypocrisy cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive.
Let us have love for one another, and by this we will prove that we love God, and that we honor the Sabbath. If we only appear to seek God, while in reality we hate both Him and our fellow men, we may be sure that we are hypocrites. We have no regard for God, nor for His commandments, despite our lofty words to the contrary. We are liars. The commandments of God and the canons of the Church are love; let us love, in order to possess life and salvation.
28th Sunday after Pentecost.
"Come, for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:11-32).
Dearly beloved in Christ, today's Gospel Lesson relates to us the Parable of the Great Supper. Luke quotes it for us as a portion of the table-talk (conversation) of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee. He informs us that a rich man gave a feast to which he invited many people. In accordance with the custom of those days, he sent his servants to the invited guests to remind them of the banquet.
"Come; for all things are now ready." However, three of the invited guests gave the servants their regrets, offering various excuses for being unable to accept the proffered invitations.
The first had just bought a field, and had to inspect his new purchase. We presume that he had not bought the field without looking at it, but property ownership often produces arrogance in man, and he goes off to feast his eyes upon his new purchase, and to tell himself again and again, "It is mine all mine."
The second had just bought five yoke of oxen, and at that very moment was obliged to test them. Presumably he had not been cheated into paying good money for lame or blind oxen, but here was a man caught up in the demands of big business; he was not about to break away for something so stupid as a pleasant social evening with his neighbors. He couldn't understand how the other invited guests could find time to waste at such a silly affair. Business, as everyone knows, comes first. Probably he fancied himself the only sane man in the community.
The third man had recently married, and therefore could not come. The other two guests at least offered excuses; this one merely said gruffly, "I cannot come."
What is the meaning of the parable, dear brethren? The Great Feast is the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord. The servants are the priests. The rich man is God Himself. The invited guests are all who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. We are talking here about the Divine Liturgy.
What do we know, beloved, about the Holy Eucharist? It is a Sacrament, at the celebration of which we receive, under the visible forms of bread and wine, the actual Body and Blood of Him who became incarnate for us and died for our salvation. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist was instituted by our Lord at the Last Supper. There He offered to His disciples the bread, with the words, "Take; eat; this is my Body." There He offered the cup, with the words, "Drink ye all of it; for this is my Blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins." He then exhorted them to maintain this observance in His memory until His coming again.
The essence of the Holy Eucharist is this: whoever approaches it with faith, reverence and purity truly partakes of the very life of Christ, and becomes one with Him, united with His Body and Blood, a living branch joined to the true Vine, in which he is nourished and flourishes.
Every believer should participate in the Holy Communion as often as possible, in order to rekindle within himself the flame of divine life. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit if separated from the vine, neither can we lead fruitful lives, unless we abide in Christ.
Professor Ernest Benz, a German Protestant and a profound theologian, describes Orthodox worship as follows:
In the Eastern Greek liturgy, the earthly congregation experiences the presence of the Lord. Within the Mystical Body there takes place a unique communication, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power to forgive sins, to transmit salvation, to suffer by proxy for one another. The power of intercession becomes effective, and these powers extend to the domain of the dead, for God is the Lord of the living, not the dead.
Our Lord invites us today to participate in His Great Feast. "Come; for all things are now ready." I cannot believe that any of our beloved Greek Orthodox faithful will refuse the Lord's invitation this Christmas.
Whoever approaches the Holy Chalice, be he clergy or laity, must approach only after proper preparation; after fasting; after repentance and confession to God in the presence of a priest (Sacrament of Penance). As St. Paul writes, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (I Corinthians 11:27).
I conclude my sermon this morning with a true story. In ancient times, Alexander the Great visited the city of Athens. There he met the humble philosopher Diogenes, who was lying down taking a sun bath. Alexander the Great stood by Diogenes, introduced himself, and began to recite all of his titles and achievements. After Alexander had concluded, he asked Diogenes, in a condescending manner, if there was anything that he, the great Alexander, could do for Diogenes. Diogenes, without rising, merely motioned with his hand, and asked if the Great Alexander would kindly step a little to the side, since he was blocking the sun.
Diogenes had a true sense of values. With all of his achievements and titles, Alexander was to Diogenes a mere mortal, and the sun was far more desirable, far more valuable.
In the same way, beloved, our everyday concerns sometimes hide our view of Christ, who is our Sun. Just as every human being, plant and animal needs the sun, even more so do we need our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, without whom true life would be impossible.
30th Sunday after Pentecost.
How to Inherit Eternal Life.
"And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 18:18-27).
One man, dear brethren, comes close to Christ. He is not an old man, but rather, young. He is not what might be considered poor. On the contrary, he is very wealthy "for he was very rich." His character was not bad; and he was not at all like the other Jews who had tried to tempt and trap Jesus the Teacher. As Mark informs us, he immediately captured the love of Christ "then Jesus beholding him, loved him" (Mark 16:21). He is a righteous young man, and he desires to become perfect. He lives on earth but contemplates the heavens. He possesses much property but he seeks the good things of heaven. He is inflamed with a thirst and intention towards eternal life. And so, the young man bows his knee and puts his question to Jesus Christ " what should I do to inherit eternal life?"
Eternity. Eternal life. This is the destiny of man. With St. Paul we also confess "for here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13:14). It is upon this subject, dear brethren, that we are called to preach to you today.
The most positive reality is death. All else is relative wealth and glory; happiness and unhappiness; joy and sorrow; progress and regression. Death blows everywhere. You can fall asleep at night and not wake in the morning. You can travel by car, train, ship, to any place and there you might meet death. You pay a visit to the cemetery and see relatives buying a burial plot for a man who just yesterday contracted for land on which to build. You leave the noise and clamor of the city to catch your breath and you return home melancholy, because you witnessed an accident in which many people were killed. On the earth, the sea, and in the air death hovers over all, waiting, sifting, sharpening its edges to rake in thousands every day. Paul calls death " the last enemy whom only Jesus Christ will diminish in the consummation of the ages" (I Cor. 15). The Greek poet Valsoritis, in one of his poems, likens death to the farmer who, instead of furrowing, digs graves with his plow ...
Death. Graves. They are everywhere. All over we can hear the tears of mourning. In the face of this horrible sight of death, man stops and asks: What lies beyond the grave? Is it more than just worms and decomposition?
The answer of a materialist or an atheist, both of them answering negatively, would probably be, "pious and impious, righteous and unrighteous, St. Paul and Nero, society's benefactor and the town drunkard, all of them end up in nowhere ... in zero." Of course, the opinions of the materialist and atheist are unacceptable for us. Unacceptable not only for the faithful, but for all peoples morally and intellectually endowed. An intelligent scientist for example, when constructing a gigantic engine, never puts even one tiny wheel on the engine without a definite purpose. The millions of wires and complicated panel system of Apollo 15, as explained by experts on T.V. all served a separate and definite purpose. When man, dear brethren, is careful not to build anything useless, is it not also possible to believe that God, the All-Wise Creator, would be even more careful in creating all things with a purpose? The psychology of all the races affirms this. During the centuries, all mankind throughout the world, regardless of education or social conditions (including the semi-savage in the African jungles), has some innate proclivity affirming the idea of immortality. All religious cults have an equal purpose to befriend the divine in order to ascertain a forbearing judgement in the eternal life. One of the second century apologists of the Church wrote: "I am immortal, and even if I burn, or if vultures consume my flesh, leaving not one molecule of my bodily existence, still I exist and will continue to live in the treasure-house of the wealthy Lord." Thus it speaks to pure philosophy and its representatives. Cicero once said "nature did not put us on this world to be residents forever, but for a short time. That day on which I will immigrate to the heavenly company, to that council of souls, and will leave far behind my troubles and the pollutions of the earth; that day is for me very desirable." Socrates, during the last hours of his life, locked in his jail cell, discussed the subject of death with his disciples. He tries to convince them not to worry, because as soon as he drinks the hemlock, he will leave and arrive in the land of prosperity and bliss, where righteousness reigns supreme. Socrates believes that he will meet judges bereft of human inabilities, unlike the judges of Athens. They will judge him with a righteous judgment which he failed to receive on earth. The philosopher believes that there he will meet Mino, the Rodamamthyn and Aiakon. They will judge him. With such faith in eternal life and the last judgement, Socrates closed his eyes to the earth, only to open them in the heavens.
But, dear brethren, above the voices of logic, of conscience, of the universal witness of man; above the voices of the philosophers is heard one voice the voice of the Only-Begotten, Jesus of Nazareth, descended from heaven. It is the voice of Jesus Christ, speaking repeatedly in the Gospels please, I beg you, open it and you will see written many times life everlasting, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God, blessedness, life without end, above Jerusalem, etc. Christ was on the cross and He called the repentant thief to paradise "amen, I say that today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:3-4).
What is paradise? And eternal life? Are they gardens and virgin forests, with running rivers, the land of milk and honey? Is it filled with fair-cheeked virgins, spicy foods, and plenty to drink? Of course not, my brothers. Christ assured us that there exists eternal life beyond the grave. But He also said that none of the mundane pleasures exist there, nor can they even compare with what does exist in life ever after. The Gospel does not afford us another description, because the Kingdom of God and life in that kingdom are beyond the description of words. For example, it would be like trying to explain to an illiterate villager in Africa, the twentieth century automation as enjoyed by a Fifth Avenue millionaire in New York City. I doubt that the villager would ever understand, even if he used his wildest imagination.
St. Paul, because of his holiness and by the virtue of his invaluable service to the Church, was caught up by the Spirit in a vision of Paradise. But when he returned to earth, he was unable to explain with human understanding the condition of that life "How he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (II Cor. 12:1-6). Elsewhere Paul writes: "But it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor Ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor. 2:9).
Brethren, eternal life exists, but who from amongst us will attain it? Study this question before us. Now, the answer depends upon the examinations of life's trials and tribulations. Amen.
5. Fixed Feasts.
Sunday After the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
"He said unto them, 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
The Sermon of Sermons ... is the Sermon for the Cross, presented to us today by our Mother Church, on the Sunday after the elevation of the Honorable Cross. And we are all invited to offer to the Cross our hearts, instead of flowers and basils. The Church calls us to raise ourselves from the earth and our ordinary life, to gaze upon the brightness emanating from Christ and His Cross. The most central sign in the gospel is the sermon of the Cross of Christ: God on the Cross incomprehensible and never understandable. Only men whose hearts pound with sincere feeling are capable of comprehending the meaning. Only those who love, and are ready to sacrifice themselves for that which they love, only they can understand the Sacrifice of the Son of God. The rest will remain indifferent. But again there is no real measure by which we can compare the love between men and the love of God towards man.
St. Paul tells us that the cross of our Lord was foolishness for the Greeks and a scandal for the Jews. For the chosen people, whether they be Greek, Hebrew, or Roman, the Cross will remain as the power and wisdom of God.
The first (being the Greeks, i.e. philosophers) asked for the solution to the problems of this world and the next, but in the measure of their own wisdom. Whatever went beyond the limits of their own already limited wisdom or understanding, they refused to discuss. But they were hardly successful "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God" (I Cor. 1:21).
The latter (being the Jews) sought the solution of their problems in the deification of money, in the ransoming of their conscience; Which is exactly what has happened today. "Money talks." They try to materialize the most immaterial ideas. They neither recognize God or His will for their own salvation, and they are of no help to others. Only the Christian sermon can save the world, and then, not all, but only those who pay attention (I Cor. 1:18).
The Cross is the greatest consolation for the faithful, as many as accept Christ, the crucified Christ. When the Jews finished their act of deicide, satisfied with their work, and watching the God-Man suffer, they said to Him: "Save Thyself and come down from the Cross," thinking that the sacrifice of the Lord was an ordinary condemnation. When Christ climbed upon the Cross He offered salvation to the world, and each man to gain his own salvation must also climb upon the Cross in his own way.
The coming of Christ into the world in theological language is understood as "kenosis" self-emptying and the last step of this kenosis is the Cross. Whosoever will empty himself, whoever will crucify himself only in this way can the earthly man be glorified and spiritually devoted.
In the life of the Christians the Cross means sacrifice. But today, man is unwilling to sacrifice. Oftentimes man despises those that not only sacrifice for themselves but in behalf of others. Christ did not promise His disciples earthly thrones when He called them, simply because He Himself did not possess these things "My kingdom is not of this world." And neither did he promise pleasures and a good life "The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have dens but the Son of Man does not have a place to lay His head." He did not promise them positions and offices because He had not the same Himself ... "I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my soul for the redemption of many." He did not speak to them about calm and peace "because if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you." What did Christ promise? Sacrifice, self-denial the cross: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."
My beloved, our life will be a cross. Everyone will have a cross to bear, be it large or small, made from gold, silver or wood. Today all Christian denominations face a great problem the lack of worthy priests. Thousands of men study theology but never become priests. Why? What is the reason? Could it stem from financial problems? No. The reason is that we all seek an easy life, without responsibilities, a life without a cross. And those who refuse to bear their cross suffer a change of attitude, becoming hostile towards those who do accept their cross. The bearers of the cross serve the Church and man patiently, and offer themselves as a sacrifice for the betterment of society, for the peace of the world.
Dear Brethren, do we want to better ourselves the lives of others and that of society? Then let us improve it through the Cross. Not with accusations and slander, or by the knife or gun but with the Cross. The Cross, not merely as an ornament, not as a sign on the banners of war, or topping the crowns of kings, but the Cross inscribed in our hearts. The Cross, the instructor and symbol of our life according to St. John Chrysostom. Amen.
Sunday Before Christmas.
Some Indispensable Obligations.
"Thou makest darkness and it is night," the Psalmist tells us in order to teach us the procession of time. Really, my brethren, time flies. We are already in the last pages of the book called "The Year."
How fast the last year has gone. And with time, we go too. How many of our loved ones have been taken from us: parents, brothers, relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and how many of them left with a dream unfulfilled. Maybe some of them who left had already made plans for celebrating Christmas. But unfortunately they didn't reach Christmas the thread of life was broken. How many people will die before Christmas. Do you want to prove this truth? Open a newspaper to the obituaries and you will see how many funerals there are everyday in New York. A sermon about death is ugly. But this is inevitable reality. All other things are relative. Money, glory, positions, offices, beauty, and happiness. One thing is sure death and after that the judgment.
But death does not exist! It was abolished 2000 years ago, when that night the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, received flesh and bones in the small town of Bethlehem, through the Virgin Mary, and the predictions of the prophets were fulfilled. The incarnation of the Word of God is called a mystery in the language of theology: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), writes the beloved disciple of Christ, St. John. How did the Word become flesh? This remains and will remain a mystery to the human mind. Through Adam, sin came, and through sin the death of men for all generations. Through Jesus, life reigns and death is conquered: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5).
We are invited to celebrate this mystery again a great historical event. There is no comparison. This event changed the course of history. It is the mother of feasts, this celebration of the birth of Christ. Are you ready, my brothers, to celebrate such a great feast? Put this question to yourselves and give an answer: yes or no. My intention is to help you with this sermon. I'll give you some prerequisites. The first is the purity of the soul. Do you remember the Beatitudes from Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Open the Gospel of Matthew to Chapter 5. Among the other Beatitudes is the following: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." In other words Jesus blesses those men who have hearts free of passions, hatred, evil desires. Notice how Athanasius the Great interprets the whole meaning of this beatitude: "As a dirty mirror does not reflect, so the unclean heart of man does not receive God." Therefore, how imperative it is to have pure hearts in order to see Jesus Christ; and from what do we need to cleanse our souls? St. John Chrysostom gives the answer: "From all passionate intentions." And where do we accomplish this? In the Sacrament of Holy Confession. I know your hesitation, and your objections. But they are unjustified. As you care for your physical health, you have to care for your soul's health. The Lord said, "What will we give in exchange for our soul?" (Mark 8). We are all transgressors of the commandments of God. We are all sinners. Somewhere St. John Chrysostom says that sin is like dust, and though we close the windows and doors of our houses the dust gets on the furniture. In the same way sin visits us when we don't want it.
After you have cleansed yourself from every passionate intention, you should perform some good works. This is an every-day duty, but especially for the days of Christmas. You should share of your goods and joy with other men who are needy. If you can't find such men here, you can find them in our beloved motherland of Greece. There are orphans and poor and unemployed and crippled and blind and lame and lepers and men in every kind of pain. But be careful. Don't forget our institutions, because these institutions give us prestige in the eyes of others. One, for example, is our theological school. The soldiers of Christ are educated there. Tomorrow they will serve your Church and your community. You must not forget the Academy of St. Basil and the orphans who find warm motherly and fatherly love there. And I don't think you will forget the House of Pioneers, which we call the old age home. Listen to what the wise Seirach says in the Bible: "Child take care of your father in his old age and don't bring sorrow into his life. Even if he loses his mind, forgive him and don't dishonour him because you are stronger." Somewhere else he says again, "Don't dishonour a man in his old age because we are the ones who have made them old." Neither must you forget the community to which you belong.
Cometh, my brothers, to the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Receive Christ with love, with faith; otherwise if you celebrate Christmas without confession, without forgiveness, without good works, and without love, and without Holy Communion, Christmas will be Christmas without Christ. You will celebrate only your gifts and your meals, but your home will be without Christ. And even worse, you will remain without Christ. No, my brethren, a thousand times no! Christ accepts us even at the 12th hour. Don't hesitate to come. Rejoicing will take place in the heavens. Bells will ring and the angels of God will celebrate. Come!
The Word Became Flesh.
"When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4-7).
The birth of the Saviour Jesus Christ this is the subject and the event of these days, the greatest event of world history. It lives and will live forever in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The birthdays of other great men of history are already forgotten. Their names are like smoke and have vanished; they have burst like soap bubbles, according to St. Basil the Great. Rejoice, O Brethren, with great joy. Sing, glorify Him, be thankful, and come to the cave in order to venerate the Lord of glory. "The Word became flesh," St. Athanasius wrote, "in order to make man receptive of divinity. He became poor in order that we through his poverty might become rich. He descended, that He might raise us up. He was tempted, that we might conquer. He accepted the worst, to give us the best."
Christ the Savior was born in the town of Bethlehem. When? Paul gives us the answer: "When the fullness of time was come;" and since then time has been divided into two major periods, Before Christ and After Christ. Before Christ is the period of the fallen world. The period After Christ is the time of the resurrection and redemption. This is how the prophets foretold it. This was also the feeling of the great spirits of antiquity: that a redeemer of the human race would be sent. The Prophet Isaiah, with his prophetical eyes, sees Him being born of a virgin in a cave. Moreover, Isaiah sees Him being accepted in the manger by the irrational animals and being rejected by the people of Israel.
Micah foretold that the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem. Hosea foretold that after His birth, He would flee to Egypt, and from Egypt that He would be recalled to Israel. "From Egypt have I called my Son." David, with his prophetical eyes, saw the Kings of the East bringing gifts to the only King. Zachariah saw Him as a peaceful King entering the city of Jerusalem, sitting on the colt of a donkey. Isaiah sees Him in His passion without form or comeliness, and coming to His martyrdom, as a voiceless lamb. Joel saw the power of the Church and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Unfortunately, space does not allow us to list the prophecies which refer to the person of Christ the Savior.
The philosophical spirits of ancient Greece, too, felt the Redeemer in their own way. They were pessimists and their pessimism was expressed by the artists in their statues, or the specialists in art and archeology. The artists were pessimistic about the degeneration of the human race. Aeschylus, one of the greatest tragic poets, pictured mankind in his dramatic work Prometheus.
Prometheus sinned; he wanted to reach God. For this reason he was condemned by Hephaestus and was bound on Mt. Caucasus. During the day a vulture visited him, and with his beak, pierced Prometheus' flesh and ate his liver. Prometheus suffered. During the night, when the vulture left, his liver grew back. This continued night and day. A virgin named Io visited Prometheus and wanted to comfort him. Then the God Hermes came, and a dialogue between the three took place. Hermes tells Prometheus the following outstanding words: "O Prometheus, I understand your sufferings, but do not look for an easy solution for them. You will be nailed to the rocks and the ugly vulture will devour your flesh, until someone will not be a physical man, but God will have mercy on you, and he will be the successor of your pain; he will assume all your burden; he will descend even to Hades, he will struggle, he will be victorious, and he will redeem you."
In the words of Aeschylus, who does not see man being devoured by sin, and who does not see Christ who assumed man's burden? "For He has borne our sins and suffered for us," Isaiah said, in foretelling the passion of Christ.
Socrates felt the inability of philosophy to resolve all the metaphysical problems and he preached the necessity of a divine guide.
A conversation took place between Socrates and his disciple Alcibiades. Alcibiades had just returned from the temple where he had gone to pray. He asked his teacher, Socrates, to teach him how to pray and what to ask from the gods. Socrates answered that the question was very serious and difficult, and that it was beyond Socrates' comprehension. "But do not worry and be anxious," he told Alcibiades. "God will send a divine educator and he will teach us, you and me, how to pray and what to ask from God. And in his apology before the Athenian judges he said, "Now, judges, you are sleeping and you will sleep in the future until the day in which God will have mercy on you and will send the great Awakener." After some three hundred years St. Paul went to the Athenians and preached the great Awakener, Jesus Christ.
Plato, in his polycrot book, the Republic, sees the one who is coming as the representative of extraordinary righteousness. He says that the righteous dedicated to the idea of his duty will be injured and made naked, except for his righteousness, which will decorate him. He will remain unshakeable until death. A moment will come when, although he is righteous, he will be accepted as unrighteous and as such he will be beaten and suffer.
Judas, after his betrayal, confessed that He was innocent and sinless. See how some of His enemies who did not recognize His divinity proclaimed Him: The Jewish philosopher. Spinoza gave this title to Jesus: "The splendid symbol of heavenly wisdom." The rationalist Straus called Him "the highest object imaginable." Richter characterized him as "the purest among the mighty, and the mightiest among the pure." The faithless Renan called him the "eternal beauty."
And we, brethren, cry out with the angels of Bethlehem, that "unto us a Son is born, unto us a Savior is given, which is Christ the Lord."
On New Year's Day.
We and the Time.
In these days, my beloved brethren, millions of men accept the first day of January as the beginning of the new year, regardless of religion, race, or language. They exchange cards with wishes for a long life and a happy new year. Of course, most of them perform this duty just as a custom, without any philosophical or metaphysical regard for the significance of the mystery which we call Time. It is my desire to wish all of you a very happy new year full of prosperity, love, and understanding. Secondly, I want to explore with you for a few minutes the meaning of Time.
For many people, time, hronos, is all subduing. It is like a river which at times can be calm, and at other times a raging torrent, sweeping along in its current all the handiwork of men into the oblivion of eternity.
The passage of time cannot be opposed, stopped or even slowed down either by the most powerful dictators of nations, by the ingenuity of man, or by the miracles of modern science. The fate, the predestination of Time, subdivides everything.
Time has no pity for the innocence of childhood, or the beauty of youth, or the power of man who has matured; nor does it respect the white hairs of the aged; nor does it pay heed to a man's position and standing. Everything in time fades; everything in time is degraded; everything in time is destroyed.
Perhaps this was what inspired the wise writer of the Ecclesiastes, in the Old Testament, to say, "Vanity vanity, all is vanity."
Exactly what is time? Time is the measure of our lives. It is purely subjective. When we cease to exist, so does time. Many philosophers divided time into three parts past, present, and future. We live only in the present. That is all we can comprehend. The past is something which has disappeared. The future is what is unknown and uncertain. In faith, we believe in an eternity, yet we cannot conceive of it by measurements of time, because once we limit it by any type of measurement it ceases to be eternity. Therefore, for us, we comprehend only the present, that one undivided moment which is running as I am speaking. The use we make of this moment is our price for eternity. The great question for us, therefore, is how to best exploit this moment.
In the Middle Ages, men were constantly reminded of time by symbols of death placed in every room and on every street. Those symbols were obvious reminders that the present for mortal man was limited, and that a day was coming when man would be obliged to leave this earthly life. Modern man today does not want even to hear of death. He hates it. The new symbols of time, therefore, are the clocks. This is a much clearer conception of time than that of the Middle Ages. Clocks today govern our lives. We cannot live in modern society without the use of some type of timepiece. The clock should do more than remind us of the time to awaken, or to sleep; the time for an appointment, or to catch a train; the time to work or the time to play; the time to go to church or even the time when we expect to leave church. (Don't we sometimes look impatiently at our watches when the priest becomes carried away and speaks too long?) The clock should also remind us that with each passing moment, we are a little older. And while we are expecting the next hour to strike, we might never hear it. Who knows when Death will call?
St. Basil, one of the most brilliant of the Fathers of the Church, said, "Time runs, and waits not for him who is late." Our days are rushed. The lazy man is passed by. The use or misuse of time cannot be changed or corrected.
In ancient Thebes there was once a king named Archias, a very ambitious and proud king who had many enemies. His envious enemies finally planned to assassinate him, and arranged the time and place for his murder. As luck would have it, one of King Archias's friends learned of these plans, and immediately wrote a letter to the king giving all the details. He gave the letter to one of the King's slaves with instructions to deliver it without any waste of time, and to say to the King that it contained a very important message. The slave took the letter, located the King at a banquet, and carried out the orders given him. He told the King, "In this letter is a very important message." The King accepted the letter but did not open it. Instead, he put it aside and delivered the famous lines, "The important things, we do tomorrow."
That same night, his enemies carried out the assassination that had been detailed in the letter which the King had not opened. For the King, tomorrow did not come. O stupid and foolish king who told you that you would live until tomorrow? How could you take Time for granted?
So, my friends, it is not advisable for you to commit the same blunder. Do not postpone until tomorrow whatever is important.
Tomorrow may never come. It does not exist. The only thing which is real is the present, and after that, eternity.
Sunday Before Epiphany.
"The Struggle and the Crown."
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my cause, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness " (II Tim. 4:5-8).
St. Paul, dear brethren, is for the second time imprisoned at Rome. The first time, as indicated in the epistle of Captivity (Eph., Phil., Col., and Phil.), he was very optimistic and he saw that very quickly he will gain his freedom and would visit them in the communities which he established. For instance, to Philemon he writes and begs him to prepare a room for him "but withal prepare me also a lodging for I trust that through your prayers I shall be grown unto you" (Phil. 1:22). To the Philippians he writes that although he was captive in jail, the Gospel arrived even in the house of the Emperor "so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace and in all other places" (Phil. 1:13).
Things changed during the second imprisonment which took place A.D. 67-68. The persecutions of the Christians became an official policy of the State. The Christians were considered as an enemy of the Empire, spies against authorities, arsenists of Rome, and killers of innocent children, from whom they drank blood; and so many other false accusations. We have said many times before, and today repeat, that the Christian religion, in order to reach today's situation, in order to be considered the ideal man, passed through the fire and iron. Paul also writes this "and others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment, they were stoned, were sawn asunder, were burnt, were slain with sword, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins " (Heb. 11: 36-38).
Paul is in jail and he feels that his end is at hand. But his conscience is alert. He has the calmness and tranquility which fill all men who do good works throughout their entire life. These men do not fear death. They don't shake in the fear of that moment. In whatever way death comes, martyrdom, painful, natural, they accept it with pleasure and they consider it (death) as a redemption, as transfer from the earthly to the heavenly. For this reason, Paul wrote to the Philippians 1:21 "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
From the jail he found time to write to his disciple Timothy, who was bishop at Ephesus, granting him the last of his advice. He exposes his struggle for Christ and his pains and labor for the Church which is the Body of Christ, the continuation of the work of Christ. The second epistle of Timothy is the "kyknion asma" (swan song). The epistle is a reflection of the depth of personal experiences of Paul. He begs Timothy not to forget that he is an apostle of Christ, that he undertook the responsibility of the Gospel. He commands him to be an example to the faithful through words and through practice. He orders him to keep the faith as to Christ, as good harbors shelter ships, according to the interpretation of St. John Chrysostom. And he foresays to Timothy that in the very near future will appear corrupted men and bad times will arise "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection .." (II Tim. 3:1-5).
Alas, dear brethren, how many such men the Church knew during the course of her History. Paul also advised Timothy to avoid the foolish discussions which concerned things with no significance, and to devote all his energy and power to the propagation of the Gospel. Not to pay attention to the mouths of the evil men. One is his goal and struggle Christ and to try to satisfy only Christ. Finally, he supplicated him to come quickly to Rome because death is very near. Come, Timothy, quickly, for I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand. All those words of the second epistle to Timothy were appointed to be read in Church today, the first Sunday after the new year, with one purpose for Christians to compare how Paul finished his life, how he used the time of his life, and how we spend the invaluable investment which we call our life.
Dear brethren, the life of Christians is not only enjoyment, eating and drinking, or as we say, in modern language a good time. But it is a struggle. Here is the struggle and afterwards enjoyment. With struggle, the honest man gains his bread and in this way he enjoys life. If man put first the enjoyment and later the struggle, then we wouldn't have any sacrifice. For example, if the astronauts attached more importance to pleasure and good times than conquering the moon, they would never get there. And so, first struggle and then enjoyment. Naturally, I think it is superfluous to make the distinction between struggles. The best struggle for man is the struggle for faith, moral life, righteousness, virtue, ideals, which uplift him and make him Christ-like.
St. Paul says to us, "I have finished my course." The life of man is a road, a procession toward the end. We pursue this course without possibility of stopping or turning back. And because it is not for our interest we say that time runs and leaves. The time does not run, we run. Time stands, like the tree immovable beside the river, in order to use the expression of St. Augustine.
We run, brethren, and all of us will arrive some day at the end. But who will receive the crown of God? That is the great question. Because the prize, the reward, the crown is not a favor, harisma. It is given in reward to those who are worthy of it, who gained it, as in the Olympic Games, And the crown will receive all those who accepted Him as their law-giver, as their teacher, as their God, who loved Him and worshipped Him as their Saviour. If you accept Him, my brethren, be sure that you will gain the crown. Amen.
Sunday after Epiphany.
Christ is he Still the Light of the World?
"The people that lived in darkness saw a great light; light dawned on the dwellers in the land of death's dark shadow" (Matthew 4:12-17).
Dearly beloved, in our Orthodox Church calendar, today is the Sunday after Epiphany. The Gospel Lesson is taken from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. With this chapter, St. Matthew begins his coverage of the public ministry of our Lord. The very first sermon preached by Jesus Christ was on the subject of repentance. From the very beginning He preached, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Our text is actually a quote from the prophecy of Isaiah, ch. 9, v. 2. Here Christ is presented as the Light of the world. Is Jesus Christ truly the Light of our world today?
Although the prophet Isaiah lived 800 years before Christ, the Holy Spirit granted him a vision of the Lord who was to come to enlighten man. This Light was indispensable for neither the prophets nor the secular philosophers could regenerate man with their teaching; man remained in the depths of spiritual darkness.
Many people today readily concede that the light of Christ was indispensable for the era in which He lived but, in view of the tremendous advances of the past two thousand years, they question whether the light of Christ continues to be indispensable in our modern world. Present-day progress is phenomenal. Some time ago we witnessed a journey by Pope Paul which began with a morning appearance at the United Nations, and ended that same day with his arrival at the Vatican. Even more remarkable was the fact that, when he arrived back at his office in the Vatican, he found a book waiting for him on his desk, a complete pictorial coverage of his entire trip. Imagine! A book published in a few hours, and transported to the Vatican faster than its subject could return!} Every day we witness remarkable progress. Our libraries are filled to overflowing with all manner of books and other publications, both serious and trivial. Behold our vast museums, our huge scientific and art galleries, our radio and television (which have long ceased to be remarkable to us). And then there is man's conquest of outer space.[Already man has walked upon the surface of the moon, and soon will be approaching the nearer planets, such as Mars and Venus!} Every day something new is discovered. We are constantly advancing, constantly improving ever producing new models of our automobiles and household appliances. With all of these advancements, do we still need Christ? Is He still the Light of the world?
Beloved, in spite of all our discoveries, despite all the technical advances of science, the soul of man is still enshrouded in darkness. Yes, a vast darkness encompasses the whole globe, a darkness of uncertainty, of apprehension. One slip by a man in a position of nuclear responsibility could trigger a holocaust that would atomically destroy life, turning our entire earth into a gigantic hospital of calamity and pain. The development of missiles and rockets, along with the electrical computers necessary to guide and dispatch them, may be characterized as "great scientific advancement," but these new inventions certainly bring anything but peace and happiness to man. Indeed, they have multiplied uncertainty, restlessness and nervous anxiety in modern man.
Good news today is to be found only in the message of Christ, who remains the Light of the world the only hope for the salvation of man. Whenever a society has strayed from Christian principles and abandoned Him who is the Light of the world, the ruin and collapse of that society has quickly followed. Where the light of Christ still shines, however, there is always hope. And that light is still shining, beloved; Christ is available to each of us no farther than a prayer away. Have you problems in your life, problems that you can no longer bear alone? When you become physically ill, and the doctor prescribes medicine which you do not take, is your continued illness the fault of the doctor, or of the medicine? Christ offers His love, His forgiveness, to all. If you will not accept Him, you cannot blame Christ for your problems. For all who will trust in Him, Jesus Christ remains the only hope of a world groping in the darkness of sin. He is the Light of the world.
6. Different Subjects
Luxury and Love.
"And one is hungry, and another is drunken" (I Cor. 11:21)
Indifference and Provocation.
The Fathers of the Church, in their own sermons, unite the notion of luxury with that of love. In other words, when they speak about wealthy people and the vain manner in which they disburse their wealth, they create an antonym for love, because luxury often testifies that love between men does not exist. Love, as the great Apostle proclaims, encompasses not only the idea of "rejoice with those who rejoice", but more often means to "mourn with those who mourn"; to weep with those who weep; to deprive ourselves so that we may lessen another's depravity; and, finally, to share my brother's hardships, without seeking only personal satisfaction and selfish, empty ambition. The luxury in our lives is often reduced to nothing else than personal satisfaction and pleasure, heavily tainted with an indifference towards others. And, perhaps not only indifference but provocation also. How can you appreciate anything when your brother is crying? How can you enjoy a sumptuous meal, when your brother goes to sleep with nothing to eat at all? Indeed, where luxury exists, there also exists an absence of love.
The Social Problem.
During this era the so-called social problem has become a main issue. Everyone is continuously talking about it. There are three parts to this subject: the problem of food, clothing, and shelter. These three things are undoubtedly only three of the natural rights of all men, and no one has the right to deny these to any of us. The social problem is due to many causes, but one is especially salient in this issue, and that is luxury. Everyday luxury creates new and unnecessary needs, while at the same time others are deprived of their most basic necessities. St. Basil addressed those that over-abound in luxury by writing, "as much wealth as you gather in your treasures, so less love you have in your hearts." Usually, those that have great wealth think that it belongs only to them, to be used for their pleasure and empty desires. Standing beside the wealthy are the poor, cold and hungry, their wounds salted with indignation and hate. Again we see luxury for what it is a contagious sickness, that leaves the poor to suffer not only for their poverty, but for the sickness of luxury. One example of this contagion of luxury can be seen as the poor come into wealth. They immediately imitate the wealthy by creating for themselves new and unnecessary needs.
Contempt for the Church.
St. Paul considers the luxurious and extravagant life of the wealthy as a form of contempt for the Church. He, who because he has money, eats, drinks, and dresses as he wants, shows contempt for the Church, embarrassing and exhibiting contempt towards his brother who is poor ... or "despise ye the Church of God, and shame them that have not." The Church is the regime of love, the kingdom in which the law is love. Love which is the "life of perfection" uniting the members of the Church. How, then, is it not contempt for the Church and trampling on the law of love, when those that have are indifferent to those that do not have? And not only are they indifferent, but their attitude serves to provoke and wound the less fortunate by way of their extravagant luxuriousness.
Luxury is Virtue's Desert.
Luxury examined by itself is evil, but much more so in contradistinction with the poor. St. Chrysostom characterizes the man convinced of his own personal value because of his luxurious and extravagant living as mikrologon. That is, a man who gives his attention to the small and useless things in life, while towards others he is cruel; a hardened man, indeed, that is a desert wherein no virtue can abide. Of course, where there is luxury there is a lack of love, and when the Christian lacks love, his life can amount to nothing. Without love, preaches St. Paul, "I am nothing, and I benefit nothing." Paul herein denies any value to a man that does not have love, even though this man might have faith strong enough to move mountains without love, he is nothing. How much below par must that man be that lacks not only love, but is possessed also of a cruel disposition, full of inhumanities. Indeed, "he is a desert wherein no virtue can abide." St. Chrysostom relates the story of an ancient king who was so given to the luxurious life, that he erected a golden tree under which he placed a table of gold and there sat enjoying the rest of his life.
A short while ago the newspapers reported that a wealthy Greek ship owner will build a luxurious and original ship. In it all the water faucets, door knobs, and window sills will be made of solid gold. How, therefore, is it possible for love to exist in such empty and vain ambitions, filled with outrageous foolishness?
The Poor and the Rich.
When St. Chrysostom speaks about the wealthy and condemns them, he forwards examples not only taken from the pagans, but also from the Christians, saying, "So many poor people surround the Church, and while the Church has in her midst many wealthy children, She is unable to help even one of them; so that many eat, drink and become drunk, while others live without their bread and go hungry."
The holy Father proceeds to describe the situation and inequality in his own time. Naturally, we cannot compare our epoch with his, nor his with ours. And yet, even today, there exists a great inequality due to the luxury and extravagance of a few. The words of St. Paul are as timely for us today and well worth quoting, affording us the experience of two thousand years of Christian life: "And one is hungry, and the other is drunk."
Avarice and Greediness.
"And He said unto them, take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
Opposite of the self-sufficiency and sacred poverty of the Gospel stands avarice and greed. Both of these words avarice and greed suggest much the same meaning. Avarice is the love of money. Greediness is the desire to obtain more material wealth, and, if possible, to gain the entire world. Avarice is the foremost and basic evil in the life of man. "For the love of money is the root of all evil," writes St. Paul. The same apostle also refers to greediness as idolatry or paganism. "Mostly therefore your members which are upon the earth," and he lists the great evils that harass the social lives of men: "fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Greediness is a mark and sign of the eschaton and hard times, which are depicted in history as times of moral decline and spiritual decay. The same Apostle wrote to his friend and co-worker Timothy: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" (II Tim. 3:1-2). Greediness, as such, was a defect peculiar to the people living before Christ and, as such, it is not permissible for Christians to be greedy. Greediness is not befitting of the Christian calling, and is incompatible with being good and holy. For this reason, St. Paul not only suggests to his readers the manner; that is, that Christians should love not money, but sacrifice instead, remembering that "all greed is idolatrous and he that is greedy does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of God." It is more imperatively stressed in another letter where he emphasizes that, "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is idle-lover, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. 5:5).
What do the Fathers Teach?
The holy Fathers of the Church in almost all their homilies attack the evil avarice and greed in the people of their own epoch.
St. Basil the Great in three of his best moral homilies deliberately speaks out against the avarice and stinginess of wealthy people. St. John Chrysostom, amongst his many and various teachings, instructs us in the following passage against avarice and greed, which he considers the root of every evil: "All evils are born from the madness which man has to gain more money. Kill this madness and you will see war stopped. Animosity, disputes and arguments will stop too." Another father of the Church, Asterios, Bishop of Amassia, has a sermon which is considered one of the best patristic texts of its kind against greediness. This sermon was delivered at a festival where the people had gathered to celebrate the memory of a martyr. However, as the people arrived, they forgot their purpose and instead of entering the Church, they remained outside to indulge in the games of fun and fortune that had been set up around the Church.
Let us see what the holy Father says. First of all, he instructs us as to the nature of greediness. It is more than just the madness of gaining more money, possessions and property. But in general, greediness involves the desire to have more than what our needs actually demand. Avarice deceives man even to the point of treachery, as in the case of Judas who betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. The holy Father observes that all evils and transgressions abandon man when he has become old and powerless to sin. Greediness is an evil beast that captures man and refuses to leave him until his end. In such cases, greediness can be likened to ivy that climbs, lives, and retains its color green. A greedy person, although he might be wealthy and a possessor of all things, groans as though he has nothing. He refuses to rejoice with what he has, but he worries about things yet to be gained. His eyes are not on himself, but on the possessions of others.
With amazing capability and strength, the Holy Father describes the social consequences of greediness, and his words reach out to our own day and age. Because of greediness, men's lives are filled with disorder. Some people eat until they are ready to burst, while others die of starvation. Some rest comfortably in soft beds with plush surroundings, while others have nowhere to rest their bodies. If greediness were non-existent, the ugliness which fills life full of tears would also be extinct. Because of greediness men have forgotten their sense of fellowship for one another. Instead, they sit sharpening their knives, separating themselves into warring factions like beasts of prey. And the Father continues to warn that "the beginning and source of all evil is in the desire to possess more; that is, where the unrighteous display a foul love for the property of others. If someone could successfully reprove this passion in men, no further obstacles to peace and harmony would prevail amongst mankind. The riots and revolutions would disappear and the people would return to a sense of natural order, wherein friendship would be the standing order."
Finally the holy Father reaches the conclusion that "nothing is more devastating to humanity than greediness." He personifies this perversion when he writes, "greediness, you fill the earth with thieves and murderers. You fill the sea with all kinds of dangers. You sink our cities in disorder. You fill the courts with false witnesses and false accusers; with traitors, and with hard and cruel men." Let us not forget the words of the holy Father. Let us hold them fast in our memories. Above all, let us forever remember the words of our Lord, as He spoke them in the parable of the foolish rich man: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
How we can Imitate Christ.
"For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26)
Today, the Church celebrates and honors the memory of one o£ the greatest holy Fathers and ecumenical teachers St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. St. John Chrysostom was as great a man as he was a hierarch and a teacher. He was one of the most profound orators, not only of the Church but of the whole world. A few years after his death, the Church awarded him the unique surname, Chrysostomos, meaning Golden-mouth. Indeed, Chrysostomos was, as had been John the Baptist, fearless, inflexible, and unbending in his struggles for the care of the Church and the Faith. He died with these words on his lips, "Glory to God for everything."
I think it is only proper and honorable to permit the very tongue of Father John Chrysostom to teach us and to preach to us on this day. Therefore, the teaching that is to follow comes from the holy Father on the same apostolic reading. The holy Father comments on how we can imitate the Archpriest, Jesus Christ.
Because we have such an Archpriest, writes St. Paul, for this reason, let us imitate Him and follow in His steps. There does not exist, and consequently, let us not rely on any other sacrifice, for the remission of our sins. One sacrifice was offered by the Great Arch-priest, in which He offered Himself. This sacrifice cleansed us and restored us before God. After this sacrifice, if we do not appreciate it, there remains nothing else other than punishment and condemnation. For this reason, St. Paul continuously speaks about the one Archpriest and the one sacrifice, so that no one may think that there be another sacrifice, leaving them to commit sin without fear. As many of us that became worthy to receive Holy Baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, enjoying the benefits and fruits of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ; as many of us that have participated in the immortal table, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord: let us hold fast with kindness and honor, these blesings with which God honors us.
And let not anyone sin with the deceitful hope and pretense that before meeting death, he will repent and confess, asking from God the remission of his sins.
I beseech you to believe what I am about to say, and trust that I say it not merely to frighten you. I know of many to whom this has happened: they sinned with the hope that they would repent, but they met their end before they had an opportunity. For this reason, God made it possible for men to repent so that sins would be forgiven and less likely to increase. Anyone who uses the mercy of God and the opportunity to repent as a chance to sin more, causes the act of repentance to become a source of personal negligence and laziness.
I beg you to pay great attention. Let not anyone regard virtue as a salary, or permit its lacking to hinder ambition for it. Let not anyone use virtue as though it were a burden or a great difficulty. Let us instead employ virtue with willingness and joy. Whether or not virtue is salaried or rewarded, it must become for us a genuine reality in our lives. Otherwise, how would it not be a shame and a condemnation? Perhaps you might say, unless I am paid I cannot become a virtuous man and, ultimately, I will leave the Church. But I too dare say something: that with such an attitude you will never be a good man, even when you exercise prudence and receive some recommendation. You will never appreciate virtue unless you really love it. For this reason God, by recognizing our sickness and inability, chose to permit virtue to in some way be salaried or rewarded. However, even this does not always cause us to be virtuous.
Let us examine now what is burdensome and difficult, as ordered for us by God. God commands that you have your own wife, and in prudence to respect and honor her. Do you think that is unreasonable or difficult? And so, how is it that many do not have wives and are still prudent and sober; not only amongst the Christians, but also with the pagans. In another instance, God asks that we share our wealth with the poor. Do you honestly think that this is such a heavy burden? Very often the enemies of the Church accuse our laxity in this area by relinquishing amongst their own communities their common properties, in order to fulfill their common ambitions and sacrifice their personal ego. Another commandment warns us against speaking filthily, because in filthiness there is always blasphemy of sorts. Perhaps you think that this too is difficult? However, even in the absence of any such commandment, we ought to avoid pejorative language as is befitting esteemed gentlemen. In contrary, we face just the opposite in attempting to avoid such language speaking filthily becomes difficult. We can better understand this by examining carefully a fellow when he uses such language he is always befallen with shame and tension, except perhaps when he is drunk. Another commandment cautions us against becoming intoxicated. This commandment very justly points out that drunkenness itself is hell and punishment. This commandment does not request that we deprive ourselves of drink altogether and cause our bodies to suffer for it. Rather, it simply warns against becoming totally overtaken by drink. In other words, by adhering to the commandment, man protects himself from self-debasement and the physical and logical destruction of his body that befalls him with too much drink. Maybe you will retort: is it necessary to provide such an interest for one's body? I answer, not so. Do not provide anything that will fulfill the sinful desires and lusts, or anything that might irritate them. It is exactly as St. Paul writes: "And make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof" (Rom. 13:14). Other commandments warn, do not steal or become greedy, do not swear falsely in the courts, or violate an oath or any promises that you have made. Do not these commandments require from us much sweat or pain? Another commandment says do not accuse falsely, or slander. Please tell me, what pain does it require not to do these things? On the contrary, to do the opposite always proves very painful. As soon as we accuse someone we are overtaken with the deadly forces of anxiety and suspicion. We can never really know if the accused has heard or will hear our accusation. In contradistinction, nothing that God gives us proves to be a heavier load, as long as we really want to accept it. Of course, if we choose not to accept it, the easiest thing could very easily become the most difficult. There is nothing from God whatsoever that requires an excessive amount of pain or labor, or even more than we can bear, because upon the will of man and divine Grace is everything dependent. And so, achieve and succeed in the eternal good through the grace and philanthropy of God." Amen.
The Lord's Prayer.
Our Blessed Lord, in His "Sermon on the Mount," did not fail to speak on the all-important subject of prayer. He taught His disciples how Christians should pray, what they should ask from God; and He gave them a model prayer, the "Our Father." It is also known as the Lord's Prayer, because it was taught to us by Our Lord Himself. It is a common prayer the world over; I doubt there is a single Christian who does not know it by heart. In our sermon this morning, we shall examine the meaning behind each line of this most beloved of Christian prayers.
"Our Father, Who art in heaven " God is the common Father of all men; this is chiefly a revelation of the New Testament. The whole purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God was that man should be re-adopted by God, that he should regain this Divinely-granted sonship, which had been lost through sin. St. John the Evangelist speaks of this adoption, which is dependent upon the personal cooperation or participation of each individual in the work of God for his salvation. We read in John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name." God becomes the Father of any man who accepts the free grace of Christ, who repents of his sins and desires the salvation that Jesus purchased for each one of us. And when God is confessed by men as their common Father, then must men recognize each other as brothers. Indeed, a great social teaching exists in the simple invocation, "Our Father." Were all men willing to repent of their sins, confess Christ as their Savior and God as their Father, imagine the spirit of brotherly love which would prevail upon this planet!
"Hallowed be Thy name ..." Holy Scripture, in order to present to us an image of the majesty of God, represents Him as dwelling in the heavens, although we know that He not only dwells there, but is present in every place. St. Chrysostom writes, "When we say, 'Hallowed be Thy name,' it is as if we were adding, 'not as if Thou hast any need of worship or praise; but for our salvation, O Heavenly Father, make us worthy to live a pure life in accordance with Thy commandments, so that, through our exemplary life, all men may glorify Thee.' " Let us remember that, at the beginning of the "Sermon on the Mount" it is said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
"Thy kingdom come " Our Lord's preaching, as recorded in the New Testament, begins, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). The Lord is also recorded as having said, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God? It is an institution beyond the limits of time and space. The psalmist says, "The LORD hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps. 103:19). The Archangel Gabriel, announcing the Birth of Christ to Mary the Virgin, says to her, "And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:33). The Kingdom of God is composed of the Church Militant on earth, and of the Church Triumphant in heaven. The Kingdom of God, the Church, has been established by the Lord, and since then has continued to develop and grow. Let us bear in mind Our Lord's parables of the yeast and of the mustard seed, and let us pray to our Heavenly Father that His Divine Law may prevail upon the earth, and that the Holy Church of God may enjoy universal respect.
"Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven " People frequently ask about what is good, what is right in a certain situation. And each one tends to describe what is "good" or "right" in accordance with his own whims, or, more exactly, in accordance with his own interests, in the way that it will benefit him most. Thus, for some people, "good" pertains to their material interests; for others it relates to their own social projection, perhaps in terms of political office; for still others, what is "good" is physical beauty and strength; finally, for yet others, "good" means satisfying the lusts of their flesh. For those who live outside of the teaching of the gospel, there are as many definitions of "good" as there are men in this world. But for us, for believers, for the children of God, good can mean but one thing: the will of God. In the Lord's Prayer, we pray that this "will" might be done on earth, by men, as it is in heaven, by the angels. Our Lord Himself, just prior to His voluntary Passion, prayed to His Father, saying, "Nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). Therefore, according to His example, and according to His teaching, let us pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven "
"Give us this day our daily bread " Men, living on earth, are not angels. They have natural, physical needs which must be met. God does not ignore these needs. How many of Our Lord's miracles were performed to satisfy some physical need! However, men should not devote their entire lives to satisfying their physical and material needs and desires. Above all, we should not be selfish in this regard; notice that the prayer reads, "Give us," not "Give me." Be assured that it is not Our Lord's will that we should be without food, clothing, or shelter. All these needs He gathers into this one petition, "Give us this day our daily bread "
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors " This reminds us of the parable of the cruel and unjust servant, which Jesus ended with the words, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matt. 18:35). But now Our Lord ends His discourse on prayer with the words, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matt. 6:14). The basic spiritual business with which each man has to deal is his own sin. The psalmist cries out, "My sin is ever before me" (Ps. 51:3). Man's most fervent desire is for the forgiveness of the sins that he knows he has committed, for his redemption from sin, and from its consequences. God forgives us, when we repent and ask forgiveness, and when we are willing and ready to forgive all who have offended us. "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors "
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Again, Our Lord prior to His voluntary Passion told His disciples, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:41). Speaking about temptation, St. Maximus the Confessor gives us the following description, which is so meaningful and real: "The temptations which accost mankind are of two kinds. The first offers pleasure, without provoking pain. It comes from the will of man to satisfy his passions. The second does not originate with man, and its purpose is to cleanse and purify." St. James writes, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2). Great and holy are the unwilling temptations of man poverty, sickness, and calamity. In all these ways our faith is tested. We are often fearful, however, that we will not be able to survive the test. Therefore we pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
St. Paul writes, in his epistle to the Romans, "for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). Such do not follow their own inclinations, but the Holy Spirit of God. This is the way to freedom from slavery and fear, and produces in us the Spirit of gladness, and of adoption, "whereby we cry, Abba (Our) Father!" (Rom. 8:15).
On the Divine Liturgy.
Dearly beloved, I wish to speak to you today on the importance of the Divine Liturgy. Let us first turn to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. We see there that, after Pentecost, the three thousand believers "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Just a few lines following this we read, "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people" (vs. 46, 47). In the context of these two selections we can see faintly the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. At first, the Divine Liturgy was united with common banquets of the Christians, called "agape," or "love feasts." With one soul and one heart, with simplicity, and with the innocence of small children; with love for one another, and in a spirit of brotherhood, the early Christians gathered together to hear the sermons of the apostles, to pray and sing, to be nourished with the Divine, Life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord, and finally, to sit together, side by side, rich with poor, at the common table of love.
St. Chrysostom, speaking of this practice, writes, "The Christians gathered together to hear the teachings of the apostles and the prayers of the Liturgy, and to receive Holy Communion. At the conclusion of the service the Christians did not leave immediately; the rich and those who could afford to had food brought in, and they invited the poor to stay also, and all sat at the same common table and shared the same meal. The meal was eaten in the sanctity of the church building, and this, coupled with the fact that all had just received the Holy Communion, served to cultivate a real spirit of love between the brethren."
The early Christians were constantly trying to strengthen, by any human or divine means at their disposal, the bond of love that linked them together. St. Proclus writes, "They found inner satisfaction and consolation, as they gathered together to sing psalms and hymns, to perform Divine Liturgy, and to receive Holy Communion."
Unfortunately, as the Apostolic Era drew to a close, corruption crept into these "love feasts." This is evident in Paul's words to the Church at Corinth: "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken" (I Cor. 11:20,21). The Christian character of the early love feast had become adulterated, for the rich were still bringing abundant food from their homes, but were consuming it all in front of the hungry poor. So the Church replaced the common meal with the blessing of the five loaves, still retained at the Vigil Service. As a further substitute for the abused common meals, collections for the poor were instituted: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (I Cor. 16:1,2). Thus, from the very beginning the Divine Liturgy was associated with philanthropy. Sunday, at the Divine Luturgy, the believers were given the opportunity to express their feeling toward God and toward each other, and this resulted in an abundance of piety and love. Love toward our neighbor is not merely an external, material manifestation, but an inner feeling which is first sanctified at Divine Liturgy, and then expressed in action which is not only social, but liturgical as well. Before the All-Holy Body and Blood of the Lord the priest prays, "Remember also, O Lord, those who remember the poor ..."
Just one hundred years after the establishment of the Church, the philosopher and martyr Justin describes for us the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in his day, and we can see that it followed then the same basic pattern that it follows today. We think it appropriate here to quote the entire passage:
"And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the priest verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we said before, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the priest in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying 'Amen'; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the priest, who helps the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness, and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead" (First Apology, ch. 67).
From this description it is easy to understand why the Church named Liturgy the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist. The Liturgy is a public work, as is implied by the word itself. It is the most sacred action of the Church, the sun around which, like planets, the other worship services of the Church revolve. It is the holy ceremony, the Divine Mystery of Communion, by which the spiritual and even secular lives of the faithful are animated and sanctified. The Liturgy is a rational service of worship, offered "for the whole cosmos, and for the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church", for the living and for the dead. All other religious services and ceremonies point to the Divine Liturgy, all find their real purpose and meaning in the Liturgy; and that purpose is the fulfillment and theosis of the believers through the Divine Grace of the Sacrament.
Let us ask again, what is Divine Liturgy? First of all, it is a remembrance. The Lord, in instituting the Holy Supper, said, as St. Paul tells us, "This cup is the New Testament in My Blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this Cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come" (I Cor. 11:25,26). So each Divine Liturgy is a remembrance of the death and resurrection of the Lord.
Second, Divine Liturgy is Communion. Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life whoso eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day ... he that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him" (John 6:48,54,56). Divine Communion is a union of the believers with their Savior.
Third, the Divine Liturgy is sacrifice, a real, though mystical, repetition of the Sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross, offered for the living and the dead. During the Liturgy, the Lord Himself is "the Offerer and the Offered, He Who accepts, and He Who is distributed." As St. Epiphanius writes, "He is the Altar, He is the Victim, He is the Priest, He is the Holy Table, He is God, He is Man, He is King, He is Archpriest He remains among us continually, offering His gifts to us."
The believers have so much to gain from the Divine Liturgy! St. Maximus the Confessor writes, "Do not leave the holy Church of God; she offers you so much good, while she is performing the Holy Sacrament."
The Divine Liturgy is a unique and holy task, a unique and holy action. Nothing can compare with it in importance. It is the holiest action the priest performs, a service at which the angels desire to be present. It is the greatest gift of Our Lord to His Church, and the greatest offering of the Church to Our Lord. "We give Thee thanks also for this service, which Thou hast deigned to accept at our hands, though there stand before Thee thousands of archangels and ten thousands of angels "
The Divine Sacraments.
"Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
The news which Jesus Christ brought to the world is the grace. The glad tidings of the Gospel, the essence and depth of Christianity is grace. The special characteristic of the Church, and the difference between the synagogue, is this grace. The Church in the new world differs from the old world in grace. The kingdom of grace is the kingdom of heaven. The law in the Old Testament had been given through Moses. Grace in the New Testament was brought by Jesus Christ "for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
The law as each law was hard and unmerciful; as St. Paul says, "the man that turns his back on the law of Moses is put to death without pity" (Heb. 10:28). Grace is the power which flows from the redemptive work of Christ from the word, the passion, and His Resurrection and justifies man and sanctifies and saves him. This grace, the divine grace, is the same as Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer, within us. We cannot separate Christ from His work, nor the work of salvation from Christ; neither His word, His passion, or His resurrection. They are all united and inseparable. For this reason, St. Paul writes, "my children, I feel the same pains which a mother feels when she gives birth to her child." This is the objective purpose of his mission, to be shaped inside of the people of Jesus Christ. If this cannot be achieved, then the work of Paul and our work is in vain. The work of the priest will be limited to friends, for buildings, selling tickets, for banquets, and acting as host for picnics and dances.
The largest crowds of nominal Christians consider the Christian faith simply as a teaching, as a system of moral laws which regulate the individuals' private, and social life. They think that the terms "good man" and "Christian" are synonymous. For this reason, they believe that they are good men. They believe in their goodness and do not feel the need of the divine grace. They do not recognize Christ as their Savior and they do not feel the obligation to have Him in their inner parts. But simply they consider Him as a teacher among the many who made their appearance in the world. Sometimes they make comparisons and find that Christ is beneath the others. Such men and such Christians outrightly ignore Christ, His work, and His redemptive grace.
But Christ did not come to the world to teach only morals and to make "good men." He came to save the people, not only through His teaching, but with His passion and with His Resurrection. He came to make us children of God; He came not to judge us and to justify us through our works, but rather, He came to grant salvation freely through His passion and through His resurrection.
Christians are not simply moral men, but they are faithful men. They don't proceed through their works to find the faith, but through their faith they reach the good works. The works the morality of Christians are the fruits of their faith, "but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, honesty, gentleness, and self-mastery" (Gal. 5:22).
Without divine grace, man is a desert for any real virtue. Without divine grace, neither can he be a real Christian, nor a good man. Jesus Christ said, "without me, you cannot do anything."
The subject now is how the divine grace is transported to the people and how Christ comes in us to settle. In the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, there are phrases which the priest says before the Holy Communion. He entreats God to cleanse him and the faithful from all pollution, of the flesh and spirit, in order to receive the Body and Blood of Christ: "in order worthily to receive them, to have Christ settle in our hearts." This is the same idea which St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "... that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:17). Therefore, through the Sacraments, divine grace is transmitted to the faithful, and Christ comes to dwell in their hearts.
But here we used the word "Mysterion" (in Greek), or in Latin, sacrament. What does the word mysterion mean? The whole hypothesis of the divine incarnation and the salvation of man is, according to St. Paul, a great mystery; "and who does not admit how great a thing is the secret of our religion" (I Tim. 3:16). What is beyond our logical comprehension and the rational potential of man is a mystery; a secret through which man sees through the eyes of his soul. It is a divine power, invisible, which is included with visible things.
More specifically, the mysteries of the Church, through which the divine grace is given to the people, are seven in number and divinely instituted. The sacraments of the Church are not symbols and signs or ceremonies, but they are, as the Church believes, institutions which the Lord defined and instituted in order that through them, He Himself will be manifested to His people through His redemptive work.
The seven sacraments, according to the Orthodox Faith, are the seven pillars on which the whole building of the Church stands. Behold how the Old Testament prophetically speaks for the seven sacraments of divine grace. The Church calls the people to "come and eat my bread and divide my wine, of which I give to you."
The Sacraments of the Church are seven in number and are as follows: Baptism, Chrismation, Divine Eucharist, Repentance, Priesthood, Marriage, and Holy Unction. Suffice now that we mention only the seven Sacraments, without giving the definition of each sacrament, and quote from Scripture in order to support their authenticity. Our concern now is how the believers must participate in the divine Sacraments. In two of the sacraments, Baptism and Chrismation, the believers participate only once in their lives. In another three, the Eucharist, Repentance, and Unction, the believer may participate as many times as he wishes. In the last two, Marriage and Holy Orders, the participation is optional. When the man has an invitation, an internal voice which motivates him to participate in these, he may do so. This is especially true of Holy Orders. Thus, we see that the sacraments are divided into two categories: obligatory and non-obligatory; those which are performed once, and those which are repeated many times.
That the divine sacraments of the Church are necessary for the salvation of the people is indicated from the event that Christ constituted. None of the divine sacraments comprise mere decoration of the Church, giving the faithful an excuse to deny them, since God never does any act in vain.
In conclusion, the Sacraments have the same meaning in the spiritual life of the Christian as medicines have for bodily sicknesses. As the food feeds the body, so the sacraments feed the soul of a man. Without material food, the body withers. Likewise, without the divine grace of the Sacraments, the soul grows inanimate. Without the divine grace of the Sacraments, a man dies spiritually "remain in me and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself but only if it remains on the vine, so you cannot either unless you remain in me" (John 15:3,4). The real Christian is not merely "the good man," the emotional, or social type, the pleasant friend, the humorist. The Christian, the real Christian, is the man of grace. The faithful of the Church, who participates in the sacraments; the "keharitomenus," the graceful, who has in himself Christ. The grace is Christ, in as much as "the grace and the truth came through Jesus Christ."
The Importance of Feasts in the Life of Christians.
"O All-Blessed Nicholas, cease not to intercede to Christ, God, for those who, with faith and desire, came here to celebrate your joyous memory."
Our Church, beloved Christians and friends of the feast, respects the memory of one of Her most beloved and popular saints. This is Saint Nicholas, the Wonder-Worker: the protector of sailors, the father of orphans, the advocate of the accused, the great father of the first Ecumenical Synod. This community especially celebrates his memory; with every dignity and in contrition: for under his name this magnificent temple was built, wherein we gather to pray and to call for his help and intercessions in the struggles of our lives.
The feasts of our Church are like a golden chain without any broken links they are as one uninterrupted continuity: from the present to the past, and from the past to the future. The thread of Ariadne unwinds in front of us every day. If we will trace its beginning, arriving not in Labyrinth, but to the order of history and truth, we will find ourselves in the Apostolic Age. We will discover that this duty which we perform tonight is essentially the same as that performed by the Christians of that epoch. I offer one example in order that the sermon be not too dry.
One of the oldest martyrologies of our Church concerns the martyrdom of Polycarp. Polycarp was an apostolic father, and according to Church tradition, he was also a student of St. John the Evangelist. The martyrology informs us of the following: first, that the Christians, on the anniversary of the death of the martyr, gathered together "in rejoicing and happiness," to celebrate and honor him. Second, that the relics of the saints were considered "more valuable than gold and silver." Third, and most important, the martyrology gives a complete answer to those that accuse us of venerating wood, and men, while real worship belongs only to God. The martyrology makes an explicit distinction between the worship belonging to God and to His Son, and the love and respect which belongs "to martyrs, disciples, and the imitators of the Lord."
Dear Brethren, the feasts of our Church are very ancient and very important to the life of the Church, and to all Christians. I have decided to speak tonight on the importance and necessity of the feast in the life of the Christian. Please, give me your attention. St. Nicholas, be the strength of my weak voice.
One way, dear brethren, in which the believers live and feel their faith is in the celebration of the feast. Wherever religious celebrations are lacking, or in comparative scarcity, man has the tendency to create other celebrations: for example, Veterans' Day, Columbus Day, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and even a day is set aside to inaugurate the hunting season. A great pedagogue and psychologist said that people will cease to live spiritually when they fail to understand the necessity of the celebration. The Fathers of the Church knew this only too well, because the Fathers were not only eminent theologians and great preachers, but they were also wise pedagogues and psychologists. They delved not only into the theological development of dogma and in the preaching of the Gospel, but they also organized the order of holy worship and determined the feasts for the Lord Christ, for the Holy Virgin Mary, for the Apostles, and for the rest of the Holy Fathers who labored and died a martyrical or natural death for the Faith.
The ecclesiastical year coincides with the natural, physical year. For example: into the conscience of the believers, the thought of winter is seasoned by the feast of Christmas. In the spring is the feast of Easter, the resurrection of nature with the Resurrection of Christ. March and August are the months dedicated to the feasts of the Virgin Mary. April is given to the feast of St. George. December commemorates the great martyrs St. Barbara and St. Nicholas. The faithful anxiously await the coming of a feast, as a mother anticipates the return of her son from a far off land. The other day, a respected lady said to me: "I will go on Friday to the Church of St. Nicholas in Bethlehem. I have a vow to keep, and every year I go to receive his grace." And she does this not to perpetuate a simple custom, but because she feels the necessity to correspond with the celebration of the saint and to participate in this way in the mystery of the faith.
The celebrations of the Church, my brethren, must not be understood as the anniversaries of mere historical events which we repeat yearly. If we do reduce them in this way, we will be offering no distinction between our religious feasts and those secular or national celebrations. The religious feast has a sacred and mystical purpose, which is to unite men with the particular event itself and with the principal persons involved in the feast. During the celebration of a feast, the faithful live spiritually the events comprising the feast: the Birth of Christ, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, and all such occurrences in His earthly ministry. Not in the past, as it were, but in the very present moment, the moment of the celebration. I remember Holy Week as a student in the Theological Seminary of Halki, and how the students and laity wept in pain as they watched the icon of Christ on Palm Sunday evening, and the crucified Christ on Holy Thursday evening, brought from the Holy Altar. Why? We cried because we did not celebrate mere historical repetitions, but realities, experienced in their fulness at that very hour. For this reason, the Fathers of the Church and the hymnographers, in their prayers and hymns, used the word semeron today. "Today, the time of the celebration has come." "Today, the grace of the Holy Spirit gathered us here." "Today is hung upon a tree." "Today is born of the Virgin," and so many other examples. This use of the word Today is not a poetic expression only, nor mere poetic license. But it is the expression of a reality, a spiritual and mystical reality, living in the hearts of the faithful.
The central purpose of a religious feast is to unite the faithful with Christ, "in the Body and Blood of the Lord" ... one community of faith and love. Faith in Christ and love towards our brothers, love: one to another. Whoever does not believe this has no place in the celebration. Whoever does not love, is not a brother nor a "son of our loving God." In Holy Communion, the faithful are united with each other in one Body and they become one flesh and one blood with Christ.
It is here that we mark the difference between gathering for the Divine Liturgy or any other religious purpose, against any gathering of a secular nature. From the latter, the people leave exhausted, disgusted, and usually disturbed with anger. For example, this is so in a political gathering where the speaker cannot satisfy everyone. The people leave and the hall is in shambles, filled with litter, requiring the efforts of the Sanitation Department to restore order. But this is not so in the Church. The faithful, after celebrating a feast and the Divine Liturgy, return to their homes filled with joy, spiritual happiness; gentle and peaceful. The priest has blessed them, they have received the Holy Grace; they partook of the Immortal Mysteries, and bearing it in their souls, they take it to their homes. And when they leave the Church, it does not become a desert, left in ruins nor abandoned. But it is filled with the presence of God "as an odor of spiritual fragrance."
Brethren, honor the celebrations as "more than just custom", as St. Gregory the Theologian tells us. The feasts of our Church are not historical events reenacted through custom. But the feasts are a way and a part of our lives; a manor through which we can participate in the mystery of the faith. A canon of our Church reads: "Whoever has pride and an egotistic intention; whoever is not coming in humility and love to the feast, does not honor the celebration of the feast, but he honors only himself." Honor, my brethren, the celebrations of our Church. Train your children now in their tender youth to regard the feast as sacred. Accustom them to firm participation in divine worship. The indifference and stagnation of our present day society is indicative of the total manifestation of our social life. We see tragedy everywhere, and every day it destroys families and communities. The farther away people move from the fire, so much colder will they feel. And sooner or later they will freeze and "die in their sins." Quite often, such tragic occurrences are caused by children: children that did not know the Church, the feast, the saints, the difference between Sunday and Monday; between a holy day and a regular day. It is from these children that tragedies proceed, children whose lives are a monotonous continuation, lacking any spiritual interest.
Honor the Saints of our Church. The Saints are ambassadors to God in our prayers, as so defined by a local synod of the 17th century.
On the Revelation.
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3:18)
The intellect of man, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, is a special gift indeed. Perhaps it could be likened to a ray of the sun shining in man as an endowment of the all-wise Creator. The mind of man is supplied with many outstanding attributes. It affords man a continuous power and strength to create all of this to fulfill a purpose, a divine purpose in the eternal plan of God: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
And so it is. Man, with admirable ingenuity, delves deeper and deeper into the secrets of life. The animals of the forests and jungles which were once feared by man now serve to entertain him. The eagle, which once fascinated man with its ability to soar above the heavens, is now caged beneath the clouds by man's dominion of the skies. The seas and the oceans, once worshipped by man, now yield him rich food to satisfy his palate, and pearls to delight his fancy. Man has reached into the depths of the sea; he has also excavated to the very bowels of the earth. Modern man has divided and subdivided the atom; he has traveled faster than the speed of sound; he has begun his conquest of outer space; he has accomplished miracles in the medical sciences all of this with his superior intellect. If Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Julius Caesar of Rome, or even Napoleon Bonaparte could see our accomplishments, they would probably fall down and worship us as gods. No wonder the psalmist could write, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High" (Psalm 82:6).
However, despite his many accomplishments, man is still very human, a son of fallen Adam and a partaker of the consequences of that fall. Therefore, our tremendous progress in science, education, and life in general notwithstanding, we still fall prey to moral and ethical perversions: wars, with all their accompanying atrocities, civil disturbances, devastating riots, and the kind of general disunity that separates friends and pits brother against brother. The mind of man, having made such great strides forward in science and economy, is yet unable to search within the framework of its own being, and reasonably discharge effectual solutions to the most basic problems affecting his existence and contact with his fellow man. Man, in dealing with other men, has been thus far unable to produce a convincing attitude of sincerity and love. Almost 30 years have passed since World War II; what results have we seen? Crisis after crisis, conflict after conflict, in China, Korea, Cuba, Viet Nam, Laos, and now the Middle East. In our own land of wealth and opportunity, horrible race riots have stained our streets with the blood of our own citizens; millions live in dilapidated tenement houses not fit for cattle; and our first citizens, the American Indians, starve to death on primitive reservations.
How unfortunate are we men! Our doctors have learned in their laboratories how to cure the sick and prolong life. Our scientists are on the trail of the secrets of life. Our economy has brought us every sensual pleasure and comfort. All this and yet we are still lacking the most important ingredient. We still do not have peace. For those who are puzzled by this seeming contradiction, we offer this explanation from Paul's Epistle to the Romans: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imagination and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And the way of peace have they not known" (Romans 1:21-22; 3:17).
What causes science to stand mutely by in the face of the staggering moral and social problems of humanity? How is it that our world, which has of late been illumined with such great light, is still groping in abysmal darkness? There are answers to these questions, beloved answers to which few are willing to pay heed. The answer to all of these questions forms a key that would throw open the doors to the solutions of all of mankind's problems and woes. We find just such an answer in the Gospel of St. Matthew, in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, where we find Jesus Christ saying, "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (Matthew 6:22). A modern-English rendering of that same verse might be, "The eye is the very lamp of the body. If then your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light." Let us examine this solution in the light of our text: again Jesus is speaking, and this time He says, "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."
In order to see, a man needs two things: eyes and light. Spiritually speaking, a man has the same two requirements. Both physically and spiritually speaking, both requirements are absolutely necessary. Many of us remember the great blackout that swept a great portion of this country into total darkness. I was in New York City that evening, and I remember how blind I felt, how useless were my eyes. There just was no light! On the other hand, when an individual is actually blinded, whether by birth, or by sickness, or by accident, all the light in the world will not enable him to see. It is the same in the spiritual realm. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world; He Himself told us that. It is the light of His grace that illumines His incarnation in Bethlehem, His ministry of teaching and healing, His death on the cross for us, and His glorious resurrection 3 days later. Yet so many are blind to the Light of the world. So many seem to prefer the darkness to the Light. Why? The answer is plain and simple, if not always to our liking: we cannot see the Light of Christ because we have darkened His purpose in us; we have blinded the eyes of our souls with our passionate indulgences and our evil thoughts. The Bible says that "the natural man (that is, the carnal man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). It is impossible for the soul to reflect the Light of Christ, if the heart has been stained with an evil purpose. Well did the prophet Jeremiah write (17:9), "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" If our mind is not clear, if our heart is not earnestly seeking peace, how can we expect to behold the supernatural Light of Christ? This heavenly Light will never shine upon us as long as we willingly remain in the mire of sin, stumbling along in the darkness of iniquity. As St. Paul so aptly put it, "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (II Cor. 4:4).
Man, in his natural state, is enslaved to the dark passions of hell. These passions obscure his vision, and rob him of his God-given intellect. Thus it is that the man who is able to solve the most complex problems of science is unable to take control of his own life, to discipline himself by his own power. Behold the alcoholics, quite a large segment of our society. Those in high places may be praised and admired for their talents by those who do not know them personally, yet those closest to them often despise and look down upon them, and the unfortunate alcoholic is too weak to care. His mind having been darkened by his unnatural desire, he can no longer distinguish between the logical and the irrational. The avaricious, the greedy, dominated by their green paper god, are equally powerless, and for the same reasons. Oh, how much happier are those who bask in the radiance of the Light of Christ. Our Lord assures them, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see .." (Matthew 13:16).
The world, dearly beloved, has yet to open its eyes to correct the dreary (and most dangerous) moral situation in which it lies. We are reminded of the famous lines of Goette: "Behold, with so many lights, I am blind as before." Yes, man continues to stumble in darkness, his kerosene lamp, as it were, devoid of fuel. Yet individuals may possess the Light of Christ. Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Although man in general today is exactly as he is described in the revealed word of God: spiritually blind, screaming in desperation that God is dead and that religion is a myth, deifying himself in his own insane folly yet individuals may still heed the call of Christ. O blind soul! Hear the words addressed to you by the Son of God: "Thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). What can you do about your condition? Listen: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." It is amazing, what tears of repentance, tears of genuine sorrow for sin, will do for one's spiritual eyesight particularly when these tears are mingled with a strong resolve to turn away from sin and toward God. Jesus promises, "He that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). "The Spirit and the bride (the Church) say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will"-whoever wants to "let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17).
On the Angels.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today our Church celebrates a double feast. In addition to the regular Lord's Day observance of our Lord's Resurrection (the Feast of Feasts), we observe the Feast of the Immaterial Heavenly Hosts, the Holy Angels and Archangels.
Each time we gather together as a liturgical community to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we profess our faith in "One God, Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth and of everything visible and invisible." Moreover, St. Paul, in a word of assurance to the believers at Colossae, writes as follows: "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him" (Col. 1:16). Here we have a clear reference to the angels.
Let us first ask the question: "What does the word 'angel' mean?" The Greek word "angel," or "angeleophoros," means literally a messenger, carrier, or commissioner, whose task is to deliver the mandates and messages of some recognized authority to the populace; and, in return, from the populace to the authority. And this is the exact function of a certain order of beings of the immaterial world, the angels.
The Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, present the angels as Divine messengers to the dwellers upon this earth, bringing expressions of God's will and His desires to the human race. Origen and Chrysostom write: "We learn to call them 'angels' from the manner of tasks that they perform because they announce to the people the messages of God." Prophets, bishops, and priests, having the same sort of function, are also referred to in the Scriptures as "angels." This is especially true in regard to St. John the Baptist, who came to proclaim the advent of the Messiah: "Behold, I send My messenger (ton angelon) before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee" (Mark 1:2). However, the word "angel" is used most frequently in the Scriptures to refer to invisible, heavenly spirit beings.
Moreover, the Scriptures contain manifold accounts of the appearances of angels. In the third chapter of Genesis, for instance, we read that when God had cast our first parents, Adam and Eve, out of Paradise, "He placed at the east of the garden of Eden the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (vs. 24, American Standard Version). An angel spoke to Hagar in the desert. An angel miraculously saved the life of Lot. It was an angel that spoke to Abraham, as he was preparing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Angels spoke to the prophets, directing their ministries. In the New Testament as well, from the very first pages, we read of the appearance of angels. At the Annunciation, the angel announced to the Virgin Mary the Nativity of Christ: "And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus" (Luke 1:28, 31). Angels salute the birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judaea: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13,14). Angels appeared to the Magi and warned them to return home "another way," inasmuch as Herod was seeking to slay the newly born Christ Child. Angels appeared to strengthen Christ during the period of His temptation following His forty-day fast. Moreover, angels accompanied His entire public ministry of three years. They were present during His Divine Passion in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. Finally, the angels hailed His Resurrection, and accompanied Him into heaven at His Ascension.
The ministries of the Apostles, also, were marked by angelic appearances. This is especially apparent in the life of St. Paul. Whenever the Apostle to the Gentiles was at a seeming impasse, and knew not which way to turn, angels appeared to him to answer his prayers and guide him along the road of God's will. The Revelation of St. John bears testimony to the angels in almost every chapter.
The faith of the Holy Fathers in the existence of the angels is very strong. Our entire Orthodox hymnology and liturgical literature is living testimony to this fact. The rational mind of man also accepts the existence of angels. We behold in nature a mineral kingdom, a plant kingdom, and an animal kingdom to which man himself belongs. May we not suspect the existence of a still higher Kingdom that of the spiritual world? The relation between man and angels is not too distant. We read concerning man in today's Epistle lesson: "Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownest him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands" (Heb. 2:7). The angels too are creatures of the Divine and free creative love of God, who created them before the creation of the visible world. (Job 38:7 "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.")
The nature of angels is that of pure spirits, that of "immaterial and bodiless beings," as testified amply by the Scriptures, and the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod. But here the Fathers of the Church theologize, adding that the immateriality of the angels is not the same as that of God. They are not called "bodiless" to liken them to God (St. John Damascene), but because they neither multiply and increase, nor reduce and decrease. They come into being only by a specific Divine creative act. They are not omnipresent; that is a property of God alone. Therefore they must "travel" (if we may use that word in connection with angelic movements) from one place to another. Their mission is to serve and contribute toward the salvation of men. This is the teaching of Scripture.
In the Scriptures three archangels are named: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Each man, particularly every pious person, has his own "Guardian Angel." In the liturgical services of the Church we entreat "an Angel of peace, a faithful Guide, a Guardian of our souls and bodies." Some Fathers, among them Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Origen, believe that nations and sovereign states also have their own patron angels.
Finally, the ranks of angels are divided into three hierarchies, each containing three choirs. They are as follows: (1) Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones; (2) Principalities, Powers, Authorities; and (3) Dominions, Archangels, and Angels.
Supreme Leaders of the Heavenly Hosts,
We implore you that by your prayers
You will encircle us, unworthy as we are
With the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory,
And guard us who fall down before you and fervently cry:
Deliver us from dangers,
For you are the commanders of the Powers above.
Troparion of the Angels