Sermons from the

Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church web site in Dallas, Texas.

Rector: Fr. Seraphim Holland, http://www.orthodox.net/

 

Contents:

1. Sundays before Lent.

The Sunday of Zacchaeus. The Sunday of Zacchaeus. The Publican and the Pharisee. The Prodigal Son. Sunday of Forgiveness

2. Lent.

1st Sunday of Great Lent. 2nd Sunday of Great Lent. 3rd Sunday Of Great Lent. 3rd Sunday of Great Lent. 4th Sunday of Great Lent. 5th Sunday of Great Lent.

Holy Saturday.

3. Easter.

Paschal Epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly, 1997. Pascha 1999. The way to Emmaus. 2nd Sunday of Pascha. 3rd Sunday of Pascha. 4th Sunday of Pascha. 5th Sunday of Pascha. Pentecost. Pentecost.

Pentecost.

4. Sundays after Pentecost.

1st Sunday after Pentecost, of All Saints. 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. 5th Sunday after Pentecost. 10th Sunday after Pentecost. 12th Sunday after Pentecost. 13th Sunday after Pentecost. 14th Sunday after Pentecost. 16th Sunday after Pentecost. 17th Sunday after Pentecost. 18th Sunday after Pentecost. 19th Sunday after Pentecost. 20th Sunday after Pentecost. 21st Sunday after Pentecost 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. 24th Sunday after Pentecost 25th Sunday after Pentecost. 26th Sunday after Pentecost. 27th Sunday after Pentecost. 28 th Sunday after Pentecost. 28th Sunday after Pentecost. 35th Sunday after Pentecost.

5. Fixed Feasts.

Annunciation. Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God. Holy Theophany.

6. Different.

About Prayer. Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism. Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism. Orthodox Christian marriage.

 

 

1. Sundays before Lent.

The Sunday of Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:1-10

Brothers and sisters, today is Zacchaeus Sunday; it one of the five Sundays that precedes Great Lent and helps us prepare for the Great Fast.

Zacchaeus was a publican and very rich. This meant that he was very corrupt because the way publicans became rich was by extorting more money than the Romans actually taxed. They were Jews, but they extorted their own people for their own personal gain.

Zacchaeus had heard about Christ; everybody had heard about Christ. He was the "happening" thing at that time and He was an event wherever He went. People came out of curiosity, as well because they believed or wanted to be healed.

As Christ is coming into town, passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus hears about His arrival. And something in Zacchaeus' soul, although he probably didn’t even understand it at that time, desired to see Christ. Perhaps he had some hope he could change and amend his life, even though he had been so far away from God for so long because he had been so corrupt; hurt so many; lied, stolen. Probably he contributed to people’s death by extorting money from poor widows and such. But he wanted to see Christ, but he was small, short, and the crowd was large and he wouldn’t be able to see Christ. So, being a cleaver man, he ran ahead and climbed into a tree so he could see Christ.

Now what do we understand from this? The Scripture is a historical record, but it is also a mystical teaching. This historical event teaches spiritual truths, and teaches us how to live. Now, I have also told you that you should read the Scriptures to see how they apply to you, both the good and the bad. When you see a sinner in the Scriptures, beg the Lord to forgive you of your sins. When you see someone righteous, confessing in the Scriptures, beg the Lord that you would have the strength to do the same. When you see Zacchaeus, beg the Lord that you would be freed of any avarice, any grabbing on to money, any greed, any dishonesty, any lack of compassion … all these things that Zacchaeus had in abundance, like shall we say, a legion of sins 2.

Also, when you see Zacchaeus, notice how he climbed up into a tree. Even though he was hindered from seeing Christ, he didn’t give up. The press is the crowd of people who were keeping him from seeing because he was short. I ask you look at the spiritual meaning of what the press is — it is our sins, our passions, our worldly concerns, our false priorities. And also the press is our shame. It is important to understand this. Many of us understand about our sins and desire not to sin anymore, but this press of shame often keeps us from seeing God because what God wants you to do when you sin is to run to Him, and the "press" is a formidable obstacle between us and the arms of our Father.

Our Lord uses the image of a child to teach us what our disposition should be after we sin. A child who has been in a normal family with parents that love him when he sins and his parents scold him or spank him, what does he do? He cries big tears and then he hugs his parent and says, "I’m sorry" immediately. This is how we should be when we sin so we can see Christ again because sin makes our eyes grow dim. We are not able to see Christ when we sin.

We should be like Zacchaeus; when we sin we should push pass the press. And the press indeed is often our own shame; our own incredulity about our sins. Why are you surprised when you sin? I have said this to some of you in confession, probably almost everybody. Why be surprised when you sin? Why be offended when you sin? Your sinning shouldn’t offend you. Your sinning offends God. When you sin, push past that pride that the devil puts in your way and struggle to repent of that sin so that you will restore full communion with God in your soul.

Brothers and sisters, the press is just not entanglements in the world. We create our own press. The press could be depression; this press could be despondency; this press could be our shame. Or it could be other sins: laziness, wrong priorities, anything that keeps us from Christ …all these things are the press.

You must find a way around the press. If you do not have the strength to push past it, then find a way to be over it like Zacchaeus was. And how did he find his way to be able to see Christ? By rising up, by going into the tree. Always, the only way that we can accomplish anything is by having our eyes on Christ, by thinking of things above and not earthly. So if there is something that you cannot conquer, something that grieves you, something that saddens you, then you must climb the tree, you must make the effort to pray and as part of your praying to be struggling to follow the Commandments.

Now Zacchaeus didn’t know these things. All he wanted to do was see Christ. Now Christ saw that there was a good heart buried under all that corruption in Zacchaeus. So when He passed by him, He said, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thine house."

Now this occurs with us, too, brothers and sisters. When our Lord sees that we have pushed past the press, even if it is only a small amount, even if we are still in the middle of the crowd, but struggling to get out, even if we haven’t made it to the tree, much less been able to climb it with exalted thoughts and prayer, the Lord sees this and says, "Make haste, make haste. I will abide with you." Make haste means: "consider My living inside you, My Grace that I give you to be the most critical and important thing in your entire life. Run to it! Order your life according to it!" Make haste today. Today salvation comes to our house, and every day because the Kingdom of God is within us.

God is very close, very near brothers and sisters. And He is constantly telling us, "Make haste! Come down! Be with Me. Learn of Me. I am meek and lowly. My yoke is easy. Learn of Me. I am sweet; a sweetness that you cannot experience in anything else. I am joy, a joy which you cannot obtain from anything earthly. I am incorruptible and I will make you who are corrupted perfect." The Lord says this often, brothers and sisters.

Do you hear Him say, "Make haste"? Do you hear Him say, "Today I will abide in your house," that is, your soul? Do you hear this? A Christian should hear this. Everyday you should be trying to prepare your house; make it a little bit cleaner. A little bit more straightened up, so that the Lord would abide in it as an honored guest.

Now Zacchaeus had not repented of any of his sins before the Lord said, "Come down.," but the Lord knew he would. The Lord accepts us because of our potential brothers and sisters. We can become perfected; He knows how to accomplish it. The only thing He asks of us is that we make haste; the only thing He asks of us is that we make an effort. That we struggle, that we try, that when obstacles are in our lives, we find ways around them by His grace and with His help and with our effort.

They go and have dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus is full of joy because here was a Rabbi, a great teacher, who accepted him. No one else accepted him because he had defrauded so many people. And he felt joy. There must have been such a feeling in his heart at the time of joy and expectation and that maybe he could change now. Maybe he could put off this burden that had been dragging his conscience down for so many years.

But there are people in the crowd, at the dinner, that are saying that he is a sinner and they are murmuring about it. The Lord hears this and so does Zacchaeus. So he pledges to the Lord, "Behold, the half of my goods I give to poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold." If you work out the math, basically Zacchaeus has just impoverished himself. A person who has been accustomed to silk pillows and the finest of foods and an abundance of wine and probably to wealthy courtesans to give him his every whim and wish, suddenly is going to make himself poor for the sake of Christ. This is repentance, brothers and sisters, this is contrition.

The Lord requires this of us; requires that we give up what we were so that we can become what we should be. Jesus waits for Zacchaeus to say this (of course He knew he was going to say it), and when He hears it says, "This day is salvation come to this house." Now what is salvation, brothers and sisters? In the West, salvation is thought of in such a miniscule fashion. There is such poverty in the minds of people when they consider what salvation is! Most people think that salvation is that when you die, you go to heaven. Salvation is, "Well, you have sins and Jesus Christ pays the penalty of you sins and you go to heaven."

May it never be that we have such a small view! Salvation is restoration, brothers and sisters. Salvation is completion. Salvation is being made perfect. Salvation is being able to cast off everything that hurts, everything that is heavy, and to be able to see Christ as He is, to be able to know the true nature of things. Salvation is when a soul changes. And Zacchaeus was changing.

Brothers and sisters, do you hear the Lord telling you to make haste? Do you hear the Lord saying salvation has come to your house? Do you hear the Lord telling you about His sweetness? About his perfection? About His love for you? Do you hear these things? Perhaps you don’t hear these things. You should hear them everyday. If you don’t hear, this is because you have sins that are holding you down.

Push past the press, brothers and sisters. The whole world is going to go away. It is going to be recreated. Everything will be made new. Will you be new? If you have not become new, if you have not changed, then you will be like that old piece of cloth…it can’t be put on a new wineskin 3. Brothers and sisters, be like Zacchaeus. Press past the crowd; find a way to see Christ. And when Christ speaks to you, make haste and come down and do everything in your power so that He may abide in your house and never leave. May God help you in all things. Amen.

1 This homily was preached at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas, on Zacchaeus Sunday, 2002

2 Cf. Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30

3 [Mat 9:17] Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

 

The Sunday of Zacchaeus.

Today is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, one of the five Sundays that immediately precede Great Lent. This is the first Sunday that we begin to speak of things specifically to prepare ourselves for the Great fast. Why would the Holy Spirit select this reading to prepare us for the Great Fast? Well, it is the story of a man who repents. It is a story of how a soul converts. It shows how a soul changes. Isn't that the purpose of our life? It is to change, to become like Christ, to become pure. Great Lent is the time of the year when we must focus more diligently on repentance.

Zacchaeus changed, through the agency of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and also though an application of his will. He is a case study in how to live the Christian life, how to DECIDE to change, how to STRUGGLE to change, and how, after ACCEPTING God's mercy, to RESOLVE to continue to amend and become better. All these elements are in this story.

Zacchaeus was a publican (the Apostle says that he was the chief among them), and he was rich. This definitely indicates that he was a very evil man in the beginning of his life. He also defrauded many men. Publicans were not just those who collected taxes. They were invariably corrupt, and often swindlers, and murderers and thieves. They would rob widows so they could have ivory in their palaces. Zacchaeus was the worst of the lot, he was "top dog," but his conscience bothered him. Even in the midst if his flagrant conduct, there was a small seed in him, waiting to grow. It troubled him, and told him that "what I am doing is wrong, what I am doing is not fulfilling. What I am doing is evil and wretched and corrupt." These pangs went on for a good many years, since it takes a long time to become the CHIEF publican. During that period of time, he was developing a conscience. Zacchaeus was a Jew, although a terrible one. Certainly, he knew about the Jewish law, and about the Messiah. He heard the things about Jesus. Indeed, as the chief publican, he was probably given the most important seat in gatherings, by the chief hypocrites, the Pharisees, and Sadducees. He probably heard about Christ often. When he heard of him, he somehow understood that there was something magnificent about Him, and in the midst of his personal depravity, he wanted to find out. His curiosity about holy things will lead to his redemption, just as it did for St. Mary of Egypt. 2

It says that He wanted to see Jesus, Who He was, but he could not, "for the press." 3 Do you remember, wasn't it last week, when we talked about the press?

4 The blind man wished healing from Christ, and had to shout to make himself heard over the cacophony of the press. He was told over and over "Be quiet, be quiet, don't bother Him." What is the press? It is our passions, our sins, doubts, despondency, and our laziness. Sometimes it is others who tell us that we are crazy, or that's not my way of life, why are you being so fanatical? Both inside and outside the church we get this sort of warfare and temptations. This is the press.

Zacchaeus could not, for the press, because he was little of stature. He was small, and weak. He was unable to see God without some help. He ran before Christ, knowing the way of Christ, where He was going to go. If he had climbed in a tree in the suburbs somewhere, he would not have seen Christ, because the God-man was making his way through the middle of the city of Jericho. He had to be where Christ was going to be. We spoke about that last week, and the same meaning is here this week. You must be in the way of Christ, so Christ can come to you, and say come down, as He said the Zacchaeus.

It is interesting to see what "sycamore tree" means. It means a "wild and unruly fig tree." It has a fruit that is kind of silly looking, and entirely useless. It does not bear fruit. It bears garbage. So he climbs up in a wild and unruly tree. We should think of our human nature when we contemplate this tree. Our nature is wild and unruly, but somehow, with God's help we can tame this unruly nature, and we are able to elevate our thoughts to heavenly and important things. This is what Zacchaeus did. He climbed up in a tree, elevating his thoughts to the God-man. He took his nature and used it for godly purposes, instead of dissipation. We must take the nature that God gave us and use it for godly purposes, instead of drunkenness or debauchery, or fantasy about what we wish our lives would be, or pride, or despondency or all those other things with which we indulge ourselves. Instead, we must contemplate God, and good works and the fulfilling of the commandments.

Let us too climb up a sycamore tree and elevate our thoughts. Let us also, whilst elevating our thoughts, fix our concentration carefully. While Zacchaeus was up in the tree, he certainly was not examining the bark or the leaves. He was looking intently, shading his eyes, and watching to see when and where the God-man would appear. He was also being ridiculed. You can imagine that such a man who was chief among the publicans certainly ate fine food, and was a bit portly. A little fat man in a tree would be a very funny thing to see. We as Christians also feel exposed in our unruly fig tree. The world tells us that what we are doing is foolish. Even other Orthodox jeer at us and tell us what we are doing is foolish. Even we torment ourselves by asking: "what is the point, what is the use?" We war against ourselves, others war against us, the demons war against us, and sometimes we wonder who IS on our side, when we forget that the whole host of heaven with the God-man Jesus Christ is with us. Be like Zacchaeus. We are like him in sin, so we should be like him in virtue. We should climb up into the tree, and fix our thoughts on Christ, and not be unduly concerned about the other things that are going on in our life.

Zacchaeus was a great sinner. Why would he have any reason to think that the God-man would want anything to do with such a terrible sinner? In the same way, why should we have any reason to think that the God-man would want anything to do with us? We promise we will not commit a sin, and we do it the next day. We promise to try, and yet we make very little effort. Why? Because the God-man has said that he wants to save us. Because "He who began a good work in you will complete it" 5, so says the apostle.

The questions that I just posed are the ones the demons entice us to ask. Zacchaeus was a man of great soul, because even though he was depraved, he had the courage to do something about his depravity, even to the point of exposing himself, and hoping that the God-man would heal him. We must do this.

We have an advantage that Zacchaeus lacked. He did not know for sure what the outcome of his seeking Christ would be. We do. The church tells us all the time. God will receive our repentance if we try to make an effort. So any of this that goes on in our head, things like "I am not doing enough, it is not worth it even to try. I broke the fast today, so the rest of the day is shot," those kinds of thoughts are strictly the evil one trying to further sully you and bring you down, down, down. We must be like Zacchaeus. He knew he was a great sinner, and yet he still climbed the tree.

I told you before, and I will say it again and again, salvation is won by LIVING in Christ! We must act according to what we know. We already know that we are great sinners, but we also know that God is great, and wishes to save us and has made us able to be saved, via the incarnation and the life we are told to live in the church. We must climb into the tree, and hope in His mercy, and He will give us mercy.

Now Christ comes up to the tree, and sees this small fat man gazing down at him, and says something remarkable. "Zacchaeus, come down, because I am going to dwell in your house today." 6 Christ saw Zacchaeus' intent, and recognized him. This moment happens to us as well. Sometimes we recognize it, other times we don't know.

I was told this many times, and I have already lost track of how many times I have said it myself — the Christian life is a long process. There are many days that we feel we make no progress whatsoever, but our perseverance will win us the prize. That is the truth. It is a truth that is obscured by the world, but it is the truth. Zacchaeus had his time when the Lord told him to come down. He assured Zacchaeus that He had received his repentance, and would make him a new man. We have our times as well. There are thousands of these times in a man's life, when God enlightens him, and vivifies him, and helps him in some way. We must increase our vision because this happens all the time, and we do not notice.

Zacchaeus is joyful, and brings the Lord to his house to have a great feast. Now, there are some people, there is the press still, that is murmuring. What is the world is Jesus doing with such a sinner? Well, you cannot see inside a man, which is reserved for God alone. God saw the repentance of this man, who was still a short fat man with much riches, at that moment. Be careful. We have all judged someone too many times.

We have seen that Zacchaeus was a great sinner, who developed a conscience. Because of his conscience, he was motivated to try, and to seek out Christ. Now let us see that after repentance and the acceptance of God's mercy comes something else. We must have firm resolve to do better. Zacchaeus heard all this murmuring about him, and he was hurt by it. He wanted to show the Lord that he really did want to change, so he told Him, and the people that were around that if he had taken anything from a man by false accusation, he would restore him fourfold, and half of his goods he would give to the poor. 7 Since he got most of what he had through deceit, he just made himself pauper, and his mathematics was not too good. But his soul was burning with zeal, and God received his repentance, and Zacchaeus went on to live a fervent Christian life. Notice also how Christ waited until Zacchaeus expressed firm resolve to live a moral life before He declared that salvation was come to his house. 8

Can you discern three aspects of repentance now? One is that a man develops a conscience, and then he strives to find Christ, in the midst of the "press." And another is that he must accept that God will receive him. Zacchaeus came out of the tree, and was joyful. A sinner came down, and felt the love of God, and accepted that God could save him. And then, when troubles occur, we must have the resolve to continue to live the Christian life. Zacchaeus does us the great favor of showing us repentance in microcosm. Let us all learn something from him

I have heard so many say to me " I don't see any change in my life, and I don't feel anything." The way we find change in our life, and the way we see and feel God is by struggle, and by time. There is no other solution. The church knows nothing else, but toil, ands prayer, and hope. We must fix ourselves in the way of Christ, and elevate our thoughts, God will come up to our unruly tree, and will touch us, continually, over and over. Eventually, His touch will be so real to us that everything else will be as a phantom. God help you to struggle, and persevere, in the midst of all your trials and difficulties, so that when God calls to you, you will hear, and come down from your unruly way of life, and He will abide in you.

 

 

The Publican and the Pharisee.

It is a formal beginning to our preparation for the Holy Fast, and is the first day we read anything from the Triodion this year. We are now in a period of time to prepare ourselves — 4 more weeks. Next week follows the Prodigal Son, then the Sunday of the Last Judgment, then the last Sunday before the Holy Fast begins — the Sunday of Forgiveness. There is not much more time, and this time is given for us to reflect upon what it is that we need to do to improve ourselves.

The church gives us some help here. The Sunday before this day is always the Sunday of Zacchaeus, who was a publican. Today, we read about another publican, just a nameless person in a parable. This event never actually occurred; it is a parable our Lord used to teach us. However, it has extra meaning when we think of it in light of the story of Zacchaeus, and in our mind's eye, equate the publican in this parable with Zacchaeus.

In this parable we see two kinds of humility — or rather, humility and its evil opposite, pride — and two kinds of knowledge. We see the pride of the Pharisee, and the church in its hymnology points out the differences between his pride and the humility of the publican. In order to fully understand the lesson we must see that the Pharisee was not completely wrong and the publican was not completely virtuous, and yet, one of them was justified and the other was not.

The Pharisee was not condemned for keeping the fasts. He was not condemned for doing righteous good works. The publican was not praised for the life of sin that he had led. Rather, the Pharisee was condemned for judging another man, for using a measure in measuring that he was not capable of truly fulfilling himself. He was condemned because he was either unaware or did not care about the hidden sins that he had in his life, and how he truly was impure before God. He should have been in his demeanor just as the publican.

And the publican — why was he justified? He was justified because of his humility, but there is a very interesting aspect to his humility that we must know. He certainly did not judge another man, but he was well aware of his sin. There is something I see over and over again in our society and even in those who are Orthodox in our world as well, since we breathe poisoned air and hear poisoned ideas and we have some of that poison accumulate in us. I see this problem constantly. That is, that people, because of their sins, even though they know that they are wrong, and they want to do better, and have an inner conviction that something is wrong and unholy — instead of struggling against them, because they fail so often — they find a way to avoid being continually pricked by their conscience and being made aware of their sin.

This happens among profligate people. Why do you thing that people drink, or find themselves lost in promiscuity or other debauchery? This is to lose themselves from the reality of who they are and how far they are away from virtue. Everyone knows internally what virtue is — it is built into our hearts; it is built into our character. The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans, and it is very evident that all men know what is right. But when he falls so far short of virtue he is afraid to really tackle the problem, as it is a very difficult one. So, in extreme cases, he falls away through debauchery, disbelief, falling into extremely wrong doctrines and ideologies and ways of life. And if we get into this state (and it is easy to fall into it: beware!) we deny and deny and deny the reality of who we are, and Who God is. Because generally someone must be blamed, and you can bet that we do not like to blame ourselves very often.

Another thing that people do when they are aware of their sins and wish to do better and continually fail — they fall into despondency. This is not so much where they blame someone else, or fall into impure activities without any heedfulness at all, but their despondency eats them alive. Truly, despondency kills more than any other sin. 

Let us imagine now that the publican of today's parable IS Zacchaeus. One of the fathers I read quite often, the Blessed Archbishop Andrei, draws this parallel and it is a striking one. Imagine the life of Zacchaeus before he was enlightened by Christ. He was the chief among the publicans. He was the biggest sinner. This meant that he had been guilty of murder and of defrauding widows and orphans. How so murder? He may not have killed a man with his own hands, but he caused people to starve, widows and orphans with no money, who had no means to live, and they starved or became sick and died. Their murder was on his head. And of course, he was a thief, and a man in his situation, with so much abundance, would fall into every kind of sin. Certainly he had his pick of any wealthy courtesan he wanted, who feigned affection towards him because of his money, and he certainly ate the finest of foods, and drank great quantities of the finest of wines. There was much that he did that was wicked and abased. We can probably truly say, without being guilty of a sin, that we are not as bad as that!

What happened to this bad man? He was enlightened by God in a way that was wondrous and miraculous and totally outside of what he expected. Therefore, he in his zeal said, "I will restore fourfold to anyone I have defrauded, and I will give half of my goods to the poor," and he had great warmth in his heart when he was in the presence of Christ, and he wanted to do better.

And then came tomorrow, the next day. He fell back into his bad habits. He still had avarice, and he still had lust, and he still had a desire for wine. He still had a weakness for all the things that he wished to get away from, so certainly he would have fallen, again and again and again. Look at the life of St Mary of Egypt. Can any one of us say we were as bad as she was? I don't think so. Look what happened to her. When she realized how evil she had been and she desired to change, she went into the desert and for 18 years (if you read her story, you can see this) — EIGHTEEN YEARS! — she spent these years struggling with lustful imaginations and hearing songs that she used to hear when she was in drunken orgies, again and again in her head, and desiring to have flesh meats and wine which she used to drink in abundance. Eighteen years! So many of us, if we had to spend only a year struggling against lust and being unsuccessful — we would just throw in the towel, and go back across our Jordan, back to the former life we had been living, because we were not "cuttin" it. She spent 18 years doing this, till finally God removed from her this lust and this depravity which she had so carefully cultivated from the time she was a maiden. It took 18 years. Very few of us in this room have been Orthodox 18 years, much less struggled 18 years against our passions.

Why did she do such a thing, and why did the publican Zacchaeus (shall we say), struggle so, and go into the temple and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner?" Why didn't he just give up? That's the most likely thing to happen in this world: most people give up. The reason they give up is because they do not have salvific knowledge of Who God is and what He has done, and what He will do. I said this so many times — our life is spent in learning TWO pieces of knowledge that are critical to our salvation. And they must be done in parallel and a little bit at a time. Too much of one or two much of the other will cause our death. The pieces of knowledge are of ourselves and of God. As a man grows in knowledge of God he learns how great God is and he develops confidence, and he develops this overwhelming desire to become holy. As he grows in knowledge of himself he sees those areas in his life that are not in keeping with Who God is, and he desires to change them.

But if a man learns of himself outside of learning about God, you can see in our society what happens. You can see the depravity of people. You can see their angst and anguish over their life's situation for it is outside of God. Many very poetic things are said by people in music or literature that are TRUE, but they do not give the solution; they only know (and this just partially) the problem! If they do not know the solution, they cannot gain salvation. And the solution is the God-man Jesus Christ, Who has enlightened us and come to all of us, unworthy ones. He came not to the worthy, but the unworthy. Not to the pure, but to the impure! And as we grow in knowledge of that, then we will become pure.

The problem with sin in Christians is not so much that they just want to do it and don't care. The problem is that they don't understand really truly Who God is. The knowledge of God cannot be learned from a book or listening to preaching or teaching — it is learned from within. All these things help — the services of the church, preaching in the context of the services, keeping the fasts. They are all essential, absolutely. I have said this before, and I suppose I should learn to stop saying it, since it scares some people, but I believe that if a man does not fast, and if he does not value the services, it is very unlikely that he will be saved. Not because of the sin of not fasting or of missing the services because of frivolous reasons or laziness, but because you won't know God if you eschew these things, because this is how God reveals Himself to us. And if you don't know Him, then when there is a sin that you have trouble with — it will devour you. You will have no chance against it whatsoever, because you will not know how to fight it. 

This publican UNDERSTOOD God. He also knew himself. This man was guilty of murder, of theft, of lying, of cheating, of every kind of debauchery and sin, but he wanted to change. So he went to the temple knowing that he was unworthy, but at the same time knowing Who God is, and since he knew who God is, there was hope in his breast, and he knew that God could change him. That is why he came into the temple and that is why he did not think about anything else except his own sin, and that is why he looked at the ground and did not care about the virtues or the vices of anyone else. He was too consumed with his own pressing problem. And he was justified, because of his faith. Because he had faith in God — in a true Being, not in some phantom or fantasy. Because he was living according to Who God is. Was he failing? Was he still falling into lust, and even debauchery? Most probably. Did he still have the lust of avarice in his heart? Oh yes! It takes a long time to divulge yourself of your passions. It is a hard lesson to learn. When I became Orthodox I thought some things I had difficulty with... well, I would not have trouble with them any more. And even now I struggle against them.

But I know that God can save and God will save. That was his purpose for becoming incarnate, to save sinners, like me, and like you. And the only way to know this in your heart is to live according to it. Christian knowledge is not static. It is not words on a page; it is life. Salvation is to be had in living, in living according to God is. 

This is what the publican did. He knew who God is, and he knew himself, and the thought of who he was sickened him and made him sad, but he still went to the temple even though he could not look up to heaven because he could not behold the brightness of God because of his impurity. Even though he was in fear and trembling, he had confidence in God's mercy, because of making even a small effort. That is where you gain knowledge of God, brothers and sisters. That is where you gain confidence that you can be saved. It is by making an effort. I did not say — being successful in your effort — because if that was the criteria, then we all indeed should fall into deep despondency because none of us would be saved.

It is not how good we are at change by which God judges, but is us how good we are at making an effort to repent. And it is a miraculous thing — we will change, but we not see ourselves change. Things happen so quickly. Consider our children. One moment they are just laying in the crib and making incomprehensible noises, and the next moment, they are young adults and saying things that touch our souls in ways that we never knew that they could be touched. It happens overnight. That is how it happens with our souls. We think we are muddy and filthy and unclean, and we struggle and we think that we are making no progress whatsoever, but unknown to us, although sometimes known to those who love us, we make changes, and we come closer and closer to God. And there will be a day when we have sweet release from those things that beset us.

If I did not believe that, then I would have no reason to live — none whatsoever. And that is why so many people blow their heads off — they have no reason — no hope at all. If all that life is, is this life, then it is a cruel joke, and a cruel comedy. But we know we are Christians. We know that God lives in us, and even if we sin, God will hear our repentance and receive us time and time again. And if you are not sure of that fact than you have not learned enough of Who God is. And you had best study this very important subject — it is called Theology — to study God, to learn of God, the science of sciences. And the laboratory in which you learn is your own life! Live life in Christ. That is what this publican was doing. The Pharisee, although he had great knowledge, (but knowledge without humility just puffeth up), he did not have the feelings that we should often have, of feeling incredibly unworthy. He lived in an externally righteous way and thought himself righteous, but he was even more depraved than a man who visits a brothel every night, because he had not real fear of God in his eyes.

Do you see the contrast? Do you see what made the Pharisee fall away and what made the publican cleave to Christ? And why are we considering them now? Why is this reading today? Well, we are going to be speaking of the last judgment soon, and we will also consider another repentance — that of the prodigal son. These are hard subjects. The church is trying to prepare us so we can look inside ourselves and learn of ourselves and learn of God during the great fast, by struggling as much as we are able, and even BEYOND what we are able. In fact, the Christian life is continually living beyond what we are capable of. God said unto us, "be ye perfect for I am perfect." And through the Apostle He says, "pray without ceasing," and He says, "turn the other cheek" when someone smites us, and, "if our enemy has us go with him one mile, to go with him two." He tells us impossible things — things that cannot be accomplished and yet they WILL be accomplished because He lives in us.

If you have any doubts whatsoever those doubts are because you are not living with enough effort, and if you make the effort — I tell you — that you will become absolutely sure that God lives in you and He will save even you, a sinner. You know your sins better than anyone else does, and if you have sensitivity, they hurt. They make us very sad, but despondency does not belong in a Christian's character. And if is in your life, this just means that you have not learned enough of God. So you must study Him more. Study Him in keeping the fasts. Study Him in the services. Study him in pulling your mind back to prayer after it has wandered away into the ravine and onto the mountainsides. If you have one minute of prayer in a three-hour vigil service, then you have accomplished something great that day. It's true.

God help us to be like this publican in his virtue. Yea, I say his virtue. It is a great virtue when a man knows himself and when he knows God. I tell you, when those two pieces of knowledge are in a man, he WILL be saved. Amen.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This Sunday is part of a five Sunday sequence that precedes Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

 

The Prodigal Son.

Luke 15:11-32

The Church gives us another example today, about repentance. It tells us another part of the story. This is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and is yet another Sunday that prepares us for the Great Fast. We are coming quickly upon it. Next week will be the Sunday of the Last Judgment, after which we stop eating meat, and after that is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and we then begin the fast, the following day.

The church has had something very important to say about repentance the past few Sundays, if you have been listening carefully. Actually, there have been three aspects of repentance that have been shown to us. One aspect is humility. We saw the publican 2 whom, in our mind's eye, we may consider to be Zacchaeus 3, and we saw how his humility saved him. But this was humility with knowledge, because with humility comes knowledge of God. Although he was humble and would not look up to heaven, he was still bold in his prayer to ask God for mercy, because he knew God would give him mercy.

The Sunday before, we saw Zacchaeus. We saw that he was a very bad man, but he changed. Repentance involves changing the way you live, the way you think. It also involves, truly, making restitution. It is not that restitution will save us. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation. Restitution is something that should come from deep within us. We should desire to make ourselves better in those things in which we have been lax. Whether our sin be depriving a man of his goods, as Zacchaeus did, or unclean thoughts, or any other sin, whether our sin be an internal sin, or an external one, or whether it has affected other people or affected no one except ourselves, we must desire and struggle to be better.

Now we see another aspect of repentance that is so important today, especially in light of what we are going to read and contemplate next week. That is, God receives a man's repentance. This may seem to bean obvious statement, hardly worth making, but in actuality, many people do not really believe God will receive their repentance, or that they can truly change. We can see how marvelous God's mercy is in this parable we have before us.

The father who has the two sons is God the Father. The younger of the two sons is humanity. The younger son is you and me. We should see ourselves in this younger son. What did he do? The father was getting old, and the son did not want to wait for him to die. He wanted his inheritance NOW. So he said, "Give me my inheritance now." His father, who loved him, must have grieved over such a request, because he knew it would most probably be harmful to his son, and also he wished to have his son with him, but he gave in to him because of love. God does the same thing with you and me. He gives us things that are good and precious, and we misuse and abuse them, but He gives them nonetheless. He causes the rains to fall on the evil and the good, and He even does much good to the evil, hoping that they will turn and repent. That's what he did with the younger son, knowing what the son was going to do.

The son goes into a FAR country. There is sometimes much meaning in a single word. He went into a FAR country. It was far away, a land full of debauchery and uncleanness, FAR away from God, FAR away from salvation. And, indeed, if the man had died in such a state, he would have perished. He would have died far from God. But when he was in this far country, did he give any thought to God? No. He wasted his living with harlots, as his older son is so careful to point out later, and in debauchery and uncleanness of every kind. He had not thought whatsoever for his father, and how he had caused his father pain. He had no understanding how faraway he was from salvation. And that is how we are, too. Maybe not all of the time, but so much of the time what we do is so foolish, so stupid, and yet we do not see this or understand. We might live many, many years and not understand how evil the things we do are.

This son was the same way. He had no understanding of the evil he was doing and of the uncleanness and of how far away he was from God. And then the inevitable happened to him. He had wasted all of his living, and now began to be in want. He had no money, and was hungry and cold. He had to join himself to a citizen of the country who really did not care about him at all, and he was told to feed pigs. And this unclean food, which the pigs were eating, looked appetizing, because he was so hungry.

He began to be in want — what does this really mean? It describes much more that the younger son's penury. Humanity is in want. Remember that this younger son represents humanity — he represents you and me. Both the good and the evil that are in humanity are represented in this man. The debauchery, and also, the dignity of soul, later, when he repents. When the son begins to be in want, he recognizes what his needs are. The unclean food, given him by the devil (for that is who the citizen of that far country is), cannot satisfy him, even though he is hungry for it. He looks back in his mind's eye and he says: "I once lived with my father who loved me, and I had food and clothing and friends. And I was in an atmosphere of love and acceptance and affection. How could I have been so foolish to have left that all behind?" And he grieves and weeps bitterly over his misfortune. But notice that he did not blame anyone for his situation. He did not blame his father for allowing him the inheritance, which, by the way, is something that a lot of people do with God. They blame Him for their sins. They do not understand how much God loves them and gives them all good things for their salvation. Instead, they blame Him if there is something wrong. "Why hasn't God taken this sin away from me? I have been struggling with it for two months, two years. Why is this happening to me? Why don't these people like me? Why do I have troubles here, troubles there?" Always blaming God.

By the way, as an aside (I am famous for these, unfortunately!),every single evening at Vespers, we pray that we not make "excuse with excuses in sins" 4. This shows how prevalent this sin is, and how important the church thinks it is to fight it. But this son did not make excuses. He recognized his want, and what was wrong with him.

Then he "came to himself." This is a very hard thing to understand. A man cannot be saved unless he comes to himself. What does this mean? Well, I have spoken of it many times. In saving our souls, what two things must we know? One is to know God, and other is to know ourselves. The two are learned in parallel. If you learn only of God, you will be filled with pride, and your soul will be paralyzed. If you know only about your sins and your unworthiness and know little about God, you will be filled with despondency and fear, or escapism, and your soul will also be paralyzed, unable to do good. This is the more common sin for Christians, I think. Despondency is very common and happens in each one of us to a greater or lesser degree. And if it happens in too great a degree, I tell you, you won't be saved, because you won't be able to do the things you need to do to learn of God. But if you learn of yourself and God at the same time, God will reveal Himself and self-knowledge also, within you. Then you will believe in the depths of your soul that you are a great sinner, but you will nonetheless say to yourself with confidence, "God will receive my repentance!' and you will see the situation you are in, and you will want to be better, and you will know that you CAN become better!

I see this again and again, where people do not ACCEPT that they CAN change. Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, people don't want to change. They have an inkling, a desire, a little bit, to change. "I want to stop this sin. But I like this sin." And they don't have the gumption to make the effort. God even understands this! This is why we have a "baseline" of things we must do as Christians — keeping the fasts, saying our prayers, coming to church — because without those things we would truly fall faraway. But that is not enough, mind you, because a man must make an inner change. He must know of God and he must come to himself. And he must say exactly what the younger son said. He said, "I will arise and I will go to my father. I will make an effort. I will not only talk about my sins and lament about them and do nothing. I will arise and make a great effort."

And then the son realized how far away he was. He was in a far country. And he still had to travel a long way, even until his father would see him, from a long way off. So that was a great struggle. That is what we must do. We pile sin upon sin in our soul. Everything that we pile onto our soul we must painstakingly take off, one brick at a time. So the more we pile on ourselves, the more difficult it is, and the further away we are, and the further we must travel back. But this younger son was great of soul, because he struggled back.

What was his attitude? It was not absolutely correct, but his misunderstanding was corrected by his father later. He went and said, "I will go to my father and say I have sinned against heaven and earth, and I am not worthy to be called your son." So far, he is absolutely correct. But then he said, "Make me as one of thy hired servants," and God will not do that! That's not our God! He will make us friends! 5 This son, as he was walking back to his father, did not understand this. But we can understand, because we have the perspective of history and the Holy Scriptures to tell us: God will not make us as hired servants! Jesus Christ said He would make us friends. "I will call you friends, and there are many mansions in my father's house." 6 So we will not be hired servants. We will have everything that our Father has available for us!

And this is the meaning when the father saw his son and ran out to him. Can you imagine this meeting? The son is bedraggled and poor, starving, faint both of heart and of body, and the father comes to him and embraces him and kisses him. He puts the ring on his finger, a token of the father's love and his authority; He kills the fatted calf, and makes merry because his son has come home. The son was only expecting to stay in the shack with the hired hands, and maybe to have a little bit of meat once in a while and his father gave him back EVERYTHNG that he had lost, and more than he had lost. That is what our Father will do for us.

The Church tells us about it right now, because we are now about to enter into a period of time when we had better think about our sins quite a bit. Next week we will talk about the Last Judgement, and it is terrifying what will happen in the Last Judgment for those who do not repent. But, if you only read that, and do not understand from today that the Father will accept your repentance, then you have lost the most important part of the story. This part is that God will accept you, if you arise, and go. And I can speak honestly here, that the major problem is that most people don't want to "arise and go." And therefore when they don’t arise and go, they cook up in their minds all kinds of ideas, about why they cannot stop a certain sin, or do better. And yet, they are not doing the things that God has laid out for them to do to bring them back to Him. If this fits any one of you, then may it be that you would understand the things that you must do, and that you would have a firmer resolve to arise and go. A man cannot do something with full effort unless he believes it with full conviction. Our life is difficult. It is painful. And we have trouble fighting our sins, and some are so pleasurable that we have trouble wanting to fight them. The question is, "Why bother?" If we do not know what God will do for us, then we do not have the resolve to really, really attack our sins, and enter into the kingdom of heaven. So the Church tells us what God will do. He shows us, as a loving Father, He will take us in His arms, and will put the ring upon our finger, which is His authority, you know, and His dignity, and His image. The ring has an image on it, doesn’t it? That is the image of God, which is within man. And He will kill the fatted calf, and we will feast sumptuously for all eternity.

But we're not at that point yet because we're still wearing flesh, and we're still having difficulty with our sins. So, most of us are somewhere in that journey from the far country. And we must continue that journey. It is described with only a few words here in the Scriptures. He starts to journey, and then his Father comes upon him. Well... that’s not the way it really happened! He had to journey for quite some way before his Father saw him. He was quite a ways away, and he still had to travel a long way. Rectifying our life is like that. It takes a long time, and a lot of effort, but the Church tells us clearly what the effect of it will be, what the outcome will be. Keep this in your mind. It's very important to remember these kinds of readings in the Scriptures because when you start to think of your sins, they will overwhelm you if you don't realize the love of God. And next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, and all the Sundays of Great Lent and all of the services of Great Lent, are full of recounting and remembering our sins and our unrighteousness and our wickedness. It's good to know those things; it's good to remember those things, because it keeps us from pride. But if you only learn those things, and you don't know of God's mercy, then you will fall away. Vast amounts of people that call themselves Christian have fallen away already, because they cannot understand the greatness of God in parallel with their wickedness. They either cast one away, or the other. They dumb down God, or they have exalted pride in themselves — one or the other. And you can see that many modern day heresies are because of these two things.

So, arise! Today, decide to arise. And when you fall down tomorrow, get up out of the dust and continue to walk. And if you cannot walk, then crawl, but keep going towards God. And if you have fixed in your mind what God has promised, then God will help you. And you will have the strength. No matter how weak you feel, you will have the strength to be saved. Amen.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This Sunday is part of a five Sunday sequence that precedes Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Luke 18:10-14

3 Luke 19:1-10

4 This is sung at "Lord I have cried" in Vespers

5 John 15:14-15

6 John 14:2

 

 

Sunday of Forgiveness.

Matt 6:14-21, Rom 13:11-14

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is also the day we enter great Lent. After we pray the Vespers service of Forgiveness early this afternoon, we will then be in the Holy Fast. Why is it that we fast? We have a blueprint for our life in the Gospel today. It is interesting also, because today we are also commemorating the Finding of the Head of the Forerunner, and we have this gospel reading that has much richness in it. I want to quickly focus on one thing that it said: "... the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." 2

We are going to do violence now. We are setting out on a path of doing violence to the violent one. We are casting that which is corrupt within us, and the Church has given us a path to do so. Our Lord said, first of all, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. 3 First and foremost in the Christian life is to forgive. To forgive is to be like God — because God forgives all. God loves all, without any respect for persons. So when we forgive, we are participating in the energy of God. We are acting like God — and indeed — that is what we are to do. In the scripture it says, "Ye are gods" 4. We are to act like gods. We are to acquire virtue, compassion, holiness. Yea, even perfection, because the scriptures also say "Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect" 5.

So one must become like unto God, and the first step is to forgive.

And he says, But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." 6

This is actually a promise and a threat, but the promise is so much more powerful than the threat. Oh, yes, if you do not forgive, you won't be saved. If you hold grudges, even though someone has harmed you greatly in this life, you won't be saved, because, over and over, the Church says, the Holy Scripture says, the saints say, the Holy Spirit says: forgive, forgive, forgive.

And if you do forgive, what will happen? You will see Christ. You won't be corrupt anymore. You'll have peace, you'll have rest. The promise is greater than the threat. Absolutely.

And then He gives us some counsel about fasting. "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." 7 These are among the most terrible words in all of scripture: "They have their reward." This life, this life of corruption, and foul odors, and difficulties, and sadness and strife, and tempests — that is where they have their reward. These are terrible words. So if you want your reward now, God will give it to you. You can be as a hypocrite, you can make it appear that you are holy, and some people will say, "Isn't that remarkable what he is doing. I could not do that. He must be filled with the Holy Spirit." But if you have the reward only now, your life is a total waste.

Then He tells us, in a figure through the glass darkly, as it were, what our reward will be. He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." 8 Do you know what we have been promised? All the world tells us a story of death, dying, difficulties, passions and sadness — all the world. No matter how rich a man becomes, the world is a difficult place because within, there is a pitched battle. And a man with a conscience is not at peace with who he is. He wants to become better. The whole world is corrupt, all we ever see. But what does He say? "If you lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven, they do not corrupt. They will last forever." These are amazing thoughts here: Forever. No corruption. Full of satisfaction, peace, rest. I do not have a day that I am at rest. There is not a day that I do not endure sadness. There is not a day that I do not sin. But there will be a day, in the eighth day, if I struggle now, and also, if you struggle, that we will be in the presence of God. The mind cannot conceive and understand what this means, because all we see is corruption, and everything changes. It is so hard to stay good. Things change all the time, and so often, it seems, for the worse. But our Lord and Savior is telling us, If we lay up treasures for ourselves now, in heaven they will not corrupt. We won't corrupt!"

In the other reading, John, a great man, greatest born of woman, could not understand. It was so incomprehensible to him that the Messiah had actually come. He believed, but he was full of wonderment, so he sent his disciples to Christ, and our Lord said, "Look at the evidence. The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them." 9 That is the greatest miracle. It gives people hope. It makes people know what they are alive for. We know what our Lord can do.

The evidence is all there, even though the world constantly countermands and slanders that evidence, every single day of our life, but we know the truth! And this is why we are entering upon the Fast. Because we want to lay up treasures in heaven, and we want to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence. Violence against our passions, violence against that which saddens us — that part of us which is incomplete. We want to cast it out, so that we can be filled. That's why we fast. The reason one must forgive is because the task in our life is to become like God, to be filled with Him, and to become like Him morally — to share in the energies of God. His love for us will transfigure us and make us incorrupt. And a man cannot become incorrupt, he cannot become like God, if fundamentally he disavows himself from that most fundamental aspect of God: God is love. Love forgives. Love forgives seventy times seven times; love forgives infinite times. No matter how great the transgression, the forgiveness is greater.

This is why we begin Great Fast with Forgiveness ceremony. No, it is not just a ceremony. Every man who looks into his heart sees that he falls short with every breath he takes, and that he wrongs every man. If you see one of your brothers or sisters, and they have a difficulty, some conflict in their marriage, or with their children or with some substance or some other such thing — we all fall into difficulties — you should berate yourself and say, "Have I prayed for my brother? Have I done something to help my brother? Is it possible that he or she is in peril because of my incompetence?" That's why we ask forgiveness of one another, even if we have not exactly offended everyone specifically. But then again there might be grudges that need to be settled today, too, and we must do this if we wish to enter into the Fast.

The Apostle says, "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. " 10 This is the time. The church sets aside this time, this tithe, or tenth, of the year, so that we would be able to intensify and remember who we are, and who God is, and change. The first step is to forgive, and then we proceed with the Fast. And I tell you it will be difficult. I have been through seventeen of them, and all of them were difficult. We all have our different temptations. One is tempted to eat meat. Another is tempted to be angry. Another is tempted to fall into despondency. Another is tempted in another way. As many souls as there are, so many temptations are there. But we struggle together as a community praying for one another and fasting and believing that there is a reward and that it is permanent. Nothing in this life — nothing — is permanent, and we are living for permanence. And when I think of these thoughts, it makes it a bit easier to abstain from this food or that, or to make more prostrations, or to forgive my brother, even when he has harmed me, even when he has hurt me purposefully, because everything in this life is going away, except for how we have lived. The way we have lived, if it is holy, is going to endure

There is something else during this great fast all of you should do. It is very important for us to pray for one another, and also to pray for Paul, Susan and Seth. They are going to be made catechumens next week. We are going to have the service to make them catechumens, and the exorcism part of the service, just before Liturgy next Sunday. I would ask you and admonish you, as ones who love, because He loved us, that you will be here to support them in prayer, and not just on Sunday, but during the whole time of their catechuminate, that they would learn of sweetness, learn about faith, about the sweetness you can never have enough of. And yet indeed there will come a time when we will have enough. But not in this life. In the next life. We will be completely filled with Him if we live now according to Who He is. Amen.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of forgiveness, the last Sunday before Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Mat 11:12, partial

3 Mat 6:14

4 Psalm 82:6, Isaiah 41:23, John 10:34

5 (Mat 5:48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

6 Mat 6:15

7 Mat 6:16

8 Mat 6:19-21

9 (Mat 11:5) "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."

10 Romans 13:11

Romans 13:11-14

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (12) The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (13) Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (14) But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. (41:1) Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (2) For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. (3) Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. (4) Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Matthew 6:14-21

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: (15) But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (16) Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (17) But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; (18) That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (19) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

 

2. Lent.

 

1st Sunday of Great Lent.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy: A homily: Come and See!

Today, brothers and sisters, is the first Sunday of the Great Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The Church wants to tell us some things. Indeed we should come to Church always with the expectation that God will teach us something, whether it be something we learn with our mind and consciously understand, or something that penetrates the soul, and helps us in an unseen way. A most important statement for a Christian to understand, even after He has lived the Christian life for some quite some time in this particular gospel reading is, "Come and see." This is what the Church is telling us. Is not Great Lent always a period of time when, with all the fasting and the longer services and the time of the year being more intense, there more temptations? Don't we sometimes have doubts? Don’t we have difficulty? I don't know a person who does not have them, and as a priest I can say this with sincerity, because I know so many of you so well … we all have doubts, we all have difficulties, we all have temptations. The Lord says "Come and See."

The Church says "Come and see". What is She telling us to come and see? The question which preceded this instruction (and more than this — also a promise, a pledge, a rallying cry) by Nathaniel to Philip was, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Now this can be understood in a historical sense in that Nazareth was city of no account and unimportant; a backwater. Could anything good come out of Nazareth? But the spiritual meaning of the text, is that Nathaniel asks, "Can anything good come out of my Nazareth? Out of my Heart? Can I be changed? Can I be made whole?" This is the question that He asks for us, because we ask it of ourselves. Now I am talking only to Christians here, to those who have at least begun to believe, begun to lead the Christian life, or desire to follow the Christian life. Those who do not desire to follow it, to whom the Christian morality, the Christian Commandments, the Incarnation of Christ are unimportant things — I am not speaking to those people. Such a person must be converted first, have something of a small spark of repentance in their heart.

I am speaking to the Christian, the one who desires to know Christ, and has difficulties in life and doubts because of those difficulties. Now a perfect time to speak of it because it is after the first week of Lent, which is often, in my experience as a pastor, very difficult for people, and a time when many temptations occur. The devil knows that if we do not make a good beginning, we will not make a good end. This is true in anything we do. We must struggle to make a strong start so that when we lag at the end so that as St. John Chrysostom says, "you will have momentum built up to carry you through those difficult times." The Church is saying come and see. Come and see. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can I be changed? Can I really stop doing these things that I despise about myself? Can I really believe fully, in every way with every ounce of my being? Can I really become purified? Yes indeed, you can. And why can we, and how can we? The Church tells us this, too. By faith we can have good come out of Nazareth. Now this faith is explained to us. Examples have been given to us, very strident examples. Examples that make us feel enflamed with enthusiasm. We heard of the Saints of old (and this was even before the Promise, which we Christians enjoy!) stopping the mouth of lions, being sawn asunder, and wandering about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute and afflicted. These were great heroes the Apostle Paul talks about, who conquered by faith. The world did not think that they conquered. It thought they were defeated. But we understand what victory is. Victory is in the heart. Victory is when a man overcomes his own self with the help of God and becomes purified and becomes fire.

But also, besides those examples of ways of living and thinking, when St Paul speaks to us when He writes to the Hebrews, the Lord also is showing us something about faith in His Gospel that we must not forget. There is nothing accidental in this story of Nathaniel meeting Christ. First He was under the fig tree; Phillip comes to him and says to him that we have found the Messiah. Nathaniel says, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" How can this be? Remember the spiritual meaning … can anything good come out of me? Can I really be changed? Can I really appropriate Christ? I have so many weaknesses, every day I fall. I cannot seem to defeat this enemy. I seem to have circumstances that consistently cause me to fall. I continue to have difficulties, to have doubts, to be frightened. All these things are my Nazareth. So Nathaniel comes with Phillip because Phillip says, "Come and see." Then He meets the Lord. And the Lord says: "Whence thou knowest me?" Nathaniel says to the Lord. "Verily when thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee." There is deep meaning here in these words, brothers and sisters. The Lord knows us. He understands us. He knows our deepest inner desires, He knows our motivations, and He knows our weaknesses. He knows how to help us. He knows our desires before we know them. This is quite important for a Christian to remember. Moment by moment, truly we feel so often that we are alone. I only discovered after I was an adult that every teenager had the same doubts about themselves as I had. That I wasn’t good looking enough, my hair looked weird, being nervous with girls, all those things that every teenager goes through.

The reason I mention this is because as priest I know that all of us go through doubts, go through uneasiness in our faith, even if our uncertainty is only about ourselves. The hours and the evening prayer of St. John speak about it … deliver me from faintheartedness. We have great faintheartedness. All of us suffer from this malady, this affliction of not being able to believe fully in the Resurrection. And we somehow believe that we are alone in our struggle. I previously thought this until I became a priest and saw that I am not alone. We tend to believe that our weaknesses are not applicable to the promise in some way. We say: yes if we had enough faith, yes if we did better in this or that, we believe that God can change us... But we don’t believe that we will be changed, because we feel alone. I am convinced of this and that is why I speak on this kind of subject so often. I am convinced that our lack of faith is what holds us back from truly appropriating the love that God wants to shower upon us, wants us to feel — and actually He has already greatly blessed us — He wants us to feel it. He wants us to feel the warmth, to feel the embrace, but we are not capable until we are able to believe fully.

Now of course, if we are to believe, we must act. The Christian life is acting according to the Commandments as well as believing them and we must take them all seriously and lament if we do not follow them in their exactitude. We must also believe not such that we have to think it but so that it is part of our being. We must believe that Jesus Christ knows all of our circumstances, all of our struggles, all of our deepest desires, even those we can not express or are afraid to say out loud. He knows them all because He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree and He sees all of us. He sees our Nazareth. He knows how to defeat it. He knows that good will come out of it because He has placed his image in us and He desires to burnish that image, to polish it, to remove all the dross and mud from it so that it gleams and shines. And He will do this if only we allow Him to, if only we believe that He can do it. Not for someone else, such as, for instance, the Saints or even those Christians we know and admire, but for ourselves we must believe this. Certainly we believe in the Resurrection, we believe in miracles, we believe that all these things that the Saints have done are true and holy and righteous, but we can’t see ourselves doing them. If it’s for humility sake that we say that we are not worthy of such things, that is good. None are worthy, but all can be made capable. I am convinced that it is not humility that makes us believe that we cannot do righteous things; that we cannot change. It is weakness of faith. Brothers and sisters, the Lord says to us today, "Come and see."

This is why you should struggle through the Great Lent, even if you are wondering, "Why am I fasting?" The purpose of fasting is to open the heart to God so that God will enlighten us and help us with things. Perhaps your thoughts also say "I am in a worse mood now than I was before! I am snapping more at my children, or at my wife, or at my coworkers. I am having more difficulty with thoughts than I had before. Or I still have trouble with this sin or that sin. What use is it to deprive myself of eating? What use is it to struggle till the end? I’ll just be tired on Pascha and I won’t feel the Lord. Not as much as I want to." These are our doubts. Some of you express openly doubts about yourself. Others of you have not been able to express it openly, but I am convinced that we all have these kinds of doubts to a greater or lesser degree. That is why the Church is telling us today, as we have embarked now upon the first week of the Great Fast, "Come and see." Come and see that good things can come out of Nazareth. We can be completely changed. Everything that applies to the Saints applies to us, absolutely and positively. Jesus Christ came for us, for every man, He wants everyone to have fullness, completeness, regardless of how weak we are, regardless of what happens to us, He wants us to be completely changed. And we can be. Indeed, as Christians, we must believe this, if we are to truly call ourselves Christians, we must truly believe that we can be changed. Now the only way to be changed is through great effort. It takes great effort, make no mistake about it. The way to perdition is very wide, and very easy, and it is downhill. And the way to paradise is truly a narrow road and a difficult road. But it is not difficult because of our Lord; His burden is easy and His yoke is light. It’s difficult because of our own faithlessness and our weakness and because of our own predilection toward sin that beguiles us. And we play mind games with ourselves and find ourselves in snare after snare after snare. Truly you must struggle if you are to be a Christian.

Great Lent is a struggle; other fasting periods are a struggle. They are only an example of the Christian life. They are not in totality the struggle of the Christian life. If fasting is your greatest struggle, then indeed you have not struggled enough. Fasting should be an aide to you in the real struggle that God wants you to have. Perhaps for some that is a frightening thought, because fasting is so difficult. Even attending church services may be difficult. But indeed God wants to bring you beyond this struggle of fasting and services and prayer, and fill you with himself completely. He wants to make you all fire. And it will indeed happen, regardless of what kind of man or woman you are, if you have faith that you can be changed. And if you must struggle with that faith, and not give up even though you fall, and continue to struggle to live righteously, even if, for the moment, you are not righteous. In our age what has happened is that sins have been re-codified, they have been renamed, reassigned. Things we understand to be sin, the world calls virtue, and these are. Many things, not just sexual sins that are obviously happening in the world today and being called virtuous, but all manner of other things. Why does the world, and even us, since the Psalmist has us beseeching the Lord each Vespers that we not "make excuse with excuses in sins," speak about sin so? Because people struggle against these sins and they can’t make it, they can’t hack it. Instead of accepting this reality that they are weak and they need a Savior and they can be changed if only they believe the words "Come and see," and acknowledging (and more than this: embracing !) the struggle that comes with it, the sweat and the tears and the blood that comes with it, they redefine what a sin is. We see these examples in secular life, but also we have these examples in our own life when we excuse ourselves from our sins. For the Christian excuses himself mostly because he cannot bear that he calls himself a Christian, but does not act as one.

I say, Christian, admit boldly to the Lord, that I am a Christian but I don’t act as one. Or I desire to act as one. Be willing to say it, be willing to say it out loud. Be willing to admit that you fall short continually but have great hope that He can, and not just can but will, change you if you live by faith. Look at the examples of many of the saints. They had many falls in their lives. And yet, they are righteous. How can this be? Because they were willing to come and see. They were willing to take the trip. Now Nathaniel only walked a few paces to see Jesus. But this trip is indicative of our life. The Lord says I will show you greater things than these. Not just that I know you are under a fig tree; not just that I know all your thoughts. I knew you yet while you were in the womb. Not just those things; Greater things than these will I show you. I will show you that you can be completely changed, completely made whole. Have no fear, have no sadness, have no doubts, have no sins, have no shame. Have no pain. I will show you greater things than just that I know you. I will show you that I will change you, this is what the Lord says to Nathaniel. And this is what the Lord is saying to us. We appropriate this change by believing the words of the Lord. By understanding their meaning. He knows us and He will change us. Good will come out of Nazareth, come out of the heart because of our faith. Brothers and sisters — beg the Lord for faith, beg Him for faith, because this is the key. Faith is just not belief. Faith envelops the whole man and makes him fire, and makes him able to change. This is what faith is. Faith permeates our life. We must appropriate the Lord’s promise with all the struggles and difficulties that the Christian life entails.

Because of the promise the Church asks us: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:1-2). He has begun our journey with our baptism. He was with us then, He’s with us now, and He will finish the course for us. You must have faith that He who began a good work in you will complete it in Christ Jesus. Certainly a good thing will come out of Nazareth. May God grant you faith.

2nd Sunday of Great Lent.

Read the scriptures slowly and carefully. See what the Lord says to you, see where you fit into this scripture, see where you have vices — or perhaps where by the grace of God, God has helped you in some thing and you have some virtue — not of your own worth, but because God has helped you. This is how we should read the scriptures. This is not just history, and something that happened a long time ago; this story is given for our edification. The Lord healed many thousands of people, and we don’t have very many records of His healings. So there must be something important about the way this man was healed for us to take note of.

He comes to Capernaum, and He is very popular in these days; this is still in the – shall we say, the honeymoon period; all the common people Him. The scribes and the Pharisees didn’t like Him, but they couldn’t move against Him, and even some of them were somewhat taken by Him because of all the buzz that was around Him. Everyone was saying, "Can you believe what’s happening? Everyone is being healed, and this man is speaking with such authority..." At the beginning of His ministry, there were many who loved Him and wanted to throng about Him (who would later leave Him, and even be accessories to His being slandered and murdered), and this is the case today. There are so many about Him that people can’t even fit in the house where He is preaching. They are all about, outside the door, and He preached to them.

There is a man who is paralyzed, and he has asked his friends to help him. He has four that will take him on his bed, and want to bring him to Christ. Because of the press (the crowd of people), he couldn’t get to Jesus.

What is this press, brothers and sisters?

This "press" is often mentioned in other healings; this press is the obstacles that we encounter in our Christian life. We encounter great obstacles. Now in the case of this man who was paralyzed, he wouldn’t have the strength to press through a group of people on his own, and even with help it would be immensely difficult; how can you carry a stretcher through a huge crowd of people? It is not possible.

So what did they do? They overcame the press by climbing onto the roof.

A roof is high above all things. The scripture uses this analogy just as it uses mountains sometimes, to say that this is how we should be in our Christian life. We should look up — we should be thinking of spiritual things, not of carnal things, not of just daily things — and we should elevate our mind — to contemplate pure things, and things that God wishes us to know. These people got up on the roof. So of course it was a practical act to get up on the roof, so that they could break the roof tiles and let him down, and it was rather ingenious actually. But it is also an indication of how we should be, brothers and sisters.

You know, we encounter the press, and we stop in our tracks. Let’s face it: this society is a very difficult one for a Christian to live in, because there is such coldness, and it infects all of us. There is such materialism, there is such hardheartedness, there is such wishy-washy-ness as far as what to believe. And even among the Orthodox, there is this sort-of mixing of the world with holiness — and, of course, what becomes of hot and cold? It becomes lukewarm. And the Lord hates lukewarm.

The whole world is lukewarm. And we live in this difficulty. This is the press. It’s quite hard for us to live in this world.

In fact, I was reading something from Fr. Anatoly the younger, who was a martyr, one of the last Optina elders. I can’t quote it well, but basically the inference, the gist is of what he was writing is that Christians in the last age won’t do great miracles, and their faith won’t even be that great, and their purity won’t be that great. But, because they have endured in a time which is the worst of all times, God will give them a crown for even being Christian during this time. Indeed, because it is a difficult time. It is a time of unbelief, it is a time of lukewarm-ness, and we are surrounded by it, and we are infected by it.

So it is difficult for us to get past the press. And why should we get past the press? Because we’re paralyzed too. We have spiritual paralysis. We have spiritual blindness. If any man can look inside himself with any amount of honesty at all, he sees that he is really broken inside, incomplete. There are terrible sadnesses that happen in our life. There are terrible things that we just can’t cope with completely.

And I say, if any person thinks that life is easy, and that things are really okay, than I say that you should really be afraid, because God is far from you. According to the fathers, if we’re not tempted, then we’re not being saved. Because we ARE incomplete, and we are weak creatures. Oh yes, we have the image of God within us, and God has promised that He will be with us until the end, that He will complete the good work which has begun in us. But in the meanwhile, as we are approaching that goal, there is so much about us that is so pitiable. And we must get past the press if we are truly to get any kind of relief. You know, the press makes a lot of noise, and there is a lot of distraction, and this very well describes the Christian life today.

So how do we get past the press? Get up on the roof.

Not just get up on the roof, but there must be labor involved in the Christian life, brothers and sisters. You know that one of my pet phrases, or pet ideas, is that the greatest heresy of all time is that the Christian life can be fought without labor, that salvation can be gathered and garnered without labor. This is the great heresy of our age — it has been around now for quite some time — that we can actually be saved without labor. Oh no, it takes great labor on our part to be saved; it takes effort for us to push by the press; it takes effort for us to get on the roof, to elevate our minds to things above, not to things below, not to carnal things, not to just day-to-day living.

I think day-to-day living is like a narcotic in our day; it is easy to lose track of holy things, to say "I haven’t read scripture for so long, I forget my prayers, I have the wrong ideas, the wrong motivations," and to just sort of flow through life. We must fight through these things, get on the roof, have our minds elevated and break through the roof tiles — which is effort. There is great effort involved in breaking through a roof.

So then, after these men had broken through the roof, they let the man down. What a spectacle that must have been. This man was not afraid to make his disability known to all. There must have been some people who thought that this was really craziness, and who might have laughed. But he was unafraid, because he wanted to be healed.

So when the Lord saw him, because of his efforts, He said "My son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Well the man came because he was palsied — he couldn’t walk — and the Lord said "Thy sins be forgiven." He did this for a reason.

Of course, what is the source of all of our ills? Our sins!

So the Lord heals that which is the man’s most pressing need first. And of course, he knew that the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the hypocrites, would think in their minds, "How can this man forgive sins? This is blasphemy," and they would chalk it up in their notebooks and think, "We’re going to get this man."

The Lord then said something quite interesting, something you should take note of. It seems sort of obvious in one way, but there is a very deep meaning in another. "Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’" Well, it’s easy to say "Thy sins be forgiven thee," or something that you can’t see internally, but if you say "Take up thy bed and walk" — well, the man had better get up, or else Jesus would be exposed as a charlatan. Well, that’s rather obvious, but there is a deep meaning here, brothers and sisters. Not an obvious meaning; you have to think a little bit.

The Lord raised the man up from his bed – "Take up thy bed and walk, and go unto thy house." The reason he did this is to show that He, indeed, has power: He can raise the palsied man, He can give the man without eyes sight, he can cause the deaf to hear, he can raise the dead. These are tangible things that we see. The Lord did this because of our weakness.

We cannot see our sins being forgiven. It’s not something that you can have evidence of. Sometimes there is evidence of the Lord healing a man in terms of, let’s say if a man is an alcoholic and he is able to no longer have the demon of drunkenness, or some other such thing, but for the most part, when our sins are forgiven, the Lord knows, and we know, but it is not an obvious thing. That’s why the Lord said "Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’" He was trying to show us "I can do both." Yes, I can say "thy sins be forgiven," and it is not an obvious thing, but I can also raise up the palsied man.

There is another meaning as well. The man’s sins were forgiven AND his body was made whole. Jesus Christ’s resurrection affects the whole man. Every aspect of our personality is affected by the resurrection. This is why a Christian should not feel defeated by anything in his life — because the resurrection applies to everything. Now this is not to have some sort of Pollyanna view of the world and think that because we’re Christians we’ll be rich, famous, athletic and handsome. That might not be the case.

But Jesus Christ is interested in anything that goes on in our life. We must bring all the difficulties of our life to him. We as Christians don’t do this very much; we suffer with our worries, our concerns, and I know many of you and I know that your concerns are not frivolous ones, they are not worldly concerns; they are spiritual things. But you must believe in the resurrection, and the one who truly believes applies the resurrection, with all of its implications, to himself, and his life’s circumstances.

If Jesus Christ can raise up the palsied man, certainly all the other things that He says must be true — not just that He can raise the dead at the end of the age; He’s going to make you alive now. The kingdom of God is within you. Now, not later. This is the meaning of having the man be healed both of his sins and of his palsy, of his bodily ailments.

Now how do we attain this healing, brothers and sisters? By effort. There is no substitute whatsoever for effort.

If a Christian does not struggle, does not strive, does not point himself to Jerusalem and not look back, does not try to ascend, as it were, to the roof, and labor, then he will not be changed. Or, perhaps, he’ll bear fruit, but very little.

May God grant that we would labor, past all of the difficulties in our lives, past all of the frustrations, all of the distractions, all of our sinfulness, all of our bad habits that are so difficult to change, all that press, all that crowd — that we labor past all that, and set our minds on things above, on holiness, on the purpose of our life, which is intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And this intimate knowledge is only possible if we become like Him. We must become like Him to know Him.

This is why we must labor, brothers and sisters. Not because there are the Ten Commandments, the Law and all the rest; this is not the reason we must labor. The reason we must labor is that Jesus Christ wants us to know Him, intimately, He wants us to be healed of every single palsied condition, of every blindness, of every black spot in our souls, of every imperfection, so that we can gaze upon Him, not through a glass, darkly, but face to face – and not in shame, but in indescribably joy. This is how He wants us to know Him. And the only way to know Him is to become like Him. This is why we labor for virtue.

May God help us to labor, and for the rest of this Lent also to struggle so that when we come to the Pascha, the Lord would touch us in a very special, unique way that we can’t even imagine and understand, and strengthen us. May God help you.

 

3rd Sunday Of Great Lent.

Brothers and sisters, a Christian must always be able to answer questions. You must always be comparing things. Constantly, daily, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, you should be making comparisons and you should be making trades. St. Andrew of Crete, in his Great Canon, urges himself to be a great trader.

What is this that he is trading? What shall we trade?

There is a question — several questions, actually — that the Lord asks us in the Gospel for the Cross today. He says, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" This is not a rhetorical question. This question has a correct answer. Actually, it has two answers that are equally correct.

One answer is that a man can give nothing to deserve salvation, nothing in exchange for his soul. Nothing is worth eternal life. There is no way he can pay God so that he will deserve salvation. That is one answer.

And then, there is another answer, which is the more important of the two, I would say. What can a man give in exchange for his own soul? His life. If a man gives his life, God — God redeems him. We don't deserve it, we are weak, but we can give our heart to God, give our way of thinking to God, give our priorities to God, give our striving and our effort to God. Not our successes, not our abilities, because we can give nothing in exchange for our soul. We don't have enough ability to give to God; all God wants of us is our heart, and He provides us with the ability.

And how so? St. Paul very succinctly, tersely, beautifully sums up the meaning of — the reason for — the Incarnation of God. He says "we have a great High Priest, Who has passed into the heavens," and he goes on to say, "We have not a High Priest Which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ became as we are, the same stuff that we are made of, tempted in all ways as we are, and yet did not sin — and not only did He not sin, but He ascended back to His Father, in the flesh. The things which He tells us to do — and He tells us many things — we are capable of doing because He Himself fulfilled these things. He is not some unreachable, far away High Priest that we cannot identify with. He bore our weaknesses and made them strong. He bore our infirmities and healed them. Everything that He expects of us, He has already done! As a man, he has done these things. If we understand what Christ has done for us, then we will understand how we can give our life in exchange for our soul. There is nothing that we have of ourselves that is worth salvation — to be able to gaze up on our God. But Jesus Christ has made us capable.

Now, how do we go about making this exchange — this exchange of things corruptible for things incorruptible, things temporal for things eternal, things that fade away for things that endure, things that will be forgotten for eternal remembrance? How can we make this exchange, brothers and sisters? This question should be one which you are answering moment-by-moment. We make this exchange by denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, and following our Savior on the same path that He walked and the same path that the saints walked.

And how is it that you deny yourself? You deny those things that are not according to God; your deny those things that are corrupt and that will go away; but trade, trade with you will, your heart, your desire, so that you can create a great treasure in Heaven. The way of the Cross is a way of denial, it is a way many times of sorrow, and pain, but it is a way of enlightenment, and of being invigorated. Good comes out of the soul when God dwells in it, and you desire to do what is right because God dwells within you, and you can think nothing else. Denying yourself, brothers and sisters, is just denying what you already know is going to go away. If you struggle against a lustful thought, that struggle is eternal and will be remembered. If you say one kind word to someone, that will be remembered. The promotions you get, the television programs you watch, the vacations you go on, the foods you eat — all of that will be forgotten. None of that is eternal. But any good work done in the name of God is remembered and is permanent.

Brothers and sisters, in our hearts is a desire for eternal life. All men have it — that is why people want to be famous, that is why people want to leave things to their heirs, that is why people want to do something big in the world — because they have a desire for significance. But that desire for all those things is really just a perversion, a twisting, of that good desire that God has put in our heart to be permanent, to not change, to be perfected, to be whole. This is what the Christian life offers us. Have you ever wondered why at the end of this reading the Lord says "There are some that stand here that shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power?" Why does He say that? He is talking about the Cross, a little bit, and all of a sudden, almost out of the blue, He says "there are some here that will not taste of death, until they see the kingdom of God come with power." What He is referring to is what happens right afterwards, which is: He goes up on a mountain at night, with Peter, James, and John, and He is transfigured before them, and they see Him as He is, the Uncreated Light, God — so as to show them, and therefore, through them, us, that He is reliable; the things He tells us to do, they will get us where He wants us to go, and where we should desire as well. After He came down the mountain, He looked just like any other man, and when He was on the Cross, He bled like any other man, and He felt pain like any other man, and He died like any other man. But the apostles remembered, and we should remember too, the One Who hangs on the Cross is the One Who hung the stars in the heaven. The One Who suffers on the Cross is the One Who takes away every suffering. The path that He tells us to walk, He walked Himself, and He did more so besides.

Now we understand in secular things that it is nonsensical to pay more or something than it is worth, or that it is nonsensical if there is a great bargain not to take it. Why in spiritual things do we understand the medium of exchange so poorly? Why is it that we pick things that will not last, things that will only indulge ourselves for a moment, for a season, and then they're forgotten, they're gone? Why do we do this? The Lord says, "What can a man give in exchange for His soul?" Nothing, and everything. Everything you do should be in exchange for your soul, brothers and sisters, not for your indulgence. Everything you do should be for your salvation. Deny those things that you know are wrong, and live for Christ.

Now, some people are frightened by Christianity, even within the Church, because they think of Christianity as only denial, self denial: "I can't have any pleasure, I can't have any fun." That's not it at all. If a person follows Christ even a little, inside their heart is such happiness that it is all they desire. Any amount of denial is inconsequential to them. Does an athlete, when he is stretching for the finish, having raced a long race, tired, with pains in his legs and in his lungs — does he care about his physical pain? When he is stretching for the finish, he only sees the victory ahead of him. Everything else is inconsequential; it matters not. For a Christian, we feel pain, things are difficult. But it should not matter. Does a woman, after her travail, regret that she went through pain? Does it matter to her when she has her baby? Not at all. If this were the case, that she had regret, everyone would have only one child. But she is willing to go through the pain again because of the love for that child.

Brothers and sisters, the Christian life is really in many ways no different than secular life. If you put effort into it, and desire, you will be rewarded. Without effort, there is no fruit. An athlete who does not train is mediocre. A scholar who does not study does not know the things that he purports to know. The big difference between the Christian life and secular life is that your efforts, if they are in denying yourself and taking up the cross, are eternal.

The taking up the cross that He is speaking of is not just to be suffering. If suffering happens, so be it. But the taking up the cross is "You, walk as I walk. I have given you an example, you follow it." When your enemy smites you on the cheek, turn the other cheek to him also. If your adversary has taken your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two. This is taking up the cross. The Christian life should be mostly described in terms of positives. In the old testament — we were speaking in the Bible study yesterday, that Jesus Christ, when He referred to the Old Testament in His sermon on the mount, He would say "you have heard it said…," or "the ancients said…." In the old days it was said that you shalt not do this, you shalt not do this, and there were strict penalties for all these things. But when Jesus Christ came with the new revelation, with the fulfillment of the old, with the perfection of the old, which was only barely, barely seen in the old days, Jesus Christ didn't say thou shalt not, but thou shalt. That's what the beatitudes are — the Christian commandments.

And all the rest that Christ did showed us how to live. We are capable of it because we have a great High Priest, Who went through everything we went through, and more so besides, and was successful. The only way to appropriate this success, brothers and sisters, is to deny the things that you know in your heart are wrong, and to strive for righteousness. Only the righteous can understand righteousness, only the pure can understand purity. It is a great joy when one is pure. But you can't understand this joy without striving for it — which means casting off things that are impure and struggling to take up your cross and live the Christian life.

I've told you before, I guess I'll say it a thousand times more: the greatest heresy of our age — the greatest heresy, I believe, of the era since Christ came — is that salvation can be won without labor. What a nonsensical thing. The Lord says "take up your cross." He will make you able to carry your cross. And in your self-denial, you will be free.

We are in the middle of the fast — a period when we are supposed to be denying ourselves. Some people look at Lent as a difficult, long ordeal. I tell you, I wish lent lasted all the year. I'm never more at peace then during Lent. A time when things kind of settle down — I can see things a little more clearly.

Brothers and sisters, deny those things that are not of God. Struggle to take up your cross. The Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, struggled with His Cross as well, and was victorious. His Cross was much larger than ours; His Cross included our cross. He has already made us capable; He has already walked the path. All we need do is follow Him. What a glorious thing it is to be a Christian. There is no greater name, no greater honor, than to be able to suffer if need be for our Savior. May God grant you true spiritual wisdom to be able to trade that which will not endure for that which will become eternal.

3rd Sunday of Great Lent.

In life, if you do anything, if you're to be successful, then there are two main ingredients for this success. One is the knowledge of what you want, how you should do it — you must have understanding. Then you must also have the correct priority based on this understanding — or should I say, based on reality. You must be able to perceive what reality is. If you wish to become extremely good in sports, as a basketball player, then the reality is you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of basketball. If you wish to be a musician or a scholar or a Christian, you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of that discipline, of that way of life. And you must know what is good and what is bad for your desire, and you must have your priorities set straight, so that you will act in accordance with what is good and cast away what is bad.

Today, this reading really speaks about priorities. It speaks about reality, about the ultimate reality. And it poses a question that every one of us should ask of ourselves every day: "What can a man give in exchange for his soul?" 1 Nothing; nothing is worth as much as the soul. Our Lord said, if He gains the whole world, it's not worth one soul. All that is corruptible, all that is passing away, you can hold onto for a while, but it's like catching wind, because when you die, there's nothing left. So what does it matter if you gain that which is corruptible? What does it matter if you plant flowers in your garden if it's going to be bulldozed the next day? What does it matter when you paint your house, if it's burning? That's what's happening in this world. The world is passing away, so if we hold on to the things of this world, we hold onto that which is corruptible.

Underlying the priorities of a Christian is the understanding of reality, the understanding that the world is passing way. And this is not a bad thing; this not a gruesome thing at all. Who wants to save the world the way it is? With corruption, with death, with sadness, with imperfection, incompleteness, with that longing in our hearts that can't be fulfilled by anything in the world? Who wants to save the world the way it is? Even people that are outside of Christianity don't like the world the way it is. Sometimes they invent things to cover it up, or they lose themselves in some sort of debauchery or some sort of bad opinion or heresy or something of that nature, but basically they're dissatisfied with the world.

But there's a strong illusion that the Evil One puts upon men. But we're willing; we allow it to come into our hearts. The evil one disguises the reality that the world is passing away, disguises the reality of Whom Jesus Christ is, and that to be a Christian is to become like Christ, to struggle, to work, to labor, to sweat, to desire. He disguises this. People want to have power, or wealth, or comfort, or sex, or drugs, or something else that is their passion, something that they think of as life. Now, some people are completely immersed in this thing, in these things of the world. But then others, such as Christians who have not yet perfected themselves, are influenced by the world, by the cares of the world, by their ambitions and their passions. And so constantly we must make an effort to see the difference between reality and what the world presents as reality.

The only solution for us to be able to look past all this delusion — and it is powerful delusion, very, very powerful delusion — the only solution is to labor in the Church. That's all. Not labor outside of the Church; labor within the Church. We have to labor where Christ is to be found. And we must recognize who we are — the reality — who we are, why we're here, why we were born. And we must recognize the purity, the dignity of our soul. Our bodies contain that which is of infinite worth. The Lord equates nothing to the high worth of our soul. He says that everything in the world is not worth one soul. No matter how much money, no matter how much prestige, no matter what goes on in the world — none of it can be bartered for a man's soul. That's a terrible trade.

Today's Gospel summarizes how we are to live, and why. It tells us about real reality. Not what the world tells us is real, but about how a Christian should live, how a Christian should think, how he should be. Our Lord said, " Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

2 It almost sounds like a riddle. To many people in the world this makes no sense whatsoever, and unfortunately also to many Orthodox Christians. They don't understand it. "What do you mean, deny myself?" We spoke about this a little bit last night. God knows that we have built into our character a desire for survival, a desire for life. We don't wish to do harm to ourselves; we wish to protect ourselves. We don't wish to harm our loved ones; we want to nurture them and help them. This is not the kind of denial that's being spoken of. The denial that's being spoken of is the denial of what we think of as ourselves that is actually cruel delusion. When we define our lives by how we live in the world, by our passions, by our lusts, by our desires. No, we are far above those things.

We are created for a purpose. We are created to know the Holy Trinity, intimately, and the whole purpose of our time on earth is to know God. And I tell you, you cannot know someone without loving them. And you cannot love someone without desiring to be like them. Even in a secular sense we understand this. We love people as far as we should love all men, but I mean in the context of loving someone intimately, a husband or a wife or our children. We see that which is good in them, and we rejoice in it. And we might see a friend or a spouse and say, "There's something that is good and wholesome in them, and I want to emulate them. I want to become like that." It's our nature to want to return good for good. That's why it says, " We love Him because He first loved us." 3 God loves us, and we return that love. This is the reality of life.

God also said here, whosoever will. In other words, whosoever desires. If you desire, I will fill you, says the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not desire, I will not force you. But deny yourself. Deny those things in you that are not in keeping with who you are. Deny those things that are on the outside of you. Don't let them come inside — the passions and lusts and all the things that will fall away. But I tell you, He said, if you wish, if you desire. Compel yourself! He gives you the choice, but as a man you shouldn't give yourself the choice. Over and over you should compel yourself to do good and to avoid evil. It's a choice of the will. God will help you with this choice, absolutely, but you must make this choice. You must decide to keep the fasts, you must decide to say your prayers, you must decide the give alms, you must struggle against passions. And if you do these things, God will strengthen you and help you in them. But He won't force you.

And He says, take up his cross. He tells us to take up our cross. What does this mean? This means to work, to labor, but to labor with a purpose. No man digs a hole for no reason; he digs a hole for a purpose, in order to plant a tree. We labor so that we will become like our Savior, so that we will recognize Him and He recognize us, so in the eighth day when He judges all of mankind, He will say, "I know you. Come, join the angels and the saints." And He will not say those words, those terrible words, "Depart from Me, because I don't know you." 4 We don't want to hear that.

The only way we can know Christ is to live like Him, to become like Him. And we have no excuses. Our Savior lived just like us. What does the epistle say today? It says, " For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." 5 He fulfilled everything that He tells us to fulfill, to the letter, and beyond the letter. So we have the capability in Christ to live godly, holy, pure lives — but with effort, by taking up our cross, by making an effort.

So deny yourselves. Don't deny yourself of godliness; deny your passions and affirm good works. Deny things earthly, and think on things heavenly. Deny grumbling and laziness, and be obedient. Deny illusion, all that is within the world that is illusory, and affirm truth. Feed on truth, which is to be found in the Church. Deny corruption, and strive for perfection. This is our life, and I tell you, when you give into your passions, whatever they are, no matter how big or how small, you are denying reality. Do you realize that? You are denying reality. Now a man who is at the edge of a cliff and says, well, you know, I think I have got anti-gravity shoes on, and jumps off the cliff, is crazy, and everyone would realize he is denying the reality of gravity. Well, just as real is the pernicious effect of sin in our life. And every single time that we sin, we deny that which is within us. That's craziness. It's actually insanity. To sin is to be insane. Well, God will heal us, though, of our insanity, if we struggle, if we take up our cross.

Now the cross is bitter, isn't it? The cross is a bitter way to die. It was known as the most bitter way to die in ancient times; it was reserved only for the arch-criminals. A Roman couldn't be put to death on the cross — only strangers and foreigners. It was a very painful way to die, and it was shameful. Well, medicine can be painful and can be difficult to take. But if we don't take it we won't get well. So our Lord showed that He could take the bitterest of medicines for our salvation. So we should be willing to quaff a little bit of bitterness from our cup.

I tell you, it's not really so bitter, because once you start to taste the sweetness of Christ, you want nothing else. Once you feel His yoke setting easily on your shoulders, and you're at peace, you wish to labor. You wish to work harder. You wish to become better. It's from within, not from without. It's from inside a man, because that's where God lives, and that's where God enlightens. He lives in the heart and He enlightens us, and we wish to become better, and better, and better. And if we do become better, it's because we have an understanding of what God will do for us and what He's already done, and we deny those things that are not in keeping with that. That's the meaning of this phrase, deny yourself.

Then our Lord continues, " For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."

6 To those in the world, another riddle, another difficult riddle. How can I lose my life? My life is precious to me, says the world. Yes indeed, your life is precious, but eternal life is what God is talking about here. He says, if you lose that which is outside of eternal life, that which is of the world, if you lose the things that are going to go away anyway, then you will save your life. See, there are two lives here. One is a life in the world, a life of lust and depravity and heedlessness, and the other life eternal, of perfection. And if you lose those things that are heedless, those things that are depraved, then you will save your life. If you lose your life for My sake, He says, and the Gospel, you will save your life. Lose your life for the sake of what God has taught you. And I tell you, you only learn the Gospel inside the Church, because that's where it is preached. So all that is within the life in the Church, if you live that life, and struggle, then God will save. It's rather frightening. The Church understands about passions very well, and in hell, all men will still have their passions. That's what it means when it says that they will be thrown into " the fire that shall not be quenched, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched"

7, where Christ describes hell in the Gospel of St. Mark. You'll still have all your passions when you're in hell. If a man has a desire for drink, or for something illicit, he'll still desire all those things, but he'll have no way to quench his desire, and they'll burn him for the rest of eternity. That's a terrible, terrible thought. But if you lose your life in this world for the sake of the gospel, then God will save you.

Losing your life means conquering your passions, denying the evil that's within you, and I tell you, it comes only from understanding reality, actual reality. You know, recently, I was in New York City, and I was rather amazed. It was a very invigorating place. But it was so full of illusion. I saw all these things all over, and it was such illusion. We even have words for it — the "Madison Avenue mentality," about advertising and such. But you can have illusion everywhere, in Dallas, or somewhere else, because illusion is when we allow ourselves to believe that which is untrue. And the only way that you can really believe is by living the life. Philip said to Nathaniel, come and see, because he asked, " Can any good come out of Nazareth?" 8 You have to live it; you have to experience God. If you don't experience Him, then these are just words, then they are just rules. Why in the world should I fast? It smells so good; why should I fast? Why should I not have these thoughts that are only in my head; how is it bothering anyone else? Those are the kind of thoughts a man has when he doesn't understand who Christ is. You must live the life to know who Christ is.

And Christ asks a question you must ask of yourself every day. This is a terrible question. I tremble when I read it, every time. " What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" 9 Nothing; nothing is equal to the soul. If we lived according to these words, we would not sin, at all. We'd really believe. We'd live as Christians. But we allow ourselves to be deluded over and over and over again. So we must renew ourselves over and over and over again. God knows about our infirmity, and He will save us, if we struggle, take up our cross, and follow him in truth. Ponder this question often. Fear your depravity. Not just because you realize it's a sin, but because if you continue in it, you'll be separated from God, eternally. That's a terrifying thought. Every man should fear it. Not to fear God's judgment, so much, but to fear that you will miss the sweetness of God. That's what you should fear.

And then Christ says some other hard words. " Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and My Word in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."

10 He uses adultery here to show betrayal, dishonesty, uncleanness. Adultery is one of the most unclean of sins, because what is it? It's denying intimacy. When two people love each other and have a deep, intimate bond with each other, and when one or the other denies that bond, it is a terrible, terrible sin. Well, we indeed have an intimate bond with our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. He has given us the grace of baptism. He gives us his Holy Mysteries, and all of the life of the Church for our benefit. And when we deny him by the way we live, we are adulterers. We commit adultery.

So don't deny Christ, either by your attitude, by your priorities, by indulging in things that you know are unclean, or by fear of another's opinion. You know, there is that meaning to this phrase as well — when people are afraid to show that they are Christians, because especially in our country here, people sometimes think you're crazy when you're an Orthodox Christian. Too strict about fasting, or this or that. You make the sign of the Cross? What for? All these things. Or, you follow that calendar? Why do you do that? That's not the real calendar. All these questions. We should not be ashamed. God has enlightened us and planted us in his vineyard, and we must bear fruit.

God help you all to see reality, to see what God has done, and then, to set your face forward, to be on the plow and not to look back, but to set your priorities, to live the Christian life. God help you.

 

1 Cf. Mark 8:37 "Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

2 Mark 8:34, partial

3 1 John 4:19

4 Cf. Matthew 26:31-45, and especially, Luke 13:24-27: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. (25) When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: (26) Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. (27) But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. "

5 Hebrews 4:15

6 Mark 8:35

7 Cf. Mark 9:42-48 "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. (43) And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: (44) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (45) And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: (46) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (47) And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: (48) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

8 John 1:46 "And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see."

9 Mark 8:36-37

10 Mark 8:38

Hebrews 4:14-16,5:1-6

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. (15) For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (5:1) For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: (2) Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. (3) And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. (4) And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (5) So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. (6) As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek.

Mark 8:34-38 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (35) For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. (36) For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (37) Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (38) Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (9:1) And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

 

 

4th Sunday of Great Lent.

Mark 9:17-31 — The Healing of the Boy with a dumb and deaf spirit.

Today we read about the healing, at the request of his father, of the boy who is possessed of a demon. There are many things to understand about this scripture, but we can only touch on a few of them now. For now I want you to consider what it was that this demon did to the boy. The father comes to Christ and describes his plight, a pitiable plight. This boy is cast into the fire and into the water by this demon, this deaf and dumb demon. According to the fathers, deaf because he would not allow the boy to hear the word of God, and dumb because the boy could not speak out in praise of God.

And what is the fire? It's not just material fire as it was for this boy, but also the fire of anger, lust, those hot sins in which we seem to have so much pleasure partaking, and that seem to have such a hold on us. That is fire. Jealousy, hatred, rage. Those kind of things are fire.

And what is the water? Well, the water is equally pernicious to the soul. It is to be thrust into worldly cares — as blessed Theophylact says, "the crushing waves and billows of worldly care." That's what the water is. There's not a sin that you can think of that is neither fire nor water. Nothing.

Now this boy was completely possessed. He was incapable of free thought. He was incapable of free action because this demon controlled him. It took him where it wanted, it made him fall down where it wanted, it threw him towards the water or towards the fire, and the boy's father could only with great difficulty save him from being burned or being drowned. It's not too much different, really, for us. We unfortunately addict ourselves to sins — fire and water. Our plight is also a terrible one. We're addicted, we must admit this. We must admit that we need help. We must see ourselves for who we truly are and then we can come to Christ for healing.

Christ says to the man who wants his son to be healed, "All things are possible to him that believeth." This is true. We understand this. We accept this. We're Christians. We say, " Absolutely, God can do everything. God can heal any man, God can raise a corpse from the dead, make the lame to walk and the blind to see." Ah, but then we lose our faith when it comes to fire and water, as this man did as well. Because when we look at ourselves, we doubt. We doubt that God can heal us. He can heal somebody else, and He can certainly do physical things. We believe that. We read the lives of the saints, we read the scripture, we believe that when Tabitha was raised from the dead she really was. We believe that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, God had brought the breath of life back into him. We believe.

But do we believe that God can deliver us from our sins, from our passions, from things that we have been doing "of a child"? Most of our sins are from childhood. They're built from childhood. We're built into little sinning-machines when we're little, and it's very, very hard to extricate ourselves from our passions and our difficulties later. This boy was of a child being thrown into the fire and into the water, and it's the same with us. Now do we believe that God can deliver us from our passions? Do we really believe? The evidence that I have as a pastor is to the contrary. Most of us struggle mightily with this disbelief. And because of that, we don't make the progress we should. We must believe.

We have the examples of the lives of the saints to show that God has taken people who have sinned sometimes much worse even than we, and made them great, made them perfect and holy. We have the example of St. Mary, which, unfortunately, so many of you will not hear this coming week. (Note: The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, with the life of St Mary of Egypt, is chanted on Wednesday evening, the fifth week of Great Lent, which follows the Sunday of St John Climacus, the Sunday on which this sermon was preached. At St Nicholas, this service is at 6:30 PM, year after year, and too many miss this service, and have despondency over their sins, and continue to have weak faith, year, after year) Because... I don't know why you won't. But many of you will not be present on Wednesday night to listen to an example of how God can completely heal a person. Mary didn't doubt. This was a woman who'd been a prostitute, and worse than a prostitute. She'd had thousands of lovers. Every impurity possible that can be imagined and many that, I'm sure, we could not even imagine, she had partaken of and defiled herself over and over. And what did she do when she came to repentance? She believed that God could change her. She believed that God could deliver her from fire. She didn't have too much trouble with water; for her it was the hot passions that were going to destroy her and burn her up. But she believed.

Now we must believe. These words are difficult words because it's difficult for us to believe, to really think we can change. Over and over we doubt ourselves. Over and over we doubt that God can remove from us a certain sin. Or sometimes, to be perfectly frank about the matter, sometimes there is a sin that we like and that we don't really want to let go of. And when we do that, there's this guilt in us that pushes us away from holy things and then causes disbelief.

Now these are hard words, and our Lord knows this. So because of that, the words of this man are recorded. Mark these words well, because they give hope. "Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." What is that — a riddle? No, this is what God does to the soul. He takes our unbelief, and if there's the merest, slightest seed of belief in us, he makes it grow. In St. Matthew's Gospel, He explains after the healing that if your faith is as a mustard seed, God will do anything. A mustard seed is tiny; you can barely see it. It's like a celery seed — very, very small. But it's very pungent and it seasons the whole dish, and it grows into a great, great tree, from a very small beginning. So if you have unbelief, beg God to help you believe. Now you must also do the other things as well. There's an important example of the Christian life, really in microcosm the entire importance of the incarnation, at the end of the healing of this boy. Be careful now with Scripture! It often teaches an incredible depth of knowledge in two or three words. Very laconic. Not like me; it takes very little space to say great things!

What happened to the boy after he was healed? The father had a small amount of belief, and God said, "I will heal him. I charge thee, deaf and dumb spirit, come out of him, and don't ever come back." Very important. We'll talk about that another time. But the boy falls to the ground. It's like he's dead. The people think he's dead. But Christ takes him by the hand and raises him up. God becoming man raises us up. God takes on our infirmities and makes us able to live. This you must understand. This is the implication of the incarnation. This is why we can be saved. God has made our flesh able to live — He lifts us up. The whole meaning of the incarnation — it makes us able to live!

Then what happened when the boy was lifted? It says, "he arose." The boy stood up, he was helped and then he stood up. And this is our work in the Christian life. This is our labor in response to God's help. Now if you do not labor you will have troubles with disbelief, because belief, or purity and belief, are tied perfectly together with labor. This is why when the man came to him with the boy, our Lord said, "Oh faithless and perverse generation." He says that in St. Matthew's Gospel. Faithless and perverse. From perversity, acting unnaturally — sin is perversity by the way — comes disbelief and faithlessness. From purity comes faithfulness. They're in a circle, either in the vicious circle, the spiral ever downwards because of lack of purity and faithfulness, or in this blessed circle, where God, when He sees our desire to stand up, helps us and fills us more with knowledge. And our faith is increased, and our knowledge is increased. And we are so thankful when we have God revealed to us that we become better. And we become more pure. And as we become more pure, God, who reveals Himself to the pure, further reveals Himself to us.

You must understand this mechanism of salvation if you are to be saved. You must believe, and you must act upon your belief. God will raise you up, but then you must stand. Now I can only exhort you to stand — I cannot make you stand. God will help you to stand, but He will not make you. It is an act of your will that you must stand, and you must work, and you must walk in the Christian life. Now if you have trouble with belief, you can look into yourself and see the core of this disbelief. You will see, if you look carefully, it is because you are not living the Christian life. Not effectively, not as much as you should. It's a lot of laziness, a lot of inactivity as far as fulfilling the commandments. This is why you're having trouble with belief.

Now, maybe you have trouble with some passions and you desire to change. All right, God has an answer for you. The man said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief." We all doubt. It is unfortunately part of our human nature. We see so much that's wrong with us, and it's hard for us to believe we can be changed. To me, this is the sweetest thing about Christianity. God will change us. We won't be like this in the other life. We'll change. There will not be suffering. There won't be problems with anger, with lust. There won't be sadness. There won't be dysfunction. God will change us. We must believe this.

If we do not believe, we're not really Christians, and God won't change us if we don't believe. Or at least, if we don't have that small mustard seed of belief. Cultivate it well, brothers and sisters. Cultivate this seed. Feed it with activity, with fasting, with prayer, with desire, with forcing yourself to pray when you don't want to, to come to church when you don't want to, to make time for confession when it's too easy to be, shall we say, drowned in the water, in worldly cares. Cultivate this seed of belief. Then God will hear your prayer. When you say, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief," He will hear it. And He will strengthen your belief. And then when you feel His hand in yours, stand.

 

5th Sunday of Great Lent.

St Mary of Egypt.

This kind cannot come forth by anything but by prayer and fasting. 1 So we read last week. What is this kind that cannot come forth? The demoniac boy was made by the demons to fall into fire and water, the fire being impurity — the lusts of the flesh, all manner of anger, meanness, murder and strife, envy, and all other such things. And the water means a distraction with worldly things — avarice, desire for things, distraction. Fire and water: this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting.

But today we see indeed, that this kind will come out — if prayer and fasting and labor are applied. We see this because we have the example, the spectacle, before us of holy mother Mary of Egypt — a woman that knew whom Zosimas was from afar, who knew God's will for Zosimas to fulfill one last wish of hers that she would have the Mysteries the following year; a woman who, when she prayed, stood in the air. We can't even lift up ours eyes to heaven, and she was standing in the heavens when she prayed. She walked upon water as if on dry land. And she called herself a miserable sinner.

She struggled for many, many, many years. If you read her life, you will learn she spent 17 years in great, terrible struggles after she had repented. She was about 30. She had lived a life of total, complete debauchery and depravity. Her modesty precluded her from completely fulfilling the command of Zosimas and she couldn't tell him everything that she did, but suffice it to say that she was a most wretched and sinful one. Everything that is possible to do to defile one's self she did. But when she repented, she understood something that we would do well to understand. Labor.

Labor ! This is the key to the Christian life. Laboring in Christ. And the church understands this. The church makes the connection between St. Mary and the sinful woman who was also a prostitute, a repentant prostitute of whom our Savior would later say, "The harlots and the tax-collectors are coming into heaven before you" 2, when speaking to the Pharisee.

He is in the home of the Pharisee and a prostitute comes in, and she begins to anoint his feet with her tears, and with ointment. Why? Because of love. Because previously she had been forgiven. She knew this in her soul. It changed her. She lived with this reality. And she was thankful in the depths of her being. That's what made her anoint His feet. Love. But this anointing, this coming to the house — is labor ! Without labor you can't be saved. Without demeaning yourself and remembering what God has done for you, you won't be saved.

St Mary of Egypt realized what God had done, and what the Mother of God had done, by praying to her Son, and helping her. She spent 48 some years in the desert alone, coldness, nakedness, hunger, longing, desire, that could not be fulfilled. She said she would even go and bite the ground and lay on the ground until these feelings would go away from her. Oh, yes, she still had impure feelings, for many, many years. But she had great love, and labored because of this love. Like this woman who anointed our Lord's feet.

This is the key to the Christian life. This is why the Church presents this woman, great among women, and St. Mary of Egypt, great among the saints, as examples for us. And we've been given everything they've been given. Read what our Savior says about "he who has little forgiven, loveth little, but he who has much forgiven loveth much" 3. Then He refers to the sinful woman.

We can take this two ways. If you have very little forgiven, then you don't have much to be thankful for. We have little forgiven if we do not repent and strive to learn the commandments, and live the Christian life. But when you realize what's been done for you, then you realize that you have had much forgiven. For really everyone, everyone — has had much forgiven them. And so he should love much. He should turn to His Savior. But a man who doesn't turn to our Savior is not a Christian whether he calls himself a Christian or not. I don't care about all the "trappings" — I don't care how many songs you know — I don't care about any of that. It's all part and parcel of the life of the church. It's critical for our salvation — but the knowledge of things doesn't save. Action based on knowledge — that's what saves.

So when a man knows what Christ has done for him, he loves much. When a man doesn't care, when he's all filled up with pride, or filled up with the life that he's living, or filled up with lust or avarice or whatever else, then how can he love? He has no room in his heart to love. He's already chosen the object of his love. And he will have his reward, right here, such as it is 4. And even the richest man is a pauper, compared to the lowest in the kingdom of heaven.

This woman and St. Mary sealed their repentance by action, by activity. We just read a couple nights ago the great canon 5, and St. Andrew compares Leah and Rachel to activity and contemplation. 6 He said without these two you cannot be saved. This woman who anointed our Lord's feet, she contemplated what our lord had done for her; He had forgiven her. Perhaps she was the one who had been caught in adultery and was about to be stoned 7. Perhaps she was just another nameless, faceless prostitute that saw Divinity and cleaved to it and changed. And when she contemplated what He had done her heart was filled, and this is what caused the activity, action, desire, longing to be with her Savior, to caress him, to kiss his feet, to be close to Him, to be in His presence.

Do we have this longing? If we don't then we should fear greatly for our souls. The church presents us extravagance here, extravagant repentance, and without it we can't be saved. Without it we cannot be saved. Not partial repentance. If you have something that ails you, then you must lament it, you must pound your breast about it. You must prostrate with tears over it. You must do whatever you have to do, labor in order to eradicate it, and in the process of doing that, at the same time, you must renew yourself with Who God is.

St. Mary of Egypt knew. This was a woman who could neither read nor write. This was a woman who, the only time she had darkened the door of the church was at her baptism, save two other times, the day she saw the holy cross, and received the holy mysteries at the monastery of the Forerunner before she went into the desert. And in the end of her days, she knew the entire scripture by heart, and she lived the entire scripture by heart. The church speaks of her as an angel. She had so transcended the flesh that she previously had lived with in such a base way. None of us probably can claim to have been as sinful as she was. That's the truth. But none of us can claim to have one tiny grain or repentance compared to her.

The Christian life is simple. If you know that which you've been forgiven of, you should love much, but the only way to know is to open your eyes and to pray with your heart. God will fill you. He will show you. You will be overwhelmed by it. You won't want anything but... Christ. The key to the Christian life. Contemplating what God has done for you, and acting upon it.

These women are the examples we have before us today. But what does the world tell us? It tells us all manner of garbage. Probably all of us have had this secular saying said to us, when one or the other of our parents or an uncle or aunt, said, "I don't care what the other kids do. You don't do it that way." The world tells you so many things, and the church says, "I don't care what the world tells you. God your Savior tells you to do something else." In fact, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said this to His apostles, didn't he, when they had been jousting about who would be greatest? 8 They had forgotten Who He was. He tells them a very important saying: "He who will be greatest must be the servant." But before then what did He say? He described the way the world is, how the greatest, the chiefest among people are the ones who grind people in the mud, and lord things over people, and the boastful pride of life in the extravagance of power and authority. And then He said that it "shall not be so among you." 9 Instead, the church gives us the example of the sinful woman, formerly sinful woman — two formally sinful women, the unnamed woman who is great among the saints, and Mary, who is great among the saints. Don't listen to the world. Listen to what the church says. Be renewed.

1 Mark 9:29

2 Mat 21:31 — "Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

3 Cf. Luke 7:77

4 See Matthew 5:46 and onwards.

5 The complete Great Canon, and the Life of St Mary of Egypt, is always read in the matins service for 5th Thursday of Great Lent. This service is usually served Wednesday evening.

6 St Andrew makes a reference to Gen 29:16-30,31-40: "Because of his crying need the Patriarch endured the scorching heat of the day, and he bore the frost of the night, daily making gains, shepherding, struggling, slaving, in order to win two wives By the two wives understand action and direct knowledge in contemplation: Leah as action, for she had many children, and Rachel as knowledge, which is obtained by much labor. For without labors, my soul, neither action nor contemplation will achieve success. Clean Monday or the 5th Thursday of Great Lent: The Great Canon, Ode 4 Troparia 7,8

7 John 8:4-11

8 Mark 9:33 and onwards

9 (Mat 20:25-27) But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. (26) But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; (27) And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: The Gospel for St Mary of Egypt. Luke 7:36-50

 

Holy Saturday.

The Resurrection makes the Impossible Possible!

Brothers and sisters, did you hear in the readings – those fifteen beautiful readings 1 – did you hear of the resurrection? Did you hear of faith? Did you hear of things that seemed to be impossible and yet became possible?

How was it that if God promised to Abraham that He would make him a father of many nations 2, and he was an old man, and he had a boy, Isaac — that if God told him to kill his son Isaac, how can he become a father of many nations? But Abraham obeyed when God said, "Sacrifice thy son Isaac." And even when his son in innocence, asked, "Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the ram for the burnt offering?" he said, "God will provide, my son."

What about when the widow gave hospitality to Elias? 3 This was during the drought that Elias had called upon the earth. People were dying because there was no food. The widow had just a little food left, and Elias said, "Make me a meal first, and then you and your son shall eat, and the cruse of oil shall never run out." And indeed, it did not during that entire time. But her son died, and Elias prayed, and her son was raised.

An even more poignant example is when Elisseus came to the Sidonian woman. 4 The Sidonian woman had made him a place to stay because she knew that he was a holy man. He, desiring to give her something good, asked her what she would need, and she, out of modesty, would not tell him, so Gezi his servant (who later on turned out to have a sin, a problem in his life — this was a good turn that he did and may the Lord save him for this thing) said that the woman was old and had not a son. So a son was born according to the promise of Elisseus. And not too long thereafter, the son gets a headache in the fields, goes to his mother, lays his head between her knees and dies.

So what does this woman do? Does this woman tear out her hair and start screaming and wailing, as is the custom of peoples of that area to mourn their dead? No. It doesn’t even say that she told her husband. She brought the boy up to where the holy man stayed, put him on the bed, and saddled an ass, and went to see the holy man on Mount Carmel. An impossible thing she was wanting – something she could not even express with her lips. She couldn’t even say "Raise my son from the dead." She could only say, "I told you not to deal deceitfully with me."

So Elisseus came. Did you listen carefully; do you see what he did? He went up into the room, and he made the sign of the cross on the boy! His hands to his hands, his feet to his feet, his lips to his lips – what was he doing? Making the sign of the cross on the boy, and breathing on him – and it took seven times, and the boy was raised. Impossible things!

What about when the Egyptians, a huge amount of heavily armed, very well trained soldiers, warred against a ragtag group who had no arms – perhaps a few sickles, a few axes, a few clubs, nothing much to speak of – and were running away from Egypt being pursued by this army? 5 The Lord made a wall of waters, so that the people of Israel could go through the Red Sea. And when the Egyptians, in their arrogance, came into the Red Sea and the wall of waters was still there, the Lord made the wall of waters crash upon them, and horse and rider fell into the red sea. Do you think any Jew, at that moment, when they came to the Red Sea, before the wall of waters; do you think any one of them really thought that they were going to be victorious? They probably thought all was lost. And if you read carefully Exodus and Deuteronomy, you can see that constantly they doubted the Lord. They tormented poor Moses, and yet the Lord saved them.

An impossibility became possible. Elias raises a son, Elisseus raises a son, the people of God are saved from their pursuer – impossibilities become possible because of our Lord. Now how is it that if such things happen and we have such an array of witnesses about us, as the Apostle talks about in Hebrews, how is it that we live such mediocre lives? Why don’t we believe? The resurrection is available to all of us. The power of the resurrection, sure belief, is available to all of us.

How is it that we can attain this understanding? The Apostle Paul tells us how. He says, "Know you not that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that as like Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, that we should also be in the likeness of His resurrection." 6

What does this mean? What is the likeness of His death? What kind of death did Christ die?

I’m not talking about how He was executed. That He was put on a cross is immaterial. The Cross has become our symbol of victory, but it could have been some other form of punishment that would become our symbol of victory. The Cross itself — although it was prefigured by the prophets and therefore we know it should be the Cross — is not the likeness of His death.

Jesus Christ lived in a way that He gave Himself to the world. He did not live for Himself, but He lived for others. Actually, to be more precise, He lived for One Other. He lived to do the will of His Father. And His Father’s will was that He would become incarnate, He Who had been in the bosom of the Father from the ages of ages, and would walk upon the earth and be an example for others and die a terrible death so that we would live. That is the likeness of His death. It is obedience and righteousness.

The reason why the world does not understand the resurrection – even those who say they are Christians – is that they don’t understand that in order to understand the resurrection you have to live it. You have to live like the One Who was resurrected first. You have to live in His likeness. You have to die like He died. Now, He did not have to die to self, because His whole self was willing to do the deed. His whole self was willing to obey His Father. Now our self, on the other hand, many times is not willing to obey God. Stubborn. Obdurate. I was just reading Deuteronomy recently, and I thought, "Things have not changed very much" – we are just like those chosen people, who continually complained, and continually were faithless. And they didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand the greatness of God because of their selfishness.

The key to understanding Christ, the key to being empowered, brothers and sisters, the key to happiness, the key to what God wants us to be, to the fulfillment of our destiny, of what God has predestined us to be, is to live in the likeness of His death. And I say live in the likeness of His death, because He is not dead anymore. He was dead for only a short while, and then He was alive. Now we, we can become alive by living as He lived.

If you struggle to follow virtue, then you will understand about the resurrection. It will enlighten you. That is the key. This is the key. This is why we read this epistle on this day. Because all of the pomp, and all of the beauty, and the rose petals 7 – and the Lord knows, I love the rose petals; the Lord knows, I love all of the beauty of Holy Saturday: the flowers, and the festivity later on, with the foods, the Kulich, the sausages, the Pascha, the eggs, and all the rest, and all the joy and all the feasting – all of that cannot be understood in such a way that brings real joy to the heart — joy that, as our Savior said to His apostles just before He was killed, no one can take away from you, that kind of joy, the kind of joy that cannot be stolen, cannot be lost, is ever with us, never dissipates — that kind of joy can only be had if we live as He lived and if we live in the likeness of His death, and therefore the likeness of His resurrection.

All these things are possible. The Sidonian woman’s son dies, and yet he was risen. Abraham was told he would be a father of many nations, and yet he was told to kill his son, but he believed still, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Do you have anything in your life that you have trouble believing? Don’t despair—the key to believing is not in trying to force yourself to believe this thing. When you have doubts, you cannot force yourself to undo your doubts. We’re temporal creatures, we believe this way, that way, and we’re like a reed blowing in the wind.

The way to no longer have doubts, the way to be able to have power and strength, to live according to the resurrection in its power, is to strive to become righteous, to desire to be pure, to desire to put off all sin – even the difficult ones. Even if you continue to fall, if you desire to live righteously, the Lord not only will forgive you of your sins, but much more than that, He will give you joy, joy which cannot be taken away, joy which ever abides in your heart. And He will give you, with that joy, certainty. How many things in this life are certain? None of us are certain that we will live another hour! If your souls strives to become righteous, to live as Christ lived, God will give you certainty about Himself and the resurrection. And the key is trying to live righteously.

What a blessed day this is! For us still, the Lord is in the tomb, but we know what is occurring right now; We read about it last night. 8

He went down to Hades, having been preceded by His good messenger, John, and He destroyed the hold that death had over us. Not for only those who were before Christ went down into Hades when they died – that is not the only extent to which death has a hold over us. Even now to this day, death has a hold over people who do not believe in Christ, or who believe in Christ only weakly. And they live as though dead. He made us able to live as though completely alive, completely pure, completely happy, complete in all things, lacking nothing!

What a joy it is to be a Christian! Is there any greater name that a man can have than to be called a Christian? I mean a true Christian – not a Christian in name, not a Christian by patrimony, not a Christian by coming to Church, but a Christian by living righteously and knowing that God will help him with whatever is amiss.

Glory be to God! Glory be to God that we can live! Brothers and sisters, the key, I say again, you must live as if you were baptized into the death of Jesus. The way He died – with humility, with long-suffering, with forgiveness – this is the way which you must die. And your dying will be occurring for the rest of your natural, human life – that is, on the earth.

Live by dying. The world thinks, "We don’t understand what he is talking about." But Christians understand. And as you die a little, then you feel more alive. Glory be to God that we can live.

1 Fifteen Old Testament readings are read at Vespers on Holy Saturday: Genesis 1:1-13; Isaiah 60:1-16; Exodus 12:1-11; Jonah 1:1-4:11; Joshua 5:10-15; Exodus 13:20-15:19; Zephaniah 3:8-15; 3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:8-24; Isaiah 61:10-62:5; Genesis 22:1-18; Isaiah 61:1-9; 4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:8-37; Isaiah 63:11-64:5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Daniel 3:1-23. 2 [Genesis 22:1-18] 3 [3 Kings 17:8-24] 4 [4 Kings 4:8-37] 5 [Exodus 13:20-15:19] 6 [Romans 6:3-11] 7 There is a tradition of scattering rose petals, and sometimes bay leaves, around the church on Holy Saturday, while the choir sings "Arise, O God" and the vestments are changed from black to white in honor of the resurrection. After the priest has changed his vestments, he comes out of the altar with a basket full of rose petals and scatters them on the tomb and around the whole church. The faithful have the custom of picking up and keeping some of the petals as a blessing. 8 In the sermon of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus for Holy Saturday, read before the tomb after the Lamentations Matins.

 

3. Easter.

Paschal Epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly, 1997.

Christ is Risen! Beloved children of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in the Diaspora and throughout the breadth of the Russian land:

Pascha — the Passover of Christ — has always consoled us and will offer us consolation from the waves of God's grace descending through the widely opened gates of the Heavenly Kingdom. All will feel it, it will come to every single one of us and illumine his countenance with pure joy as an oil lamp illumines an icon. It will not overlook anyone, it will pass no one by — the faster or the non-faster, him who prays or even him who does not pray. It will touch everyone. One person's soul will be so filled to overflowing that he will not know whether he is in heaven or on earth, only God will know, to make a bold paraphrase of St. Paul's words, while it will touch another person from being touched in this way the Divine Paschal grace will pass through him and fill him from head to foot with joyful trembling; he will awaken and the eyes of his soul will open to the light of a new life, and he will never forget it throughout the rest of his life. So we will not continue to repeat to you the annual good wishes of the Easter season. It is better that we and you keep silent. It often happens that in such Paschal silence there is more strength and meaning than in our feeble sounds and words. We can recall the words in the Akathist hymn to the Mother of God: "Rejoice, faith of those who pray for silence." Truly Christ is Risen! Such is your sacred reply. An ordinary ear will not hear it, but the whole of creation, animate and inanimate, trembles with it, the sun dances with it, and it is borne across the fields, forests, tundra, jungles, deserts and seas, so as to envelope the whole inhabited earth. Such is our wondrous and miraculous Pascha! I have just exchanged the joyous Paschal kiss with you, but my archpastoral conscience and duty force me once again to have recourse to words, exhortations, teaching and warnings. Before our eyes suddenly, quite unexpectedly, we are seeing the mystical revelation of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, the Apocalypse. For a long time we thought of it as a prophecy from a far off time which would assuredly be fulfilled one day in the future. But now, suddenly, not only has it appeared at the doors of our contemporary life, but the sharp, icy blast of the antichrist has begun to howl across the whole of our planet earth. What exactly is the Apocalypse? According to the Holy Fathers who have interpreted this sacred book, the Apocalypse is the book of the last years of the earthly history of the Church of Christ. IT shows the inseparably close links between the fate of the Church and the fate of the whole world, the whole human race, and the entire cosmos. This means that the only reason why the world and all that is in it still exist is the fact that the True Church of Christ continues to dwell on it. What is the Church's lot in our days? It is a hard one. The Church displeases most people; it is barely tolerated, people laugh at it and revile it. They have not managed to destroy it, and will not be able to do so. So now all the forces of darkness are trying to squeeze themselves into it an eat it away from the inside like termites, leaving behind only an empty wrapping. Evil is laughing in our faces! And we thoughtlessly chase after the shadow of earthly good things and our imaginary good repute, as long as no one inconveniences us or disturbs the tempo of our life of comfort. But a great temptation will come upon us, and come without fail. We will be placed on the knife edge of life. Nobody will be able to hide anywhere, even in a fissure in the rock. Everyone will be found and faced with the fatally tragic question: either you are with "us" or with Christ. Perhaps the question will not be posed quite like that, from fear of scaring the luckless Christian, but he will simply be asked, "are you with "us"?" What are we to do? Firstly, we must understand in what a terribly dangerous time we are living. Then, we must force ourselves to follow a disciplined life of prayer: to pray morning and evening and to pray with the Jesus prayer wherever and when ever we can. To receive Holy Communion more often in the True Church, and not in the church of the hollow egg shell, eaten away from within. Nobody will then be saved by theological degrees, or knowledge of the order of church services, or the orders of bishop or priest or any other rank. only a personal love from the heart for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will save a human soul, together with faithfulness to Him, even unto death. Did not the Lord Himself prophetically say, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) while at the same time the Lord promised to preserve His Church invincible even unto the end of this world. This means that by the time of the Second Coming, the Church of Christ will be reduced in size to the utmost degree. There will remain one or two churches in which the True Body of Christ and the True Blood of Christ will be imparted to the faithful. In the remaining churches there will remain only an empty shell, with great outward adornment, but empty. "See then that ye walk circumspectly...because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16) "Even so, come Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20) But still, despite all the outer darkness and horror of antichrist, until the very last earthly Pascha of Christ, the whole inhabited earth will reverberate with the greeting: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

 

Pascha 1999.

The Serbian Orthodox Church to Her Spiritual Children.

I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believesin Me, even if he dies, yet shall he live, John11:25. Our dear spiritual children, people will ask you: why does belief in the Resurrection of Christ, in its irrefutable historical reality, represent the very foundation of the Orthodox Christian faith? Why is the feast of the Resurrection called the Feast of Feasts and Holy Day of Holy Days? Why does this greatest of feasts take the central place in the yearly cycle of church festivals? Why are the paschal liturgical services, culminating in the paschal Divine Liturgy, the most beautiful and radiant of all the Church’s services? Answer them simply, but with conviction and convincingly: because Resurrection means rising from the dead, and so is the complete and final victory over the ultimate, final, greatest and, until Christ, unconquerable enemy, death. The crucified Christ breathed His last upon the Cross and so, in His human nature, died a real death; but He also really rose from the tomb, truly "rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures." So the Holy Apostle Paul was completely correct when he declared that the Christian faith and Christian preaching would be empty and in vain if Christ has not risen. (I Corinthians15:14-17)

In this regard one of our great spiritual fathers and theologians has written that every philosophy, and especially every religion, must be tested on exactly this question, the central question of human existence and activity, on the question of death. And only Christianity has passed this test before each person and before mankind; it has passed this test and moreover has passed it not with words but through deeds in the actual event of the Resurrection of Christ.... After the Resurrection of Christ everything becomes clear and it is with good reason that the Apostle cries out joyfully, "O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory?" (ICorinthians 15:55) The Resurrection of Christ means and witnesses to one single truth, to this good and joyful news: "Death is swallowed up in victory!" (I Cor. 15:54)Hades or hell as the state of death, as the windowless domain of spiritual darkness where neither God nor man can be seen, has received in Christ’s Resurrection a fatal blow. It has been embittered with no hope of remedy because, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, by coming face to face with the Risen Lord it has been emptied and mocked, it has been bound with chains, ruined and, moreover, deadened. Truly the event of the Resurrection is the triumph of life, and the very death of death.

If we are children of the Church and Orthodox Christians, that is, "if we believe that Jesus is dead and risen" (IThessalonians 4:14), then in our words, our deeds and in our entire being we must be witnesses to His Resurrection (see Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:22), and so witness of the risen Lord Himself (see Acts 1:8).It is so very important and necessary for us to realize that the Resurrection of Christ is also our resurrection, the resurrection of each of us, personally and individually. Indeed we confess and proclaim this great truth in the words of the Creed: "I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In his teaching to his disciples and the people during His open ministry, the Savior did not say that only He would be given over to death, and rise again three days later (Mark8:31; Luke 9:22, 24:6-7 and 46, John 20:9), but rather that all who believe in Him "will arise on the last day" (John6:39-40, 44, 54). The risen Christ is therefore not alone: He is "the first fruits of the dead" (ICor. 15:20, 23), or "the firstborn of the dead"(Col. 1:18 and Revelation 1:5), or the "first who should rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23),and so the "firstborn of many brothers" (Romans8:29) who belong to "the general assembly and Church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23).

You may be asking yourselves: How can this be? How is such a connection possible? How can we expect to escape death through the general resurrection simply on the basis that a particular historical Person once, nearly two thousand years ago, rose from the dead? This is indeed the case, brothers and sisters, and it is not only possible but actual, because Christ is the God-Man, the one and only Person who is by nature both fully and truly divine and fully and truly human. Joined to the fullness of divinity in Him, inseparably and indivisibly, but without mixture or change, His human nature was without sin. Therefore He did not die on the Cross because He had to die, as must all sinful men who are infected with mortality; sin, after all, is only the breaking of the life-giving union of love with God by man. On the contrary, Christ voluntarily gave Himself over to death, sacrificing Himself "for the life of the world and for its salvation." But in really, painfully dying on the Cross, tasting for Himself all the tragedy of death, He died as a man, and not as God: as God He is the living God and the God of the living, eternally "on the throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit," for "it was not possible that the Lord of Life should be held captive by death" (the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great; see Acts 2:24). He arises as God, or more precisely as the God-Man, for His human nature is returned from death to life, but not to the passing and corrupt life of this world, but to the life of the age to come, unfallen and indestructible. Still, human nature belongs to His own Person, as well as to every human being.

Therefore, His resurrection is also the resurrection of our nature and through it of each of us as persons: "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (ICor. 15: 21-22) In these brilliant words we can understand the two-fold nature of the gospel's witness concerning the Resurrection of Christ: while it is said in many places that Christ has risen, in still other places the holy apostles witness about "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God," that God has raised Him up (Acts2: 22-24; 2:31-32; 13:30-37, and 17:31), by the Holy Spirit (see Romans1:4).

In this way we experience the Resurrection of Christ as the resurrection of life, based on the personal relationship between God and man, and on the mutual love which is the content of that relationship. Believing in Christ’s Resurrection and joyously celebrating it, we together express our "hope in God that there will be a resurrection of the dead." (Acts24:15; 24:21; I Cor. 15:12-13 and 42-57; Hebrews 6:2), a general resurrection "on the last day" (John11:24). There will be no resurrection for us men at the end of history without Christ's Resurrection in history: "[If Christ is not risen] then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (ICor. 15:18) If that is the case then we, instead of the bright joy of Pascha as the passing over from death to eternal life, are left with a mournful respect for the "shades of the dead"; and then we are "the most miserable of all people" for we can "only hope in Christ in this life" (I Cor. 15:19). Of course, we can also then say the reverse: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ risen" (I Cor.15:13; 15:15-16).

But, brothers and sisters, our faith in Christ's resurrection and in the coming universal resurrection is not unfounded or a delusion of those who believe. It is, on the contrary, our directly experienced spiritual knowledge to the extent that we are true Orthodox Christians, which is to say, to the extent that we live in the Church and experience her as the Union of God and man, the Assembly of the Saints, the People of God, and not as an ideology or, still less, a religion. Already here and now, through our own incorporation into the Body of the Church in Holy Baptism, we can taste the final resurrection through our personal participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ (see Romans 6:3-5). In the same way our whole Christian life and effort, through taking part in the sufferings of Christ, can make it possible for us to also take part in advance in the future resurrection of the dead.(see Philippians 3:10-11) We experience the high-point of this participation and the fullness of this foretaste in the Holy Liturgy of the Church, in our Eucharistic union with Christ our risen Lord in Holy Communion. We are united with this Lord Who came into the world among us, Who comes to us through the Holy Spirit whenever we "gather together in one place" in His name, around His Holy Banquet Table of life and love. It is He Who "will come again in glory," and to Whom we ceaselessly and unrestrainedly call with the perfect words of the New Testament Scriptures: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20)The Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life and the Drink of Immortality, our true Food and Drink, is the pledge of the resurrection "on the last day" and of eternal life (see John 6:32-55). Man is not immortal on his own by nature or by the necessity of immortality, but only through Holy Communion in the grace-filled Gifts, which is participation in the Union with the Life giver, as the risen Lord Himself teaches us: "As the living Father has sent Me, and as I live by the Father, so whoever eats Me shall also live through Me" (John6:57).

The Gospel's true message of the Cross and Resurrection points us, our dear spiritual children, to the indispensable foundation of our life and work, which is our hope amid the hopelessness of an anti-spiritual civilization, and our optimism even under the merciless blows of the so-called new order of things in the world — new in name, but old in its inhumanity. Our experience and our truth, our value system and our social order, our sincere witness and our embracing of others as brothers begins today in our gracious paschal experience going back twenty centuries. This means that it begins in the new life which is found in Christ and in the self-sacrificial accomplishment of the Cross, in the most joyous triumph of the Resurrection, in the unity of the Holy Spirit and in the universal unity of the Church as most perfectly proclaimed and realized in the communion we all have with Him. As we pray together in one of our hymns, "O great and most holy Pascha, Christ...,grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy Kingdom!" Therefore we seek, and we offer to our neighbors, a way out of all troubles and an answer to all their questions and to ours, here and now, from the only true Christ, the Lord of Glory, our personal Passover, the Lamb of God who suffered and sacrificed Himself for us (see I Cor. 5:7), but Who will triumph and has already triumphed over the seven-headed dragon of the abyss of the Apocalypse, together with all its servants and allies throughout history (see Revelation 17:7-14).

Here is the answer to one of the most difficult questions of humanity today- to the question of how to care for the world in which we live, how to save our environment and our common human home. In faithfulness to the Cross, we will preserve it by sacrificing ourselves for the world and not sacrificing the world to us; illuminated by the Resurrection and made worthy by our calling to be kings and priests of God's creation (Rev.5:10), in the Church we will save and transfigure not only ourselves but also nature, as we come to perceive through faith "the new heaven and new earth" (Rev. 21:1).

Herein is also to be found the way out of the drama of our Kosovo and Metohija, that part of our Fatherland which up until World War II rightfully carried the title "Old Serbia," which represents today and for all time will continue to represent the cradle of Serbia and the spiritual center of all of Orthodox Serbdom. All genuine suggestions and honorable efforts to solve the problems there deserve respect if they contribute to a solution by which the Serbian people can live in Kosovo and Metohija in peace and freedom, together with the Albanians and all other peoples, all equally sharing the same rights. Deserving of every moral condemnation is the brutal attack of the NATO pact on Yugoslavia: NATO has caused terrible suffering and destruction while offering the unsurpassedly cynical explanation that it wishes to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe."

NATO's violent "logic" simply means a tragedy, both for the Serbian people and for all the ethnic communities of Kosovo and Metohija. But, instead of a criminal war of conquest and death, we Orthodox Christians above all must act according to and must offer to the process our experience of the Cross and Resurrection — that is, we must remain faithful to or if necessary return to the ancient Testament of Kosovo, which is the spiritual and historical application of the eternal New Testament of Christ as found in the path and the legacy of the Holy and honorable Prince Lazar, that hero and knight of the freedom to be found not in this world, but in the holiness and justice of the Kingdom of Heaven. There can be no defeat on this path, for it is illumined by the radiance of the Resurrection.

May the torments and the anxieties of our times fade away before the light and the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord! Let us never forget that His Resurrection is the beginning, the sure guarantee and the stable foundation of our resurrection! Let there be death and destruction to no one, but life and salvation to all living things and to everything that exists!

Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Pascha, 1999.

The way to Emmaus.

Apostles Luke and Cleophas see the Risen Lord — Matinal Gospel 5 — Luke 24: 12-25.

I want to tell you something about this Gospel. This matinal Gospel is not only a recounting of sacred history; it is also a type or a template for the Christian life. It is an example of how we should live, and what we should expect! For spiritual edification, we can look at this story in an allegorical way and glean much benefit from it.

This story shows very clearly the path of the Christian life. The two apostles of the 70, on the way to Emmaus, were very disheartened, they were frightened, they were beat down, but they were not without faith. They did not understand (they did not believe that Christ was risen you know), but in some way they still had faith and the desire to know our Savior and serve Him.

So, our Lord meets them on the way. Imagine this picture! Two disheartened, frightened men are walking in the heat of the day, to a city that is a full days journey away, no knowing really what tomorrow would bring, but certainly suspecting that it would bring the point of a sword. Our Lord comes to them, and speaks to them on the way, and they don't see Him and don't know Him. Their eyes were holden that they could not see Him.

This is the way that it is for us so many times, brothers and sisters. We walk, on a long journey on the way, and many times we do not see. We only know by faith, we only know by our sure convictions, and something that is in our heart that warms us, and we know that we are following the true path. And, even if we cannot conquer a sin, or don't know the purpose of this or that, or the reason why something is happening to us or to a loved one, we still walk on the way. This is the way that Christ walks. We must walk with Christ! We must be in the way in which He walks, just like the apostles, just like the blind men1. This is a long way, and the day is indeed far spent before God fully reveals Himself to us. This will be at the end of the age, but a foretaste of this revealing, a true "piece" of it, as it were, is in the breaking of bread. Our Lord enlightened His two disciples in the breaking of bread, and they saw Who He was.

What happened? The day was far spent, the sun was setting, and they were tired. It would be a long and dangerous trip back, and there are robbers on the road, and what did they do? They made haste to go back, taking hours and hours, arriving in the wee hours of the morning, way past midnight, and the other apostles were up. They said He has appeared unto Simon; He is risen. And they corroborated this with their own testimony.

The two disciples were Luke, who wrote this gospel, and Cleophas, who was the brother of St. Joseph the Betrothed. He wrote with conviction, just like St. John wrote, who said "what I say is true."2 He wrote this way because he saw, and he believed, and he experienced and he believed. This seeing and experiencing can only be accomplished when we may a great effort to walk in the heat of the day, struggling against our hot passions.

This gospel is a deep mine. We can extract many golden nuggets from it, and they will make us rich, because they will show us how to live. Even in the midst of what is wrong with us, it shows us how to live. It shows us what will happen if we follow on that road and on that journey. It contains historical fact, but more importantly, it contains spiritual fact. It is what God will do to a man. He will enlighten him, and make him able to see, over the course of time. God help us to be on this road until the end of our life, so that we would see, in the end completely and clearly, not in a glass darkly, but face to face, crying "Abba, Father," and being called "friend." God bless you.

1 Cf. Matthew 20:30

2 Cf. John 19:35, paraphrased.

 

2nd Sunday of Pascha.

Today is the second Sunday of Pascha already. It is the Sunday of St. Thomas. Today we read about, as the church calls it, St. Thomas' "believing unbelief." 1 There is a theme here that the church is going to be talking about now in the light of the resurrection during the whole Pentecostarion period: the enlightenment of man. The resurrection is being applied now. We see it in the Acts that we're reading for quite some time now. In the light of the resurrection, we see what's happening. We see how many people were healed, how many people were converted, and how lives were changed. Even the shadow of the apostles healed people of their infirmities. 2 In the light of the resurrection, there was activity, there was motion, and there was enlightenment.

St Thomas, no different than you or I, had to be enlightened also. Everyone has different levels of understanding on various things, even among the apostles, even among the saints. It is fascinating to look and see how our Lord in the forty days that He spent on the earth enlightened so many using different ways to enlighten them, and also throughout the whole of the gospels how He reached people where they needed to be reached. The final destination is always the same: to follow the commandments and to become purified, so that we can know Christ in an intimate way. But sometimes Christ teaches certain people a little bit different. In fact, everyone is treated a little bit different.

Thomas wasn't there the first night of Pascha. 3 He had just left probably on some errand, and that is when Christ came, the doors being shut. And Jesus spoke to the eleven, or actually, ten 4 at that point, and they were glad. I have always marveled how in the scriptures great, momentous occasions are stated so laconically. "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." 5 Indeed, they were glad, when they saw the God-man! But Thomas was not there, and the resurrection was such an incredible thing; he cannot really be faulted for not believing.

Peter didn't believe when he saw the grave clothes, only John did, when they went into the grave and saw the clothes lying folded up. 6 John saw and believed, but Peter didn't. He went away, wondering in himself what had come to pass. 7 Mary Magdalene, who saw the stone rolled away from the tomb together with the Theotokos, didn't immediately believe in the resurrection. She came back to the tomb with myrrh and aloes to anoint the Lord, He Who in her mind was dead. She was weeping because He wasn't in the tomb. 8 She was weeping for someone Who was dead. That's why we sing, "Do not weep for one who is dead," it says (in a paraphrasement). "He is not dead, He is not here, He is alive and risen." In our exapostilarion we speak of this quite a bit, of how Mary misunderstood. And our Lord came to her and she thought He was the gardener, till He spoke to her and just in the hearing of His voice, when He said, "Mary," then she recognized Him. 9

Other disciples spent an entire perhaps half a day with Christ, and didn't understand. They were Luke and Cleopas on the way to Emmaus. 10 The tomb had already been empty for some time, and they were walking a long distance. It says in the scriptures 60 furlongs, quite a long distance, a day's journey, in the hot sun, and our Lord drew alongside them, and He spoke to them, and they didn't understand Who He was. They thought that He was a misinformed stranger, because He made like He wondered what the events were in the past couple days. But their hearts burned within them. Something about this Man captivated them, when He spoke to them about the scriptures, and opened their understanding. That's why it says: "And then opened He their understanding of the scriptures" And when they sat down, and when He broke bread, (which was of course, the Body and Blood of Christ), then they saw Him, and He vanished. And as they were making their way back in the wee hours of the morning, another day's journey, (they took two days' journey in one day), Christ was appearing to the other apostles, save Thomas.

You see how He enlightened people where they needed to be enlightened. Luke and Cleopas must have needed this conversation with the Lord, and to see Him in the breaking of the bread, to really have the point brought home that yes, the Lord had risen. Mary had to be spoken with by Lord. She had to see Him. John believed just by seeing the empty tomb. Peter was met by the Lord, the church understands. 11 Peter was met individually by the Lord, because after all, he was a bit shaken, wasn't he? Peter was a man of great bravery. He can't be faulted for his denying Christ three times. We would have done it a thousand times. But he was very shaken because of this, and because of his emotional turmoil he was in, it was very difficult for him to believe in the resurrection, because he was all wrapped up with his feeling so completely unworthy of what the Lord had called him to do. So the Lord had to meet with Peter individually, apart from the other apostles. And in fact, Peter was the first of the apostles to see the risen Lord. And I suppose maybe the second to believe after John, who without seeing believed.

And now the last to find out, after eight long days of hearing from the apostles about the Lord being risen, Thomas, is in the room and the Lord comes, through the doors again, which were shut, passing through the doors, because after all, His body is a human body, but it is a transfigured human body. It's not subject to the same kind of laws that we are subject to. It doesn't get tired, it doesn't get sick. And that's the way we will be as well. The way Christ was in His transfigured body is a prophecy for us of how our bodies will be as well.

Jesus comes in and speaks very gently to Thomas. He says, "Alright, I know what you need. You need to touch Me. Feel the prints of the nails in my hands. Feel the slit in my side, and be not faithless, but believing." 12 And then Thomas has the privilege of being the first of the apostles to proclaim unambiguously, in clear terms, the dual nature of Christ's humanity and His divinity. It is the first confession of faith in the scriptures, where Christ is proclaimed God and man openly. He says, "My Lord and my God!" 13 Thomas had to wait awhile, but God gave him that great privilege of almost, shall we say, beginning the symbol of faith 14. What a great privilege it was.

In the coming week we will be speaking about the myrrh-bearing women 15, and there is a theme throughout the story of the myrrh-bearing women of their continuing enlightenment, just like for Thomas or for Peter or for Luke and Cleopas or for the other apostles. And then we go onto the blind man and the lame man, the paralytic. We see how the resurrection is applied. Why does the church do this? Why do we speak of things that have to do with enlightenment and healing right after Pascha? Well, because the resurrection applies to us in our life now. It's very important to understand this. That's why I have been speaking of it so often. It's very important to understand, because you must know that God has given you the ability to be able to get rid of your sins, of your passions, of the problems in your life that are making you to be away from God. You have the ability, through the resurrection. And all these examples of people that partially believed, even the great apostles, who were at times disbelievers, at times were cowards, at times were at odds with each other and vied amongst themselves who would be greatest, and all the other things — even them — the Lord purified them, and brought them to a great wholeness.

If He can do it with them and do it with all the others examples in the scriptures, with the paralytic and the blind man and the woman at the well, named Photini 16, and all the others, then He can do it with us. I tell you, the resurrection is not something that you believe in as an event that occurred in the past. Nor is it something that you believe, and say that it will happen in the future, like Mary and Martha did, saying, "Oh Lord, I believe in the resurrection. In the last day, all will be resurrected." 17 When their brother Lazarus lay dead, and Christ showed them, "I am the resurrection. If I live in you, then you are resurrected now, not later." It is very important to understand this.

A Christian who understands that Christ's becoming man makes him able to do holy things will not fall prey to despondency. Despondency is really the negation of belief in God, you know. Despondency is a type of atheism. You should fear despondency and confess it every time. It is a terrible sin, because in it, you are rejecting the resurrection. God can save you, and God will save you if you live the Christian life. Yes, indeed, you must consider yourself unworthy of salvation, but you must also know that Christ has promised it.

So live as a Christian, fast as a Christian, think as a Christian, and when you cannot do things properly, when you do things that are sinful, run to confession with the sure hope the sure knowledge, that God will receive your repentance, because of the resurrection. I tell you if you live in the light of the resurrection, you will not become despondent. As a pastor I believe that the number one sin I see is despondency. Sometimes it is cloaked, so that people can have a sin and may be despondent about it, but not so noticeably despondent, so that it is a sort of semi-excuse.

And sometimes it is because people really desire to change, and they just can't believe that they can really change. Mary and Martha couldn't believe that their brother would be resurrected after four days. The apostles, many of them, could not believe that our Lord, Who spoke of the resurrection over and over and over again, could be resurrected. It took many proofs for some of them, such as Thomas, and the other ones as well. You know, it says "Many things the Lord did, many signs He did, but not everything is written in this book." 18 By the way, as an aside, you realize that the Lord taught the apostles so much that is not written down, that is part of our holy tradition now. The apostles transmitted it to their disciples, and so on. It wasn't written down, but it was precious, and St. John only in a dark way refers to it.

So today we see an example of a man, Thomas, enlightened. Christ went out of His way to enlighten him. He sort of accorded him special treatment, as it were. And Thomas believed, and he confessed. Christ did and does the same thing for us, to bring us to enlightenment. And now we must believe and confess.

Now He said something else that's very important, important not to pass over. He said, before Thomas didn't see this, but our Lord said it many other times when Thomas heard. He said, "As the Father hath sent me, so send I you." 19 And by extension, it is the same for us. No, we don't have the role of the apostles. We are not bishops, and we don't have the grace that has been bestowed upon the apostles, but we are sent along basically the same path: the path of obedience to the same gospel, the path of obedience to the commandments of our God, the life in the church, and everything that living as an Orthodox Christian entails. Later on, just after this reading in fact, the disciples, seven of them, are fishing, and the Lord tells them to let down their nets, and they had a catch, and then Peter is told to bring the catch to the shore, a hundred and fifty and three fishes, and yet the net did not break. 20 And later, after they ate, our Lord restored Peter by asking him three times, "Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou me?" and then He showed him how he would die. 21 This is tied in with when He was saying, "As my Father hath sent Me, so send I you."

We must use Christ as the example of how to live, whether as an apostle or whether as anyone else. The Christian life is one of difficulty and one of strife. We are in the light of the resurrection, but we can never get far away from knowing that our life is a difficult one. We make it so because of our sins, sometimes, and other times because of the evil of the world surrounding us. Follow the example of the saints. Follow the example of the apostles. Live as they lived, which means you live the life in the church.

And brothers and sisters, always believe that the resurrection applies to you, now. Fear disbelief in it. Every time you fall into despondency, berate yourself for being a fool and gazing into an empty tomb, and wondering where the Lord is. Don't be like this. Believe in the resurrection, and believe that you can be changed, and through struggle, arduous struggle, through many tears, through ups and downs, and even in the midst of your sins, God will perfect you, but you must believe.

1 Cf. one of the stichera at Vespers: "When Thou didst enter, O Christ, while the doors were shut, / Thomas, who was called the Twin, was not with them. / Wherefore, he doubted what was told him, / thus by unbelief confirming his belief. / And Thou, O Good One, didst not disdain to show him / Thine immaculate side and the wounds of Thy hands and feet. / Wherefore, having felt and beheld, / he confessed that Thou art neither naked God nor mere man, / and he cried: O my Lord and my God, glory be to Thee."

2 (Acts 5:15) Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

3 (John 20:19,24) Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.... (24) But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

4 Judas was dead, Thomas was gone, and the replacement for Judas (Matthias) had not been elected yet. This leaves ten.

5 John 20:20

6 (John 20:1-8) The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. (2) Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (3) Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. (4) So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. (5) And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. (6) Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, (7) And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. (8) Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

7 (Luke 24:10-12) It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. (11) And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. (12) Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

8 (John 20:11-16) But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, (12) And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. (13) And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. (14) And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. (15) Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. (16) Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

9 Ibid.

10 Luke 24:13-33

11 We understand this from holy tradition, and the scripture: (Luke 24:33-35) And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, (34) Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. (35) And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

12 Cf. (John 20:27) Then saith he to 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.

13 John 20:28

14 The Symbol of faith is also known as the "Nicene Creed."

15 The Sunday of the Myrhbearers is the 3rd Sunday of Pascha (counting Pascha as the 1st Sunday of Pascha)

16 The Samaritan Woman, whom the church knows as St Photini (5th Sunday of Pascha)

17 Cf. John 11, and especially (John 11:23-26) Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. (24) Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. (25) Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (26) And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

18 (John 21:25) And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

19 John 20:21

20 John 21:11

21 Cf. John 21:15-19

 

3rd Sunday of Pascha.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

Today is the third Sunday after Pascha, and it is the Sunday of the myrrh-bearing women. And it is quite an interesting reading which we have because these women and these men, Joseph of Arimathaea, who is mentioned today, and also Nicodemus 1, who is not mentioned in this gospel (but is mentioned in St. John's gospel), who acted with great love, but also in great ignorance. They were trying to do something that they were not going to be able to accomplish. These women wanted to anoint the Lord with myrrh, and Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared the Lord's body so carefully, wrapping it in clean, fine linen. Myrrh and aloes had been applied, according to the custom of the Jews. They carefully placed our Lord's body in a tomb that had been hewn out of a rock, which was Joseph's 2. All this they did in ignorance. They acted without full knowledge, but with great desire and with great love.

There is a lesson for us. Pascha is God making man able to know God. This is really what Pascha is. It is not an event only; it is a fundamental change in human nature. The God-man becoming incarnate made us able to live. He accomplished our salvation by His death and His resurrection, and basically all of the period from Pascha to Pentecost we think about how He enlightens us and the practical ramifications of what Pascha means for the soul. In essence, it means enlightenment. It means to know God. But to know God you have to be able to live like God, and you must live in virtue before you have full enlightenment.

These women and these two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, acted with great love for our Savior, but in ignorance. The women came to anoint a body, and there was no body to anoint, Joseph and Nicodemus prepared so carefully a dead man, who was already alive, and in Hades, and in only a few hours would show Himself as resurrected. So they acted in ignorance. And there is a lesson for us because we don't know the whole story. We don't know very much, in fact, and we are ignorant of many things. We are ignorant even of what God wants to give to us. Part of that is our own fault because too few of us read the Scriptures very carefully or because we are wrapped up in worldly things and don't really think of holy things very much. If you don't think of holy things, you're not going to master them, you know. I wish some people knew about the Bible as well as they knew about a 56 Chevy manual. Some people understand about things like that better than they understand the Gospel. We poor Christians are too willfully ignorant, because of our worldly choices and misdirected priorities.

Much of our ignorance is really because we are not able to assimilate all that God has give to us. But that should not stop us. These women came to the tomb early in the morning. The early hour is mentioned because to get up early is a difficult thing. It shows that the first thing on their mind was Christ. As soon as they could go and anoint the body, according to the Jewish law, they did, and they brought myrrh and ointments. These myrrh and ointments signify bringing to Christ our good works, bringing to Christ our desire to live as He has shown us to live. They didn't come to Him empty-handed, as we unfortunately so often do. They came to Him bearing what they could, giving what they could. Even though it was the wrong gift, God received it because it was out of love that they bore this gift.

Myrrh also has an interesting property. It is a desiccant, and will dry out things and preserve them, and it's very sweet smelling. So let us dry out that which is wet in us, the passions. Let us dry it out with the heat of the Holy Spirit, and let us make ourselves sweet as myrrh smells sweet, and the ointment smells sweet.

Now the women went to a tomb that was hewn out of a rock. St Luke had said that never had a man been laid in it. It was a new tomb, unused, undefiled, and to hew a tomb out of a rock takes great work. It is very, very difficult, especially in that age with that technology. This tomb is the place where we would put Christ. The rock removed represents work we must do to our soul. We must hew out a place for Christ. This involves effort; this involves desire, toil. I've said it before and I'll say it a thousand times again if God gives me breath. I believe the greatest heresy ever in the history of man is that salvation can be garnered without labor. This idea that only faith is needed, and not works. This is the greatest of the heresies. We must not subscribe to it. We must hew the tomb out of the rock. We must make a place for Christ to be, for Him to abide.

Now the women, when they were walking to the tomb, they were talking amongst themselves, saying, "Who's going to roll away the stone?" They were afraid, you know, for to do such a thing was to mark them for death. And also they were frail women. How were they going to roll away a great stone that takes a great many men to roll in front of the tomb? Well, if we will go to the tomb with our ointments, our stone will be rolled away, too. And what is that stone? That stone is what covers up the heart and makes us unable to see, or even sometimes to feel God, to become like Him. We have a stone in front of our hearts many times. God will roll it away. The angel is all-powerful, and he moved the stone with no effort at all. The women were not able to do it, and neither are we, although we are required to make some effort to do so.

I'm struck again and again when I read this passage: the women were walking to the tomb, and they had no way to roll away the stone, and they had no clue how it was going to happen, and they went despite all this! This stone is the things that assail us, our sins and our passions, which each one of us can mention, only in our heart of hearts, I'm sure. Some things we can't even mention aloud when we are the only one in the room. There are sins and passions that assail us. We cannot gain ascendancy over them. These sins, these difficulties, this jealousy, this anger, this lust, this laziness, this feeling of despondency, this feeling of worthlessness, these wicked habits that seem to take us over, despite our best intentions. I could name a dozen or two dozen other sins. These things are a large stone, in front of our tomb, the place where we want to put Christ.

God will roll it away, but we must go to this tomb. We must not say, "I don't know how it's going to be taken care of, and therefore, I'm not going to go." The women didn't do that. What they did, I want to impress upon you, brothers and sisters, was completely unrealistic. There was no reason for them to think that the tomb would be open, but they went. They didn't even think about it. They were outside of themselves. Love does that. Love for Christ makes us struggle even though there is a stone over our hearts, and we don't know how this stone will be moved. But we go anyway. We fast anyway, we come to the church anyway, we confess anyway. We say our prayers and force ourselves to pray in the morning and in the evening. We force ourselves to do things that are righteous, and the things that we are not able to change, that is, that big stone, God will move. This is only if we go to the tomb, only if we struggle.

These women didn't understand that they were going to anoint the God-man Who was risen from the dead. Their knowledge wasn't perfect, but their love was perfect, and because of their love, God enlightened them. It took quite some effort. They didn't even understand the first time when the angel spoke to them, and they trembled and were afraid and they forgot the command and they didn't tell the apostles the first time 3. But they went back another time, and then they saw the risen Lord! And the apostles were the same way. They couldn't believe it the first time. The only one who believed with the first evidence was John 4. Everyone else couldn't believe. It was too terrible, too wonderful for them, too outside of their understanding. God enlightened them, stepwise, a little bit at a time. This is what He does with us, but only if we make a great effort in our lives.

Christianity is very simple. The light of Christ illumines all men. We walk in this light, while there is the light, as the Savior says 5, and as we walk in this light, God gives us more light, more to see, more to spur us on. And we increase in knowledge and in virtue. It is impossible for a man to increase in knowledge without increasing in virtue or vice-versa, because the two are linked. The two are two sides of the same coin. To know Christ is to become like Him.

Now you and I, we are poor ones. We know very little. We don't know how to pray the prayer of the heart. We don't know how to cease jealousy when someone gains some position that we wanted. We don't know how to return goodness for evil. When someone rails against us, in our heart we tremble with ill feeling. These are the stones that we cannot turn away. We need help for these stones. And as a pastor, my prayer for you, my plea to God, is that all of you would believe in the resurrection and believe that these things that are assailing you will be removed. I pray that you will not fall into despondency, and look at the size of the stone and not believe that it cannot be changed, because then you will fall into disbelief and basically atheism and you won't be believers in the resurrection, nor in He Who was resurrected. And if you do not believe in the resurrection, that stone will stay there, in front of the tomb, and you will remain unenlightened, and basically, unchanged.

See how marvelous the scriptures are? In a few short words they sum up the whole of the Christian life. We struggle to follow Christ in the light that He has given. Some of us may have a little more light than others at this point in our life. We struggle, enabled by the light we've been given, and more light comes. And the things that we believed impossible, they are possible. All things are possible with God, but I tell you, it is not possible to be saved unless you struggle. God will only save those who have desire. He'll save many who had desire and didn't do a very good job of it. He'll save many who sinned grievously but desired to change 6. But He will not save those who did not struggle to change, and who had the audacity to gaze into the empty tomb, and to still believe that the stone in front in their tomb could not be moved. We must believe the stone can be, indeed, WILL BE moved.

We must live this, and the key is in living virtuously. There's no replacement for it, because if we live virtuously, not only will God enlighten us more, we will also gain confidence. You know, some of you are still children, but those of us who were children, remember when you did something bad, and your mother or father or aunt or uncle didn't know about it when they came into the room? You know your feeling, that feeling of great guilt. But when you were doing something right — I assume when we were kids we did something right! — when you were doing things right you felt good when they came into the room. You felt at peace. Our virtues, small though they may be, will gain us confidence that God will change those things that we cannot change yet.

Believe this, brothers and sisters. Take your myrrh and your aloes and your ointment, no matter how small the flask is, take it to the tomb. Believe that the stone will be rolled away. Just continue to go to the tomb. That is our entire life, that trek to the tomb. And if you believe it, God will remove the stone, but only if you live according to the light. May God help you to live in the light of the resurrection, to live with virtue, and to believe, to believe the stone will be removed. Christ will have a place to abide in you, and you will be full of joy. May God help you in this. Christ is risen!

1 (John 19:38-39) "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. (39) And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."

2 (Luke 23:50-54) "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: (51) (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. (52) This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. (53) And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. (54) And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on."

3 Some of the Fathers say in regards to this passage: "And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8), that the women's silence refers to the enemies of Christ, and strangers, and they did immediately go to the apostles with the news they had been commissioned to tell.

4 (John 20:3-8) "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. (4) So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher. (5) And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. (6) Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie, (7) And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. (8) Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed."

5 (John 12:35-36) "Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. (36) While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light..."

6 The examples in the scriptures of this important truth are numerous. Cf. (as but one example) (Mat 21:28-31) "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. (29) He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. (30) And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. (31) Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

4th Sunday of Pascha.

The Sunday of the Paralytic.

Today is the Sunday of the paralytic, in which we hear the story of a man who'd been ill for thirty-eight years and was finally healed. We have much to learn from this story. Now, the reason why it's said now, or part of the reason, is because, as the services said last night, at "mid-feast," Jesus visited this paralytic. It's almost mid-feast now, it is almost mid-Pentecost. Pentecost is a feast of 50 days, and we're in that period awaiting Pentecost. And the Jews celebrated Pentecost also; they didn't understand the same meaning as we do, it changed, but they had a 50-day feast. So Jesus came about towards the middle of that feast — mid-Pentecost — and saw this man by the pool of Siloam, with five porches there.

We can learn many things from this short story. Certainly we can learn something about patience, endurance, not complaining about what is our lot in life, what's wrong with our life, what's going on that we don't like. We complain constantly and incessantly, and our complaining is a stench that rises up to God. Because when you complain, you're showing a lack of faith, a lack of obedience, a lack of love — indeed, a lack of understanding of who the God-man Jesus Christ is. Who of all among us, if anyone, could complain and feel justified — our Lord is the only one. But of course He understood what his task was and He took it joyfully, and with obedience, in order to save us by living on the earth, showing us the way, teaching us and then backing up what He said with His actions and his resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion. Indeed, we can learn a lot about patience by seeing this man; he wasn't complaining, and he was there for 38 years.

We can also learn something about Who it is who can cure, and what it is that He really cures. Whether a man is halt, whether a man is withered, lame, blind, or whatever infirmity a man has, it is small compared to the infirmity of the soul. Jesus healed this man not just of his infirmity of being palsied, but of the infirmity of his soul. How do we know this? Because later on we see after he was healed and the man was in the temple — which is a good sign, he was thanking God — Jesus explained some things to Him. Now listen carefully! In our society we don't like to hear this, in our society this is somehow not allowed, people don't like to admit this, they almost think you're crazy or reactionary to make the connection with sin that our Savior did when He said, 'Thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee." Now the fathers understand — and if you just know English you can understand — that he's making a reference to his palsy, his being a paralytic was it some measure caused by his sins.

This is not always the case. In fact, one time Christ was asked, "was it because of the sins of his parents or himself that this man was born without eyes, blind?" Christ said neither one; if was that the glory of God might be made manifest. It's not always because of sins that a person suffers some affliction, but most of the time it is because of sins. Either because sin causes the affliction — smoking, drinking alcohol to abuse, drugs, promiscuity, there's a long litany of things, diseases, that are caused by our own stupidity, by our wanton abuses. You can see fractured families because people don't deal with their anger, or their lust, or their lust, or their impatience, or their selfishness; sin causes many problems such as that in a direct way. But in an indirect way sin causes many other afflictions, because we're so thickheaded we don't see God. We don't see God in the good things, and we take advantage of those good things and fall into depravity.

So God, in His wisdom, in His love, in His mercy, chastises us in order so that we might cleave unto Him. It's the same principle with parents and their children; sometimes you must punish a child to help turn him to the right way, sometimes you must let a child suffer grievously in order to let him turn to the right way. If someone has a child that, let's say, gets involved in extremely dangerous and illicit behaviors and goes to jail, sometimes it's best not to bail the child out. God does the same thing with us. Our sins cause our suffering.

This society doesn't like to say that — "oh, how can you say this?" It does happen, to all of us. So if you have any situation in your life you're not pleased with — whether it's a physical infirmity, whether it's a relationship, whether it's job, or neighborhood, or family or whatever it is, "Physician, heal thyself. " Look the in mirror; look in the mirror of the soul. What's wrong with you? What's causing it? As I said before, it's possible that such things could be caused not through your sins at all, but because of something else. But for the most part, our sins cause our sufferings. And yet we complain, and we complain and we complain. But we always complain about that person and that person, but never ourselves. That's the person you need to complain about. Complain, ask God to help you with your sins, with that which fills you with evil.

I was reading from a wonderful sermon by Bishop Nicholaj Velimirovich, and he said "A Christian should expect to suffer." How about that for politically incorrect speaking! He expects to suffer, and he is surprised and glad and rejoices when he does not suffer. He expects to suffer because of his sins, just as you, if you were subject to a king and had killed the king's deer, you expect that the king is going to have you executed. You're not going to complain about that, you're going to be sorry and ask for forgiveness to the king. And if the king gives you forgiveness — but you know, he'll say Don't kill any more of my deer, but I forgive you this time — then you'll rejoice. Now we can do this with an earthly king, but with our Heavenly Father we don't do this.

We seem to think we're owed so much. We breathe it in the very air, it's so polluted with Western ideas that pollute us. "We're owed something." We're not owed anything in terms of your lot in life. Much of your lot in life is affected by God's providence. All of it actually, but some of it caused by God, and some of it allowed by God depending on your own ingenuity and your own abilities. But it all goes away in a vapor, how you lived, what you've done in this world. What matters is how your soul has developed, and if you're made whole.

I see that there are three things in this story that really jump out at me. Now you know that the water represents baptism, and that the person who was put in the water was made whole. Notice how it is says "made whole"; not just their infirmity was healed, but they were made whole.. But only one person, at one time in the season.

Christianity is to make one whole. Baptism is for all men, not just for one man, at one time in the season. And the man said to Christ, when Christ said, "wilt thou be made whole?" he said, 'I have nobody to help me." And he was looking at the Man who would help him; he was looking at the God-man who would help him, and he didn't know who He was yet. Christ asks us this question continually. "Wilt thou be made whole?" And for the most part we answer him with a resounding "No." For the most part we answer Him that way.

To some extent we've answered "yes"; we've come to the waters of baptism, we make an effort to fast, to come to the services — sometimes, unfortunately, a very poor effort to come to the services and I must mention that again. Don't lose your zeal; some of you are in very great danger of losing your zeal. But we make our small efforts, so yes indeed we say, to some extent, "Yes, I want to be made whole, O Lord!" But for the most part we say, "No, I don't want to! give up what I'm doing; I don't want to give up the sweetness of sin, or the sweetness of complaining, or the sweetness of excuses." They're so sweet, aren't they? But they cover up bitter, bitter poison.

So we must answer this question completely and totally, "Yes, I want to be make whole! I want to be cleansed of all my sins, and I don't blame Thee, the Lord, nor my friends, nor my family, nor anyone else for my sins and for my afflictions; they are mine and mine alone, and they are my fault. But Thou canst heal it; Thou art the man that can bring me into the water and can refresh me."

He is the one. We don't fully recognize that, either — oh, we believe it with our minds, with our lips, but if we really believed it we'd make much greater effort in living the Christian life. And another things that jumps out at me: when Christ said "behold, thou art made whole; sin no more." Christianity is a constant process of becoming whole, but it involved two free wills — God's, who is perfectly free, and we, who should be free but have enslaved ourselves to the passions and lusts and corruptible things. But we were made to be free. It was our purpose. God made us to have perfect freedom. You know the Gospel of John where it says "he will go in and out and find pasture"? The sheep, being able to go in and out, go wherever they wish, perfect freedom, but freedom in godliness, freedom in purity, freedom in perfection. This is the purpose of our life — perfect freedom! So we have to answer Christ, when He asks us the question "wilt thou be made whole?" "Yes!" And any portion which answers "no" we must confess with bitter tears.

Stop making excuses for yourself. Don't make excuses for not being able to say your prayers, for not being able to come to church, for not being able to come to confession, for not doing this, for not doing that, for this reason, for that reason, for why you do this and why you do that. You know it's all a lie. I know it is a lie in my own life, so I strive to be honest concerning these things also. It's a lie. And every time you make an excuse, you are saying "NO." You're saying "I don't want to be made whole. I like laying in the gutter, I like laying in filth. I like wallowing in my sins."

Don't allow yourself to do this. That's why the church has an order. This order is not rules and regulations, it is for our benefit. That's why I must speak of it over and over, and especially during this season, because during this season is the most likely time for a person to fall away. Part of that is because God has given us such great grace on Pascha, and we hardly accepted it; we accepted a few things, we accepted some of the sweet meats, but we didn't accept and take into ourselves the resurrection. We couldn't bear it and so, because of unthankfulness, we're starting to fall away. I don't really know anybody who is honest who doesn't say that this happens to them during the Paschal season. It happens to me, but I struggle against it.

So I beseech you, my brothers and sisters, struggle against this; don't make excuses, don't let your life be in the way of eternal life. Don't let your temporal life impair you, don't make excuses, don't say NO. If you understood what Christ is saying, and says, when He says "wilt thou be made whole?" you'd be begging me to serve daily Liturgies. You'd be begging me, because you wouldn't want to go away from the temple, if you knew what wholeness really is. So taste God more and more, and as you taste more and more of God, you won't want to taste depravity.

But if you don't continue to taste of Him, and to "mount up like eagles" as it says in the Scriptures, to struggle, then it'll be a gradual slide. It might not be anything you notice, it might not be anything I notice — and I tell what, I keep my eyes peeled because, although I'm unworthy, I'm called to be a shepherd here, so I watch and I worry and I wait and I pray. But you know, in the long run, I'm not responsible for your salvation. To some degree I might have to answer if my own sins have caused you to falter, but you are all responsible for your own salvation. In the context of living the Christian life in community and in obedience, you are responsible.

Think a little about what it means to be whole. Which do you prefer — the inconstancy, the depravity, the weakness, the infirmity of this life, or wholeness, completeness, perfection and freedom? You and I are paralytics to some degree, sometimes to a great degree, and tragically this is usually of our own making. So when Christ asks you — and He's asking you today, He asks you every moment of your life — "Wilt thou be made whole?" You MUST struggle to say "YES" and then you MUST back up your promise with action, with effort, with desire. Then indeed, you will be made whole.

God help you!

 

5th Sunday of Pascha.

The Samaritan Woman

Today we are privileged to witness a holy conversation. This conversation is not just between Christ and a woman. It is between Christ and the soul. This is what we are privileged to see: God opening a window for us to look through, to see how the soul reacts, how it grows, how it learns, and how He enlightens it. The fathers understand this to be the conversation of Christ with the soul. Now he continues the theme of enlightenment that permeates all the services between Pascha and Pentecost, because the resurrection enlightens us, the resurrection vivifies; the resurrection gives us all that we need to know God.

Now we're waiting upon the Holy Spirit, and as good and faithful disciples, we should be more zealous at this time of year than at any other time. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite, as the years go by. This is the least zealous time for Christians, but it is the most important time. I guess that's why people are so haphazard at this time of year: because it's so important. In many ways, this time is even more important than Great Lent. This is the time for your blessing. God wants to enlighten you. God wants to show you so many things. This period of time is very holy. Unfortunately it is also one of the most ignored times of the year, an ignored holy time of the year.

Christ is showing us, the church is enlightening us about how we are to live, what the resurrection means. We already know so much about what we should do and why we should do it, and the dos and the don'ts. What we need as human beings is the sure certainty that we can do things, that we can change and the enlightenment of the revelation of God in the human soul. This comes about because of the resurrection, these two things: certainty that we can change, and the revelation of God in the human heart. This is what Christianity is, and this is what we are being shown today. This is a holy thing, to be able to observe, to eavesdrop upon this conversation of Christ with the soul.

Now, as it is in many, many passages of scripture, most of them, we should put ourselves in this situation. We should consider ourselves as the Samaritan Woman at this point, and wonder how we would react. Where would we need to improve? This woman is great, but she was a sinner, there is no doubt about it: she had had five husbands, she was living in an illicit relationship with another man, and she believed in false religion. Samaritans were sort of semi-pagans; some of them worshipped other gods. They sort of worshipped God as the Jews understood, but then they mixed in some of the pagan things that happened that God had warned them against, and some of the Jews didn't take heed and so there was sort of a mixture, an amalgam of the true religion mixed together with the false. We can see that in other areas of the world, too, where animism mixes with Christianity, because people want to hedge their bets, I guess, and believe in all. So this woman was not a true believer, and she was not living a moral life.

But there was a greatness in her soul, because as God revealed Himself to her, slowly, there was awakened in her a great thirst, and a great and a brutal honesty. She was honest. Not just that she told the truth to Jesus, but that when she heard the truth, she accepted it. Not the truth that He was Messiah. That truth, as important as it is, is less important than the fact that she had to accept what Christ said about her. She had to accept that Christ had the right to tell her things and to and to look into her soul.

Many people proclaim Jesus as the Christ, and that truth doesn't save them. When we accept Jesus as the Christ in our hearts, when we accept that He has rights to tell us how to live, then we are on the road to salvation. Our life is full of many, many moments, when God tries to reach out and touch us. Many of these moments we have missed, sometimes because we have other things to do, other priorities. Sometimes because we are just bouncing around with that narcotic kind of wave of life, we don't listen and don't hear. God is only heard in that still, small voice, as Elias heard. He had to be still and quiet before he could hear. And so must we.

So this woman is in the whole bustle of life. She is going in the heat of the day, about noontime to get water, and Christ is by himself at the well. And he engages her in conversation, which was amazing to her. Not only is she a woman — it was not usual for a man to engage a strange woman in conversation — but she was a Samaritan. He was clearly a Jew, the Jews clearly hated Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual. Why in the world would this man be talking to her? But He awakened in her a thirst, and this thirst is what saved her soul. And He cleansed the unclean life that she was leading, and the unclean belief she had had all her life, and the arguments, and the hatred that she had toward the Jews, and everything else, because He touched her.

This conversation is long. It gets recounted in a few words, but it probably took quite some time, because there is certainly more that went on. This conversation is sort of our life in microcosm. And if you break off a conversation, you do not receive the full benefit of it. This is what I really want to tell you today.

This woman pursued the conversation. This woman pursued the conversation. Jesus said, "Give me to drink." She said, "Sir, why would you want to talk to me?" And then He brings in the idea of water, living water, and the woman begins to pursue after this idea, first carnally. She only understood it in terms of water that "I don't have to thirst for, I don't have to carry my water pot anymore, water that doesn't go bad. This is a wonderful thing. How can this man help me? Maybe he is a magician, maybe he is a sorcerer." She pursued, and he pursued, and she became a flame. She started to understand things — only in a figure, only a little bit — but that's because the conversation continued. She desired this water greatly. And what is this water? The living water that Christ talks about. Not from a spring, nor from a river, it is the Holy Spirit that God wells up in a man. This is what Christ is promising to the woman, but she doesn't understand yet.

But this woman had another difficulty besides an incorrect understanding of God. She was living in sins, and they were dulling her intellect. Indeed she had quite a bright intellect, because eventually she became St. Photini, equal to the apostles, and a martyr. And you can see even in the end of this reading she became an apostle, for she evangelized the entire town. Now this is a woman that was probably of some notoriety in this town. Because even among the Samaritans, what she was doing was not acceptable. And yet she evangelized the whole town. She must have been aflame with the knowledge of Christ at this point, and she communicated it because she believed it. But she had to stop thinking carnally, and start thinking spiritually, and in order for that to happen Christ had to show her what was wrong with her life.

So he skillfully turns the conversation to her by asking an innocuous question, an innocent question. "Go, call thy husband." "I don't have a husband." "Thou hast spoken truly. Thou hadst had five husbands, and the one that thou hast now is not your husband." Now with the vast majority of people in the world, the conversation would have ended there. She would have come irate: how dares He? She would have stomped off, or become belligerent in the conversation, and what God wanted to give her wouldn't have been given. She would have cut if off right there. And I daresay all of us in this room should consider how we would react to the revelation of our sins in this manner.

Indeed I daresay, that we do react in this manner. We cut off our conversation with God. The conversation that is sweet, the conversation of Christ with the soul, but because we do not continue to ask questions, we do not continue to listen to the Master. We have our own priorities, our things we do. We don't say our prayers very often, we don't come to church, except haphazardly. We don't commune or confess very often. These are all parts of the conversation.

And you don't even know what you've missed. If this woman had become angry because of what Christ said, or maybe become disinterested in the very beginning, saying, "Oh, I don't really want to talk to a Jew today. I've had a hard time. I'm tired. I just want to get home, and I want to begin the rest of my household duties." Or at any other point in the conversation, if she had cut it off, she would not have found out about the living water, and she wouldn't have known. It wouldn't have been a tragedy in her life right then. She would not have known. It would not have occurred to her that she had God before her, and she had sinned. She wouldn't have noticed it. She would have gone on with her life, and lived and died. And never known what she'd miss. What a tragedy!

This is what happens to us, too. God wants to shed grace upon us abundantly, yet we cut off the conversation. We don't even know what it is that He wants to give us. We are dull-witted because we do not sharpen our senses with the sword of the Holy Spirit that cuts to the marrow, tells us who we really are, and what we 're really like — not the vision that we give to other people, or even that we give to ourselves — but what we're really like. And then God reveals Who He really is. It has to be deep within the soul that He reveals this, and it is only in a protracted and intimate and intense conversation that this can occur. That's where the Holy Spirit reveals himself to a man, when we are intense, when we are fixed. One can easily imagine in this conversation that the woman was intense. She must have been gazing upon Christ with both eyes, listening to His every word, interpreting, asking questions, making many mistakes and many false assumptions, but every single thing He said drew her on. You can bet that she did not pay attention to the weather or that she was hot. She forgot her waterpot when she went away — what need did she have for the waterpot when He was promising living water?

This intense conversation is what we must have, and what we so seldom do, because we have our own priorities. Sometimes not even our own priorities. We just seem to be so unpracticed at the ways of piety. We say our prayers so infrequently, and such a small amount. We watch ten times more television than we pray. We read things that are either unholy or useless, rather than the Holy Scriptures. We say we don't have time for this, or the drive is too long, or da-da-da-da-da-da. And we don't even know what we missed.

I've learned something. I'll tell you a secret about myself that I'm continually finding out. Sometimes I get demoralized. It's a weakness of my character. And a day seems like just another day to me, and I've got duties to perform, and I'm going to perform them to the best of my ability. I'm going to try to pray. I'm going to try to do what I can, but the spark of zeal, of the expectation of visitation by God, is missing. And this often happens to me on Sunday, struggling with this demon of despondency. And then something happens during the course of that day — someone I meet, something someone says, a place where I am where God uses my poor self in my ministry as a priest to affect a human soul. It often happens at the end of the day. But I could have missed it, and indeed I don't know the days that I have missed, because I can't tell you about those days, when I wasn't open to what God wanted me to do. I can't tell you about the missed opportunities, except to believe that they happened. Many times this has happened to me, countless times, hundreds of times it has happened. It must have happened also hundreds of times — God forgive us — God forgive me and God forgive you because I'm positive it's happening to you today, where you've missed the opportunities for God's grace.

You must continue the intensity of the conversation. You must continue gazing at Christ and asking Him. He told you to ask Him for everything. But implicit in that command is that you must accept His answers, and ask Him for more answers. This woman is great among the saints because she was intense and was willing to accept what God would tell her. We don't do that. We don't like to be told much about ourselves. I've encountered this countless times myself also. People do not like to know what's really wrong with them. They get very, very prickly when things are too exposed. And unfortunately I am sometimes the agent of the exposing, so I can see it first hand. I see myself as in a mirror when I see this occur, because I don't like to be exposed either. But this conversation that Christ had with the Samaritan woman took time. Gradually her sins were exposed to her. When it was time for Christ to show her that He absolutely knew all about her, she was ready to accept it. But that was only because of the effort that she had put into the conversation up to that point. We must put effort into this conversation.

This is the only thing that is important in our lives — the dialogue of Christ with our soul. Nothing else matters. It is why we were born. It is why God has given us life, so that we could have intimate knowledge of Him. Intimate knowledge happens in a quiet, intense conversation of God with the soul, through everything we do in our life. When you make bad decisions, when you are lazy, when you don't come to church, when you don't say your prayers, when you decide to eat some nibble of food that is not fasting, all these things are breaking the conversation. And you know how it is when you are distracted in a conversation. Let's say you are having a conversation with someone and the radio or the television is on in the background, you get distracted. "Oh, yes, what did you say?" You don't make much headway in it. There's not much revelation in it. This is the way we are. It is lamentable, and sad, but it is the way we are.

What a glorious thing it is for Christ to speak with the soul. What a glorious thing it is to be promised living water, never to be thirsty again. Never to be sad. Never to be hungry. Not to have anything wrong with us. No wounds. No incompleteness. No imperfections. No longer pain and longing. This is what He promises us. It is only realizable, though, if we are participating with Him, as He reveals Himself and reveals to us ourselves as we live our life. It is only possible if we continually participate. I harp again and again about consistency. Saying your prayers consistently, keeping the fast consistently, coming to the services consistently. Not haphazardly. Not just most Sundays, not just some Saturdays. All of them. The reason I say this is because deeply imbedded in the mind of the church is the reality of this conversation between Jesus Christ and St. Photini. It is the conversation of God with the soul and it happens every day and every single word, every nuance is critical. None can be missed.

I cannot tell you how many of these words or nuances you can miss and still be saved. It is unknown, but not many. This is why I speak about all these things in terms of the externals of our life. The externals are critical so that God can speak. Otherwise we are too distracted. So I tell you boldly, when you don't want to say your prayers, or when you don't feel like coming to church, or when you're bored in church and leave early or when you have some other thing to do, it's not only boredom. It's not that your feet hurt or your back hurts. It's not that you have some other duty that overrides what you should be doing in church, or prayer at home, or keeping the fast. It's not those reasons that you might think it is. It's purely and simply because if this conversation is broken you will make no progress. So Satan does what he can to break the conversation. And we are too willing to allow the distractions to occur in our life.

God wants to give us so much. I think this conversation between this Samaritan woman and Christ is a great promise. He accepted her where she was, with all of her sins, and all of her false opinions, and she was willing to continue to listen, and He brought her to where she needed to be. It is the same with all of us.

Now she said she had five husbands. Five dead husbands. But she had another who was not her husband. We indeed also have husbands. Unfortunately they are not dead. We have distractions, and we have false priorities and other things that cause us to commit adultery against our true spouse, our lord Jesus Christ. Let those husbands die. And let us be faithful, true to the bridegroom. May God help you to continue the conversation. To the end of your life, not omitting one detail. God will enlighten you if you continue this conversation. Absolutely certain, there is great news today. Continue with the conversation. God will enlighten you. Glorious news this is. Amen.

 

Pentecost.

Today we celebrate the bringing of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, the fulfillment of the Resurrection in the heart of man. Christ prophesied it Himself, and the fulfillment we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. Actually, it's rare — when we have a feast day, usually the primary reading is that of the Gospel, in terms of in content of the feast, but the event of Pentecost is described in the Acts.

Christ said, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink," and He said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." The Apostle John tells us this refers to the Holy Spirit, Who was not yet given, but He was prophesying of what would happen when it was given. "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." The Holy Spirit is available to us, if we thirst. Abundant water, cool water, fresh water. Not water from a cistern, but water from a living spring is available to us — but only if we thirst. If we don't thirst, then the water that we partake of is flat and lifeless and tepid. We must thirst.

This is the key to the Christian life — thirst. Thirst for righteousness, thirst for Christ. Then, out of your belly truly shall flow rivers of living water. Think of the image, of what this means. Continual activity, continual purity — because water purifies, especially flowing water. It scours the ground, and cleans, takes waste away, continually flowing and purifying and cleansing. This is what happens in the heart of man — but only if we thirst. We must thirst for that good water, the water that Christ also spoke of with the woman at the well, St. Photini. If you thirst, then indeed, you will have living water.

If you don't thirst, if you don't put the priorities in your life wholly towards learning of the sweetness of God, then you won't experience this living water. You might experience a little of it, sort of like being at the spray of a waterfall. You don't experience the power of the water, but you feel some of the mist. This is not for us Christians. We want to feel the full force of the water. But we must thirst.

"As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." This putting on is our action, our desire, our continual living in Christ. May it be that we would truly live as Christians. The Spirit makes it possible. It's all there for us. Abundant grace is present, and abundant grace is continually shed upon us. And we would have all of this grace if we thirsted. To the extent that we thirst for things that are not godly, and that distract us, to that extent we don't have this living water.

And the sad thing is, it's not something we can know obviously. Many times, when you do something wrong in life, it's obvious that you did something wrong. You can tell, if you make a mistake in building something, if you cut a board too short, or do something an incorrect way, or something of that nature, your mistake becomes apparent to you. Or even in human relationships, often times we can tell if we've made a mistake, and sometimes we have the opportunity to correct it. But, if we don't know that we have this living water, we won't know. It's not something that we can know of to correct, because this is knowledge that is wholly beyond us. It's wholly outside of our carnal frame of reference. So, if we miss this living water, if we don't have water springing out of our belly, we won't know it. To me, that is the greatest tragedy of life — to not know the grace of God when it is presented to us.

All of us, if we don't struggle, if we don't thirst, we won't experience grace. I've come to the conclusion that the reason that some things in our faith are not explained thoroughly is that those who need the explanation would not understand it, because they haven't experienced it. Only those that truly thirst can truly understand the wisdom and the mercy and the might and the beauty of God, and the excellence of His plan for us. All of us may have realized a small portion of that plan, have small bit of knowledge of God. And may it be that with every single one of us, God is abiding in us, and cleansing us. But may it be for all of us especially that out of our bellies would flow living water. Not just a trickle, not just a drop at a time, not a stagnant pool, but continual activity in Christ, continual knowledge, mounting up like eagles.

It's all there for us. Jesus Christ provided the way, He made our flesh capable. And then, not only did He make our flesh capable, but He sent the Spirit. Why? So that we would know what we can do, that we would know of the mercy and the beauty of God. Truly any man who really knows God does not sin. We have to be honest with ourselves, and say, to that extent, we don't know God. Because God makes Himself known to the pure. Or actually — thank God for this — He makes Himself known to those who want to become pure. To those who struggle to become pure, He reveals Himself, by degrees. And then we become more aware of Him, and more aware of what's wrong with us. And we leave one, we cleave to the other. But if we do not struggle, life goes on, the waves of life, and we don't even know what we've missed.

That is not the way it should be, brothers and sisters. Follow the words of our Lord. If any man thirst. You be a man, woman, child, who thirsts, who desires. And then, in line with this thirst and this desire, do what is necessary to accomplish your task. Ask, pray, struggle to be correct in the way you think, to not judge, to not hate, to not lust, not be lazy, and all the rest. We know in our hearts; we know in our minds, especially in our minds, the things we should do or not do, in a kind of general overview of the Christian life. That is only barely the surface, barely the crust of the bread. Inside the loaf is the knowledge of God, and purity, and sanctity, and completeness, absolute perfection. It is for us. It is for all men, but it is only for those who thirst. Those who do not thirst do not drink much of the water, and they do not have water springing up in themselves.

Let this not be so for us. Let's thirst. Let's desire all the grace God wishes to give us. Let's turn our back on that which is ugly, and ordinary, and temporal, and unclean, and useless, and let's turn towards our Lord, and remember what he has done. Let us try to make our soul a place where the Holy Spirit wishes to live. Let us sweep it and garnish it, and protect it, so that the Holy Spirit would desire to stay and warm us. And let us have this water springing up within us, changing us, making us "more than conquerors." May God help us to desire Him.

 

Pentecost.

the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

On this day we recall that just 50 days after the Glorious Resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the Holy Apostles and all those gathered with them in a new and different way. For the first time, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within the human soul.

Before this the Spirit of God would descend upon a person for various reasons — such as when one of the prophets was inspired to speak or write or act in a particular way so that God's will might be made known to His people, but He did not make His abode within their soul. But something new happened at Pentecost, something wondrous, something marvelous — God came and dwelt not only among us as our Lord Jesus Christ, but within us through the Holy Spirit. The promise of our salvation that we would be united with God, began to be made manifest.

This indwelling of the Holy Spirit has a profound effect on the person, for by this action a transformation is begun. The soul has come into contact with God and cannot remain the same. Now it is simple to see how one's behavior might change when he has been joined to the Church. In his eagerness to learn and absorb all that our Holy Mother Church has to give us, he will follow her instructions concerning behavior and do things differently than he did before. But this change does not end there, for these new actions have an effect of their own; they begin to change the way that one thinks and perceives the world around him. If, for example, you wished to develop compassion for someone, then the best way to begin is to act as though you were compassionate and through consistent compassionate actions on the part of the body, the mind will begin to think in terms of compassion and the heart will begin to feel compassion. If you act towards someone in a loving manner, even though you may have no feeling or even feelings of dislike for them, then after even a short time, you will begin to love them in actual fact, for such is the effect of the body's action on the heart. (This truth, by the way, contradicts the idea in our society of "falling in or out of love" by demonstrating that love is not something that strikes out of the blue for some mysterious reason, rather it is the result of and is maintained by effort) But even here this change does not end, for once we develop new feelings and thoughts, then our spirit also changes and begins to develop in the soul the spiritual fruits of these changes, called virtues, and these virtues attract the grace of God. This grace then transforms our very nature so that we no longer have a nature of sin, but begin to develop a nature which has the likeness of God.

Pascha and Pentecost are about transformation. In Pascha, we are reborn; we die and are resurrected with Christ. This new resurrected nature is then shaped and molded by the Church and it is filled with the Holy Spirit. Our Lord spoke of an unclean spirit which had been cast out of a man, and finding no place to rest thought that it would return to its former host. "And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of the man is worse than the first." (Luke 11:25 &26). When at Pascha, we are reborn and our soul is "swept and put in order," then it is necessary for our soul to be occupied, so as to prevent the demons from taking advantage, and so God in His infinite love and mercy comes Himself to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit. This is the feast of Pentecost, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the transformation which was begun at Pascha is further fulfilled in the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And the Holy Spirit within us, Himself, has the effect of transforming and shaping the soul into more perfectly taking on His own image and likeness.

But God does not act towards us as a tyrant, Who imposes His own will with no regard for our own desire, but rather He acts as a loving Father, Who enables us by our voluntary action, to submit to His will and Who works with us that we might be changed. It is therefore necessary for us to cooperate with God, to allow Him to work in us and to shape our own will to His will. If we resist Him and refuse to cooperate with His direction and His leading, then He will withdraw and will not force Himself upon us unwilling. Therefore we must develop within ourselves a desire for God which surpasses all other desire and a love for Him which is greater than any other love.

How do we develop this desire and this love? What did we just say? If you wish to love someone, then act as though you love them, and in a short time that love will begin to grow within your heart. And so if we wish to develop a supreme love for our Lord Jesus Christ, then we must begin to act as though we had such a love already. If we adjust our behavior to conform with a supreme desire and love for God, then that desire and love will grow within our heart and soul. When we desire Him, then He will fulfill our desire; when we love Him, then He will come to us. And when He comes, He will transform us into His own image and likeness and will dwell within us, uniting us to Himself.

 

Pentecost.

I greet you today on the Holy Day of Pentecost. And on this day, we hear, "As many as have been baptized in to Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia." 1 And we also hear today, "Their sound hath gone forth into all the world." 2

What is this sound? The sound is of the rushing wind, the mighty wind. But even in the midst of this sound there are people who are deaf, like the adder that stoppeth up his ears 3, because the Pharisees heard the same sound. The Pharisees saw Christ, saw his miracles, and they didn't believe. They heard — they heard well — and they did not believe.

Whether or not there are triflers who cannot believe the bare truth, and sing "Alleluia" 4, the sound is throughout all the world, there is no doubt about that. The apostles have spread, and their apostles, and their apostles, and even now to this time, such a lowly one as myself, being of their line — not an apostle, but a priest. And the word is still being spread, and you have the option to listen or not to listen.

The Good News is not only that Christ has made our flesh able to live by His Crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection of His own power, making flesh capable of obtaining God. Not only that news, but the good news today is that the Holy Spirit will help us. He is called the Comforter 5. The Holy Spirit searches out the things of God, the deep things of God, things that we cannot even utter, things that we cannot even think, but which motivate us and can change us. He searches out those things, and He gives them to us.

He would to give them to everyone, but everyone will not hear. Christ also said in another context, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" 6 The Holy Spirit enlightens a man when he wishes to be enlightened. The Holy Spirit fills a man when he empties out of himself that which fills him which is impure and corrupt. But again, I say that the good news is that the Holy Spirit helps us even in emptying ourselves. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot live. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to actualize the Resurrection in our life ; we would not have the ability.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit speaks incessantly, eternally of Christ. He reveals to us the things of Christ. 7 He doesn't speak of Himself; He speaks of Christ. And Christ occasionally, as well as speaking of His Father and of Himself, will tell us, in a dark way, about the Holy Spirit. Because I tell you, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which is pivotal in the Christian faith, is a dark thing. It is not something which is talked about in extreme exactitude. The Holy Spirit enlightens a man like the wind blows 8. We don't know how the wind blows, we don't know where it's going to, we don't know where it's coming from. But it brings life to the earth. Somehow, the wind brings water to the earth. We don't know how. We might know something of the science, but we don't know exactly how. The same thing is true about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit blows through the church, and enlightens those who will stop, and stand in the wind, and desire to change.

Christ said, " He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.." 9 We should take pause sometimes to meditate on the indescribable beauty of the scriptures. "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." What a beautiful image this is — but not just an image, because out of his belly shall flow the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will enliven a man, and just as water flows down the mountain and cannot be stopped, and enriches and enlivens everything, so the Holy Spirit will flow through a man and will never stop, will well up, and up, and never be extinguished, and will enlighten not only this man, but all those who are around him, if he lives in the Spirit.

And what is this, "in the Spirit"? We talk about living in the Spirit; what is this? It is nothing less than hearing the will of God, the word of God, the law of God, and doing it. Being obedient to the teachings of the All-Holy Trinity; living according to who God is. That's being in the Spirit. And I tell you, if you live in that way, then you will be enlightened by the Spirit, in things great and small. And you will not be doubting, and God will help you in all things.

But there is an effort involved, an effort involved to allow yourself to be filled with the Spirit. We don't talk today that much about the particulars of the difficulties living the Christian life; that is for other times. Did you notice that in the Acts it just was the event of the apostles speaking in other tongues to everyone that we speak about. We don't really go into yet how the Spirit enlivens a man, but if you read the book of Acts, you will see. And if you read the Epistles, you will see. And if you read the Gospels, you will see. And if you come to the services and listen to the beauty of our chant, you will see. God will be there. You will feel and know Him. "Out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water." You won't be corrupt anymore; you will be alive. The purpose of our life is to know God. Because to know God is to become like Him, because it cannot be otherwise, because he who loves becomes like the one he loves. It always is this way.

Now we have desire. Maybe it's a small desire, maybe it's a large desire, maybe, in some cases, it is only a desire to have the desire ! Regardless, if we have some desire somewhere, God will help us to become like Him. The purpose of our life. There's nothing else that's important. And today we celebrate that God has given us a great gift, so that we can do these things we desire. The Holy Spirit is that great gift. May we be worthy of such a great gift. Amen.

1 During the Divine Liturgy, instead of the usual Trisagion Hymn ("Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us," we sing "As many have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia"

2 The prokeimenon for Pentecost and the Holy Apostles chanted and sung before the reading of the Epistle.

3 (Psa 58:3-4) The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. (4) Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;

4 From the Akathist

5 (John 14:26) But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (and other places)

6 (Mat 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

7 (John 16:13-15) Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. (14) He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (15) All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.

8 (John 3:8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

9 John 7:38

Acts 2:1-11

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (2) And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. (3) And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (5) And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. (6) Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. (7) And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? (8) And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? (9) Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, (10) Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, (11) Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

 

 

 

 

4. Sundays after Pentecost.

 

1st Sunday after Pentecost, of All Saints.

Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, we remember all of the saints, and we are inspired by these two readings, I would hope, that contain much encouragement. How can one not be encouraged when this whole choir of righteous is enumerated by the apostle Paul, and then he says, "Wherefore seeing we are also compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

This should be like an anthem for we Christians. And the saints are all described at the end of the Gospel reading. Every righteous one that has ever lived, that has ever pleased God, that has ever struggled with his sins, that has ever truly believed in the resurrection is described today, because our Lord says, "Everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children or lands for My Name's sake, shall receive a hundred fold and shall inherit ever-lasting life. But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." This describes in microcosm the life that pleases God, the life that we are called to. We are to forsake that which weighs us down, sin which easily besets us, and even father or mother or sister or brother, if they weigh us down, if they keep us from the kingdom of God. In most cases that would not be necessary.

Jesus Christ is not telling us to always leave our father and mother. Indeed we must love them, and honor them, whether they honor God or not. But it is a value judgment here; it is a set of priorities. If we are to inherit what is our birthright, then we must live according to that birthright. You remember, with Esau and Jacob, Esau had the birthright, but he didn't live according to it, so it was taken from him. These readings contain not only the encouragement and this incredible joy that we should feel about the grace of God; they also contain a blueprint, a path of how to live. Not only how to live, but also how not to live. The promise is there, that also contains, very, very clearly for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, what happens when a man does not follow Christ.

Now this is the Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost, the out-pouring of the Holy spirit, the gift of the Holy spirit upon all in the church, is what makes us capable of being part of this choir of the saints. It's what helps all men to attain to the knowledge of God and to righteousness. St. Paul says through faith they did this, through faith they did that. This was in the Old Testament times, before the giving of the Holy Spirit. Even more remarkable are the exploits of the saints before the coming of Christ, because the Holy Spirit did not dwell within them. The Holy Spirit influenced their lives, guided them, helped them, but did not dwell within them. This was meant for a later time. And St. Paul alludes to this when he says, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." He is pointing to the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ, and then the bringing of the Holy Spirit after Jesus Christ showed and in actuality did what was necessary for our salvation. He showed us how to live, and lived according to His commandments, and caused Himself to be risen from the dead. And then the bringing of the Holy Spirit enlightens us, strengthens us and allows us to do the will of God, and to obtain the promise.

I want to focus on some things that were said in the Gospel — the Gospel is a composite reading, by the way. It is actually Matthew chapter ten and also chapter nineteen, a portion of it. It fits together very nicely in context, and that's why the Holy Spirit must have desired the reading be put together as it was for this day. Our Lord said, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." This is a fundamental characteristic of righteousness, to confess the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do we confess Him? Without lips and with our actions; with our priorities and with our way of dealing with people; with what we say is important and what we show is important.

There are some obvious things that you could have come to mind. We confess the lord by showing that we care about Christianity, that we live our life in a moral way. The entire world has gone off unto Sodom and Gomorrah, but we cannot do this. We must have the courage to stand against it, to stand against every form of immorality and vice. This is the confession of Christ. Now there is a new form of Christianity in name only. It's been around now for quite a good many years. In fact, you really can see the beginnings of it in apostolic times. But certainly, in the past few hundred years of the post enlightenment age, it has been codified that this is an acceptable way of life.

This way of life confesses Christ with the lips, but not with action, not with morality, not with the way we live, not with the way we order our lives. The new Christianity, from which the Orthodox are not immune, has a sort of dichotomy between belief and action. But there is no such thing. This is the great lie. Faith without works is dead. There is no dichotomy between action and belief. And if you do not live according to what you say you believe, then you are not confessing Christ. And we've been given everything we need to confess Him. We've been given the Holy Spirit, the comforter, Who lives within us if indeed we make a place for Him, if indeed we clean out our soul, and garnish it and sweep it out with effort and desire. And He will help us in all things. But if we do not live righteously we are not confessing Christ.

Christ says He will confess us before His Father, if we live according to His will, and confess Him in this life. But He won't confess us before His Father if we do not live in such a way. For those people who do not live in such a way are reserved the words, "I don't know you. I don't know who you are. You have no part with Me. You haven't become like Me. Go away. Go unto outer darkness." Those words are reserved for those people who confess with their lips but not with the way they live, not with their priorities.

Now there are other practical things. In our modern society we are constantly in social situations. Are you afraid to make the sign of the cross before you have your dinner in a restaurant? If this is the case, you should weep and lament and pound your breast and ask God's forgiveness for this, and do it the next time. Are you afraid among your friends or among your business associates or whomever else you come across in your daily walk of life to show your priorities and the Christian way of thinking, or do you change your priorities based upon the vicissitudes of your life, maybe so you are not in trouble, or so nobody thinks badly of you, or maybe just so that you are not inconvenienced? This is not confessing Christ, either.

This is confessing, the Devil, because this is the way the Devil wants us to live. The devil is perfectly happy with lip service to Christianity; he loves that. In fact, I think he prefers it to out and out paganism, because what does our Lord say to those in the church of Laodicea, in Revelations? "Thou art lukewarm, and I will spit thee out of my mouth." No, brothers and sisters, we are not to be lukewarm. We have fire within us. The Holy Spirit warms us. That fire should burn things, not burn us; it should burn the sins within us, and it should glow. There should be a light. People should see it.

I am convinced there are two main reasons our churches are not full — one is the world is very, very evil, and people are not interested in a Christian way of life. They are interested in Christian lip service, but not in actually ordering their lives completely according to Christ. That's part of it. But another part of it is, we don't shine. We don't profess Christ in very aspect of how we live, how we think, how we prioritize. Every single person in our workplace should notice something about us, or think we're different. Some may hate us because it — absolutely and positively. Some hated Christ. But there was no one that encountered Christ that did not notice something about Him, that did not have to come to a decision because of Him. So should it be with us.

We must confess Christ before men. Don't live your life according to the priorities of the world. Don't let anything get in the way of an all-out assault on your passions, and an all-out desire to follow the commandments. We have this cloud of witnesses. Look what they did: through faith they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, they were sawn asunder, they wandered about in sheep skins and in goat skins. The world was not even worthy of them. All of these things were struggles. None of these things that I just mentioned are pleasant. All of them were difficult trials. The Christian life is indeed a trial, a difficulty, it is an arena, it is a life-or-death struggle.

If this causes your heart to contract and be afraid, then you must beg the Holy Spirit to indwell in you more, and be joyful on this day that so many have entered into the kingdom of heaven, so many have endured struggles, and pain, and grief, and endured to the end, and come to the kingdom of heaven. And they are all examples for us, all around. And they are poof that the resurrection is real. The resurrection is true. And it changes a man. This news is the best news that can be said. There is nothing greater. The resurrection changes us! Now our life sometimes is filled with bitterness and difficulty. Some of it is from without, brought on by those whom we know, or whom we don't know. Some of it is from within, from our own sinfulness, our lack of belief, our lack of constancy, our lack of good priorities. But regardless, life is struggle. Everyone understands this. But God has given us the tools to endure in the struggle.

God has given us everything we need, and on this day we celebrate the whole panoply of saints that have endured to the end, as an example to us, but also — we must understand, and we must be able to have these two thoughts together at the same time — also as a reproach against us. They are both a reproach against us, and also an encouragement to us, both at the same time. Because they've all endured. They're made of the same stuff as we are. They had the same difficulties with sins that we have. They were given the same grace that we have been given, the same truth, the same God, the same Holy Spirit. But they fought the good fight, and endured; they finished the course.

And now we ask their intercessions before God, for our sinful selves. We can attain; we must attain some measure of what they have attained. We are called to perfection. Christianity is not just a belief system, or membership; it is the continual, extreme change of a man. And this is good news. There is so much wrong with us, so much incomplete, so much that hurts, so much that is imperfect, so much that we don't know, so much that makes us sad; all of that God will change. No sadness, no incompleteness, no sickness, no bad thoughts, nothing whatsoever that causes our faces to be downcast, but instead all light.

This is what God wants to give us. We must live our life according to this promise, aim for this promise, and struggle for this promise. Then we will truly be called friend by our Lord. He will call us friend, and we will be able to cry, "Abba, Father." Such incredible intimacy with God! The saints obtained it. And we can attain it. But only by struggle, only by confessing Christ, only by living according to His commandments. In the middle of today's reading it says, "He that taketh not up his cross and followeth after me, the same is not worthy of Me." We must struggle according to what He has told us to do. I am continually struck by the lives of the saints, and by the writings of the fathers, by how these two thoughts — our depravity and God's great mercy — are welded into one. On almost every page of the Scriptures this knowledge of the condition of man, which is deplorable, and the promise of what man will become, is present. And we see it in the saints. We see their righteousness, how God brought them home. We also see their struggles, and we should compare their struggles to our own, and mix always the knowledge of what God has predestined for us with the knowledge of what kind of person we are. They always must be mixed together. And then we will struggle. We will push on, and we will fight, and we will finish the course. The Holy Spirit has made it possible for us. The Holy Spirit enlightens us, and lives within us if we live according to His commandments. May God help you to confess Christ in everything you say and everything you do, in how you prioritize, and live your life. Amen.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost.

"He went up into a mountain."

This is the second Sunday after Pentecost already, and on this day, when the Russian church celebrates all the saints of Russia, one could also commemorate, and, indeed, we remember also, all the saints of Mt. Athos — an incredible panoply of saints, from all different walks of life, all different life situations, with the constant in their life that they desired Christ above all. So we have readings today from the Gospel that are very much related to one another. In fact, they're actually right next to one another; they're at the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

As we think about the saints of Russia and the saints of Mt. Athos, we should come to a question in our life, in our mind: What is our goal in life? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Then I ask you, as you are asking yourself this question, another question: Do you want to be a saint? Every one should say, yes, indeed, Father; I want to be a saint. Because I tell you, if you don't become a saint, you won't be saved. If you don't become sanctified, if you don't desire Christ above all, how can you expect to be with the sanctified? Oh yes, there are men and women who were exemplary in their character, and we should not be prideful and arrogant and think that we can reach to their heights. Of course, the interesting irony is that if a person is humble they can reach that height. But that's another more technical, more spiritual issue than I want to get into today.

What is a saint? A saint is someone who desires Christ, who lives according to who He is, who ascends in knowledge and in action in the virtues, who loves the Law of God above all else. And today we see how saints are made. We see the path that they take, and we see the results of that path, if you listen carefully, in the reading, where St. Paul is speaking to the Hebrews, that famous passage about faith. How faith conquers, they quench the violence of fire, and all those other things. And the world was not worthy of them…because of faith. And of course this faith was action, was knowledge, and action. Not just some belief, but a whole-hearted desire, to live according to who God is.

So that is the path, and then you see the path also, in the beatitudes which the church considers so important that we sing them every day of the year. Every single day, we sing these beatitudes. We see the path. The path is effort, the path is having a certain mindset of mourning, of humility, of desire, and then action based upon that desire, giving alms, being merciful, the acts that a Christian should take, based upon who he is, because of who Christ is. So the keys to the kingdom are laid out before us today. Faith, effort, desire: that makes saints. And all of us should have that desire to be a saint.

Now this path is not for the squeamish, it's not for the lazy, it's not for the lukewarm, it's not for those who wish to make compromises, it's not for those who are distracted by the world, or proud or dissolute. All those people don't go up on the mountain. It's interesting, the beatitudes are often spoken of the virtues that are often spoken of by our Lord. But do you see the progression from these two readings which the Holy Spirit has joined together today for us? He called His Apostles from the boat, and they left straightway and followed him. And then immediately there after, right there after, he went up into a mountain, it said, and seeing the multitude he went up into the mountain.

Do you think the multitude followed him? No. Only very few followed him. First of all, there's not so much real estate at the top of the mountain; very few people can be there. Second of all, very few people are willing to make the effort to climb. Third of all, very few people look up; most people look down at the earth. To be in the mountain, one must toil, one must have desire, one must look upwards to God. One must be willing to be separate from the rabble, and from the crowd, and from the world, and even from those who call themselves Christian. And even within the church now, we're seeing people who want to be at the base of the mountain. You cannot be saved at the base of the mountain. You must ascend the mountain, because that is where Christ will teach.

He took His apostles, and immediately took them to a mountain. And He didn't tell them, I'm going to appoint you priests, and we're going to have the Holy Eucharist, and confession, and baptism, and all these other things that you see in the front of catechesis books. And He didn't say, You must believe in Me as God and Man, and all those other things that are so important, that are in the front of books. What did He get to immediately? Morality. Because He was the God Man telling them how they should live, how they should be. This is the essence of the Christian life. If you do not have the morality, your belief is of no consequence. In fact, it will cause your condemnation to be that much greater.

So we've gotten out of our boats, as the Apostles did, and we've followed Christ. And He has taken us to the mountain, and we should never get down. Never go back to the base of the mountain, ever again. We should stay on the summit, listening to our Lord, at His feet, about morality. About how we should think, how we should live, how we should be because of who he is. This is the Christian life.

It takes toil and effort to get up the mountain. And indeed, there is a lot of danger on the mountain. There are wild animals and beasts, there are rockslides, it's cold and windy, it's difficult. And also — have you ever been on top of a mountain? It's lonely up there. It's lonely. You're very much alone, just with your thoughts. Of course, your thoughts can be quite difficult to deal with sometimes, when you're on top of a mountain, because there's nothing to dissuade them, there's nothing to stop them from coming. We don't want to have thoughts of who we are, and what we need to de. It's our nature, unfortunately, our fallen nature. But, God put into man a desire to look upwards, a desire to climb the mountain and to sit at His feet and to learn from Him. That is built into our character. It is integrally who we are. And any man who disavows that, he's living a lie. We are people who should be at the top of the mountain and listening to our God, telling us how we should live and how we should be.

Now, these beatitudes are quite profoundly beautiful. As poetry they have no equal. As dogma they have no equal. They are the essence of Christianity, because Christianity is action based upon knowledge. Without the action, there is no Christianity. All these things we will learn if we struggle. Now, one can get books out, one can even read the Fathers about meekness, about thirsting after righteousness, and about the nuance of meaning that Christ is giving in this extraordinary sermon — the greatest sermon, I think, that was ever preached by our Lord, the most important sermon that was ever preached by our Lord. But the meaning is not easy to discern, because the only way to know is to live what He says, the only way to know what these things mean.

So, my brethren, you have a task in your life: to be like Christ, to know him, to have intimate knowledge of him. This is your task, this is your goal. Anything that dissuades you from this goal, cast away, throw into the fire, whether it be job, whether it be anything — using sensibility, now. Don't just quit your job tomorrow. I'm talking in a spiritual way with you now. If there's anything that keeps you from the kingdom, cast it away. And hone your priorities, every day. To desire to live according to who Christ is, and to read again what St. Paul says to the Hebrews, you should be filled, your heart should expand, it should be warm, and you should think, I want to be like this. God will help you if you have that desire, if you have that hunger and thirst. But you must cultivate it, over and over and over again.

I tell you one more thing. Do you know why we talk about the saints so much? We talk about the saints because they exemplify the reality of what God wants for us. And we use them as examples. Doesn't St. Paul say, seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses? How can we live in the dirt, wallow in the mud like pigs, when we see the examples of our fathers. This is why we read about saints, why we think about them, why we pray to them, and why we desire to be like them.

Brethren, God help you. Stay at the top of the mountain. This is your task. Listen to God, and act upon what he teaches you. Where is your mountain? Your mountain is in your desire, in prayer, in coming to the services with zeal, with desire to hear, with desire to know, with desire to be told, with desire to be filled and healed. It's in your fasting, it's in your separating yourself from everything that's worldly that would hold you down. That is your mountain, and that is my mountain. And we must stay on this mountain if we are to be saved. May God give us the strength. Amen.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost.

And they straightway left their nets.

Today we celebrate the memory of all the saints of Russia who have enlightened that land and shown their light on top of the hill instead of under a bushel. What is it that makes a saint? We've talked about this last week. We read part of the same reading today as we read last week also.

When Jesus called His disciples, they left immediately, left their nets, and they didn't look back. They left with many weaknesses. We can see them. Their warts are shown in the scriptures: they argued with one another, they jousted with one another to see who would be the greatest, they had lack of faith, they even denied our Lord, and not just Peter, by the way; all of them were afraid, even St. John, who followed from a distance. They all had human frailties. But they did as the good farmer that our Lord speaks about in a parable: you put your hand to the plow. 1 And no man who wants to plow a field looks back, because then the furrows will be not straight, and you will not get as much fruit from the ground.

This is the key, brothers and sisters. Have you left your nets? Our Lord called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and straightway they left their nets. The "nets" are the "world," in this context. The spiritual, the inner meaning, of the nets is this: all the things which entangle us. Have you left your nets? Or do you still keep nets around? I'm not talking about whether or not you fall into sin. We are sinners. We should not be surprised when we sin. I'm not talking about if you have weaknesses, passions. I'm talking about your priorities. Have you left your nets? Do you understand? Do you live your life in accordance with the fact that Christianity must be a continual ascent, away from the earth, into heaven? A continual change, a continual changing of one's mind. Warfare till the last breath. This is what Christianity is. You must leave your nets.

If you set your face towards Jerusalem, as the Lord did 2, meaning, if you don't let the world get in the way of what your life is for, then God will strengthen you and will help you. You'll have many problems. You might have many sins. In fact, you might sin wretchedly and continually, but God will help you if you have the right priorities, and if you beg Him to help you.

Christianity is not what we believe; it's how we act, it's what we become. It's not possible without belief, but belief is only the beginning, just like when the grain of mustard seed is put into the ground. That is only the beginning. That is only the start. Then the seedling starts to grow. Many things endanger the seedling, but eventually, with care, it becomes a great tree. 3 This is what we must do. We must have the priority to grow, to change. This is Christianity. This is the essence.

Our Lord called His disciples; they straightway left their nets. They'd been waiting for the Messiah. At this point they didn't really understand. He was a charismatic man. There was something about Him. Well, of course! The God-man among us. Those with sensitive souls would see such a thing. They might not understand it, but they saw it and they desired to follow it. They gave up everything in order to follow it. Everything. And didn't look backwards. Now they still brought along their baggage, and their sins, and their passions, and their pride, and... everything else. But their desire was to change.

And look what God has done, with twelve men! He didn't come to twelve kings, twelve princes, twelve great ones, twelve scholars, but twelve simple men, uneducated for the most part. Simple. Men of the sea, men of the earth. And look what happened. Because they desired to follow Christ, they left their nets. And anything that was imperfect in them would be, eventually, healed because of their desire.

It is so important to understand the purpose of the Christian life. We can talk about it, but to really understand it is to live it. Perfection. Self-amendment. Change according to the One Whom we say we love. Leaving behind those things that shackle us. As St. Paul says, "We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." 4 Let's leave behind sin which so easily entangles us. But the first step to leaving behind sin which entangles is to leave your nets.

The sin may still come with. We see that from the apostles. The sin may still come with. The weakness still comes with. But if God sees a man who wants to change, He will help him. Grace will descend upon him and will warm him. This is the key. You must desire to change. You must desire to become like Christ. You must desire to be all fire. And all these imperfections, they'll just be a memory some day. All the things that are wrong with us, they'll burn away, and all that will be left, if we live according to desire for Christ, will be the pearl 5, all burnished and shining because of our efforts, because of God's grace which has descended upon us.

Don't lament so much out of proportion about your sins that you commit and your difficulties with passions; don't lament about those more than you lament about your attitude and your desire. A lack of desire, a lack of proper priorities, a lack of faith and belief in the resurrection is what really makes those sins which entangle you still hang around. They will be burned away by the grace of God, but you must leave them. You must struggle with all of your might to leave them.

Now after having been a priest for I think over five years now, I am well aware of the great grace of God and the great weakness of men. Unfortunately, I've learned it autobiographically, but also by observing my flock whom I love. But mostly by observing my own weakness and seeing how God takes an imperfect vessel and bestows grace upon it. Most of the grace is wasted, and is not made fruitful, like the water that flows into the ditch and into the sewer and is not retained in the orchard. But some of it is retained. And I've learned, and I wish you to know: God desires your heart, and not so much today that you don't sin but that you desire to not sin, and that you order your priorities according to what God has done, and the grace the God-man gives us. If you leave your nets, everything else will follow.

Certainly, God who has created us for a good work will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus. 6 Of course He will. But He will complete it for those who endure to the end. Not for those who make a beginning, but for those who endure to the end. 7 He will not leave those who struggle with their sins. And I tell you boldly; He will not leave those who fail when they struggle against their sins, who continue to sin. He will not leave them, if they struggle, if they desire.

This is the key. This is the pearl. This is the inner knowledge a Christian must possess. God will not abandon you, but you must not abandon Him. You must struggle to abandon all that is not of Him. Whether you are successful or not, in this life, in this world, in being free of every sin is not as important as if you are successful in ordering your priorities and your desires. Leave your nets.

There are many of them in the world today. Sometimes we think that some of these things, the vices and passions and difficulties, have been invented by our generation. They've been around a long time. But now we have a terrible affliction in our society: lukewarmness of belief. It affects us, makes us make excuses, and makes us to have false priorities, to arrange for our retirement, but not for the keeping of the church. To take care of this, or that, but to not say our prayers.

Don't be entangled by the world. The world offers you nothing. The world pushes you to the abyss, and then you fall off. Leave your nets. And then you'll be like the saints. We can share in something that they have obtained. We all, I tell you boldly — every one of us, no matter how sinful, are capable of becoming as the saints. And that is an arrogant statement; that is the truth. We are made of the same stuff, and the same grace is shed upon us. But the reason why we are moribund in our sins, and why there is little fruit in our lives, is because we have not left behind our nets. We still have the wrong priorities. Then let us obey the apostle Paul, "seeing that we are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside sin, which so easily encumbers us." 8 Let's strive for the goal. Let's struggle. Let's desire. Let us leave our nets. God will not abandon us. God will help us.

This is glorious news. The saints, you know, are the resurrection and action. The saints are living examples of the resurrection, and even in our life we should experience living examples of the resurrection, if we are able to turn aside from the sins that once beset us, if we are able to make the right choice, instead of the wrong one that we've been making for so long. This is the resurrection at work in a man. And it is a glorious thing. It is a privilege, and an honor to be a creature of God, for He dwells within us. An amazing thing. Let us leave our nets, and let's truly experience what God desires for us. Amen.

 

1 Cf. (Luke 9:59-62) "And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. (60) Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. (61) And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. (62) And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

2 (Luke 9:51) "And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,"

3 (Mat 13:31-32) "Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: (32) Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.." Also in Mark 4:31-32, Luke 13:18-19

4 (Heb 12:1) "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..."

5 (Mat 13:45-46) "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: (46) Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

6 (Phil 1:6) "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:"

7 (Mat 24:13) "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

8 Heb 12:1

5th Sunday after Pentecost.

What is Christianity, brothers and sisters? It can be defined many ways. The Gospel speaks over and over again about what it is. Today we have another way in which it is defined, for those who read carefully.

The Apostle tells us that "the God who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness has shined in our hearts, to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2

That's a pretty good summary of the Gospel right there. The Lord Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to see the glory of God. He lived as a man, making it possible for our flesh to obtain the knowledge of God. He who shined before all things hath now brought the light into our hearts. But in order to truly have this light be illuminating all of our hearts, we must understand how to live, because the Lord's mission on the earth was not only to make us capable, but also to teach us how. In order to accomplish a task, you must know something about it, but you must also have the ability to do it. Without the ability and the knowledge, you cannot be successful. The Lord gave us both of these things.

Now, the Apostle goes on to say, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us." 3 Hasn’t this always been sort of a riddle to you – your life, how the Church is perfect, spotless, the spotless bride of Christ4, and yet somehow you, a sinner, are within this spotless bride? How the Lord performs a miracle for you all the time, but certainly on Sunday when you take the Holy Mysteries – and yet you don’t feel completely changed, you don’t feel completely warm from the fire that is within you?

Isn’t this a bit of a riddle? It should be for a Christian, but we should understand part of the answer :we are earthen vessels. If we had no struggle to become righteous, then we would become proud, we would not appreciate. The greatest and most gifted creature there ever was or will be became the greatest devil 5. The Lord wants to keep us from this terrible condition, so we are earthen vessels. We make many mistakes. We forget a lot. We sin a lot. We have many weaknesses. There is much that we want to do that we can’t. Slowly, we get stronger and are able to do more – but in the Lord’s time, so that we don’t give any credit whatsoever to ourselves.

We have the light of God within us. This light is not from us; it didn’t come from us! It always was; It was before all things were created, and now the Lord abides in us! What a wonderful privilege it is to be a Christian! But a Christian who feels this privilege should at every moment realize that none of it is of himself. So when you sin, let it humble you, let it make you remember that you are still weak, and without God are naked.

"We are troubled from every side," the Apostle says, "yet not distressed. We are perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body." 6 I dare say these words have frightened many people away from being true Christians. The Apostle is not just talking about his office as an Apostle; it’s also our office. It’s our office to live as Jesus Christ lived, to feel as He felt, to react to things as He reacted to them. Now, He was constantly dying; His whole purpose to live was in order to die! The whole reason He came into the world, from the moment He was born, His purpose was Jerusalem, and to be crucified.

Now, we are to die as well, but let us not be morbid about it. This is not a dying that should give us anything but joy! This is a dying of things that are useless anyway, a dying off of our selfishness, a dying off of our sinfulness, of our passions, of things which obscure the light. A Christian should gladly die. At no time does a person feel more free than when he is giving of himself, dying as it were, denying his own needs for the needs of others. We see examples of this in every culture, in every society, Christian or not Christian, where this kind of altruism, giving ourselves to others, is magnified and is considered to be the highest pinnacle of human endeavor. The Lord is the highest pinnacle of this human endeavor, as well; the highest of all the highest, because He showed us how to die daily, how to die minute by minute.

He had no sins to die from and no passions to die from. His dying was accomplished for us, to make us able to die. In the same way, He had no need to be baptized, but He was baptized in order to make us desire and need to be baptized.

We are to live as Christians. To live as Christians means to be like Christ, which means to enter into His mind, which means, to die, which means to react as He reacts. When you read these words, do you feel that you fulfill them? Are you troubled, but not in despair? 7 Are you always bearing about in your body the dying of the Lord Jesus?8 Are you giving up of yourself, and giving to others? Are you trying to put away selfishness, greed, thinking for yourself? Are you thinking of others first? If you are doing these things, then you are not far from the kingdom of heaven.9 Or even if you are trying to do these things (and not doing very well), but you acknowledge that these things are a necessity, as much as eating, or breathing, is a necessity, then you are also not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Dying to our own will is a necessity. Our Lord’s will is perfect. We can’t see that will, we can’t realize or understand it, without killing off some of our will.

So we must die, in order to be true Christians. That’s the only place where happiness can occur. The only true happiness is when we are feeling, seeing, experiencing the uncreated Light within us. What a marvelous thing it is! We, who are earthen vessels, hold something that is so precious! We must live like this. We must live like we believe this. We must protect this precious cargo that the Lord has put within our hearts, by everything we say and do. Christianity is beautiful. We must feel this beauty, we must guard this beauty. He Who created the heavens — He Who was before the heavens — lives within us, earthen vessels that we are, sinners that we are, and yet He helps us to get better. I can’t think of any better news.

I certainly don’t want to live forever, not on this earth, because this earth is passing away, and this earth has too much that is wrong with it. The Lord gives us the opportunity to have Him forever, if only we live as He showed us how to live.

I have told you this before. I believe that the reason why our Church loves the saints so much, and why we pray to them, and why we put their icons on the walls, and why they’re a part of our daily life, is because they reflect Christ. And anything which reflects Christ should fascinate us. We should never grow tired of seeing such a thing. And their reflection of Christ shows us that indeed it is possible to be what He has told us to be.

It’s one thing to say, and to believe in our minds, O yes, the Lord has come, and He has become man for our sake, and made us capable of eternal life, made us capable of becoming holy. It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to see that all the saints have accomplished it, which means that we can, too. We accomplish this by attempting to enter into the mind of Christ. His mind is not closed to us at all; it is very open. He desires us to know everything.

The only way to understand is to do. Live as a Christian. When you have troubles in your life, go to the Lord in prayer. Don’t despair over them. When you have some difficulty, ask the Lord to help you. It doesn’t mean you won’t have difficulties, it doesn’t mean you won’t be sad. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes be perplexed, as the Apostle says. It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel tired, and lonely, and very sad. All these are human things, that even occurred in our Lord Jesus Christ’s life. But how did He live? How did He react when He was tired, and lonely, and sad? By living righteously at every moment. By never failing to struggle. By never failing to die daily.

So, brothers and sisters, we should die. Let us not be afraid of dying. Let us not be afraid of getting rid of that which is already a festering sore in us anyway. Let us get rid of these things, of our evils, and of our desires for ourselves, and of our desire for comfort, of our anxiety about the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Let us live just as Jesus Christ lived. He will make us capable of doing it. And if we die, then we know what the end will be. The apostle says, "Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus Christ shall raise us up also by Jesus, and present us with you." 10 The Lord will raise us up.

Now, if we have not lived as He has taught us to live here, on the earth, then in the last days, we won’t know Him and we won’t understand Him. Salvation is not a judicial concept, being in the Church does not guarantee we will go to Heaven and not Hell. To be with Christ — truly to be with Him, to understand Him — is to live as He lived on the earth, and as He has shown through all his saints how to live. Then we will understand him. Then there will be this marvelous, shall we say, meeting of the minds. Our little, weak, small mind, like a drop of water, in the ocean of the knowledge of God. May God bless you, and help you in all things. Amen.

1 This Homily was preached on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2002. The Scriptures read on this day were 2 Cor 4:6-15, Mat 22:35-46

2 2 Cor 4:6

3 2 Cor 4:7

4 Cf. [Rev 21:1-3] And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. (2) And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

5 Lucifer

6 2 Cor 4:8-10

7 Cf. [2 Cor 4:8-10] We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; (9) Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (10) Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

8 See Note 2

9 Cf. [Mark 12:32-34] And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: (33) And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. (34) And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

10 2 Cor 4:14

 

10th Sunday after Pentecost.

On this day we read about the exorcism of the son who is a lunatic. This story has many applications and meanings. The external meaning is simply that Jesus heals a boy who is grievously afflicted by a demon by casting it out. Let us see why he was afflicted.

This story is related in all 3 of the synoptic gospels, so we will have a fuller picture if we take all these into account.

A man comes to Jesus, and begs him to help his son, his only child. The man calls his son a lunatic. In that day, there was the superstition that when the moon came out, it made some people crazy, and they called such people lunatics. Actually, it was a demon, not the moon. Demons commonly use folklore and superstition to entrap the unwary, and remove suspicion from themselves. This demon obeyed the cycles of the moon because it suited his purpose, but he could actually afflict the boy at any time. The father blamed the moon, when actually there was someone else to blame, and not only the Devil, mind you, but himself also.

The man says, "Lord have mercy on my son,"2and he kneels down. He says that the boy is "sore vexed" — "ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water."3 What is the meaning of this? Fire is anger, and lust, jealousy and the rest of those hot passions, by which we are so afflicted and which are so tasty to us. They must be tasty and succulent to our sinful souls because we indulge ourselves so often in these terrible passions. The water quenches zeal, quenches ardor, quenches desire for holy things. It is worldly cares. A man will send himself to perdition with either the one or the other, or, more commonly, both.

This boy is cast into the fire and the water and he is terribly afflicted, and the father begs our Lord's aid. Jesus has a interesting response. He says, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?"4 This is sort of an odd thing to say to the people present, but it cuts to the heart of the matter. He rebukes two people here, or two groups. First, He rebukes the father, because the father has very little belief. He blamed the apostles, instead of himself and said, "... I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him."5 Our lord is pointing out to the father — it is YOUR unbelief, it is YOUR depravity which has hurt your own son. This is a truth for all parents to understand. We visit affliction upon our own children because of our own passions. This is a terrible truth, and a frightening truth for all of us to bear. Indeed, even demon possession can be visited upon a child because of the sins of his parents. This is a terrible truth, but you must know it. And all the other things that can happen to a person are many times the responsibility of the parents, because they do not teach him, and because they live depraved lives themselves. Be careful, my brothers and sisters. Before you judge yourself to be immune from these problems, consider what you are teaching your children, not only in words, but in deeds and attitudes. Measure your life against the requirements of the Christian life before you are so quick to judge others as depraved, and yourself as blameless.

Our Lord is also rebuking everyone around: "Faithless and perverse generation" — these are the same people that in a short while would say "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" because they wanted to be under a temporal king, and not the King of all. So Christ has the man bring the boy up. In another account He tells him, "All things are possible to him that believeth."6 The man says: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."7 Indeed, the Lord had already exposed this man's unbelief, his lack of faith, his judgmentalism. The man had all these weaknesses, but he also had the germ of belief, and our Lord did not require everything of him right away. He healed the son, even though the father had only a small amount, a little germ, of belief. He who has ears to hear, and believes, let him hear.

The apostles came to our Lord apart, and they were very upset and troubled. Remember they had gone out into the countryside, and they were raising the dead, and healing the sick. The lame were walking, the blind were seeing, the deaf could hear, and the demons were cast out, by not only the twelve, but also the 70. They were amazed at the grace that God was sending through them. And yet, it did not "work" this time. They were concerned — had they lost this gift? Had their unworthiness caused them to be passed over by the Lord? What did He tell them?

Your unbelief is the reason. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."8 And I tell you, this is not just figurative. Mountains have moved. A mountain moved to save the holy Baptist, and mountains have moved at other times, literally, but this mountain means something else. A mountain is high. Pride exalts itself, and raises itself up, as if to the heavens, like the tower of Babel. The Devil, the liar, the slanderer — he is like a mountain, exalting himself up to the heavens. And you can say to this mountain move, and IT WILL MOVE, if you have faith. Wherever this mountain might be, whatever affliction you might have, whether it be of your own self, or of someone that you care about, indeed you can say to the mountain, "move," and it will move, IF you have faith as the mustard seed. The mustard seed is a small, tiny seed, very very small, but it is very pungent and hot. There is warmth and flavor in it, and it affects a dish exquisitely with its pungent flavor. And also, when you put it into the ground, it grows into a great tree.9 This is what our faith should be like. It need not be big in a worldly sense, but it needs to be hot, pungent. It must be strong, and it needs to grow.

Our Lord also told the disciples concerning the demon, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."10 It is related to what He had just said about faith, because the mustard seed, when it grows, is buffeted by winds, and in danger for much of its life as a seedling, but it grows into a great tree, and there is abundant fruit from it. Without prayer, and without fasting, I tell you, you don't have faith. You do not have faith, or love for God, if you do not live how He has told you to live. This way of life includes prayer, fasting, desire, putting God first in all things. If you do this, then "this kind" — meaning not just the "kind" that made the boy fall into the fire and the water, but also the passions that make you and me fall into fire and into water will be eradicated from our souls, and we will find peace. By the way, we do not always innocently fall into sins. I think we most often jump into these things, because we LIKE them. This "kind" that is embedded in our souls — this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting. This does mean prayer and fasting in a literal sense, which is absolutely necessary. Without fasting, the church does not see how a man can be saved. This is on account of our character. The church understands this and that is why it is obligatory upon us, because it is necessary for our salvation. The "prayer and fasting" enjoined upon us by our Savior also includes the whole continuum of the Christian life, and the whole perspective we should have.

The whole purpose of our life is the salvation of our souls. There is nothing more important. There is nothing that has any meaning, but to know the God-man. We just had a feast where we saw what it will be like, a little bit, to know the God-man, to see the Uncreated Light, to understand and apprehend the energies of God. This is meant for the elect.11 But when they saw God transfigured on the mountain, the holy three apostles had already traveled a long way. They had labored to go up the mountain. We must labor, brothers and sisters. I don't understand how completely this terrible heresy has occurred in our day, and even for many hundreds of years — that Christianity is a life without labor, but only with belief.

I don't understand how it happened — how the Devil so beguiled so many hearts and souls of men to think that is belief ONLY that saves a man. It is labor that saves a man, because of what he believes. It is becoming like Christ. It is doing as He tells you and as He teaches you. Without labor you cannot be saved, or without desire, without prayer, without fasting. Fasting is what? It's our blood, the giving of our blood, like the martyrs gave theirs — so says our blessed Metropolitan12. It shows we are sincere. That's what it is — showing that we are sincere, showing that we are not liars. That's what our fasting is, and our prayer and our long vigils and our prostrations and our giving up of ourselves. That's what our turning away from lust, or anger, or deceit, or any other thing that casts us into the fire or the water is. Our life is one of sincere labor because of love for our Savior.

A Christian should consider himself to be a slave of a benevolent master. "Slave of God" — that is the terminology used in the scriptures. Indeed, there will come a time when we will be fully worthy of that name "friend." Christ said He would call us friends,13 but we have a way to go before we can appropriate that name. Indeed, it is ours — it is our destiny to be friends of God. But we must have humility, and work out our salvation now, and labor. So this demon, this passion that afflicts us, regardless of whether a man is possessed by a demon or afflicted by demons as we are — this kind comes out only by prayer and by fasting. This is the Christian life. It is a life of labor, it is a life of zeal, it is a life of desire. May God help you to be zealous for your salvation — to pray, to fast, and to love God above all things. And then you will find peace.

All rights reserved. Please use this material in any way that is edifying to your soul, and copy it for personal use if you so desire. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas if you wish to distribute it in any way. We grant permission to post this text, if completely intact only, including this paragraph and the contact information above, to any electronic mailing list.

1 The following sermon was transcribed from one given Aug 11/26. 1997, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. The usual readings for this day are 1 Cor 4:9-16 and Matthew 17:14-23 (The exorcism of the son who was a lunatic).

2 Matthew 17:15, partial

3 Matthew 17:15, partial

4 Matthew 17:17, partial

5 Matthew 17:16

6 Mark 9:23, partial

7 Mark 9:24, partial

8 Matthew 17:20, partial

9 cf. Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19

10 Matthew 17:21

11cf.." 2 Pet 1:3-4, "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: (4) Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, and the entire service for the Transfiguration (August 6th according to the church calendar), which explains this significant consequence of the incarnation of God.

12Metropolitan Vitaly, first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, has said this many times, including a sermon during the Fall pastors conference in 1996 in Mahopac NY.

13 Cf. John 15:15

 

12th Sunday after Pentecost.

Today we read about the rich young ruler. This is a very important story, because it is in all three synoptic gospels, and is has a very important question: "What good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life."

It is a very serious question by a very serious young man, and it demands a very serious answer. Our Lord does not disappoint him in this regard. He actually gave an answer in three steps, because our Christian life is gradually acquired; we struggle for virtue, but we do not obtain it from the very moment we leave the baptismal font.

The young man comes to him and asks, "what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" He made a mistake in asking this question, even though he was a serious young man, and some of the holy fathers say he was sincere in his desire for salvation. St. John Chrysostom goes so far as to say that he was good rich soil, although there was a problem with this soil, as we will see in a moment. The question was wrong, because he said what good thing, what one thing can I do? Christ basically said, do everything. Keep the commandments. But the man had a compartmentalized attitude, and idea of putting everything in its place. So he says, "Which?"

So our Lord tells him. " Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

Our Lord is more specific now; he is focusing in more on the specifics of living the Christian life. Later on, he tells him what the epitome of the Christian life is, and this does not mean that one goes out into the desert and lives in a tree. This is not the intention that he has when he says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor"

The young man has the wrong question because he has the wrong attitude. He wants to follow God; he has a desire to follow God. He is keeping the commandments, as he knows them, but he is thinking in a small way, and God is big. He is thinking in little boxes, and the Christian life does not fit in boxes. The man says, "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" The Lord tells him. He has asked for it; he is going to receive it; " If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor."

And the young man went away very sorrowful, because he was very rich. The giving of his God provided wealth back to God did not fit in one of his boxes. This was a terrible tragedy. This was a man who was sincere; this was a man who wanted to be saved. This was a man who was doing things that few people even try to do, whether they are in the church or not, and he was still not saved. His failure was all because of money, possessions. What a terrible tragedy that he walked away; He did so much, and yet, he gained so little.

There is something emphasized here, isn’t there? Money. Money is something that is emphasized a lot in the scriptures. It is also emphasized an extreme amount in our own lives, by us, and that is why it is addressed so often in the scriptures. The love of money, love of possessions, love of comfort that comes from money, love of "security," and the so-called "building" for old age strangles most Christians. It must strangle most Christians, because most churches are small, and have very few funds. It should not be this way. We as Christians must fulfill a higher law than was fulfilled in the Old Testament!

I tell you, it was a law in the Old Testament to tithe. We must fulfill this law, and more so, as Christ instructed the young ruler, "sell all that thou hadst, and distribute unto the poor." St Luke uses the word "distribute," which means to disperse funds with care, intelligence and Christian discernment, and not haphazardly. Don’t just sell some things that you have, and give the proceeds to the first beggar and say, "Okay, I have fulfilled my obligation." NO. You have an obligation to use your substance that God has given you, wisely.

Blessed Theophylact makes a distinction between a "steward" and a "rich man." A rich man is one who has funds, and properties, and lands, and houses, and he gives to no one. He steals; He is a thief, because he is stealing from the poor. A steward is a person who has substance also. He has money; He might have land and have houses, but he also has mercy and distributes to the poor. Then he is a good steward of his wealth.

The church has never looked at wealth as inherently evil. It is the holding on to wealth that is evil. I tell you, most Christians have a difficulty with this concept. We appreciate the things that our money can give us, and this love of things may blind us to spiritual things. We live better than ancient kings now; the poorest of the poor live better than kings. We can have any kind of food, anytime we want. We can live in comfort, no matter if the sun is scorching the earth, or cruel winds are howling against our house. It doesn’t matter, because we have the technology and the money to give ourselves comfort. And we forget about God.

It is usual that the scripture readings, especially on Sunday, are chosen, to give us, shall we say, a "gut" check. Look inside, and see; is there something you are lacking? Last week, we looked, and saw if we are lacking mercy. We saw what happens to a man who is not merciful. This week we can see several things. First of all, we must examine if we even keep the commandments. But then, after you have made a firm resolve to keep the commandments; there is a higher law, to be perfect! This is the reason for our life, to be perfect. We are to be like Christ, to become like Him in virtue and morality. This is why we were given life. As we grow to know Him, we become like Him, and we will know Him intimately and be called "friends."

We should look into ourselves and see if there is some way in which we are not perfect. Today what we are to look at is if we have imperfections in the realm of money matters in the realm of possessions, in the realm of love of comfort, and unnecessary concentration of security for the future. We are to examine our propensity for acquiring things we don’t need. If you wonder about that, move. You will see how many things you don’t need, because you will see much stuff that you throw away because you are so tired of packing. It is a terrible sin to have these things that that we don’t need. We stole from the poor when we acquired things we don’t need. In this culture, we have this lust for diversion and entertainment. All one needs to do is pay a dollar and he can have a tape to amuse himself for an hour, or I suppose, if it is the "latest release," more money must be paid. But what does it matter, to the blinded soul. You have the money, why not pay it, and enjoy yourself? This is not the Christian life. We are stealing from the poor when we indulge ourselves and do not give to others. Too many dinners, too many movies, too much planning for our future, with security; all these things we do, and we try to defraud God. We cannot defraud God, because He knows all, and we cannot really defraud the poor, because He is their advocate. We only defraud ourselves.

St Cosmas Aitilos, a great martyr and preacher in Asia Minor, once said, " I have need of one hundred grams of bread a day, and God blesses it. He blesses those hundred grams, but not one gram more. So if I take 110 grams, I have stolen 10 grams from the poor." That is rather mighty talk there! If we apply this to ourselves with care, we will see that we fail the test again and again and again. Now, I tell you, most of us are not able to cut off our lust for diversion and fine meals, and entertainment, and all those sort of things. We don’t have enough faith. We don’t trust in God enough.

We can start with something basic. I talk to you about basics all the time, don’t I? I have told you to keep the fasts, come to church (including the vigils), confess frequently, commune frequently, and say your morning and evening prayers. If you cannot do these things, you cannot make a beginning in the Christian life. And as those of you who have followed my advice have seen, you still have trouble with sin, but now you have something to support you, something to hold you up. It is not something that you can point at and say "Look what I have done," but God protects us when we are living in the Christian life.

As much a part of this life as all these things, (and it has been to my discredit that I have not told you more), is to give of our substance to God. It is as important as our prayer. It is as important as our fasting, because it is ordered by our Savior. If you do not tithe, you are not even fulfilling the minimum. It is the same as fasting, as saying your morning and evening prayers; they are minimums. If you are not doing this, you are cheating yourself, and are in danger. You must tithe. You should give of your substance FREELY to the church. If you cannot give freely, then give with difficulty! It’s all right. If you cannot pray with great attention, that pray, struggling to pay attention. If your mind wanders, then pray anyway! If you are bored with church, or fancy yourself to be too tired or stressed, then come anyway, because you know that this is important for your soul! It is the same way with tithing. You can either give with an open hand, or maybe a little bit of a clenched fist, but give! Eventually the Holy Spirit will help you to unclench that fist and you will have the joy given to you that follows obedience. Cast thy bread upon the waters, it says. It will return to you. It will not return empty to you.

People cheat themselves because they are so miserly. They don’t see themselves as miserly however, because after all, we are working for a living, and things are kinda hard, and the car breaks down, and we need to go into debt, and this that and the other thing. Don’t allow these things become "excuses, with excuses in sins." We must give to God what is already His. You make a terrible mistake, if at the end of the month, you say, "I must pay for my car, and my … boat"; (nobody has a boat, and so I am not offending anyone); "I must pay for my boat. And I must pay for all these other things." And at the bottom of the list is the church. Do you say, "I can’t afford it! I can barely make my credit card payments"? Well then, I will tell you, pay the minimum and give to the church. This is what you should do. First is God. Second is the boat, and the car, and the house, and everything else.

Where is our faith? Where is our compassion and love? Where is our consideration for others? Where is our obedience? You know our giving of our substance is for the community; it is for the family. It is not merely for ourselves; it is not just a rule that we follow, or we think that we are going to go to hell or something. It is the same as in fasting, and everything else. We are building up virtue for the community. Fr Michael Pomazansky once wrote a short but incredibly insightful essay about fasting, and it applies also to alms giving, because he mentions it, and any good work. We don’t fast only because it is a rule and a law. We do not give alms only because it is a rule and a law. We do these things because it a PRIVILEGE to be participators in holiness! It is a privilege to be participating in the work of the church, to be part of the body.

This is why we fast. This is why we give alms. This is why we pray for one-another. This is why we come to church, and when the church will be empty of most people, we come, because it is a necessity to participate in the life of holiness. And this is why we give alms. You should give MORE than your tithe, but if you are not at least giving a tithe, then you must begin now. There is much at stake, for your soul, and for everyone else’s soul.

I will tell you honestly, it is a tragedy, that when I mention our church to someone in the city, that say "I have never heard of you." What a terrible things! The fields are white for harvest, and people barely know where we are, We have so little, and yet, we worship the King who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. It is our own depravity, which keeps us where we are, both in this church, and everywhere else.

All over, Orthodox are in small communities, where only a few are really struggling to live the Christian life. There is so much that people need to know, both in our community, and outside of our community. It is a necessity to have funds to do this work. It is an absolute necessity, and it was spoken of in the Old Testament, and spoken of by the Apostles. They spent a lot of their time distributing to the poor and making arrangements – it is even in the letters, where they made arrangements to send here or there, and even arranged for their own sustenance, so that they could minister the gospel. A man who is starving does not have enough breath to preach. You do not muzzle the ox when he threshes the grain. Now we see in our day people who are abusing this idea, and are saying outlandish things, like "I will die if you do not give me three million dollars to build my new hospital," or something of that nature, but those are all charlatans. They are all fakes and frauds, but within the church, we must recognize the difference.

Tithing is just a matter of obedience. The Lord says it, so YOU DO IT! He didn’t tell you to buy that boat. He tells you to tithe. If you can tithe and have a boat, then enjoy, because God will bless you with it. If you rob from the poor, and if you rob from your brother and sister in order to have your boat, or your security, or whatever, then you are sinning grievously. This is one of those "quiet" sins, that is not mentioned enough, and is not really visible to others, or even ourselves.

Mentioning this subject often gets people mad. Our church is not like this. I can say these things to you, and no one is going to think that I am pointing a finger, because we are a family. No one is going to think that I am picking on him, because you know me. That’s not the way I am. There are churches though, that if I were to say something like this in, people would walk out in the middle of the sermon. What a tragedy! Too many people are not willing to hear the words of the gospel. As long as they are easy, they will hear them. Well, thanks be to God, you listen to me about fasting; you listen to me about prayer. You listen to me about coming to church for the most part, and confession, and receiving the mysteries. Listen to me now, about the giving of your substance.

Don’t be like this rich man. The scary thing about this man was that he had virtues. He was zealous, he adhered to the law, and he even had a desire to know more, and yet, he was not saved, because of his adherence to riches. Don’t think yourself immune to this. Now if you can look into your life, and think that you follow everything even better that the rich man, than I suppose that you can have a little bit of comfort, but there is no one in this room that can say they follow the commandments. There is no one in this room that can say that they could stand before God without shame. We still have work to do, not only to follow the commandments, but also to tithe, and give of our substance.

I am going to talk you to more about this in the future as well; in fact I am going to send a letter out this coming week. I have thought about this, and I have wrung my hands over it and prayed to God, and I decided to do it. I am going to send a letter to every household. It is going to have a very good article about tithing, explaining that in the Old Testament, it was a requirement, and that is has carried over into the New Testament. It is a necessity for your life. I will give you a letter, and I am going to ask you to consider in your heart – are you giving to God what He deserves? Are you giving to God what it his? If you are, then, glory is to God, and this admonition does not apply to you. If you are not giving to God what is His, and then you are in danger, and as a Christian you must always deal with what is taught you. If the Holy Spirit convicts, you are responsible for action based upon that conviction. May God help you to have all things in your life in order — fasting, prayer, struggling against your sins, a regular lifestyle of prayer and coming to church, confession and communing regularly, and along with all of this, the giving of your substance to God.

The Christian life is a totality. The great mistake of this man was that he saw salvation as a limited set of things that he could do – "1, 2, 3, a, b, c," and God said, "All of it." What should I do? All of it. This is a very large proposition for us because of our sins, so the church in its wisdom says, to work a little bit at a time. You cannot become holy and have the prayer of the heart tonight, but if you struggle, it may occur in your lifetime, and if not in your lifetime, God will save you and there will be a room reserved for you in the mansions. Don’t allow yourself to be condemned because of something as foolish as an attachment to money, and all the things that it entails. God bless you and help you.

13th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of Evil Husbandmen in the Vineyard.

All Scripture helps us to learn about God. It gives us promises. It teaches us how to live. It teaches us how not to live by giving us the opposite example. It also gives us a pattern and a role for living.

Today, in this parable about the vineyard, we can see all these things. On the surface, there is a strong rebuke of the Jews, because of their rejection of the Messiah. Some of the Jews, were the ones, of course, that were the husbandmen who killed the Householder's servants and even His son. The Jews understood this when He rebuked them. Have no doubt about it. This was one of the things that led them to plot to kill Him. We not only see the negative example of the Jews, but also a pattern for how to live. If you look at how carefully God created the vineyard, and His continual entreating of the householders and what he required of them, you can see that this is, in microcosm, the Christian life. And you can see how to live and how not to live. And then, with a little explanation, with an understanding of the mind of the Church of what fruits are and what some of the symbolism is, you can see how this parable doesn't just apply to the wicked Jews who killed the Savior. It applies to us, who are wicked if we do not do the work that we are called to do in the vineyard.

Now, there's also a marvelous connection between this Gospel and the Gospel we say for St. Symeon who is a venerable Father. We say this Gospel where at the end it says, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." There is a connection between these words, "Take My yoke upon you" and what God told the householders to do. It's quite simple. God gave us everything we need for our salvation. It is natural labor. Not natural according to the natural man, but natural according to the heavenly man, which is who we are supposed to be becoming. Let's see a little bit about this parable — it is rich in symbolism — and then see how it applies to us.

"There was a certain householder which planted a vineyard and hedged it round about and digged a wine press in it and built a tower and let it out to husbandmen and went into a far country."

If you read from the Fathers you can see what these things mean. The Church has understood them for many, many hundreds of years now. The Householder, of course, is Jesus Christ. The vineyard is the Jewish people, and by extension, the New Israel -Christians, the Christian Church. Blessed Theophylact says that everything described is spiritual. He created a vineyard with everything necessary for our sustenance and for our salvation. A vineyard bears sweet and juicy grapes that are not only tasty for the palate, but are good for the body and, by extension, this vineyard is good for the soul.

There is a hedge round about the vineyard. What does a hedge do? It protects from marauders, from thieves and from wild animals. It keeps that which is undesirable, and even evil, out. The vineyard is the Church. And the hedge that goes round the Church is just like the sides of a boat, which is another image of the Church — the Ark. This is the Law, the Law of God. This is our tradition. Our Holy Tradition: our fasting, our services, which are so full of meaning and beauty, our way of thinking, confession, the grace of baptism — all of these things and many more are the hedge that goes round about the Church.

The winepress is the altar. Sacrifices are offered on this altar. The Jews would have thought of the sacrifices of bullocks, but we think of the sacrifice that the God-Man has given to us and of the Body and Blood of Christ offered on this altar. And the tower within the hedge is the temple. It is high, to be seen by all, and to be a light for all. And the temple, or course, must be within the hedge because the True Faith is only within the Church. And it is hedged round about keeping away heresy and unclear ways of thinking and acting, no matter what they are.

There are two meanings regarding the husbandmen. First of all, the Jewish teachers were the first husbandmen all throughout the ages. And there were good husbandmen, but there were a remarkable amount of bad ones. Later, Christian bishops, priests, deacons and indeed, all of us, because we are a holy priesthood, a holy nation, and peculiar people, so says the Apostle Peter. We are like husbandmen now because if you see, later in the parable, the vineyard was taken away from the first husbandmen. They were not worthy of it. And it was given to other husbandmen, that is the universal Church, through the calling of the Gentiles. Now we are of that vine and of that body, if we choose to live according to the way God has taught us.

Now, God, the householder, went into a far country. What does this mean? It means God's long-suffering for us. It means that He is slow to judge us and quick to hear our repentance. He is not slack concerning our salvation, but He is patient with us. But you know, when a person goes on a long journey, they return from that journey eventually. And when He returns that will be the end of the age. That will be the judgment.

So God is patient. And God might seem, occasionally, because of this patience, to be far away from us. "He doesn't see," so we sometimes lie to ourselves. Indeed, He sees all, and He is patient. But there will come a time of reckoning.

So we must not be slack concerning what we have been told to do just because He is not on top of us as a taskmaster with a whip, telling us every moment what to do. We must indeed be mature in Christ and live according to the Gospel without compulsion.

Remember some of the other things that are in the Gospels. The prodigal son went into a far country and came back. In that case the country means something different. Remember the foolish virgins. Their master went away and He was late, so they thought, in coming and five of them let their oil go out. They did not have works of mercy and of devoutness and of desire and they were left out when the Bridegroom came to the great feast.

Be careful, brothers and sisters. Life has a sort of narcotic quality to it. We're so busy with living. We're so busy with the things we need to do (or think we need to do). We forget so often, God is merciful and allows us time. Time to become like Him. Time to repent of our sins. Time to grow in knowledge of Him. Time to grow in perfection.

This is the purpose of our life. Not time to acquire anything, or for pleasures, or for entertainment, or all the other things that are craved in our industrial society. We must watch. Jesus said it to us. He said to His apostles and to us, "Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour the Lord shall come."

So, the Master of the house is in a far country. But He still sees all. And He is patient. And that patience should spur us to action knowing that we have a little bit of time to work out our salvation. It should make us zealous.

Let us think for a minute of this image of the vineyard. The Master of the house has given us everything necessary and he has hedged it off so that all which is evil cannot get in. As long as you are within the vineyard you are safe. As long as you are within the Ark you are safe. All the things in the vineyard are there for a purpose: the altar, the tower, the trellises, the land, and the crops. We are given these things in order to work.

What are householders to do in the vineyard? Are they to lie in the sun? Are they to daydream their days away? There is work to be done in the vineyard! There is honest labor and growth to be accomplished in the vineyard, and gradual growth in the knowledge of God. And as we grow in the knowledge of God, we grow in becoming like God in morality.

"And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. (35) And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another."

In fact this happened twice, and then He sent his Son. The "time of the fruit" is the years of the prophets, according to the Fathers. They announced the coming of the fruit many, many times. And God sent His servants to receive the fruits of the vineyard, that is our obedience and growth. That is all we are asked to do, to tend the vineyard. We're given all the tools and everything necessary just to be obedient. That is what we are asked to do and to grow in the knowledge of God. God counts as His gain our gain and knowledge of Him.

So these householders, these terrible wicked men, given all of these things for their salvation, thought of it as theirs instead and grasped it, and killed the prophets. Isaiah was sawn in half. Zachariah, father of St. John the Baptizer, was killed between the temple and the altar. St Elias was hounded. So many of the others were killed, tortured in various ways because the husbandmen would not be obedient to the Master of the house.

"But last of all he sent unto them his son saying, 'They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come let us kill him. Let us seize on his inheritance.' And they caught him and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him."

The coming of the son is the Incarnation. God comes to His own vineyard, which He had created for us. And when He was cast out of the vineyard, this was a prophecy of how He was to be killed because, indeed, He was killed outside the gates of Jerusalem, cast outside the vineyard. Jerusalem is a metaphor for the Church, and He was also cast outside the guileless will of the people. He was killed by the wicked householders outside of the Law, outside of the vineyard, which was hedged round about.

Now, there is an important question which asked, "When the Lord, therefore, of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?"

He came looking for fruit, you know. He came looking for obedience. He came looking for someone who had used His gifts, the talents that He had given properly. Some actively opposed Him, and perhaps there were other householders who were not so wicked, just misused the vineyard and did not work, but then again did not lift the hand to stop the killing of the prophets or of the Son of God.

The Jews hearing the parable did not yet that is was about was about them. We can see in St. Luke that they did understand eventually because they said, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen which will render him the fruits in their seasons."

Then when Christ said something that made them understand, it was them — they said, "God forbid!" Well, they had already said it. They had prophesied what would happen to themselves and all those who do not labor in the vineyard with honest work.

Let us look carefully at this phrase, "...render him the fruits in their seasons." There is fruit to be rendered. To be a Christian is to have an obligation. You have accepted God's grace, and baptism. You must work now in the vineyard. Our Christian life is labor.

I've said it a thousand times and I will say it a thousand more times if I have breath. The great heresy of our age is that one can have belief without labor. It is not true. The Christian who laments his sins knows that he must labor to cease doing them. The Christian that loves God and is thankful for what has been given desires to labor in the vineyard and picks up his spade and digs, and a hoe and hoes away the weeds from his soul so that it will be bright and shiny and will be able to grow.

We have everything we need in this vineyard and it is hedged round about and yet we, in our foolishness, sometimes cut through the hedge. That's what we do when we sin, you know. That's what we do especially when we have incorrect attitudes about the Christian life, because from incorrect attitudes comes sinful behavior and we open the hedge. And if we open it wide enough, marauders will come in.

This is happening in our beloved Church, even as we speak, these days. And it is something that should make a Christian lament. We currently see so many opening the hedge to marauders by false doctrines, false ways of life, false practices that are being touted as Orthodox and we know that they are not.

The fruit that the Lord wants is the knowledge of Him in our souls. And a necessity — if the knowledge comes then the action will come too. A man fools himself if he thinks he knows something about God and he doesn't live morally. Do not mistake the time the Lord has given you for your own personal security. You must bear fruit. It is a requirement. Now, you need not bear fruit like St. Symeon did. He would stand in prayer from sundown until the 9th hour (that's 3 in the afternoon). And then he would counsel people until sundown from that time. And he did this for 80 years on a pillar. He had clairvoyance and humility and all manner of spiritual gifts. He bore fruit abundantly. We must have humility and realize we cannot reach such heights. But we must stay in the hedge to bear the fruit that God desires and requires of us.

How do we do this? It's simple. The things I've told you over and over. And the things I tell myself over and over, because it is only possible to do spiritual works by making a beginning; keeping the fasts, accepting the Church's authority over you, and the way you live, even in the way you think, the way you act, going to the services, fasting, praying, giving alms-giving what is God's to God, and work in the vineyard. Know that your purpose is to know God. It's to become perfected. It's to ascend in knowledge and in action. Those two swords, when Christ said it was enough, when someone said, 'here are two swords', knowledge and action. Those are the necessities for salvation. Anytime you sin you break down the hedge. So you must rebuild it as rapidly as possible.

May God help you in staying within the vineyard and in working out your salvation. Now remember, in the vineyard, there is a product of a vineyard and it is grapes, and fruit.

Now, if you are in the vineyard and you do not participate in producing fruit then you will be cast off. Have you ever seen grapevines burn? It is mentioned when they tried to burn the Three Holy Children. The wood that comes from a vine, like grapes, when it dries out, burns incredibly rapidly and with great heat and intensity. This is what will happen to those who cast themselves off the vine by not laboring. So now we see. We come to the end of the meaning of this parable. Apply it to your life. Work in the vineyard, brothers and sisters, and struggle for your salvation and understand that every moment God requires of you fruit. May God help you to attain salvation. Amen.

14th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of The Wedding Feast.

The reading for the Cross is that famous verse we hear "For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Now what is this eternal life? It is described a little bit more in a veiled way in the reading for the Theotokos. This is the typical reading that we read for the Mother of God and it's sort of a play on words because Mary, the sister of Martha was not the Theotokos, but shared the same name. And so there is this passage where Mary and Martha are with Jesus and there is a meal being served and Martha is cumbered about with serving but Mary sits at his feet and has chosen the better part. And then the Gospel goes a few more verses, thirty or so: "And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." 2

And Christ says, "...Yes indeed, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." 3 This is something else to describe eternal life because when we learn of Christ, we must live according to what we learn and then we will have blessedness. 'Blessed' can be translated 'happy'. The word, "makari," just means happiness. But it is the fullness of happiness only Christ can give.

Now, He describes the happiness He wants to give in a parable about a wedding. Think about what a wedding brings to mind. It is the union of two, to live together, and care for one-another for the rest of their days. There is great happiness, great love, great festivity, great expectations, fatlings killed, and oxen on the table. All partake of a rich and bountiful feast, because two families are so happy and the wedding of their daughter and their son. The marriage is an image of the salvation that God wants to give us and much, much more so. It is a mystery, St. Paul says, we can't even understand. But marriage is used to hint at what our salvation will be at the joy of knowing our Lord. But there are four things that people did in this parable that cast them out from the kingdom. Some were cast out in a way that was very obvious to them and others just lived a life of purposelessness and they died. Let us see about how these people lived and see what is the proper way to live. It is all laid out for us in this parable.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come." 4

These people are much like those that are by the wayside. 5 The seed is scattered over the wayside but the ground is ground down by the pounding of hooves and of feet and of wagon wheels and the seed cannot take any root at all and it is swept away by the birds and eaten by the birds and the fowls of the air. These are the same people. They don't care. They will not come. They're indifferent. They would answer the kings servants: 'I care nothing whatsoever.' They're not going to abuse the prophets that came to bring the news of our Savior, but instead, they ignore them. These servants that called to the wedding feast are none other than the prophets. And I tell you even now, the apostles today, the same servants, are calling to the wedding feast. Most people don't listen and do not want to hear much about the Gospel, which tells us in exactitude HOW we should live, because it never really touches their soul, which is too full with worldly cares to contain anything else.

Now, He sent forth His servants to call them that were bidden. Did you notice there were two callings there? It's important to understand the nuances of the Scriptures. We're called through everything, God has proclaimed through His prophets, through His apostles, through the teachings of the Church, we're called through all of these things, all of these manifestations of Divine Truth. And we are bidden by our conscience because our conscience calls us again and again and again. Not just being twice called nor thrice, but more than seventy times seventy 6 called. Every moment God is speaking to our conscience to call us. So He says to His servants, "Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise" 7

There are the people that are choked by the cares of the world. They have some interest perhaps, in the God-man Jesus Christ, but not enough to stay away from their farms, that is, their body, or put another way, all forms of carnality. These are of course lusts of the flesh, but also all desires of experiencing the pleasures of this life, without giving a thought to the One who has made all things possible. Be careful now! Many of these types of people call themselves Orthodox Christians and even attend church! Guard yourself, O Christian, to see if you are merely a hearer of the word, or also a doer!

So then He sends more servants and a remnant of His servants are killed and indeed, the prophets were killed by the Jews. And even today, I tell you, there have been apostles, that is, bishops, that have been killed, and deacons, and priests and confessors of all kinds that have been killed for their faith. And they were spitefully treated and killed. So the King sent forth His army and He uprooted these people and slew them all. All three of these people did not inherit the kingdom, some because they didn't even care, some because they cared more for their own pleasures, their own ego, their own acquisitions, their own greed, and others were actually evil in a vicious and active way, and killed the prophets.

So the King wishes to have His feast hall filled. So He says to His servants, "The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage." 8 'Go out into the highways, search out, find anyone and compel them to come in 9, compel them because of My great love for them. I am going to show them who I Am.' And the person who listens will be compelled to follow the Gospel. It is a compelling from within, brothers and sisters, from within our own soul.

The man who will be saved has this compelling from within. Those who are not to be saved wear Christianity as an outward thing. They tell themselves, and even tell God, "I will get to working on this sin eventually," or "I will start getting to church on time someday," or "I will even begin to attend all the holy services regularly," all the while making foolish excuses for themselves. They fool themselves saying " I have so much trouble with this, and trouble with that, and God will understand why I cannot give the rules of piety my full attention." You must search in your heart if you have excuses like this. Are you being compelled from within? If so, this compelling will obliterate flimsy excuses. Or is Christianity sort of an intellectual exercise to you?

So the good and the bad were brought into the kingdom. The good and the bad were brought into the wedding hall. But each person, according to the eastern custom, had a wedding garment put on them, clean and fresh wedding garments. The good and the bad are baptized into the Church and all are given a wedding garment. Now, the king comes to review his guests, and he sees a man without a garment, wearing only his regular street clothes. This man had to come in, and put on a garment, so he obviously wore it for some period of time. Then he went into some corner somewhere, behind some plant perhaps, and took off the wedding garment, discarding it, and still went back to the wedding feast to partake of all the good things the king had prepared, which are for the elect. Well, our Lord would not have that, and He went to that servant and asked him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless." 10

This is the fourth way we lose our soul, by taking the good things God has given us and not living according to what they are, and not changing.

It is our obligation, I tell you, to live according to who Christ is. Knowledge of Christ does not save a man. Acting upon knowledge of Christ saves a man. The devil knows about Christ and hates Him and fears Him. You must live according to what you have been taught. You must change. And it is a beautiful thing to change. It is a blessed thing to change. It is the purpose of our life- to change and to become like Christ. It is a privilege to do so, to put on the wedding garment, and to go into the wedding hall and to partake of all the things that we do not deserve in any way, but God gives to us because of His great love. So we must react to this love. This is the meaning to this parable. It has other meanings as well. It certainly was an admonition to the Jews, just as the previous parable we discussed from last week was. 11 It is the same kind of thing. But the real inner meaning that we must understand, and that Christ was trying to put across to His hearers and to all of us is that we must live according to who God is.

Now I know most of you, and I say with certainly, that you are not the ground by the wayside, because I know you, as my spiritual children, and I know that you have a desire to save your souls. So you are passed that first tier. Don't let worldly cares choke you and don't let desires of the flesh choke you. Don't let things that are outside of God's will drag you down. Don't exchange your wedding garment for street clothes. Live according to who God is. This is the desire God has for you.

May God help you to fully realize the wedding feast and to keep your wedding garment unsullied and unspoiled. Amen.

1 The following sermon was transcribed from one given Sept 8/21 1997, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, and also the day of the commemoration of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

2 (Luke 11:27)

3 Luke 11:28, translation corrected

4 Mat 22:2-3

5 Cf. Mat 13:4

6 (Mat 18:21-22) Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (22) Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. The number designates an infinite amount of times

7 Mat 22:4-5

8 Mat 22:8-9

9 (Luke 14:23) And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

10 Mat 22:12

11 The wicked servants in the vineyard — Matthew 21:33-42

16th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of the Talents.

We have before us a very familiar story in the parable of the talents. It is interesting how this story dovetails quite well with what the Apostle says:: "We then as workers together with Him beseech you that you receive not the Grace of God in vain," and also with the reading for the Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross. We see there a very famous passage, which has almost become cliché. You see it in the back of football stadiums. You see it when a field goal is kicked — John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This God, who came to the earth, and became man, is the man, who, in the parable went into the far country, and gave to each of his servants a certain number of talents before he left. When Christ speaks of this man, he is speaking of himself.

The man goes into a far country, but before then, he gives to his servants talents. These talents are money, but what are these talents really? What is the meaning of "talents"? We may have an incorrect understanding, or at least I know that I once had this misunderstanding, so I will be so bold as to think that some of you also have thought that when we speak of ":talents," we think of the same thing that makes a person sing or read well, or be a scholar, or a good speaker, or be very intelligent, etc., etc.. We may think that God has given us this talent, and we must "use" this talent in some way or we will be judged by Him. We suppose that is we are good at musicianship, we must use this talent for His glory. This is not what the talent is! The Fathers speak of the talent as being God's grace, which we must respond to with obedience and love, and the doing of the commandments.

When these people were given five and two and one talent, it was not an arbitrary decision by our Lord. It was not the same as we know talent in the other meaning of the word. Some people are beautiful or intelligent, and some are plain and not so intelligent. Some people have trouble speaking, some speak with great eloquence. We have all different arrays of abilities, as human beings.. There is one thing we can do regardless of whether we are smart or not so smart, whether we can read well or poorly — whatever we can do or not do — we can be obedient to God, We can learn of his commandments and cleave to them, and we can love them more than anything. The man who loves with great love, he is a great vessel, a large vessel, into which God can pour much grace, many talents.

The first man had room for many talents, and the Lord gave him five to begin with. The other one, who also was a faithful servant — he had room for less talents, so his Lord gave him two talents. The last one really had no room for any talents, but his Lord, out of mercy towards him, out of patience towards him, to give him a chance, gave him a talent. He gave him a chance to use this talent properly.

So let's not have the wrong idea of what a talent is. It is not physical or mental or emotional ability. Harlots will be in the kingdom of heaven before the supposed righteous (repentant harlots of course). These will be people who look at their lives and say, " I haven't done anything. I have no talents. I haven't done anything useful in this life. I have wasted the talents God has given me." But they would be wrong — gloriously wrong in their humble thoughts, because God would see that they have loved Him, and they had learned His commandants, and these commandments had been *sweet* to them. And the sweetness of these commandments made them, urged them on, to do works of great righteousness and great piety, hidden from the eyes of man, but not from the all seeing eyes of God. The one cup of water that they would give to a thirsty man, God sees. The lamentation for their sins, God sees. The love in their hearts, God sees. The struggle against some sin, even if they are not completely successful, mind you — the struggle against a sin, God sees. This is the usage of the talents that God has given us. To struggle, to learn to become like him.

There is no other person, no other being like God. God is all in all, and this is all we should want. So. as we are given the grace to follow the commandments, our talents, we should mount like eagles, and become better and better. We should ascend in righteousness, just like the monks in the icon in the ladder of divine ascent are climbing the latter, and unfortunately some are falling off because they are not looking at Christ and increasing their talents.

It is interesting to see that this man who has the five talents works very diligently and gets five more. He doubles the grace. And the man who has two talents and also doubles that which the man has given him. And our Lord, our merciful, long suffering Savior, who also spoke of those who worked from the first hour and even to the eleventh hour receiving their reward with no distinction according to how long they had worked, said the SAME THING to both men.: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.." These few things are, really, very few, and very simple — to love our Lord, and to cleave to Him, and to try to change the things that are not in keeping with Who he Is, in our life. As we subdue our passions, our God gives us more things even in this life, more sweetness even in this life, and then in the end, he will give us many things, as we are able to bear it. We are not quite able to bear all that God wants to give us at this moment. We do not have the intelligence, the spiritual mind, or the purity to bear it, but we are being purified, we are being changed, if indeed we use the talents that God has given to us.

The man who had one talent was a foolish and stupid man. he had no desire to live the Christian life. He didn't want to change, and he blamed our Lord later when he was confronted. The plain truth of the matter is that the man did not want to change, he did not want to use his talent. He did not really love our God, and wanted to live his own life of depravity, or perhaps of not even such great depravity — just heedlessness, and godlessness, and atheism in practice, if not in belief. A man who says he believes in God and does not follow the things that He says, as far as the church is concerned, acts like an atheist.

So this man is confronted by our Lord — "Why have you not increased your talent"? and he says something very interesting to our Lord, and very difficult to understand if you do not have the Fathers to read — at least for me. I did not understand what the meaning of this passage was, because my mind is still very muddy and blank, and I can not always understand what the scriptures say. Our Lord is referred to in a very harsh way, and I tell you, the way he is being referred to is true, if you understand what is being said. The sinful man, who will not live in accordance with Who God Is, who lives heedlessly a life of godlessness says: " Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.." And he speaks truly here. You can have back You gave me. It has no part with me, because I have not become like You.

"Reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed" — what does this mean? It means that God has given us grace and abundant mercy, but that He has not given us obedience. He has not given us the response that we should give to Him. We are responsive creatures. We are just like the flower that grows towards the sun. We are like the child who is content in his mother's embrace, and returns love for love, if indeed we act in keeping with how we were created. If we are obedient to God, if we love Him, and if we learn of Him, then we will be using the talent, but God will not reap obedience from us unwillingly. He presents to us a marvelous table, a festal table spread out for us, with all good meats to eat. We should see the mercy of God, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, in everything, every moment of the day. We see His mercy in His body and blood which is given to nourish us. We see His mercy in all of the sacraments of the church. We see His mercy in the sweetness of all of the prayers that we sing, and how they touch us in a way that nothing else can. We even see His mercy in the elements, the weather, such as this pleasant day. We should see His mercy in everything, and God gives to us abundantly. And he does not force to be obedient. This is the meaning of what that wicked servant had said. He prophesied correctly and truly; God will not force us. God gives us everything needful, and we respond, if only we respond as a child responds to his mother or father.

The one talent that the wicked servant has is taken and given to the man that has ten. This man has an infinite capacity for more talents. He will be given more, and more, and more, because God will fill us. Since He is all in all, we, if we are worthy, and if we live a life in accordance with Who He Is and how He has taught us how to live, we will be ever expanding, and ever be being filled. And the man with four talents, he will be increased as well.

There certainly is taught in this difference between the man with 10 talents and the man with 4 talents, that there is a hierarchy in Heaven and there are many mansions in our Father's house. According to how we live our life, determines how much we will know God, and how much we will be given.

God help us to live as Christians, to take the talents we have been given — God's grace, His mercy, and allow them to change us. Isn't that what we do in our life? Aren't we always growing, aren't we always changing? We see a lot of growth in our parish. We have three infants and a toddler, and we see how much they change every day.

God help us to live as Christians. God help us to change and grow. God help us to not make any excuses like this man, putting the onus on God instead of on ourselves. God help us not to make an excuse that we do not have a certain ability and therefore that is why we are not doing something. Everyone has the ability, given them by God, to love and to be filled with Him. Everyone, every man that has ever been born, and everyone that will ever live, God has given great grace and abundant mercy, and He only asks us to respond. God grant you that the talents you have been given would ever expand, and will bear great fruit, abundantly.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On August 22, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and also the Sunday before the exaltation of the Holy Cross. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

 

17th Sunday after Pentecost.

We have before us the spectacle of the Canaanite woman. Indeed at that time, when she begged for and received the healing of her daughter, she was surely quite a spectacle. She was crying after our Lord, crying after his disciples, and trying to get his attention, because of her extreme need. We can learn many things from this woman. Of course, we can learn about humility, but there is something even more profound about this woman. Our Lord names it himself — her faith. Out of her faith came her humility.

Our Lord is going along the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. This was the land of the Gentiles. He was actually escaping from the Jews, who could not His testimony concerning Himself, recorded only in the Gospel of St. John. He called Himself the bread of life, and told that we must eat this bread in order to have salvation. The Jews (those who did not believe of course) could not stand that. They could not understand it, because they were carnal and temporal people. After His discourse, many who had been following Him left. There was a tumult concerning him, and much anger. At this time, and even before then, there was a conspiracy among some who wanted to kill our Lord. He died at the time he wanted to die, and escaped from the conspirators many times. He would go into hiding for periods of time, in order and teach his disciples privately, and also to make available to us important incidents for our benefit, such as when he met the woman at the well, St. Photini, or when this woman of Canaan shows such great faith.

Our Lord is in the land of the Gentiles, and he is just passing through. He is not on a mission of ministry there at all, since he said he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. The vast majority of what He said and did was to the Jews. Later, the floodgates were opened, when it was the right time, and all men were made aware of the salvation of God. This would be a task for the Apostles, and indeed, the whole church to do.

This woman comes and begs Him to heal her daughter, many many times. I think also of the blind men, who also entreated Him, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.." So also did blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus entreat our Lord with great persistence: "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me." Jesus rewarded this man with object of his desire, and also commended him about his great faith. These few also were very persistent, as this Canaanite woman was. In this society, it would have been a spectacle for a woman to do this, and even a Gentile woman at that.

She says "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil..." Notice that she says "Have mercy on me." Our Lord does not rebuke her for this. The desires of our heart God will give, if we ask with a pure heart, and with a persistence that shows we believe. If we ask for mercy upon ourselves, aren't we also asking for mercy for those we love and care about? When we pray for mercy, we certainly will be thinking of our family, our brothers and sisters, and those we love, because their well being is certainly the desire of our God, and He will grant our desires, and we do not have to be so precise — "Lord have mercy on George because of this problem, or John because of that problem" — all we need do is ask God for mercy, and in a simple way make our need known, to the One who already knows.

When the blessed woman finally got his attention, she said what her problem was: "my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.." And he did not say anything. He ignored her, and the indication from the text is that this went on for quite some time. She was imprecating him over and over as he walked on the road, ignoring her. Even the Apostles were asking Him to send her away. The Fathers think that the Apostles had tried to be her advocate, but at length they had tired of her. This woman has no friends in the world. She is completely alone, and she is crying out to the only one she thinks can help her, and He is not listening. But she keeps trying. she comes and worships Him: "Lord help me."

He answers her in a way that seems to our pampered egos to be very harsh. "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs." The children are the Jews, the bread is Him, and the dog — is her. He called her a dog! In that time, to be called a dog was considered one of the greatest insults. This woman does not recoil from this insult. And our Lord knew this, and that he reaction would show her great faith and humility, born of faith. Or shall I say, the application of her faith. If you believe something and do not act upon it, it is completely useless to you. This woman answers wondrously: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

What a spectacle we have here, of incredible humility! However, take note, brothers and sisters, this humility is founded on knowledge, and he acting upon this knowledge. She was bold. She went to our Lord, and thrust herself in front of him, and she begged mercy of him, because She knew WHO HE WAS. She also knew who she was. When He said she was a dog, she accepted that, because she knew it was true. But she also knew that He was the Lord, and that he could heal her daughter, and indeed would heal her daughter. That is why she spent so much time pursuing Him, and surmounted so many obstacles that would stop those of less faith.

The Lord said to her: "Woman, great is thy faith," and then he healed her daughter. How can there be such a miracle? The key is to know Christ. If we know Christ, then He will teach us all things. How in the world can we do this?

The Epistle from the Sunday after the Exaltation gives us a clue. The Apostle says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." The sentence has seeming contradictions — "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." To know Christ, and to have Him live within you, that is the source of all of our knowledge, and our humility. A man who begins to know Christ will also begin to know himself, and he will know that he is a dog, or a worm, or any of the other epithets by which the fathers refer to themselves in their prayers. If you look at the way the Fathers view themselves in all of their holy prayers — it is amazing — they were saints, and yet they thought of themselves as the lowest of humanity, and yet, in the midst of their low opinion of themselves, they had boldness before Christ. How can this be?

It can only be — when Christ lives within you. It is the only way that a man can have boldness before God — to have God living in him. As God lives within you, you change in your life, because our life is full of change. We either change by going away from God, or going towards Him. The Christian life is the amendment of ourselves. It is the gradual acquisition of the Holy Spirit. It is becoming holy. As we become more holy, we acquire more knowledge, and the application of that knowledge will truly be pleasing to God..

A key to obtaining Christ, and having this knowledge of God, and therefore the boldness and humility, which are side by side with one another is to deny ourselves. Our society is full of self indulgence. It is never really been significantly different, but nowadays, we have the technology to indulge ourselves almost any time we want and in any way we want. Before, it was a little harder, because if you did not scratch a living out of the earth, you would not eat. So you had to do some work, and work very diligently just to take care of the necessities of life. Now, in our industrial society, we have more free time, but so many of us are not free, because we are captive to our passions, and do not deny ourselves. So, the church, in her wisdom, knows that she must teach us this important truth — built into our character — that if we do not deny ourselves in a pursuit, we will not be successful in it. If you do not deny yourself when you wish to learn something that is difficult by studying it when you would rather be playing basketball or watching television, or some other indulgence, then you will not learn that which you say you want to know. If you do not deny yourself by fasting, and by attending the services even when they are difficult, and by praying even when you are tired, and by forgiving when you do not want to forgive, and by swallowing your anger when you are angry, and by looking away when you have trouble with a lustful thought — if you do not deny yourself in these ways, and the myriad other things that your conscience convicts you of, and you know God wants you to do, then you will not grow. If you do not grow, then you will shrivel, and you will die.

The Christian life is growing towards God, it is becoming more like Him. We either become more like Him, or we lose the likeness of Him in ourselves. If this happens, when we are judged, God will say I don't know who you are. I don't know you because you are not like me. You had the opportunity to be like Me. I gave you every bit of knowledge that was necessary, but you squandered it. You wanted to do things your own way.

This woman of Canaan, a pagan woman, a gentile, and outcast, she shows us the real truth of the matter. She, who not had Christ revealed to her in writing, or speech, knew Him. She was humble and bold in her humility. Again, I say, in the Christian life, the two are the same. In secular life, they are not at all the same, but in the Christian life, some one who is humble is bold before God, because he knows Who God IS, and he knows who he is, and he lives in a constant effort to be more like God in holiness and knowledge. That's what we should try to obtain — this knowledge, and then we will obtain the things we wish from God. God help us to be humble and to be bold before Christ. Amen.

All rights reserved. Please use this material in any way that is edifying to your soul, and copy it for personal use if you so desire. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas if you wish to distribute it in any way. We grant permission to post this text, if completely intact only, including this paragraph, to any electronic mailing list.

 

 

18th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Gospel for this day is from the Evangelist Luke, and is about the miraculous draught of fish. This parable has much to teach us, if we read it carefully, and with Fathers as our guide, and with prayer.

What is the reason why the Lord did what he did? At the end of the story, we see that he says to the Apostle, or rather, the Apostle to be — Simon Peter, that "from henceforth thou shalt catch men." 3 This miracle was, as all of His other miracles were, a demonstration of His power, and His authority. "By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" 4, said the Pharisees in their stupidity, because they had seen many of the miracles, but they did not understand, but those who understood saw what authority He had. He was the One who could raise the dead, make the blind see, and the lame walk. He could still the waves, or provide abundantly in fish and bread for a multitude. He showed forth plainly His authority and his reliability by these miracles.

Our Lord is along the Lake of Gennesaret, which is by a fishing village. Simon Peter and many of the other apostles were fishermen. They had fished all night — that was their typical method of fishing in those days, and they had caught nothing. Fishing was a very difficult craft back then, since the fish could easily escape from the nets, and the nets broke easily. The fishermen would spend all day mending their nets, and all night fishing, and in this case, they had caught nothing.

In the morning, Our Lord is along the shore, and He decides to get into a ship to thrust out a little from the land 5, and feed the people there with His sweet words. There is an allegory here, in His being a little way off the shore, and teaching from a ship. The ship is the church and the Apostles and Christ were within the ship while He taught. Therefore His words, and subsequently, the Apostle's words, are the teaching of the church. His being a little way off the land had a practical reason — if He had launched out deep into the waters, nobody would have been able to hear Him. The spiritual meaning is this — He launched out a "little" into the water because later the Apostles would launch out into the deep, and spread the gospel to the far ends of the earth. He Himself told them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, "and indeed the Church has done greater works than Christ did. Many men, women and children have come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the efforts of those in the church. Many more miracles have occurred. Many more have been raised from the dead, and many more of the lame have walked than Christ even saw. They did greater works, and our Lord prepared them for their works, both by this teaching a little ways from the land, when they were yet babes, and not even yet His Apostles, and by His entire life, by showing them how to live, to act, to think, to react to things. He also taught them in privacy many things, so that they would know how to govern the church.

After He finishes his teaching, He says unto Simon: "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." 7 The nets are the gospel, that the Apostles would spread, then their Apostles, followed by their Apostles, and so on. The deep is where the world is floundering, where people are drowning and have no belief, or are in ignorance, or despair or despondency, or are addicted to sins. They do not know Christ, and their life is in an uproar and in turmoil as if they are tossed in waves, and are drowning, and our Lord says to go out into the deep to save them. We still go out into the deep to this day, with the very same nets of the Gospel, and in accordance to the teachings of the church.

Simon answers him and says: "Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net." 8 These are not words of disbelief, but they are words of simple obedience, from a

man who was tired and had been up all night, and taken nothing. He mentions this almost parenthetically to our Lord, and the Apostle to be Peter's words teach us something else very important. Are you ever tired, or despondent, or do your emotions ever play tricks with you? It doesn't matter. If you have faith, you live as a man with faith. Regardless of whether you are happy or sad, tired or not tired, you just obey. Even when things seem pointless, or hopeless, you know that they cannot in reality be pointless or hopeless, because you know Who it is who is telling you to do this thing. If the Lord tells you to do something, then you do it, because you know that He will bless it. When the Apostles had fished all the previous night, they had done so without God's help. He was not in the boat with them, and he had not told them to go out and let down their nets for a draught. It was not that they were being disobedient, after all they were fishermen, and that was their craft, but when Christ blessed their endeavors, and told them to do something, and was with them in the midst of their efforts, then they had a miraculous catch.

And they enveloped a great multitude of fishes and their net brake. There is another time in the Gospels when a great miracle happened and a great multitude of fishes was caught, a hundred and fifty and three and yet was their net not broken. 9 This is given in the Gospel of Saint John, and is one of the eleven matinal resurrection gospels, and it is full of deep meaning. The Apostles were babes when their net brake, because they had not absorbed all the teachings of Christ, and changed the way they thought and lived. Until our Lord taught them by His words and life, the Apostles were often at loggerheads and arguing with one another about who was the greatest and all sorts of things. Our Lord worked with them for over three years, and they were made ready. After He had resurrected Himself and came back from the dead, He then stood at the shore and said: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find." 10, and they caught a hundred and fifty and three fishes, and yet the net was not broken. God's mercy is limitless. He can fill us abundantly, and we will never break, but there must be a period of preparation in our lives. There is effort involved, to become pliable, and to make us able to contain Him, and not break, as He fills us.

At this point in the Apostle's lives, they were not quite ready for all the abundance that God had prepared for them. At this point in our lives, we are not ready for the abundance that God gives to us — not yet. We have more living to do, more repenting to do, and more living in the context of the church to do. So the Apostles beckoned to their partners that were in another boat, that they should come and help them. This shows the cooperation in the church, and unity, to accomplish that which God intends for us. God fills us so abundantly that we will always have work to do in the church.

Simon Peter saw what had happened, and it touched him to the core. Peter was a sensitive man. He might have had hard and callused fisherman's hands, but he had the heart of a Saint. His heart was soft. He realized that he was standing in the presence of God, in this boat, with all these fish, and he said: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." 11 Much later on, he would not say such a thing, nor would the other Apostles. They dined with Him, after they had caught the miraculous catch of a hundred and fifty and three fishes, because they had been prepared by living a virtuous life, as Christ had progressively revealed them how to live and how to believe while He walked the earth. We understand this dining with Christ to be an indication of extreme intimacy with Him, which the pure in heart will obtain. When a man recognizes Christ, he should fall down before him, but indeed, not to ask Him to depart, but to ask Him to come, to ask Him to fill. Our prayers are filled with these kinds of requests. Have mercy on me, enlighten me, vivify me, make me to see, make me to feel, make me to know.

Simon Peter was unworthy at that time, and well aware of his unworthiness. He had not been purified yet. How in the world does one become such that when we fall down before Christ, it is because of adoration, and desire for Him, and not because of fear and shame over our sins? A key is seen in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which is also read on this day.

He says: "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." 12 In every page of the scripture, there is this dynamic, that our knowledge should make us act. If we do not act in accordance with the knowledge we have been given, then even that which we think we know will be taken away from us, and we won't know Christ, and He will not know us. The Christian life is a continual ascendancy, and continual changing of our lives. We also know in nature that if we sow only a few seeds, we will reap very little, and if we do not turn the ground carefully, and manure it, and water it, and weed it, and drive away predators from it, and hedge it round about, then we will not have a worthwhile harvest. This same principle in nature is also true in our human nature. If we do not hedge round about God's law in our hearts, and cleave to Him with every ounce of our being, then we will not have a harvest either, at the end of the world. Our Lord will tell us that he does not know us, because we have not become like Him. 13 This is our task now, in the acquiring of the Holy Spirit to become like Him. It cannot be otherwise. If a man truly knows Christ, he will become like Him. It is impossible not to be.

Are you amazed at God's great work, here recounted? When you hear of this miracle, do you tremble, or is it just another story that you hear? Maybe you know these stories very well, and know that there so many times when lepers were healed, and that there were two times when multitudes were fed, one time over five thousand, with twelve baskets left over, and another time over four thousand with seven baskets left over. If that is all the knowledge we have concerning these miracles, then they have not touched us. Our Lord is showing us — He is the Lord. He is all in all. He is all we should desire. He is all that is real for us. There is no other meaning to our life, except to acquire Christ.

Man is made to look out, and up. See how our eyes are set. We can look up easily, unlike most of the other animals, and we can look out to those around us. If we sow sparingly, or uncheerfully, or not at all, then we are not acting in accordance with our nature, with how we were made. As we look up to see God, we will naturally look out to see those Whom He loves — His children. If we do not do this, then we are liars, and we do not tell the truth 14, as the Apostle John said in his first epistle.

There is so much God wants to give us, and we cannot have this, unless we open ourselves. This is really quite easy! It is not a difficult task at all, if we have understanding. We react to what God gives us, that is all we need do. We do not need to be original or search for what to do, because He will show us, if we remain in the ship, that is, the church, and react to those murmurings of the Holy Spirit that are within our hearts. If we start to react to Him, and live as He wants us to live, then He fills us even more abundantly. This is a principle that is almost lost among most of the world that calls itself Christian. They don't understand that to become like Christ is to make ourselves able to have more knowledge of Christ — the very thing we say we want. "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." 15 He has prepared these things for us, and he prepares us for these things through a slow process. "We love him, because he first loved us," 16 said the Apostle, and we react to His love, a little more today, and more tomorrow, and yet more the day after that.

Remember that Christianity is a moral life. Christianity is amendment of self, in keeping with how God reveals His commandments to us. Christianity is never static knowledge — ever. There is nothing God reveals that He does not want us to take action upon. There is nothing at all in the scriptures that we are not to react to.

2 This homily was transcribed from one given On September 6, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and the day appointed for the commemoration of Conception of the Holy, Forerunner of God, the Baptist John. The Sunday Gospel is: Luke 5:1-11. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

3 Matthew 5:10

4 Matthew 21:23

5 Matthew 5:3

6 John 14:12

7 Matthew 5:4

8 Matthew 5:5

9 John 21:11

10 John 21:6

11 Matthew 5:8

12 2 Corinthians 9:6

13 Cf. Matthew 25:41-46

14 1 John 2:4

15 1 Corinthians 2:9

16 1 John 4:19

19th Sunday after Pentecost.

As ye would have that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise

Today's main readings continue the theme the Church has been talking about for the last few Sunday's, concerning the talents that are given us. We recall, from two Sunday's ago the parable about the talents. We know what a talent is — the grace God gives us, the ability God gives us, the strength He gives us for the fulfillment of His holy law, and when we fulfill his Holy Law, the enlightenment He gives us. This is a cycle, a circle. As we fulfill more of God's law and as we value the commandments and do them, God enlightens us more, and more and more.

We read the following Sunday after the parable about the talents concerning the Caananite woman. She showed us great humility, and great faith. If you recall, her humility sprang from her faith, and our Lord commended her on her faith. We see that she used her talents most righteously and most correctly.

The next Sunday we heard about the miraculous catch of fish, and how the Apostle Peter and all the other Apostles were obedient to our Lord. This was even after they were tired, and had caught nothing throughout all the night (and the night is when you are able to catch the most fish, because in the heat of the day it is almost impossible to catch fish using the methods that they used back then). Yet they showed faith and obedience, even in the midst of their difficulties and trials, and their feelings, which were contrary to what the Lord was asking them to do. After the draught of fish, there occurred a greater miracle — St. Peter saw himself. That's what all the miracles are for you know — to bring us to a knowledge of ourselves and of Christ. A man who knows Christ will know himself, and a man who knows himself — he will learn more of Christ, because he will be humble. God will enlighten the humble man, but He won't say anything to the proud man. He will let the proud man go on in his ignorance, not even knowing what he is missing.

This Sunday, we see another application of the talents which God has given us. I want to state again what I said a couple Sundays ago about the talents. They are not an ability that God gives us in order to perform music or some other such thing; they are the grace that He fills us with and he indwells us with. If we are full of love for God, He will give us more talents. He will fill some vessels much more full, because those worthy ones will enlarge themselves more for Him. The bigger vessels will be filled even more to capacity than the smaller ones.

In today's readings, in both the Epistle and the Gospel, we see much tribulation, and how we should act in the midst of it.. If you apply the talent given to you, then you will do as our Lord tells you. It's really very simple. Christianity is not at all "Rocket Science." We follow what our Lord tells us, and what He tells us in many cases is "common sense," although it is generally ignored in the world today. Common sense tells us that if you want people to do kindly to you, you do kindly to them, but beyond, that, supernaturally beyond that, is that you do good to people regardless of what they do to you. Do you see the revolution the Lord calls us to? Common sense is that you do good to people and expect them to do good in return. Every culture understands this, and there is even honor among thieves. Christianity is beyond this, way beyond. We do good to everyone, regardless of what they do to us. We do not have a choice in the matter, it is a requirement of us, because our Lord has told us to act in this way.

"As ye would have that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." 2 Okay, that is what everybody does, so He says further, "For if you love them that love ye, what thank have ye?" 3. The answer is, you have none. You will not have any reward if you only love those who love you. You must love the unlovely. You must love the ungrateful. You must love the evil, and the wicked, and the proud. He says: "For sinners also love those that love them. " That is just common. We are to live beyond this. "And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners even do the same. And if ye lend to them from whom you hope to receive, what thank have ye?" 4 Now wait a minute. Is He going too far here? He has just reached into our pocketbooks now, something we hold very dear! Lend to someone without expecting anything in return? To the world this sheer craziness, this is insanity. This, though, is the Christian way. He is not saying that if you lend money to someone, that you do not accept repayment, but He is saying that you should not expect it and require it of a man. In the days when the church was more flourishing in people's hearts, there was no usury. There was no lending of money to a brother with interest, Instead there was giving to people who had need, and not expecting anything in return.

He says, "Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." 5 He is kind to everyone. The rain falls on the evil and the good 6, you know. So we are to be like our Savior, we are to be like the Blessed Trinity, and we are to be kind to the evil and the good, without any respect for persons. This is the Christian way.

We must understand that there is a law, a fundamental law of human nature, which is built into our character. Man acts as he believes. It is very important to understand this law, because there is a very great heresy in our day, that a man can believe one way and act another, and a man's beliefs and his actions are not bound to one another. This idea is expressed in various ways, in various heresies, and it is terrible, perhaps the worse heresy ever to beset mankind — that a man's works and his faith are not connected, completely connected. In fact, they are one and the same! If a man does not have faith, he will not act in a way that is pleasing to God, even if externally he appears to be pleasing to man. If a man knows Christ, and knows His sweet commandments, he will act in such a way that shows this. This is all over the pages of the scriptures, it is all over our prayers, it is in the very mind of the church, which is Christ's.

Take a look at how our Savior lived. Take a look at the works that He did. Look at the effort that He expended. We are to be the same. Christianity is labor, brothers and sisters. I don't know how such a heresy, that Christianity is not labor, has fallen upon so many, for such a long period of time. Christianity is labor, and yet, there is a paradox in our labor. Our Lord said "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. " This is true! A yoke is easy upon the oxen when they do not strain against it, but they pull as they are told to do by their master. Then the yoke rides easily on their shoulders, and because it has been carefully sanded and fitted to their shoulders, it does not chafe them, and cause sores on them. If they strain against the yoke, it causes great sores on their shoulders, and then they don't want to pull at all, because it hurts. Their master must then give them the whip to make them do their work. We are not to be like oxen that are stubborn and stupid. We are to bear his yoke with dignity, and His yoke is truly easy, and we are just to follow what He says.

We have some instructions here, to listen to. Be kind to everyone. This is Christianity. Lend to people without expecting to receive. Love your enemies! We have no choice about the matter. This is how we are to act if we are to be Christians. If we do not do these things, and if we are tight with our money, or tight with the good works we do to others, then I tell you, we are not Christians. No matter how much we know, no matter how much we say, no matter how much we pray, no matter how much we do, we are not Christians if we do not do as our Lord commanded us.

We should imitate our Lord just as a child does 7. I see a lot of imitation in the church. Look at the way the children imitate us. They imitate our good things and our bad things, you know. I see a lot of imitation nowadays in my son Daniel. He is just beginning to do things, reach out for objects, learning his impact upon his environment. He is slowly learning so much everyday, and does not have any idea what he will know soon. But we know, because we have seen it happen before. If we are good and fruitful, then our son will grow up with love for Christ, and will act as a Christian, and will be a light on a hill. So we should follow our Savior, just as our children follow us. It is just reaction.

The older I get, the more I realize how simple Christianity is! Our Lord touches us, our Lord gives us a great catch of fish, and we see that He is the Lord, just as the Apostle Peter did, and we are aware of ourselves and of Him, and we desire to change! This is not something we can put on paper, it is not something we can explain, but it comes within us, and lives within us, and makes us change. It is wonderful what happens to a man when Christ fills him. A man can never be filled too much with Christ, because Christ expands him. There is always capacity for Christ in a man, but only if we do those things that He enlightens us concerning — to be good to those who are our enemies, to lend to those whom we know will not give anything in return, and to not expect anything in return from them. This is Christianity — this is bare metal Christianity. This is not anything "pie in the sky" or theoretical or philosophical — this is the way we are to live.

Sometimes when I hear Holy Orthodoxy described, I hear people say "We believe in this, we believe in that, we believe in the sacraments of baptism, and of chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist, etc. And we have the seven Ecumenical councils, which codify the basics of our dogma and practices, etc." This is not the essence of what Holy Orthodoxy is! The essence of Orthodoxy is to follow Christ, to follow what He has revealed to us, and to change. We can see that there is much in us, if we look in our hearts, that is wrong, and is amiss. If you look in the mirror, you should see much that is sore, and much that needs help. Where can you obtain this help but from Christ? This is the essence of the Orthodox faith — to act in accordance with how He has enlightened us. And of course, He has enlightened us with so many things — the ecumenical councils, the dogmas of our faith, the holy priesthood, baptism confession — all these things are given to us, and they are all true, and belief in them and obedience to them is all required of us. However, if we do not act upon the strength that is given us, then they are useless to us. We would be like the man who buried the talent in the ground.

Someone recently commented that this man who said he was afraid when his Lord called him to task was afraid because we have this incorrect vision of God which is too filled with fear, and instead, we should love Him, as our Father. They missed the boat when they said something like that! The man feared God because he had not acted as God had given him the strength to act. That is why he was afraid. He was not afraid because he misunderstood who God was, he was afraid precisely because he did know who God was, and he knew that he had not done what God had commanded, and what is more, what God had given him the ability to do! That is why this man was afraid. That is why he was terrified. And, instead of confessing and begging forgiveness, which our Lord would have given, instead he made excuses concerning his sin. We are not to be like that, we should not make any excuses for our sins. We should understand that God has given us His grace and knowledge because He wants us to become perfected. He actually told us, didn't He? He said: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." 8. This is a tall order, but it is a requirement of Christianity.

Don't just believe about something. Don't just know about the sacraments. Don't just memorize the rudder. Instead of doing these things and thinking that you have hope in them, become like Him! Actually, in becoming like Christ, you will memorize your prayers, because they will be sweet to you, and no words will be more important than those words, and you will remember them. The Gospels will be sweet you, and will be familiar with them, and you will be able to open to any page, and immediately recognize the stories, and they will warm your soul.

In the other Gospel today, the Lord says to "Watch, therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." 9 He says that if we knew when the good man of the house — and who can this be, except our Lord, at the judgment of all — then we would watch. 10 But we don't know, so we are to watch at all times. Then He asks a question that is really quite profound. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?" 11 You see, our Lord gives us things, and requires action based upon what He gives us. When He says, Who then is the man, we should be like Samuel — Here am I, Lord. 12 We should not be like the man who buried the talent, who said, I buried this talent because I knew that "thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." 13 We should be like the Saints, who saw what He had done for them reacted, and lived according to Who He was. This is what we are to do in the Christian life. It is very simple, very, very simple. And it is supernatural. It is the life that God has chosen for us, and it is a sweet life, because His commandments are sweet. Try to taste more of His commandments, to follow His commandments, and God will enlighten you more. And if you have sins, they will be forgiven you, and if you have passions and weaknesses, God will give you strength to overcome them. It will happen. It will take some time, but it will happen through the application of your efforts, joined to God's grace.

God help us all to be as the Lord said concerning the servant who follows His commandments. He says "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods." 14

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On September 13, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and the day appointed for the commemoration of Holy Hieromartyr Gregory, Enlightener of Armenia. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Luke 6:31

3 Luke 6:32

4 Luke 6:32

5 Luke 5:36

6 Cf. Matthew 5:45

7 Cf. Matthew 18:4

8 Matthew 5:48

9 Matthew 24:42

10 Matthew 24:43

11 Matthew 24:35

12 1 Samuel 3:5

13 13 Cf. Matthew 25:24-25

14 Matthew 24:46-47

20th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain

This day we read the story of the widow of Nain, or more correctly, that of her son, who was raised from the dead by our Lord Jesus Christ. This also is a great day in our church, because Bishop Jonah of Manchuria has been glorified as a Saint. The main services for him are in San Francisco and Chicago, and we sang his tropar today, and we number him among the saints. Of course, we knew he was already a Saint, because of the miracle that occurred on the day of his death. We will talk more about this after liturgy, because we will have a Molieban beseeching St. Jonah for help, and then I want to read his life. It might be a little long, but then, after all, we do not have very long in this life, so we must spend the time we have fruitfully. Reading about the saints, those who inspire us to do good and avoid evil, is one the best ways to spend our time.

Our Lord tended to do things in a stepwise fashion. He revealed Himself by degrees. This is a principal in the Christian life. God reveals Himself slowly, as we can bear Him. "God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us," so it says. This is what the Lord did in His ministry. He revealed Himself bit by bit. In the beginning, He was born as a babe, merely a babe in swaddling clothes, and there was nothing spectacular about Him at all, except for those who knew how He was conceived, and that was not well known at the time. Except for those who saw the star, and only those who were worthy saw the star, and we know the star was an angel, don't we, from the Holy Fathers. It was not a physical manifestation in the heavens, it was an angel who guided the wise men from Persia, whom Daniel had prepared and told to expect the Messiah.

Our Lord, just before the miracle we have before us today, had cured the centurion's servant. You remember the story. Our Lord is walking toward the centurion's house, in order to heal his servant, who is almost dead. The centurion hears of this, and send some friends to Jesus with a message. This soldier, through his friends, with humility pronounces himself unworthy to even have Christ "under his roof." The friends continue delivering a remarkable message: "Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." And Our Lord said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.," and healed the servant immediately, without even seeing him. Later, this man, Cornelius, who was a man with a good heart, was enlightened by the Apostle Peter, and that story is given in the Acts. Our Lord healed his servant right then and there. He did not heal him by walking to him, He just spoke the word, and the servant was healed. A time before this, Our Lord healed the mother in law of the Apostle Peter, when He was in her presence. She was in a fever, probably not altogether near death, but nevertheless, very sick and feverish.

Do you see how the miracles progress? And can you can see why our Lord raised the dead, healed the sick, stilled the waves? All these miracles are meant to show us who He is, so that we can believe in Him.

Our Lord comes into the city of Nain, right after he had healed the centurion's servant, before which He had delivered His sweet discourse we know as the sermon on the mount. We mostly think of this when it is recounted in St. Matthew's gospel, but the Apostle Luke also records it. He is walking into the city, and He is walking along the road, just going from one place to another. People are following Him, because they heard of his miracles, they have seen them, and they have heard His sweet words. They were attracted to these sweet words. At least, they continued to be attracted, most of them, until they heard him say such things as "I am the bread of life," and "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Then they had trouble with Him, because He was saying things that their carnal minds could not understand. But this was, if you want to call it so, the "honeymoon" period of his ministry. Thousands of people were thronging about, watching our Lord's every movement.

He comes into the city of Nain, and He sees a funeral procession of a man who had been dead quite some time, because he was about to be buried. This procession passes by Him. They coincide together. And so Our Lord says to the woman "Weep not," and touches the bier. Who is this who says "weep not"? Who has a right to tell a woman who has lost her only son, who is a widow, and has nothing more in this world for sustenance? Remember, in those days, to be a widow was to be truly poor. There was no financial safety net for such people. They were destitute if they had not a husband or a son. She was bereft of any help in the world. Not only had she lost her son, but she was also likely to endure a life of poverty in the future. Our Lord says "Weep not." We don't have the right to say "Weep not" to someone who has lost their son, but our Lord does. Why can he say this? He had compassion on her, and knew what she needed. He knew he would provide what she needed.

He stopped the bier. He put His hand on the bier. The Fathers think this is very significant. By the way, I mention parenthetically here that when we talk about the scriptures, we who are appointed to teach, the priests, and preeminently, the bishops, we do so with fear and trembling, and we consult the Holy Fathers. We don't just make things up, since scripture is not a matter for private interpretation. We read from those Fathers who led lives of great sanctity, and we know some of their names. Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. John the Damascene, St. Theophylact of Bulgaria, and many other Fathers, who agree, even in minor points of theology. We read these fathers before we start to talk so that we do not make a mistake, and say something that is heretical, or say something that is not edifying, and even then, may God preserve us and you when we make mistakes.

Our Lord touches the bier. The is great significance to this action. We do not have a particular icon in the church, but one of these days, hopefully, we will have it — it is called "Sweet Kissing." It shows the Mother of God, with our Lord kissing her on the cheek. It is a very tender and evocative icon. It means the same thing as what He meant when he touched the bier — His great love for humanity. After all, He became a man. He took on our flesh, not just to show solidarity with us, not just to be an example to us, but to transform us, because He loves us. He is not an aloof God. He is right here and now, as He was right there, and He touched the bier to show us His great love and to show how He would transform us as He Himself had transformed His own flesh. He was made of the same stuff we are made of you know, the same flesh, also being God, but the flesh He wore is the same flesh as we have, or the same flesh, should I say, as we will have in the eighth day, because He will transform us, if we live in the way. This is the way that He walked.

So this man, this dead man, was fortunate to be in the way of Christ. After our Lord touched the bier, He then said dogmatically, "Young man I say unto thee, arise." He could have said something else, perhaps a bit less dogmatic. He could have said, "Young man, be risen from the dead," but He said " I say unto Thee, arise." Why should He say such a thing? Because He is the Lord. He is the One who said to Moses, "I am." He is the uncreated one. He is our Savior, and He shows us this by this miracle, and by His presence. Even those who hated Him knew that, He does speak as the scribes and the Pharisees. He speaks with authority. And how did He speak with authority? Because He was and is — authority. He is God.

We have a principle in the church. You cannot give what you do not have. This is very true. Parents, if you want your children to grow up without passions, to be without anger, or to be obedient and God-fearing, if you are still filled with anger, or not obedient, or do not fear God, do not expect your children to learn these virtues from you. You wont be giving them what you don't have. A priest cannot ordain. Only a Bishop can ordained. He has something a priest does not have. Christ can give us so much, because He has an abundance.

So He says to the young man, arise, and He gives the young man to his mother. He starts to talk, and the fathers tell us that the reason he sat up and began to talk right away is so those around him would not think that our Lord was a sorcerer. He was not glassy eyed, he did not look like he was drunk, or on drugs. The man was completely risen from the dead, and was ready to begin his life anew. Surely, indeed, he had much to ponder in the rest of his life. We are not told what happened to him from that point on.

The people who saw this miracle had a great fear upon them. They said " a great prophet has risen up among us, and God has visited His people." And they were correct, but they also did not know the fullness of the truth concerning Christ. Remember that God is revealing Himself to them, just as He does to us, according to what we can bear. Do you remember the story of the talents that we spoke about recently? The man who had five talents, later increased to ten, and then to eleven, and then, really, infinitely — that man had greater talents at the beginning because of his greater love for Christ. So Christ filled Him more. The man started with a few talents, and went higher,. And we should start with some number and go higher, and never lose talents, and bury them ion the earth, and blame our Lord because we do not use the grace that He has given us.

Remember that is what a talent is — the grace that God gives us to follow His commandments.

What is the point of the Christian life? It is to know God, isn't it? It is to obtain our salvation. And how do we know God? By becoming like Him. We follow His commandments. It is impossible to be a Christian and not to follow His ways, and do the things that He tells us. He says this over and over again. Every page of scripture speaks of this. If you say you believe, act like it! Your faith is known by how you live, how you think, how you act.

These people did not quite know Christ yet. They knew that He was very unique, and extraordinary, but they did not quite understand that He was the God-man, and that when He said "Young man, I say to unto thee, arise," that He was the one, the Messiah. They did not understand that yet. And He had to show them many, many times, with many miracles, and many sweet words, and even some did not understand until much later. We have St. Paul speaking of how he was one born "out of season," as he says. He was born out of season because he persecuted the Christians for a great length of time, and killed many hundreds of them, if not thousands, and with blood on his hands, on the way to Damascus, he was visited by the God-man, Jesus Christ, and his life was changed. It took him quite some time, but we believe that he certainly made up for that time, by becoming a great apostle.

We can see several things we should learn from this short passage. We can see many other miracles in the scriptures. When we read them, do they make an effect on us, do they change us? What do we see? First of all, there is something earlier in this passage that we have not touched on, but need to, because it is very, very critical. Our Lord touched the bier, and they that bear Him stood still. Stood still, because of obedience. If we do not stand still in the Christian life, our Lord will not touch us, our Lord will not change us. We must stand still. And what is it that we must do when we are standing still? Be obedient, and listen to our Lord. Why was this man raised from the dead? Because he was in the way of Christ. What is this way? It is the gospel, it is what our Lord teaches us. Preeminently, He has taught us to love, and He has given us an apparatus as it were, to help us — the church. His body is where we must be joined, or else we are not in the way, and God will not touch us, and will not redeem us, and will not change.

So all these things that we know about as Christians, such as following the fasts, because they a prescribed for us, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit (the apostles fasted after our Lord was gone, and taught the church to do so), the Holy services, partaking of the Holy mysteries, reading the Holy Fathers, understanding all the doctrines and dogmas of our faith — all these things comprise being in the way, but we surely know that they are all useless if we do not change because of them. If we do not change, it matters not what we believe, because the Devil believes. He knows. He knows the truth of the matter, better than most of us do, and he will not change. Our Lord gives us many opportunities to change. The Gospels are one continual story after story of God showing Himself, manifesting Himself, showing His power, His wisdom. These people who did not know our Lord yet, at least many of them would learn because they would see other miracle, and our Lord would touch them in other ways, and they would come to an understanding. And then there are others, you know, who, when they came to a greater understanding, rejected our Lord. It is a mystery why one man and another act differently with the knowledge of God. This is something we do not know and cannot understand, only God knows — why some reject the truth even though they believe it. This is a hard thing to understand, and a hard thing to know.

The bishop that we glorify today, Bishop Jonah, lived a very extraordinary life in terms of the inner life in the church, but very pedestrian in it's outer aspect. He died very young, before he was forty. He died of typhus, just like anybody else, with a fever. He had only begun his ministry in Manchuria. He was there about three years, and yet, he left an indelible print upon the Russian people and upon the church because he invested in young children, and those that had fallen away from the faith. Even to this day, surely you can find priests, and those who have lived pious lives or come back to the church because of his ministry. He only died in the late twenties.

His life did not look extraordinary to someone who would not be looking very carefully. This woman of Nain did not have an extraordinary life either, and yet extraordinary things happened to both of them. The woman had her son raised from the dead, merely because her way coincided with Christ. Bishop Jonah gave his legs to a young boy who had lost the use of his, the night he died. He appeared in a dream to the boy and said, take my legs, I don't need them anymore. This is one of the signs by which we know that he is sanctified and that God has received his repentance, and numbers him among those who please Him.

I want you to realize again, there was nothing extraordinary about his life externally. He just worked hard. He worked in an orphanage. He took care of children. He preached. He taught. He labored. He administrated. In the midst of all his work was Christ. He was a man with great love, and when you hear his testament and his life later on, you will agree that he is certainly numbered among the saints.

We can learn something from his life, so plain on the outside, or from the widow of Nain, that our life is just to follow Christ, simply and without pretense. God will indeed do miraculous things to us, if we just live as He has told us. This is very simple, a lot simpler than we want it to be. We like to have things complicated. We like to have things difficult. It is very simple. Christian, what are you to do? You are to struggle to know Christ, and to know yourself. You are to struggle to love those who hate you. You are to struggle to learn God's commandments, which are sweet, and to follow them. You are not just to say that you believe, because that just puts you in the same league with the devil, but you also must follow what you believe. And you are to keep the fasts, you are to worship in the services with fear and with trembling, and with awe, you are to prepare yourself carefully for the mysteries. You are just to go on with your daily life, imbuing it with Christ, Who lives within you. If indeed, God ever gives you a mountain to climb, and some great work to do, then you will know it., And it will happen. Great works begin with very tiny beginnings.

When Bishop Jonah went to Manchuria, the people there were very faithless. He would begin the divine liturgy, and nobody would show up until after the Cherubic hymn, but he persevered. And his preaching was powerful. People saw something in this man that attracted them, and this something, of course, was Christ. So as he continued serving and preaching, in a very short while, the churches were filled to overflowing, and he was able to come up with vast sums of money to create orphanages and schools. At that time, the Russians in China that had been exiled were quite poor. There were children that had been sold into slavery, women being sold, dysentery, and disease and typhus, from which our saint died. There were very bad conditions. Bishop Jonah waded into those conditions and changed people. He made people to see what it is they should do with their life, and follow Christ. He just did it by being a Christian, by believing what he was doing. By laboring.

I don't know why this word "labor" is misunderstood so much among those that call themselves Christian today. Perhaps the greatest heresy of our day, and of all time is the divorcing of belief from action. This is greater than the heresy of Arianism, which if you are a student of heresies, and you should be, as a Christian, so you can know how to avoid them, leads to this great heresy, since Arianism separates the flesh from the spirit. We Christians don't do that! The flesh and the spirit are joined. So as we believe, so we should act, but so many believe and act differently, and have no qualms about this.

This heresy has infiltrated all levels of life. We cannot have this heresy in our life! We must follow what God has taught us, or we cannot call ourselves Christians. And if we follow what God has taught us, most days it will not be spectacular.

We will have struggles, we will be victorious in some, we will fall in others. There may be some passion or sin that has a hold on us for a long period of time, and we fall again and again and again. How in the world can we say that we are making any progress when that happens? Oh, indeed, we are making progress! God wants us to be patient, to endure and to struggle. But we must struggle in truth, according to what has been revealed in truth! If we struggle in something that is not true, then it is of no benefit to us, except perhaps, that when we come to our senses, we will be ever grateful to God that He has delivered us from our previous life, before we were Orthodox.

Let your way be in Christ's way. This is the meaning of this scripture for today. Let your way be in Christ's way, follow what He teaches you. And when He touches you, stand still and listen. Listen

To what He commands you to do. Don't consider anything He says to you, through His church, to be a suggestion. The young man did not consider our Lord's words to be a suggestion when He told him to arise. Nothing our Lord tells us is a suggestion. It is an order, from a king.

Check yourselves every moment, which way are you proceeding on? If you are proceeding on the way that is Christ's, then He will fill you. He will change you, He will enlighten you, He will raise you from the dead. If you deviate from that way, whether it be by incorrect belief, or pride, or not trying to struggle against your sins, then you will not meet Him, because He will not be there. Stay on the way of Christ. Stay on the royal path. And then stand still, and listen, and God will help you.

Amen.

21st Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of the Sower. Luke 5:5-15

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. (6)And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. (7) And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. (8) And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (9) And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? (10) And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. (11) Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. (12) Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (13) They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (14) And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (15) But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Today is the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, and it is also the day that we remember the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This council established permanently what the church had always known concerning the holy icons. Today, we read the parable of the Sower, which is a very familiar parable, known even to people that are not Christians. So many of these parables are really part and parcel of our culture. People even use biblical terminology and don't even know that they are using it.

How do these parables affect us? There is an inner meaning and an outer meaning to these parables. Why did our Lord speak in parables? He certainly said quite a few of them, didn't He? Why did he say things with a hidden meaning? The Fathers explain to us that when you look into something deeply and carefully, when it takes effort to look into it, then you develop more of an understanding. If something is handed to you and there is no effort involved in learning it, then you develop very little understanding. We can see this principle even in secular life. Look at how young people can barely even read and write now, because of this television age that we are in. Information is given to them so freely it takes very little effort to find it out. Also the parables are given because God does not those who are not worthy to be told things that they will be judged for. A man must do some investigation if he is to learn the deep meaning of these things, and God will judge us for what we know. God will also judge us for what we don't know, remember, if we CHOOSE to not know things. God will judge us the same if we know something and don't do it or we choose to be ignorant in the ways of piety. If we are willfully ignorant, and this occurs whenever we do not try to seek out the knowledge of God's commandments and exercise them in our life, God will then judge us in the Judgment, even if we try to say we do not know something.

What is the inner and outer meaning of this parable? There is a lot of explanation given for this parable, even in the very text of scripture itself. It is very rare in scripture where our Lord actually explains the deeper meaning of some dark saying of His. The Apostles came to Him, and they must have also come to Him many other times, and they said, we don't understand this at all. He explained this to them, because it's meaning is so important.

"A sower went out to sow his seed." Who is the sower? None other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Be careful when you read scripture — every word has meaning. The Sower went OUT to sow his seed." He did not go "out" from the farmhouse and start to work — this "going out" is the incarnation of the Son of God. The seed is the word of God, those words that He spoke.

As he sowed, some seed fell by various places, the wayside, the rock, among the thorns and on good ground. It "fell." It was not thrown. It fell everywhere equally, and these places, are the souls of men. The preexisting one, Jesus Christ, thought it not robbery to be equal to us, and became a man. And He sowed his teaching to the entire universe, equally and freely to all men. It is available to everyone.

There are four kinds of men described in this parable, and I tell you, three of those kinds perished. Three out of the four kinds of men will perish. The majority will perish. This is true in our age, and has been true in every age. The majority of people will not inherit the Kingdom of God, because they are not the good ground. And yet our Lord and Savior still sows His seed, and still gives the opportunity to a man to accept Him and to follow His commandments.

Remember the story of the talents? The man with the one talent — our Lord knew that He was not going to use this talent. Remember what a talent is? It is the grace of God, that enables us to do good works, to do His commandments, and to learn more of Him. The man with the one talent is like the ground by the wayside. The fowls of the air immediately snatch away the word from his heart, and he never really believes at all. I am sure we have know people like that, who really have no belief whatsoever. The wayside is hard, and packed down. No seed can penetrate into it, and it is washed away, or it sits there, prey for the birds of the air. The birds are the demons, who snatch away the word from a man's heart, but only because a man leaves it out there, unprotected, and does not cherish it. The demons cannot take away the word from your heart if you hold it close to yourself. Only if you care nothing for it, then indeed the demons will take it away from your heart.

So these men by the wayside, they have no part in salvation whatsoever, they never even bothered to believe. Some of the seed fell upon the rock, and when it was spring up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. Have you every been to a glade? This is an area where there is a thin layer of soil over limestone bluffs, and only certain kinds of plants can grow. When there is a drought, everything dies, except for a few very hardy trees. There is a little bit of soil, a very small amount, but there is not enough soil to retain any moisture, which is the essence of Christ. There is just a small amount of knowledge, and not much struggle or desire, and at the merest, smallest trial, such a person falls away, and he perishes.

Some people are thorny ground. The thorns spring up with the good wheat, the word of God. These thorns choke out the following of the commandments. They choke out the knowledge of God, because we turn away from God, to our thorns, whatever they are, whether they be riches, cares of this world, sensual pleasures, our pride, our fear, ambition. There are hundreds of ways that a man can turn away from Christ, even though he appears to be a Christian.

Remember the parable about the wheat and the tares? These tares are the same as thorns. The tares are growing up right by the wheat, and except to a man who has extreme discretion and knowledge, and of course, the God-man, Jesus Christ, such people are sometimes indistinguishable to true Christians. They go to church, they have families, they may give alms, and they do everything externally just like everybody else, except they don't have any life within them. Where their treasure is, so their heart is, and their treasure is not Christ, so Christ is not with them. Those people who are amidst the thorns have not Christ, even though they would call themselves Christians.

Some of the seed, a small amount of the seed, by the way, fell on good ground. And it sprang up and bear fruit. St. Luke says a hundred fold, and St. Matthew also recounts this story and shows that the Lord gave other information. Some sprang up thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold, because not all the Saints are the same. Not everyone follows the word of God to the same degree, or the same amount. I guess that is good news to me, because I don't at this moment think that I can become like the Saints. I shouldn't think this way, because God can change a man, if he only gives himself to Him. However, if none of us lives with the LOFTY righteousness of the Saints, God has a place for us in His mansion, since there are many rooms, if we make an effort to live according to His commandments. I have said this many times before; success is not as important as your effort. If you make an effort, then in the end, paradoxically, you will be successful, because God will receive your repentance, and reward you, for some thirty, some sixty, some one hundred. May it be that we all receive a hundred fold. May we all be like the man who had five talents, and labored and increased it to ten, and then our Lord gave him an infinite amount of grace.

Now, how is it that we can be good ground? Isn't that really what we should try to learn from this parable? What is good ground? Good ground has been tilled carefully, and dug, and the clods of dirt have been broken up, and it has been finely sifted, and fertilizer has been added to it, and it has been watered, and hedged round about so that animals can not get in. It has been guarded, so not one can steal the fruits it will produce. There is effort involved in having good ground. It does not just "happen."

Last year, I tilled a part of my property in order to plant. I did not take care of it this year, and did not plant, and you can not even TELL that it was good ground, and it was VERY good ground after I had finished with it, but I didn't take care of it, and so, it reverted back. The same thing will happen to us. If we do not take care of the seed which is planted within us, we will revert back to the type of man we previously were, and we will allow the tares to grow in us. They will choke us out. Even if there are not tares to begin with – the seeds of tares fly through the air, don't they? So do the demons. The tares can come into good ground at any time, and they constantly must be plucked out and uprooted with great care. It is very painful to tear out many tares by the way, especially thorns and thistles, because they are sharp and they cut, and make us bleed. Regardless, we must do this work, and tear out these thorns and thistles if we are to be good ground, if indeed, we have EVEN begun to be good ground!

Our Savior says about those on the good ground, "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.." There are those words, that we have trouble with (I have trouble with them sometimes); "Having heard the word, KEEP it and bring forth fruit with PATIENCE." Patience is the most difficult word in our language. the Christian life is patience, endurance. He who endures to the end will be saved. We are just beginning you know. And if indeed there is some part of our soul that is good ground, let us make the rest of it good ground, by careful labor, by backbreaking labor. And, while we are cleaning out those parts of our souls, let us at the same time pay attention to the places we have cleared, so the tares do not come in, and choke us.

How are we to do this? This is a task beyond our abilities! The Apostle tells us, in a marvelous way. He says, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Marvelous, magnificent words! May they be true in our lives. May we say that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. May we live by faith, since this is the only way to accomplish our task. And what is our task? It is to know Christ isn't it? Isn't that what it said in the other gospel today? Our Savior was praying to His Heavenly father, shortly before He was going to go to His great passion for our salvation, and He said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

What is knowledge? Knowledge is intimacy. Knowledge is … love. To know God is to love Him, and give everything to Him. We see evidence of this kind of love even in our own relationships. The love of a husband for a wife, or a child for his mother or father, and especially the love of an infant, such perfect love. But just like a child who is not so intimate with his parents after he has done something wrong – he doesn't show up in the same room for a while, he doesn't want to talk to them, he hangs his head, he has broken communion with them because of guilt — - so it is with us, if we do not follow the Lord's commandments. Then, we will not be able to cry "Abba, Father," because we will be hanging our head in shame. Or worse, I say most people don't do that, because they cannot bear that kind of shame. Instead, they just leave God. They become choked with cares, or lusts or passions, with misplaced priorities, or they become even worse than that, and they wither away, and have no faith whatsoever. That's what happens to most people.

I hope that in our church, if you forgive the expression, we beat the "odds." I hope that all of us will be good ground, but I know that the only way that this can be possibly true is if we struggle — apart and together. We must pray for one-another, help one-another, and then, in our corner, in our closet, cry out to God each day, asking Him to help us with whatever passions we have, with whatever sins we commit. Even if we have poor attitudes, and we desire to change our attitudes.

Do you know that all sin, and even all action proceeds from thought? Everything we do proceeds from thought. We decide to do something, and then we do it, whether it is good or bad. So we must amend our thoughts. That is why the Apostle Paul says, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Train yourself! So now, if you want to be good ground, you must not add any trash to this ground. You must not add such things as impure thoughts, gossip, judging others. You can surely think of many other things that are within your heart that you do and that are affecting your ground. And if ground is left alone, and just walked over, and not cared for, it becomes the wayside. It becomes hard and the seed can no longer penetrate, and that which is in it dies, or never germinates. So we have a great labor to do, my brothers and sisters. We must continue to care for our ground carefully. And we must have patience.

There are two sides to patience. One is that we must be patient with our position in life, with our status, with the amount of money we make, with the difficulties we are encountering. We must not curse God or say that we should have this or we should have that. This is one kind of patience.

There is another kind – a very important kind of patience. Allow God to work! It takes time for Him to work. We do not know how much time we have, but the time we have is what God has allotted to us. He is going to use every moment of that time to perfect us. So, if we have trouble with our sins, if there is something that we fall into every day, then EVERY day repent of it, and be patient! Be manly in spirit, and do not be like a child and run away from that sin, or rather, run away from the knowledge of that sin, since it will always be with you until you conquer it. Confront it! Confront it with sword and with shield, and with buckler, and with faith. Eventually, God will deliver you. It will happen. It is guaranteed. If a man struggles to know to know God's commandments, He will reveal them. This is absolutely certain, because in your struggling, you will be doing His commandments.

So, be patient, and cultivate your ground every day, every moment. However, be careful not to judge yourself. This is a hard lesson, that takes us a long time to learn – to not judge ourselves, and look at the sins we are doing and to say we can never do better. Well, in some things we do better, and in some things, God help us and forgive us, we have done worse, but the demons cannot take away from us that we are children of the Most High. We are able to cry "Abba Father," only if we are struggling to live in Christ. God lives within us. He enlightens us, He helps us, even though we are sinners. So, if He has come to us and has offered us FREELY His grace and mercy, who are we, in our pride and arrogance to say "that is not enough mercy or enough grace. I can't change"? Every man can change. Everyone can change magnificently if he only allows God to change him, but this takes time, a lot of time. I am sure, you are like me, and are very tired of your sins. They weigh us down, they are like an anchor, and they cut and they hurt. And yet, in some weird and perverted way, they are dear to us. They must be dear to us in some way, but God understands, and will help us if we make an effort, and if we are patient.

None of us right now are the wayside because we are at least trying to be Christians. Some of us may be the rock, some may be thorns. God knows, and this will be all revealed in the end. Even if you have very little soil right now, and even if you are choked with thorns and cares, God will help you to become good soil. He will help any man to become good soil. He is no respecter of persons. Any man that desires will be given, freely, God's mercy. So take God's mercy and clasp it to your hearts. Hold in to it and cultivate it, and be good soil, and God will save you.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Today is the day we celebrate the memory of St. Hilarion the Great. We wish many years to our beloved Archbishop Hilarion, who is down under now.

This day is appointed the reading of the parable of the Rich man, and Lazarus. This parable is only given in St. Luke. We should understand that sometimes the Evangelists spoke about the same things, sometimes, they didn't. Part of the reason why this was done was because they were individual human beings, and they gave their own imprint to the gospel they wrote. Also, we can see better see the marvelous agreement of the gospels, because we can see how they were written in different styles, and with a different temperament, but when they speak of the same stories, they agree. They only have a little bit different perspective. But after all, two people can look at the same event, and both can have a true perspective. They just see different things in the event. This should make us want to read more, knowing that every gospel is different. Each story rendered is different. Sometimes all four gospels may give the same story, other times only three, or two, or one. This should make us want to read more, and I admonish you — READ. Read the Gospels. Read what is necessary for your salvation, all the Holy scriptures: the Gospels, the Epistles, the Old Testament and the Psalter. Read all these things for your salvation. You should so this every day. At least read the daily readings.

This parable, like all parables, has a literal meaning, and an allegorical meaning. Out Lord spoke in parables in order to convey a deeper meaning to those who wish to look into it, to those who are willing to struggle and try to learn. Those who just see the surface meaning lose out on the benefit that our Lord has intended for them.

This parable is particularly rich in meanings, MANY meanings. It speaks of the Jews and the Gentiles, Lazarus being the Gentiles, and the Rich man being the Jews. He makes several comparisons, and basically says that the Gentiles are at the threshold of salvation — they were laying at the gate of the rich man. We also learn about the righteous and the unrighteous, how we are to act and how we are not to act. We seethe endurance of Lazarus and the greediness and lack of compassion of the rich man. We learn something about how you are to act if you are rich, and something about how you are to act if you are poor. Also, we learn something about what it will be like in the next life, especially for the damned. When I read what the rich man says, I am terrified. We see how it will be in the next life, both for the rich and the poor, that is, those who are rich in God, otherwise known as poor in spirit. We just read about that didn't we? We also learn something about rewards and punishments in this parable.

Oh, yes, indeed, we will be rewarded or punished, depending on how we live our life. This is true! It is only recently, in the past few hundred years, that this heresy has come about that tries to remove responsibility from a man. Oh yes, we have plenty of responsibility. Our Lord tells us on every page of the Gospels how we are to act, how we are to live, and if we do not try to live in that way, yes, we will be judged. We can see something of this judgment in this parable. Lastly, at the end of this parable, we hear about the word of God and it must be listened to. If we don't listen to that, we cannot be expected to be convinced by any other means, even if a man would rise from the dead.

The Parable begins "There was a certain rich man." A certain rich man — he doesn't even have a name. But wouldn't that be the way it would be? The scripture says about such a man, who is rich only in things in the temporal world, but poor in virtue, "Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out." And the Lord says also, "a froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person." And then our Lord says, when He is speaking of the Judgment, "I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. ". Isn't that what happened to the rich man? He saw Abraham and he knew he was thrust out, and he was a man with out a name anymore. He was a man that God knew not. "His remembrance shall perish from the earth, and he shall have no name in the street.," so says the Prophet Job. God help us, that we would not be like that, that we would have a name when eternity dawns. This man had no name anymore.

And he was " was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." There are two meanings here. The Jews were clothed with the law, and God's grace toward them, and it is not sin to be clothed with purple and fine linen, and to fare sumptuously on the teaching of God, but it is a sin to be luxurious, or to not appreciate what God has given us. And that is the rich man. He had plenty enough to spare, and as we see later on in the parable he KNEW Lazarus. After all, when he was in hell, he certainly could call him by name, but he never bothered while he was on the earth to even cast a glance at him.

"And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus ", it says. Ah, this man HAS a name. God knows him. God knows him WELL. Lazarus also represents the Gentiles, and they indeed were beggars at the time, because they were as yet outside of the kingdom. The kingdom had not been revealed to them yet, and they were beggars. "Their remembrance is unto generation and generation," that is the man who follows Christ, and he will have a name. That's why Lazarus was named, and the rich man, the rich man who people would fawn over in this life, was nameless, faceless, without an identity anymore in the next life.

And it says that Lazarus " was laid at his gate, full of sores." Again there are two meanings. This gate — the Gentiles are laying by the gate, about to enter into the kingdom of heaven, right at the threshold of salvation. Harlots and tax collectors are entering into the Kingdom, and the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn't know it, because they were too arrogant to see. They thought that their purple and fine linen would last into the next age, and indeed, it would not.

And we also have another meaning to think about here. Who is laid at our gate? Is there a beggar at our gate, whether he be a beggar for clothing, a beggar for money, or a beggar for salvation, a beggar for comfort, a beggar for consolation? Who is laid at our gate? We had better know. The rich man was without excuse, concerning this man Lazarus, because he knew him. He saw him at his gate every day, and he ignored him.

Also, these sores, what are they? They are sins. Lazarus was blessed, but he certainly was a sinner like you and I. The rich man was wretched, and he also was a sinner, but Lazarus' sins were on the outside of his skin. His sores were there, so the dogs came and licked them, and comforted him. The rich man's sins were internal. They were not out to be purged, to be cauterized, and so he died in his sins. Confess your sins, while you can, so that you need not confess them when there is no forgiveness.

And so, when it says that " the dogs came and licked his sores.", what are we to understand by this? Do you see how ALONE the man was? He had no comfort. The DOGS came to lick his sores. No one else came, ONLY the dogs. He had to endure much, didn't he? Do you see the greatness of his soul? The scripture does not come right out and say how great a man he was, but can you see, can you infer? Look at what he endured — coldness, nakedness, hunger, paralysis, loneliness, dejection, and also to see the warmth of the house of the rich man, and to see all the foodstuffs being brought in, and not to have anything to eat! And not to be warm. He endured much indeed, and the scriptures show that he did not complain one whit.

"The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom.". This beggar, he died, and to the world, it was a non event. Someone had to grab him, because after all, he would start to smell, and throw him somewhere, into some potter's field. No one came to pray for him. No one cared. No one knew him. The rich man might have noticed after two or three weeks, "Oh the beggar is not there anymore. I don't have to step over him anymore. That's good." His death was of no consequence. It did not cause a ripple in the life of that time.

But he did NOT die alone, and his death was a matter of great rejoicing in the heavens, because the angels escorted him into Abraham's bosom. What does it say about those that die who are righteous, and the appearances, both in this world, and the REAL appearances in the next? Solomon says, "But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised " Lazarus' wounds were a little bit of chastisement mind you. Don't look at the appearances, look at the truth! And "they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them, and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble."

So it is with the righteous when they die. The world sees a false picture, but we know the truth.

What is Abraham's bosom? Of course, it is salvation. And our Lord made that comment because part of the reason he said this parable was in order to show the Jews their foolishness. And they got the message. This is one of the reasons they hated him so much, because they saw what He was saying in this parable — that they were unbelievers, and of course, the bosom of Abraham would be understood by the Jews to be salvation. After all, He said to them in another place, "I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom," the Jews, those who did not understand, those who did not WANT TO LIVE according to what they had learned, "shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The East and West represents the Jews and the Gentiles, the Greek, and everyone else. Salvation was being made manifest for everyone, and it was before the eyes of these proud Jews, and they DIDN'T SEE IT.

Then it mentions the rich man in this parable. "The rich man also died, and was buried.." Period. He died alone, brothers and sisters. Oh, I am sure there was a great fanfare. I am sure there was a GREAT funeral for him, and there were orations about him, and he was buried with great pomp and circumstance. And there were probably paid mourners who were weeping, and playing their horns, as the Jews were wont to do to show how much they loved him. And yet, so many of those people that were saying those things were rejoicing, because after all, he probably was hated by his servants. There were probably people who owed him money and thought, "Now this is wonderful. Now that he has died, I don't owe him anymore. I am sure glad he died before me." And there was probably someone who said "Ah ha! I can take what he had, and add it to my larder, because he is gone now, and I can appropriate his goods."

David says, "Their graves shall be their houses, unto eternity." This is not the mansion that our Lord speaks of. That's the house that I want to live in. "Their graves shall be their houses, unto eternity." The Lord will say to him, "Your feasting is finished, your name is blotted out of the book of life. And I DON'T know you." And that is what happened to the rich man.

"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Oh yes, there are actual torments, and these torments are, shall we say, the "would-ofs" the "could-ofs" and the "should-ofs." We will know what we should have done when we die. May it be that we will rejoice, because God will say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." He is far off. He sees Abraham AFAR off, in brightness. He is in murk, and he sees the light AFAR off. He is FAR removed. And He sees Lazarus. Notice that Lazarus does not see him. Lazarus was in bliss. He did not see him. Those in the light have trouble seeing into the darkness, don't they? But the people in the dark can see into the light. Lazarus was unencumbered by the knowledge of the Rich man's situation.

Don't let the Devil trick you now. I think one of the tricks that he has, especially for people that are converts, living in an unorthodox country, and where we have family, perhaps children, our spouse, brothers, sisters, parents that are not of the Orthodox faith or are even far away from anything even remotely resembling Christianity is this. We worry and we fret about them, and wonder, what will it be like when we die. I have had this temptation, wondering how can I be happy if I know that my father or mother is not in heaven. Well, in heaven, you will have understanding, because all things will be revealed. You will be at peace. You will understand then. You don't understand now, but you will understand then. Now we cannot fully understand. So don't let the Devil trick you. Save your soul, because if you don't save your soul, how can you help anyone to save theirs? And pray also for your mother and your father, your sister and your brother.

And the rich man, or we know him as the poorest wretch don't we? says, "send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." He who denied even a crumb to Lazarus is denied even a drop of water for his tongue. What a state he is in now! Instead of music, he hears groaning. Instead of the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, he is in darkness. Instead of drinking and carousing, and eating to his fill, he has thirst, and hunger, burning thirst. Instead of gaiety he has despair. This is the state of the man!

The Words of the Law were in his mouth. He was a Jew! I am sure that he went to synagogue, and that he said some prayers, and gave some alms for appearances sake, but the things he said, that he didn't believe, they burn him now! That's what is burning his tongue, you know. That is why his tongue is so hot, and parched, because he didn't do what he said. He said he believed something, but he didn't really, because he did not act like it.

The Lord says some things about these people, who are knowledgeable, but do not do His commandments, "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. These wise men, so called, are those who trust in their riches, and their gaiety, and their feasting, and have not compassion, and their wisdom, and their prudence is hid in HADES, and their name is FORGOTTEN. The Lord says to us on every page of the scripture, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? And the rich man is exactly like this kind of person: "He that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great." And that house was forgotten.

And Abraham said to him, "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. Abraham said to him, SON! Ah, this is a person who was in the church, this is one of those tares that grew up. Oh yes, there will out and out pagans in hell, and idol worshippers, and yet, there will also be those who call themselves Christians, those who call themselves good Jews. Abraham recognized, "Yes, you are one of us, and I call you Son, but that doesn't do you any good now, because the place of torment is reserved for those who do not do the commandments, whether they are sons, or aliens".

And He says that " that thou in thy lifetime receivedst THY good things." In English, we really cannot see this distinction, but in the Slavonic, and Greek, this word "receivest" has a connotation of "receive because of what you have done." What does it say in the other scriptures today, in the usual reading for venerable fathers, men who fasted and prayed, and became great Saints? St. Paul says "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly ; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." He reaped what he sowed, because he sowed nothing. So he had nothing. He was naked in the next life, and without comfort.

And likewise, Lazarus received evil things in this world, evil in appearances! But our Lord has something to say about that in the other Gospel as well, because He says, "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled," not NOW, but in the kingdom you will be filled! Be patient! "Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.," and run to and fro, like sparks among the stubble.

So Lazarus had evil things and the rich man had those things that he thought were good things. And he made a trade, like Esau made. He traded a pot of lentils for is birthright, is what he did. He made the choice. He decided what he wanted, and we indeed can make that choice also, brothers and sisters. We can decide, when we want our good things? Do we want them now, or do we want them in the kingdom? You can have good things now, according to your abilities, you can have everything you want. But you will have nothing in the Kingdom if you only pursue temporal happiness now. Lazarus punishment was only for a moment, only for a short time. He suffered grievously for only a short period, and then he had eternal life.

And Abraham then says to the rich man, to explain to him why he has no help, no comfort, no chance: "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." Oh yes, hell is permanent and real! And I tell you, the gulf was made by the rich man. He dug his own pit, and jumped into it, and he has no recourse after jumping into that pit. And see what he understood? The rich man knew what he had done! The rich man repented, he wanted to make amends. He was not a man with absolutely no good feelings whatsoever.

He said, " I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. His memory is all preserved! He remembers his brothers. He remembers how they act. He knows Lazarus. He knows Abraham, and yet he had never met the man! He never met him at all, because he never cared about the things he said, did he? The senses in the next life are finer and stronger. We see and we understand more, we calculate more quickly in the next life, when we are unencumbered by the flesh. Indeed, even those in Hell have finer senses, so that they can more exquisitely feel their pain. Do you see how terrifying this is? All their passions are still preserved, but there is no fulfillment for their passions. His thirst for liquor will never be fulfilled, his thirst for women, for song, all of it will go unfulfilled and will GNAW at him, and hurt him, and cut him, for eternity! "Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.," it says in the scripture. And that is the worm, brothers and sisters! Our passions are the worm! They will eat at us, unless we exorcise them now, so that we will be unencumbered by them. And in the next life, every knee shall bend, and all things shall be made known. Those in Hades, they will know, they will see Father Abraham, and this will make their pain even more real and more exquisite.

And Abraham says to him, " They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (the word of God). "And he said, Nay, father Abraham." He knew his brothers because he was one of them. " but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.." And the Jews certainly heard this, and it angered them, and just increased their foment, and their desire to put him to death.

Why is it some men will not be "persuaded," whether by the Word of God, or even obvious miracles? Certainly most people here in America would say they "believe" in God, and even call themselves Christians, and yet so many are not really "persuaded" to live as Christians. Why is this so? It is because they do not understand that the Christian life is a moral life, with moral change and amendment a necessity. The rich man, like so many in this life, said he believed, but did not change. He was not compassionate. His wallowing in luxury dulled his senses, and he perished in worldly splendor. Lazarus, the blessed one, endured with patience and was saved. May God help us to endure all things, and to change ourselves to be like Him, to love, to be patient, eventually to see Him in paradise.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

The Gadarene Demoniac

Why are we told this story? Why are we told any of the stories in the Scriptures? Of course, they are all for our salvation, and they all tell us something necessary. In this story we see the power of God, and how by a word he can cast out demons. We see the ultimate powerlessness of the demons. We see how fearful they are of our savior, and we see how incredibly evil they are toward man and even unto beasts. We also see something that should make us fear, so that we do not become like these people — we see the brutishness, the swinishness of unbelievers. It is amazing how these people reacted to a great miracle in their midst. And there is another lesson here, a terrible lesson, a necessary lesson in free will. God created us so that we would know Him, but He has not forced us to follow His commandments. Some choose to follow His commandments, and some choose to ask Him to leave. He will indeed leave those who ask Him to leave...

So listen carefully to the words of this story, and see what God wants you to know. Listening carefully is not something that is easy to come by, especially in our society. We are not a very verbal society anymore. We value more the written word, and when we see and hear things, they are images that flash by the screen so rapidly or change so quickly on the radio. There is so much inundation of information upon us that we do not know how to listen to things that are holy — this is just more common information to us. Well, the most important information that you can get the entire week is what you hear in the liturgy today, and what you heard in the vigil last night. This is the time when you should pay more attention than any other time in your life, during the divine liturgy, and when the holy scriptures are being read, and when they are being discussed.

The story begins "And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes." 2 When we read the context, we can see this is right after the Lord had preached about the sower, then they got into a ship. When they crossed over, during that time, there was a storm, and the apostles were terrified even though He was in the ship with them There was another time when He came walking across the water in a storm; that was a difference occurrence. He is asleep in the ship, and the apostles, despite the fact that the God-man was with them, were terrified, and they said "Master, Master, we perish." 3 And He rebuked them because of their unbelief. How can you think you are perishing when Christ is right with you?

So they came over to the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, and " there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs." 4 No clothes — the man had no shame, the man had no virtue. He was not clothed in virtue. We know that clothing can often signify virtue. Recall the wedding garment. One is given to everyone who enters the wedding feast, and it signifies baptism for us, and the life lived in Christ. And the man who did not have a wedding garment, who had cast it aside, was cast out with the unbelievers, because he acted like an unbeliever. Even if he appeared in the assembly of believers, by his actions he showed who he really was, and what he was like.

This demonized man had no virtue, he was not clothed in virtue, nor in the waters of baptism, which allow us to live in virtue. Also, having no clothes is a sign of having no reason. The are intelligent creatures, but they are not reasonable, or rational. Their hatred is as high as the mountains, they are filled to the brim with irrational hatred every moment of their existence.

This man dwelt in the tombs. Part of the reason, the fathers say, that demoniacs dwelt in the tombs is that the devil wanted to plant a fable in the heart if man that from the dead came demons, and that graveyards were noxious and evil places, and people were afraid of them. The devil does not really want you to know how the demons come about and how they perform their activities. He wants this to be steeped in folklore. He does not want you to know that if a man does not follow Christ, he opens himself up to the demons, so he plants these kind of fables in the heart of man, and you can see them in every culture, in every tradition. This demonology often has a grain of truth in it, but generally it is quite false, because it does not get to the root of why demons besiege us.

Also, those who are without virtue, those who are without reason, those who do not follow Christ are already dead. They may as well be in a graveyard. The demons are the most dead of all creatures, and tombs symbolize evil places, fetid places, dark places full of wickedness. This indeed was an apt place for such a man to dwell, and of course, he could not be allowed to dwell in the city because of his uncontrollable actions, and people were afraid of him. So he was an outcast. He was outside the city, outside of salvation, outside of the church.

Our Lord rebuked him, then he asked his name. He did not need to ask his name. Our Lord knows everything. He answered "Legion," many, many demons. Men can sink very low.

Now, why did he have devils? This is a question that is very difficult to answer. Different people might have devils for different reasons. St. Mary Magdalene had seven devils. 5 This was not because of unrighteousness. In her case, the devil, who thinks he is so intelligent, was fooled, and he thought that she was to be the bearer of Christ, so he inhabited her, against her will with demons, in order to make her fall into fornication (she never did, by the way). And she suffered grievously from these demons. Our Lord cast these demons out of her, and she followed him till the end of her days. She was part of the entourage that took care of all of the physical necessities of our Lord and His disciples throughout His ministry, and she was given the grace to become "equal to the apostles." 6

This man may not have been demonized because of his unrighteousness either. We don't know. It could have been because of the judgment that God was passing on that area. These people were not following the law. They kept swine, which was unlawful to do, because they were Jews, and they were more concerned with profit than following the law of God.

The fathers also think that this man was demonized as an example of how terrible the demons can be, and how great the mercy of God can be. Now, be careful how you judge. Don't judge according to your own wisdom, according to the external circumstances, according only to what you read in the scriptures, without consulting the wisdom of the church. The Psalmist says "Thy judgments are a vast abyss." 7 We cannot understand why certain things happen to people, why some people are sick, why some are demonized, why some people die early, why the wicked wax old and fat. It is hard to understand these things, but God knows. We must only trust.

So this man may have been demonized because of the evil of the people, and not because of his own unrighteousness. As we can see later on, once he had the demons expelled from him, he had great love for our Savior, and great obedience.

So, when this man saw Jesus, " he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. 8 Of course, the man's voice was being used by the demons. It is amazing how foolish the demons are. Can you see how they indeed have nothing in common with our Lord? Such impudence! to say `what have I to do with you', and such cowardice — `Don't torment me'. And such knowledge! They KNOW! They know exactly what is going to happen to them. They are trying to forestall the inevitable. They know that they will be cast into the abyss. They know that they will be tormented, and they ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE. That is where their fear comes in. In the midst of their impudence, in the midst of their braggadocio, they are terrified, because they see the God-man standing before them. Some people are also like the demons. They KNOW Who He is, and they know something of the commandments of God, BUT THEY DON'T WANT TO CHANGE. Because of this, they are afraid. This is not the fear of God that brings forth wisdom 9, but the fear of a man who does wrong and does not want to change.

"And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked." 10 Our Lord allowed this to happen as an example, to show how truly evil AND powerless the demons are. They cannot even control swine. They enraged and frightened the swine so much that they ended up in the abyss, where that had begged not to be anyway. Now, if you can see how truly evil the demons are from this example, set forth for our edification, then how can you want any part with them? Am I saying this to Christians? Yes indeed! Because, we often have concourse with the demons, whenever we give ourselves over to our sins, whenever we give ourselves over to the nakedness of this man, the nakedness of virtue, and fulfill in ourselves our own desires and not the commandments of God. Then we are becoming like unto the demons. The word Devil, "Diabolos" means "Slanderer." He is a liar. I tell my children that `whenever you lie, you are acting like a demon'. How can you want to act like such an evil creature, and such a smelly and fetid creature, dark and black?

We see that there were many demons — there were enough to inhabit a whole herd of swine. And we see the judgment against these people, because Christ, shall we say, `killed two birds with one stone'. He not only healed the man, but He also showed these people where they were erring, because they were keeping swine against the Jewish law. So, He took away their profit. He took away that which was causing them to sin. They should have considered this to be a favor, in that He saved them from their wretchedness, but what happened?

"When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country." 11 They fled! I can think of another occurrence where someone saw their sin, but she did not flee! She ran to the city and she said, " Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" 12 I am referring to St. Photini, the Samaritan women at the well. Our Lord showed he that he knew of her sins. He knew that she had previously had five husbands, and that the man she was living with was not her husband, and He showed how much He knew. She reacted with love. She reacted by becoming apostle by proclaiming that the Messiah was among them!

But these swine herders — their profit had been removed from them. Their livelihood in the trafficking in illicit goods was removed from them, so they fled, and went to tell their superiors about this tragedy that had befallen their commerce. These people saw the power of God, and they were afraid! They were afraid because of their sins, and because of their stubbornness, because they DON'T WANT TO CHANGE. They saw that the God-man, Jesus Christ requires change in a man. This is a fundamental principle of Christianity. As you are enlightened with the knowledge of God, you must act in accordance with that knowledge!

"Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid." 13 Now he had his clothing on, and his reason had returned to him and he was doing what any man should do when he sees what great things God has done for him — he sits at His feet, drinking in every word, adoring Him, with thanksgiving. He was beginning the Christina life. I tell you, this man could have fallen back into the abyss, where he had come from. In another place in St. Luke's gospel, our Lord describes what happens to an unrepentant man, even a man who has demons taken out of him: " When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first." 14 So this man had to embark upon the life of virtue now. Now that he had removed from him this impediment that made it so difficult for his to believe and to act virtuously, he OWED Christ obedience, and he gave it freely, as we can see in the Gospel. He desired very greatly to follow Him, but our Lord, for reasons known only to Him, refused him, and asked him to be an apostle in that area by proclaiming what great things God had done for him, and indeed he did that.

What should have happened with these people? How should they have reacted? How did the Samaritans react when St. Photini told them about Christ? Like the Gadarenes, they came out to investigate, but the similarity ends there. It says, " So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word." 15 And, in another place, there was one out of ten lepers who gave thanks to God: " And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 16 That is what should have happened when these people saw that their sinful trade had been destroyed, and God had judged that they should not do such a thing, but He had not destroyed them. He had only destroyed that which was CAUSING their own destruction!

"They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed." 17 So the swine herders went to their masters and they told them what happened. These men were very afraid then, and this was an evil, wicked kind of fear. This was the fear of a person who does not want to see the light, does not want to have his deeds exposed, does not want to have his life changed. They did not focus so much on the grace and the power of God, as on the fact that He was getting into their business. He was requiring of them something. He was intervening in their lives, and they wanted Him out. They wanted Him to LEAVE THEM ALONE!

"Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear:" 18 Tragic! Absolutely tragic! They had the God-man among them, and He had showed them what was wrong with their life, in a quite gentle way, and they wanted nothing of Him. They did not want Him around.

Evil hates the light. Evil does not want to be around the light, partly because it does not understand it. St. John talks about this: " In him," that is, in Christ, " was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." 19 There are those who just don't understand, and I tell you, most people who do not understand do not WANT to understand, because if you understand, you must go to the next step, and you must ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH YOUR UNDERSTANDING! People don't want to do that. Even people who call themselves Christians don't want to do that. And all of us, to some extent, in some way, try to cover up knowledge, so we don't have to act in accordance with that knowledge.

This is part of the reason why confession is so important. It is so easy to hide within ourselves our sins, but it is much more difficult when we are required to tell them to someone else, especially if that person questions, and asks, and even challenges. At least, if we have enough shame so that we will not tell lies then, God will show us what is truly wrong with us.

It also says about those who do and do not want to follow Christ, " He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." 20 That is exactly how these people acted. They wanted the light to go away, so they could hide. They thought they could hide. They thought if He would go away, they could continue their trade, they could get more swine, and they could go on with life as it was before. They should listen more carefully to what their Messiah has said: " Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." 21 There is no hiding from the knowledge of God. You can delay it for some period of time, but eventually, all things will be made known 22, all things will be made manifest. All sins will be made known, and those sins that have been unconfessed, those sins that have been hidden and hoarded will cause great pain, and will gnaw at us in the next life if we do not repent.

Now we come to the most terrible section of this reading. It is very short, and very bitter. " And he went up into the ship, and returned back again." 23 He offered them salvation, and they denied Him. So He said, "All right, I will leave'. And God will leave, and the Holy Spirit will leave from us, when we do not prepare a place for Him, and repent of our sins, so as to keep that place clean, and garnished. If you don't want Him, He will leave.

But notice, how merciful He is, in still giving those Gadarene "swine" and chance for their salvation, because it says: " Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him." 24 So he was giving these people another chance. This man might have gained some converts over time. Some of these people's hardened hearts might have softened and they might have some to an understanding of what the Lord had done for them, and they might have become Christians.

God help us to learn from this example, to not act like swine, to not push God away when He shows us something that is wrong with us, whether it be when we are reading in the scriptures, or we are hearing in the services something that touches our heart, or where God most often tells us what is wrong with us. This is through our relationships with others, and especially our relationship with our confessor. This is a tough relationship to have. You know, I have a confessor to. This is not an easy relationship to have, to bare yourself and to show what is wrong with you. We always want to show the good side of ourselves. It is also not easy to take instruction. When he tells me to do something, I don't always like what he tells me, but if I don't do it, then I will be acting upon my own wisdom, and I will fall, and I will probably, most likely perish. I will certainly perish if I disobey him constantly, but even the smallest disobedience can lead to a greater disobedience. and I can fall farther and farther, and the same principle applies to every Christian, even to a Patriarch. We must be obedient to what God is telling us, and God speaks through simple, sinful men.

God help us to truly follow Christ, and to not be like these Gadarene swine keepers, but when we see something wrong with us, we would cleave to Christ, and we would be healed. Amen.

Bibliography:

Drops From the Living Water — Pp. 168-171

The One Thing Needful — Pp. 143-146

Old Believer Sermon for the 23 rd Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, Pp. 190-194

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On October Tenth, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost,. and the day appointed for the commemoration of Holy Martyr Terrence and family, St. Stephen the writer of hymns, and St. Paresceva, among others. The entire Gospel is: Luke 8:26-39. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Luke 8:26

3 Luke 8:24

4 Luke 8:27

5 Cf. Mark 16:9

6 The title "Equal to the Apostles" is given to certain holy ones because of their great, apostolic and evangelical labors. Other saints so named are St. Abercius and St. Vladimir. There are many more examples.

7 Psalm 35:6

8 Luke 8:28

9 Cf. Psalm 111:10

10 Luke 8:32-33

11 Luke 8:34

12 John 4:29

13 Luke 8:35

14 Luke 11:24-26

15 John 4:40-41

16 Luke 17:15-16

17 Luke 8:36

18 Luke 8:37

19 John 1:4-5

20 John 3:18-20

21 Luke 12:3

22 Cf. Luke 8:17

23 Luke 8:37

24 Luke 8:38-39

24th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Healing of the Woman with an Issue of Blood and the Raising of the Daughter of Jairus.

Today is, and on this day we remember St. Ioannicius the Great and Hieromartyrs Nicander and Hermas, who were martyred in Myra, where St. Nicholas had his ministry. On today, the reading is appointed about The Healing of the Woman with an issue of blood and the raising of the Daughter of Jairus. The two miracles are recounted in the same story, and although externally they may appear to be different, they really are the same miracle. By the way, we know who this woman who had an issue of blood is. Holy Tradition says that she was St. Veronica, so she is not a nameless person.

As we are listening to the scriptures in the liturgy today, and the preaching of them, don't be complacent. It is very easy to just sit down, and, shall we say, "veg" out, and take your rest for a little while. We have heard this story many, many times, maybe a hundred times, but the hundred and first time that you hear it, God will teach you something, if you are listening and praying. And even seventy times seven 2 times, if you listen carefully with prayer, then God will teach you something. This information is vitally important and there is nothing more important that you can get during the week than what happens during the Divine Liturgy, and the All Night Vigil on Saturday Night.

How can it be that we can listen to something more and more, and the more that we hear it, the more important it becomes? I ask you, what are we trying to do in this life? What is our purpose? We are trying to save our souls. And how do we do this? In anything in life we must have some sort of plan, some sort of roadmap. We must know God, in order to fulfill the commandments. God reveals Himself to us, and gives us the strength to become like Him in moral virtues, and to become perfected. This is what the Christian life is, it is self perfection. It is self perfection by the hand of God, with God's help, but this perfection can only occur if we know what it is we must do! If we know the commandments, and more important even than knowing the commandments, we must know the One who gives the commandments. Because by knowing Him, we will know the commandments.

We must know Whom we serve, so that we can be like the sheep that our Lord describes in St. John's gospel, "My sheep follow me because they know my voice" 3. Not intellectually, but experientially, they KNOW His voice. We need to know Him so that we will follow His commandments more easily. He said His commandments are not burdensome. 4 There is a great mystery to that statement. All of our life seems to be filled with burdens, doesn't it? And yet His commandments are not burdensome, and that is not a lie, because God is not made a liar. Why is this so? His commandments are not burdensome IF WE LEARN OF HIM, and we learn how sweet He is! Doesn't it say, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" 5? If we, or anything in the gospels that teaches us something about know how sweet the Lord is, we will want nothing else. If we read of miracles our Lord and Savior, and we taste something of that sweetness, it should energize us to follow the commandments just a little bit more. And, God reveals Himself only to the pure. So now we have a circle. If we know God more, then we'll follow His commandments more. And by following His commandments we will become purified and God will reveal Himself to us more. He only reveals Himself to those who are capable of understanding what He reveals and only those who will appreciate what He reveals.

Any opportunity you have to learn more about your Savior you should grasp for, just like a man who is starving would grasp for a crust of bread, just like a man who is in a desert and would coming upon an oasis would bury his head in the water and would take a long, long drink. That's how we should be when we hear the scriptures. That's how we should when we are listening and praying in the holy liturgy or in the all night vigil, or when we are saying our prayers in the morning or in the evening or at any other time.

But because of the fact that we are human beings, it's hard to always have the same level of intensity. God knows this. That's why we celebrate the Resurrection one day a week. We live in the reality of the Resurrection every day. But we don't celebrate it every day of the week explicitly like we do on Sunday, because God knows that it would become commonplace to the vast majority of us poor wretches if we did that. Now some of the saints, they lived in the Resurrection every day, such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov. He would say `Christ is Risen' 6 no matter what time of the year it was. Nobody dared rebuke him, because that man was living in the Resurrection. But for the most of us, it's not that way.

So there are times appointed when we should be more intense in our spiritual life. We are coming up on one now, aren't we? We're coming up on the Lenten period before the nativity of our Lord very, very soon. All the other Lenten periods are times of increased intensity in the spiritual life, but on a weekly basis, Saturday and Sunday, those are God's days. Those are the days when God is going to teach you something. So you don't have the luxury right now to sit down and take your ease and wait for the half an hour that I speak and then it's time for the rest of the Liturgy. This is not an interlude. This is part of your salvation, as much as it's a part of mine. So while your body sits, your spirit should stand up. You should bend your ear. You should see what is it that God wants you to know. There is something He wants you know, and I don't know what it is. And I know that I am an imperfect person; so are you. But if we pray, God will complete what is lacking, both in what I say and in what you understand. It is a marvelous mystery. So let's look at these two miracles — really they're the same miracle — and then let's go forth in the strength of that knowledge, and God will help us to do His commandments a little bit more.

It says in the scriptures, "There came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying." 7

You should know from the context, if you've been reading the scriptures during the week, and if you remember from last week, that this is right after He had healed the Gadarene demoniac. He had done some miracles on one side of the shore. He had healed the centurion's servant, which is very similar to the miracle here, by the way. It contrasts with it a little bit because the centurion had much, much more faith than Jairus, about the same as the woman with an issue of blood, because God commended both of them. And then He went over to the other side of the Gadarenes, and there He met the demoniac and healed him of the legion of demons. And we saw how terrible free will can be when people choose that they don't want to know Christ. Those people asked Christ to leave from their coast and He did, and that's a terrible tragedy.

So now He is right after that period of time. He's gone back to the other side and He's walking, He's being thronged by hundreds of people. The press of a mob is upon Him, because after all, He was front page news. People had heard of these miracles. They had heard of these amazing things. They had heard people say He speaks with authority, not as the scribes. 8 This man is different, and people wanted to be in His presence. Those that hated Him and those that loved Him wanted to be in His presence, because there was something about Him. So there were so many people around and Jairus pushes through this crowd and he prostrates before the Lord. Saint Mark tells us a little bit more. He said, "I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her that she may be healed and she shall live." 9

And Jairus will get what he wishes, but will wait a while, because he did not have such firm faith, like the centurion Cornelius who said, "Only speak the word and my servant will be healed" 10. `I don't even need you to come to my house. In fact, I am not even worthy to come to you personally. I am sending my servant because I am unworthy. But I have the faith that you will heal my servant.' Indeed, the centurion's servant was healed. And indeed Jairus' daughter will be healed, but after a very long and very difficult time for this man who loves his daughter and is fearful now for her life.

So this man had an extreme need and it pushed him to Christ, just like us. In this case his daughter was dying. In our case it's our sins which beset us. But as he went the people thronged him, it says. That's important to know. There's a mystery in this statement. The fathers bring it out. The people were thronging him. It was a mob that was around him, and yet later on He says, "Who touched me?" His apostles didn't understand what He meant. What He meant is, there are all these people around Me, and they're not touching Me. They're not receiving salvation. They're not appreciating who I am. But they're all around Me. And there is also, we must understand, much waiting necessary on the part of Jairus, because there is this big mob, and you can't walk quickly when there is a mob. And not only that, but this man who is beside himself with worry for his daughter. He doesn't have the faith of Cornelius. He has some faith, indeed, and he has confidence that the Lord will save his daughter, but at the moment he believes his daughter is alive, and he has this idea that when his daughter is dead all is lost. And then a woman comes up and spends more time, more precious time, as the clock is ticking and his daughter is dying.

"And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched." 11

Saint Mark also talks about this exact miracle and he says a little bit more. By the way, as an aside, I want to tell you this is a perfect example of how the Gospels were written by men inspired by God, because if you take a look at St. Luke's Gospel and Saint Mark's and St. Matthew's, they describe the same event and give it a slightly different perspective, but it is quite obvious that they are saying exactly the same thing. They are describing the exact same event, and both things they say are true, but one elucidates a point a little different than another. And St. Mark gives a little more information here, very important. He says, "For she said, `If I may but touch His clothes, I may be whole.' 12 She had great faith. There is much to learn from this very simple miracle. This woman is not even mentioned by name in the scriptures, although we know her name.

Bleeding in that day made a person unclean. A person could not go into the temple if they were bleeding. So this woman was outside of the community of faith. She couldn't go into the temple. She couldn't worship. She had not been in the temple for twelve long years, and she had been considered unclean for that entire period of time. She had spent all of her money on physicians, and still was incurable. She had a hopeless disease. She must have had great despondency over this disease. And this disease, this bleeding, is also indicative of our sins. Don't we hemorrhage sins? Aren't there things that we continually do over and over again, maybe even that we don't even know yet, or that we won't even admit within ourselves, even when we are alone in our closet, that we do and that are wrong with us? But we are hemorrhaging. The blood is flowing on the floor. This woman had an issue of blood. And in the same way that this woman was healed, we must be healed. She touched Christ. Not incidentally, not a shoulder of a hip touching him in the way of the crowd. But she touched his garment with faith and with belief and with hope. And she was made whole, because bleeding is a sign of lack of wholeness, right? A sign of sickness. But our Lord is the great Physician. The mystery of our life is how we are made whole, how we're made complete. And God makes us complete. And we can see that in this woman.

Well, this woman was discovered. She really shouldn't have done what she did in terms of the law, because she was unclean. She was supposed to stay away from those people that were clean, just like lepers would stay away from those that were clean, and cry out, "unclean, unclean" as people went by, so that they wouldn't touch them accidentally and be sullied, because then they'd have to go and wash themselves according to Jewish law. And she was discovered by the Lord, because the Lord knows everything. And He made a ruckus about this because he wanted to show something, to us and to Jairus.

"And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me." 13

He said it to point out her faith, and He also said this to show what touching Christ really is. His disciples didn't understand yet. They were still unformed, and were still arguing about who is the greatest. They didn't understand yet, but, oh, they would. The leaven was good in them, and our Lord was bringing them to fruition, but they did not understand yet.

What is this touching? This touching is prayer with faith. Doesn't it say, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."? 14 And doesn't is also say, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."? 15 But you must ask in faith. You must ask without doubting, without wavering, otherwise you are like the waves tossed about in the sea like St. James talks about. 16

Out Lord also said that virtue was gone out of Him, because he is the God-man. No Saint would say `virtue is gone out me'. What a blasphemous thing. You would run from the room that such a man is in, because Satan would be in that man, but our Lord and Savior was making a statement of His divinity. You see, every word in the scriptures is important. We must read them carefully, over and over again, because we a very foolish and dull people, and it takes a long time to learn everything that the Lord wants us to know, even in the scriptures, much less the Holy mysteries, and in all that he reveals to us in our hearts in that still small voice in which He talks to us.

"And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace." 17

She proclaims the reason. Look at her faith. The Lord commends her for her faith. He does not commend Jairus, by the way. He heals Jairus' servant, but Jairus is on a lower rung than this woman. She is like Cornelius was, like the Woman of Caanan was, like Lazarus, with the sores by the gate of the rich man was. This is an example for us to imitate. This is why the Lord made this woman known to everyone. There is another reason as well, an incidental reason. She was afraid that she had "stolen" this miracle, and here conscience bothered her. Can you believe this? This is a woman who had endured 12 long years of suffering, and her conscience bothered her, that she not beseeched the Lord verbally, and asked His permission to be healed. Would that we have that kind of humility.

So the Lord comforted here, and calmed the tempest in her, and I tell you, she followed Him to the end of her days and became a great saint, on the strength of what He did for her. The other reason why He brought this miracle to light was to make Jairus confident that his daughter would be healed. Our Lord knew that the girl was going to die. She might be dead already. He knew that He would not get there in time, and He knew that Jairus needed something to hold on to, so he made this miracle evident. It was is if He said, `Yes, Jairus, I am the God-man, and I can do anything that I wish, and I have told you that I would heal your daughter, and IT WILL BE SO.'

And it continues in the scriptures: " While he yet spake" (to the woman, that is), "there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master." 18

It seems that this was a side conversation, a whispering in the ear of the ruler of the synagogue. `Don't bother Him', but our Lord heard. Imagine the heart of Jairus at the time. My daughter is dead, the light of my life, all is lost. You know, I have a daughter that age. You wouldn't want to lose a daughter. He was hopeless, because he did not have strong faith yet. Death was final to him. It is NOT final. We know this because we are Christians.

This hopelessness is similar to what the woman with the issue of blood, St. Veronica, had, but she had great faith in the midst of her hopelessness, and was healed. And Jesus heard this side conversation, someone saying `Don't bother Him', and before Jairus could even start to weep, He said: "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole." 19 SHE SHALL BE MADE WHOLE. And you, Jairus, shall also be made whole, because you will see what I can do.

"Believe only" — that does not mean to do NOTHING except believe! That means ACT according to what you believe! This is the Christian life. In the Christian life, we don't just believe, we act according to how we believe. Sometimes it is difficult to act this way. Sometime we have sins that we want to hold on to, and it takes effort to loosen their grip on us. Other times, terrible happen to us, and it takes great patience on our part to LIVE ACCORDING TO FAITH. And this is what is happening to Jairus now. His daughter lies dead, and the body is growing cold, and the God man says `Only believe." So Jairus walks with him, and there is a germ of hope in his breast, and there is also still a terrible fear alongside. It's all right! Perfect love casteth out fear. 20 And when he sees what the God man will do, certainly he will grow to have perfect love, and all fear will be cast out from his heart.

There is a lesson in the road that Jairus is traveling. Who knows how long it was, whether it be a hundred feet, or a thousand, whether it would have taken a minute or an hour. It must have seemed like days to Jairus, but he had to act above his circumstances. He had to accept what the Lord was saying to him, and he had to move with Him, and follow Him. We must do the same thing. We must listen when Christ says `Only believe', as long as we understand that this does not mean just an intellectual assent to something. It means acting upon what our Lord has TOLD us to do, because He is the God-man. He has the right to tell us things, and He has told us many things to do, many commandments.

"And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden." 21

What He was trying to do was show us humility. He was trying to keep the miracle quiet. He orchestrated every occurrence in His ministry. There was nothing that happened without His consent, and without His blessing. They tried to kill Him much, much before He was actually crucified. In the first year of His ministry, he obtained mortal enemies who tried to kill Him, and we can see in the gospels mysterious passages that say things like `They brought him to the brow of a hill to cast Him down, and he passed within their midst" 22. We don't even know what this means! Sometimes He kept miracles quiet, other times he said to proclaim it to everyone. Such as he said to the former Gadarene demoniac: `proclaim to your poor brethren who have asked me to leave, proclaim who I am, and some of them may yet be saved' 23.

He brought only his chief disciples, Peter, James and John, along with the father and mother inside a little bit into the house, and met those who were mourning the little girl.

"And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. (53) And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead." 24

He said this so that they would proclaim that she was dead, so that no one would say. "Oh, she was only asleep," or "this was only slight of hand', or this was only `mob hysteria'. This person was really dead, and everyone who laughed at him proclaimed it, to show that this was a real miracle. And He also wanted to show that those who do not believe, and scoff at holy things are not worthy to see miracles, They are not worthy to see God act, so He cast them out of the house.

"And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat. And her parents were astonished: but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done." 25

In St. Marks gospel, is other important information. Although he gives this miracle privately, in front of only a few people, to show His humility, HE also is the God-man! And how did He resurrect this maiden? "And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise." 26 I am the God-man. I have power over death, and I reclaim you from Hades. That is not the way that someone would heal who is just a mere mortal. He has the authority to say `I say to thee, arise'.

Do you see how these miracles are the same? Do you understand the connection, how they were one by faith? One had greater faith than the other, and you see what happened with her? She was given what she wanted right away. Of course, she had suffered twelve years. By the way, the daughter was also twelve years old. This is interesting. She had suffered twelve long years of being unclean, of being ostracized. Because the Jews were not very kind to those they thought were unclean. They thought God was judging them and so they would heap abuse on such people. They did not understand mercy in the law, they only understood the black and white in the law. Our Lord came to show them the mercy that was in the law.

So this woman was healed immediately, if you can say after twelve years is immediately. And Jairus was a good man and had faith. He was a ruler of a synagogue now, and so many of the synagogues did not want to have anything to do with Christ, because the Pharisees and the Sadducees were putting people out of the synagogues if they would follow Christ. Many people wanted the admiration of men, rather than to worship God. But this man was rather courageous. We have to give him his due. He was also like the man who said "Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief" 27 (the one who had the demoniac son). But because of his lack of faith, our Lord, shall we say, did it the hard way for him. It was a longer road. I think this is the road most of us must travel, because we don't have that kind of faith, like the woman with an issue of blood, St. Veronica, or that Cornelius had, or that St. Photini had, or so many of the other Saints that our Lord spoke to and saw their faith, and they reacted with such love and fervor so quickly to him. We are a little bit colder, a little more hard-hearted. We look at our circumstances and they appall us too easily, and they overwhelm us too easily, even thought we have the God-man in our hearts. We don't seem to understand that fully, so it is a little bit more difficult for us.

The previous Sunday the epistle was quite remarkable. It said: read in the epistle: "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" 28... "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." 29 I could speak for an hour on this, because these verses, among others in the bible, are among the most badly interpreted, and give rise to some of the worst heresies man has ever known — this idea that faith and works are not linked.

There is that word again, faith. Faith is living according to Who the God-man is! We see this faith lived out in St. Veronica and Jairus. We see Christ as a healer. He heals what is infirm. He completes what is lacking. We see that this issue of blood shows uncleanness, the torrent of our sins, alienation from God, hopelessness. And death is for many, hopelessness, and it is certainly something beyond our power.

What is your issue of blood? What is it that you cannot conquer? For what passion does the Devil say to you `Thy daughter is dead, trouble not the Master'? For what passion does that temptation come into your heart? `Trouble not the Master. You won't improve. You won't get better. You will always have problems with anger. You'll NEVER get better. You will never stop having lust and uncleanness, you will ALWAYS be lazy, you will always have unbelief in your heart. You will always fall into this and that sin, again and again. So Trouble not the Master. Give it up. Or better yet, you may as well give yourself up to these sins, since you cannot conquer them'.

That is what the devil says! But every page of the scripture says that the Devil is a LIAR, because we KNOW that we can conquer our sins. We see the God-man conquer sins on every page of the gospel, and make complete everything that is lacking in a man. I want to remind you again, although I might speak long, this is so important — WHO HE IS Whom we believe in, and why it is that we should have confidence! Today's epistle is classic Christological thought about the God-man, WHO HE IS, and by inference, WHY we can trust in Him and why we will be saved if we follow Him.

The Apostle Paul says: "For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;" (This refers to the two natures of Christ, God and man, UNITED in ONE person, united in a mystical, but REAL way that we cannot understand, but that is effecting our salvation.) And he continues "and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh." He was talking to the Gentiles there, and we should all consider ourselves to be a Gentile. "For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." 30

I hope that you know something of who the God-man is, and will know more and more as you continue to live. And grasp the robe of Christ with faith. And God will heal you of all your infirmities if you have faith.

Bibliography:

Old Believer Sermon for the 24 th Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

"Drops From the Living Water," Bishop Augustinos, Pp. 172-175

"The One Thing Needful," Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveevo — Pp. 146-148

"Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke," St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, Pp. 195-203

"The Commentary by Blessed Theofylact on the Gospel of St. Mark"

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On October 17th, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, and the day appointed for the commemoration St. Ioannicius the Great and Hieromartyrs Nicander and Hermas. The Epistle reading appointed is Ephesians Eph 2:14-22, and the Gospel is Luke 8:41-56. The story recounted, that of the Healing of the Woman with an issue of blood and the raising of the Daughter of Jairus, is also given in Mark:6:22-43. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Cf. Matthew 18:22. This is an indication of an infinite number.

3 Cf. John 10:4

4 Cf. Matthew 11:30, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

5 Psalm 34:1

6 This is part of the Paschal Troparion (in this context, a hymn which "sums up" the meaning of the feast, and is sung in one of eight melodies): "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." The traditional greeting Orthodox Christians give each other in the forty days following Pascha (until the Ascension) is: "Christ is risen," to which the response it, "Truly He is risen."

7 Luke 8:41-42

8 Cf. Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22

9 Mark 5:23

10 Cf. Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:7

11 Luke 8:43-44

12 Mark 5:28 (also cf. Matthew 9:21)

13 Luke 8:45-46

14 Matthew 21:22

15 Luke 11:9-10

]16 Cf. James 1:6

17 Luke 8:47-48

18 Luke 8:49

19 Luke 8:50

20 John 4:18

21 Luke 8:51

22 Cf. Luke 4:29,30 (They) "rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way."

23 Cf. Luke 8:39

24 Luke 8:52

25 Luke 8:54-56

26 Mark 5:41

27 Mark 9:24

28 Ephesians 2:4-5

29 Ephesians 2:9-10

30 Ephesians 2:14-22 (the entire reading for the 24 th Sunday after Pentecost)

25th Sunday after Pentecost.

Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Last Sunday, we talked about two miracles, where the woman was healed from an issue of blood, and the daughter of Jairus was raised, 2 and they both had a relationship to one another. Today, we have two teachings, set parallel to one another, like two plots in a story. One has an outward and moral aspect, concerning how we should act as Christians, being compassionate, and who is our neighbor. We know the answer to that. Everyone is our neighbor. We just need to be reminded of that sometimes. There is also a mystical and internal story here that is right alongside this important teaching about being compassionate. What gives us the power, the ability, to act with compassion? What gives us the ability to live the Christian life? Of course, we know, it is only God's grace, but what did He do? How did He give us this ability, and this power? We can see it in this story, when we look at the mystical meaning that the Fathers have elucidated. We can see also what the meaning of Christianity is, and the purpose and activity of the church. There is a great promise in this story as well, and I believe... I know — a great source of hope for us.

"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 3

A lawyer was a Jew who studied and interpreted the law. He was not like we understand lawyers to be today. They should have been men of character and high moral standing. Many of them were, but too many were not. This lawyer was like the people Jesus referred to when He said: "But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." 4 If you know this passage, from St. Luke's gospel, a sentence or so later, a lawyer told Jesus He was judging them too, and Our Lord said `yes, indeed'.

This lawyer was trying to trap Jesus. He was trying to get Him to say something where they could judge Him. Already they hated Him. In the first year of His ministry, there were people who wanted to put Him to death. The bloom was off the rose very quickly for these people when they saw what Jesus meant and how they would have to change their lives if they followed him. They didn't want to do it. They didn't want to give up their positions, and their lands, and everything else, as the second gospel speaks about. 5 This lawyer was one of many flunkies that would go to Christ and try to trip Him up in some way. This question that he asks is an amazing question. It really is an incredibly stupid question. To stand in front of the God-man, and ask him `what should I do to inherit eternal life' — to be filled with pride and self absorption.

Christ refers him to the law, because Christ upheld the law. This should have been enough for him, just it should have been enough for the rich man and his brothers, since they had the law and the prophets. 6 He also wanted to show how one can be a lawyer, and know all manner of things about the law, and how one could, to extend it to our time — know all manner of things about the Saints, and the typicon, and the church, and yet, not understand the inner meaning, and the essence of what our life is all about. This lawyer did not understand at all.

"He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. " 7

Foolish wretched man! He actually knows the correct answer to the question, and he says it like some school child reciting the answer in a test, and having a smug grin on his face because he got the answer right. The amazing thing is that he had previously listened to Christ, because nowhere in the Old Testament does it explicitly speak about loving `thy neighbor as Thyself." The first portion of his quotation is from Deuteronomy, but the second part is from the words of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Our Lord was teaching the people what the law really meant — the essence of the law is love of God, and because of love of God, love of neighbor, and after also quoting Deuteronomy, said: "And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." 8 The lawyer must have heard this! He knew the right answer, but did not really believe it, because he did not live it.

If you believe these words, then you will heed Christ's other words. He said: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." 9 This is the hallmark of what a Christian is — it is love. Without love, we truly are nothing, and are hypocrites, and are most to be pitied.

Christ says to the lawyer: "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live." 10

It is really very simple! Christ reveals the truth to us, and we follow Him! We love Him. We want to do things that are pleasing to him, because it is innate in us to want to please God — not because of fear of punishment, not because of hope of reward, but because HE IS! And we want to follow Him, because of that only. Or that is, as you progress in the Christian life, even a little bit, you come to the realization that you want to do good and follow God's commandments because of how sweet they are, how tasty they are. You want to do nothing else. You may fall many, many times, but that desire you must inculcate in you heart, brothers and sisters! No matter how many times you fall, seventy times seven times, or seventy time seven plus one! 11 I don't care how many times. You must plant in your heart this desire to follow God's commandments. All Christ is saying is, "you know the answer. You're right. Now go do it!" The Christian life is not something we just read in a book or talk about. It is not something we say we believe. It is WHAT WE DO, BECAUSE OF WHAT WE BELIEVE.

Christ's response puts the lawyer back on his heels. He did not expect such a simple, forthright answer. He thought he was doing pretty well. He had gotten the first answer right, and was ready for more, with the audience surrounding them, but Christ simply amazed him with such a simple response. He had to recover. Instead of falling at His feet, and worshipping Him, and realizing that he had been full of pride, instead, he lets his pride master him. He wants to get in the last word, shall we say.

"But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?" 12

Another very foolish, wretched question. He can say sweet words, but he does not know that they taste sweet. He can say that thou shalt love thy neighbor, but he doesn't do it. He wants to put himself on a pedestal. He wants to think himself better than some men! Certainly he thinks that there are some others that are his equal — the other lawyers, the people of learning, and those that wash every day and are not smelly. I am sure he though he had some equals, but he put himself above some of mankind. This story that we are now about to discuss certainly resoundingly tells him `Lawyer, everyone is your neighbor'.

This story says something else more incredibly beautiful, and incredibly sweet. It presents the mystical teaching of Christ the Healer, and presents also that the church is to continue that role of healing, and reintegrating the personality with Christ. All of us, to some extent, are fractured. Our personality is not integrated with God's will, and we suffer grievously because of it. Our whole life in the church is therapeutic. We are being remade, and being made whole. It is as if we are missing a leg, and we are given a perfect leg. We don't have eyes to see, and we are given eyes. All of our senses are being given to us in greater and greater measure so that we can truly see and understand God Who is.

Jesus makes a very short answer to the lawyer. He never answers him directly, because why should you answer a proud man with a direct answer? They will just have another come back. Instead, He answers in a way that cannot be gainsaid. And he says it all in one hundred and eighty six words! Listen very carefully now. There is outward teaching here, but the inward teaching will give us great hope, and make us realize how great is our God.

"And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead." 13

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a very dangerous route. It was very hot, and went down into the valley, and Jericho was very uncomfortable compared to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an image in the scriptures, and the writings of the fathers of salvation, and peacefulness. Doesn't it say: "Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King."? 14 Jerusalem is an image of salvation, and Jericho is an image of the passions, strife, cacophony, unwholeness. The road to Jericho is dangerous and it does not say so much in English, but in the original language this "went down" implies a continual motion down, and the Fathers stress this.

Who is this man? He is Adam, and the entire human race. This man is the human nature. God created us perfect. He created us so that we would know Him, and then we fell. We would all proceed down towards Jericho, except that the God-man intervenes and saves us.

Who are the thieves? They are the demons. What do these demons do? They strip a man of his raiment. This raiment is our virtue. They strip a man of virtue, and then they wound him with sins. Then they leave him half dead. Not totally dead, because God is merciful, and there is still breath in us, and there is still hope for our salvation. Also, the fathers tell us that even though our body dies, our soul lives.

"And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side." 15

The outer meaning here is that these Jews knew the law, and they did not want to touch a man that might be dead. That would soil them, and though would be obliged to wash, and would not be able to go into the temple for a period of time. They valued their own position and status and comfort more than another man. They did not even go to look at him, and went to the other side, these wretched, foolish men!

Listen to what the Fathers say is the inner meaning. The law and prophets cannot change a man! The problem is too difficult. We are too broken. We are too wounded. We are bleeding from everywhere, and we are weakened. So when they passed by, this indicates that our sins are too much for us. We cannot do anything with them on our own. And it says that by chance they came upon him. Not by purpose, but by chance, because a man's purpose in live cannot be to save another man. He can certainly assist, as God asks him to, especially those in the church that are appointed to this task, and also in some measure, all of us, but no man can save another. Only God can save.

"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him" 16

His journey was to come TO the man. It wasn't a chance occurrence. This Samaritan (our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is the Samaritan in this parable, brothers and sisters), he journeyed in order to come to each one of us by the side of the road. That is the meaning is here. When He saw us, and as he continues to see us, He has compassion. His purpose on the earth was to come to save us, and to help us in every way.

"And," (He) "went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." 17

Oh, there is much here to know about. Binding up His wounds — what does this mean? Do you have any sins that like the woman with an issue of blood, that we talked about last week 18, sins that hemorrhage, and you cannot stop the bleeding? Don't you need some binding to put on that wound so as to stop the bleeding? That is what Christ does. He binds us, He helps us, not binding us against our will, but He helps us with self control. Whatever sin you have — you cannot name a sin that God will not help you to conquer. You cannot name one.

He poured in oil and wine. This oil and wine refers to the dual natures of Christ. It also refers to the two ways in which Christ acts, and indeed, how all of the teachings and actions of the church, His body are. Some teachings are merciful and are gentle. They are promises, and things that give us hope and comfort us. Some teachings are harder. They tell us when we are foolish, or doing things that are evil, or dangerous.

Some of the soothing that Christ, said are these:

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." 19

"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another." 20

"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." 21

Those are the teachings that are like oil, soothing. We need this oil, just as our children need to be comforted, many, many times. We are like children that need to be comforted, that need to know, over and over that God loves us, and indeed, has a place prepared for us.

He has also given us hard teachings. Some of these teachings seem hard to us because of our hard-heartedness, and they are very hard to a person who doesn't want to change. He said:

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." 22

"Not every one that saith unto me, lord, lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven." 23

He also says something about the last judgment, the last part of which are words that I hope none of us will hear: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my father which is in heaven." 24

All of the scriptures are full of these teachings of oil and wine, mixed together, because our Lord and Savior was, and is God and man.

He put him on his own beast. What does that mean? The beast signifies the incarnation. He took a sick and a dying man, and he raised him up, and he gave him the ability to live! He took on flesh, and made this flesh able to comprehend and apprehend God. Beforehand, it wasn't possible, because we were laying by the road, all bruised and bleeding, but he put us on His beast — he became incarnate for our sake. He is our strength when we are weak. He carries us at all times, at every moment, because of His love for us. And He loves our flesh. "And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee." 25

The departing is His ascension. He did not live on the earth forever, but after a very short period of time, He left the administration of his church to His servants, to the innkeeper, his bishops, His priests, His deacons. He told them to take care of those who need care. And he gave them two pence. A coin is stamped on both sides with the image of the emperor. Two pence are the old and the new testaments, Holy Scripture and holy tradition. These are the ways in which a man finds truth, by the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Church, which wrote the scriptures and has added much more besides, as the Holy Spirit has willed it.

What is this `taking care"? How are these people taken care of? Through all the ways we live in the church, through confession, counsel, teaching, preaching, the services, blessings. Through praying for one another, and especially, even if he be unworthy, through the priest and the bishop praying and interceding for the people before the holy altar, as God has ordained. Also, may God grant that they would be strong enough to be an example to others, these innkeepers.

"And Whatever thou spendest more" — We are going to spend more. God gives us, but we must increase. God makes the increase, and causes the growth, but we supply the labor, 26 and increase our talents. Whatever you spend more (God will remember a cup of water that you give to a thirsty man 27), every prayer that you say for a person, every prostration, every tear — nothing will be forgotten. And when He comes again, all things will be made known, both good and bad, and He will repay us.

Do you understand the sweetness of this parable, and how it applies to us? We are the man by the road. We are that man bleeding, and the Samaritan, our Lord, Jesus Christ, came and bound us up, and helped us to stop sinning. He did not just lay down commandments. He did not just lay down laws, and say "you must do this, and do this and do this, or you will be damned." He came and helped us. And as we become stronger, we will do His commandments, as we react to His love, just as a child responds to the love of his parents, and wants to do better, and wants to please them. That's the way we are. And He sometimes pours in oil, and sometimes wine into us. Sometimes we need to be rebuked, and sometimes we need to be comforted. And He makes us able to live.

This man that went to the inn became stronger, and he recovered, and he became stronger This is the same with us! We should have hope, we should have absolute certainty that God will save us, because that is why He came. That is why He journeyed. That is why went to the dusty road where we were lying in the ditch. He will save us, if we only react to Him, if we only cooperate with the therapeutic care that He gives to us. If you go under the care of a physician and do not do anything the physician says, then you will not get better. All we need to do is listen to our Great Physician. God will save us. God will bind up our wounds continually, and eventually the wounds will go away. The passions will go away. I don't say that this will happen in a short period of time, although, I tell you, if we have great fervor, it would go away in a very short period of time. If we have fervor and great desire, God will help us more quickly. If we choose the hard path, (like Jairus did, if you remember from last week — he did not have as much faith and wanted Christ to come to his house and lay hands on his child), then we will have a longer road. We have that longer road, unfortunately, because of our lack of faith, and our arrogance and our addiction to sins. But regardless of whether it is a longer road or a shorter road for us, God will save us. Amen.

Bibliography:

Old Believer Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

"Drops From the Living Water," Bishop Augustinos

"The One Thing Needful," Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveevo — Pp. 146-148

"Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke," St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, Pp. 287-290

"The Parable of the Good Samaritan," Parish life, Fr Victor Potapov. Also available at http:/www.stohndc.org/parables

 

26th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Harvest of a Rich Man.

We read a very short parable about the harvest of a rich man and like so much of scripture it has deep theology in very few words. It appears simple on the outside. But, truly it has much more than just the external message that we know of that is obvious from it that we should not only care about ourselves and be stingy and care only and think of life as the acquiring of goods.

Our Lord said this parable because he had just been part of or been brought into a dispute between brothers two about an inheritance. So He was trying to show how silly it is, how foolish it is to be concerned about riches.

So He begins His parable by saying "the ground of a certain rich man" — he doesn't even name the man. If you notice sometimes in parables those who are great sinners don't even have a name: such as the rich man and Lazarus, and the rich man who had this plentiful harvest. They don't even mention his name. His name is blotted out of the book of the Living. It's unimportant. Perhaps, when he dies, there would be great fanfare, and people playing bugles, and paid mourners wailing and gnashing their teeth and tearing at their hair and a huge retinue of people to bury him and maybe even those from the towns people, who say, "What a great man he was..." and everything. And yet God doesn't know his name, the angels don't know his name, the saints don't know who he is.

This is not how we want to be referred to, as a certain person, a certain rich man, a certain sinner, a certain non-entity in the Kingdom of God. Indeed we want to be named. So this nameless, foolish man has many many crops and it is a bountiful year. And he makes a great mistake. Instead of thanking God, he thinks before he's even brought his crop in, "What shall I do?"

This is a question that all of us ask all the time: "What shall I do?" The poor man asks, "What shall I do? I'm destitute. I have no funds. I have no food in the cupboard. Winter is coming and my children do not have shoes. What shall I do?" and the rich man, who is not rich toward God, who has all this bounty, says "What shall I do?" The one who has nothing and the one who has everything in a temporal sense, they both ask the same question. So what good is riches? What good is abundance unless we understand from Whom that abundance comes and what is the significance of that abundance and how we can use it for the Kingdom of God?

So he says, "I have no room in my barns so I'm going to tear down perfectly good barns and I'm going to build greater barns." And then he makes an even bigger error and that's an error that we make often so you should take note of it. He says, "My soul, soul that has much goods laid up for many years take thine ease. Eat, drink, and be merry." He speaks to his soul. What does the soul need of food? What does the soul need of raiment? What does the soul need of great barns? The soul is incorporeal. The soul communicates with God. It doesn't need food. He speaks to his soul and mistakes it for his body. This, indeed, is a great error and this is what happens in our life. People define life in terms of the pleasure that they have, or in terms of the comfort that they have, or the security that they have. It is always about taking care of their bodies. Or more than taking care of their bodies, sometimes giving their body pleasure that is illicit and unclean. But, it's always about their bodies.

This rich man makes the mistake that is very typical of those who do not have their eye on God and don't understand what the purpose of their life is all about. His soul and his body to him, he doesn't understand what his soul is. His soul is the body as far as he is concerned. Everything is the here and now, everything is the next dinner, the next dance, the next bit of entertainment. That is for him what his soul is. And we will see later in only a moment what this really means. The implications of not understanding about your soul and your body and the purpose in your life are tremendous and terrible.

So God says unto him, "Thou fool. This very night thy soul shall be required of thee." A more proper way to put it is: "This very night, they shall require thy soul." "They" are the demons. They will take the soul and cast it where it belongs: in the pit of hell. God doesn't refer to the death of a righteous man in this way. The angels take the soul which is light and ascends to God. It is not "required," that is, against the will of a man. It is natural. In this case, the rich man, his soul is required. It is torn away because everything that he had in this life was temporal, was false, and was fleeting. And when he died, he had nothing. No good works, no good thoughts. Nothing. And so his soul clung to his body. His soul became fleshly in the words of Blessed Theophylact. And so his soul was town away for him.

I tell you, there will be no greater pain experienced by any man than when a fleshly soul is torn away from a corrupt body at the time of death. Nothing can compare. No torture, no torment. It is a moment of great tragedy that a man who has so much provided to him would have not understood it for all of his years.

There are other things in this parable that are important to understand. Perhaps, more side issues. One is that when he says, "I'm going to pull down my barns and build greater." He had barns that he could've put his foodstuffs into: the bellies of the poor. If a man has more than another, he is obligated to give to one who needs. The bellies of the poor are storehouses, abundant storehouses, infinite storehouses. And the wonder of these storehouses is that when food is put into them, it does not perish. It endures forever and every single cup of water that is given to one of these store houses, the bellies of the poor, will be remembered according to the words of our Savior, in the last day. So, this food does not perish. Where as normally, we eat food, it goes into the belly, and it goes out, and as the Lord says "into the drop." It becomes waste in a matter of hours. But not food that is given to the poor. Not abundance that God gives to us that we distribute to others.

But you have to understand this is not just a moral teaching saying we should give to others. There is depth here as far as why we give to others. It's all God's anyway. That's another mistake the rich man made when he said, "Thou hast many goods..." Oh, rich man, thou hast no goods! Everything is of God's. And God has given some of it to you. He has given you an abundance in order so that you could give unto others. So we must understand everything is of God's. But much more critical, if we are truly to be benevolent people, is that we must understand "What is the purpose of our life?" The rich man definitely didn't understand. He called his body his soul. He didn't understand at all. In the end of the parable, the Lord said, "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."

The purpose of our life is to become rich towards God. Our Lord wishes us to have everything in abundance. And in the second, there was speaking of, "All of His goods will be given to the good man of the house that watches and waits and will be seen to be so doing when his Lord comes" So there's a perfect tie in with the two gospels. All of the Lord's goods will be given, but they are not silver and gold and food and dancing, and merriment. By the way, Blessed Theophylact, says that when the rich man says "take thine eat, drink, and be merry" this word "merry" is a euphemism. When people are indulged in great excess of drinking and eating, merriment is something that you wouldn't want to see. That would be unclean and immoral. All manner of fornication, and all manner even of murders, and all kinds of infidelities and all that sort of thing. That's the merriment for a person who's glutting himself on pleasure.

The purpose of our life is to know God. God gives us things so that we can know Him. God sometimes gives us abundance so that we can know Him. Everything is of God. Therefore, we are only His stewards. We are His servants. We must have that attitude about ourselves. And then we must understand what is really treasure? God has given us many things of a physical nature and we can enjoy them. We can certainly enjoy the taste of fine and succulent food on the days when it is allowed and it is totally lawful thing to do this. And all of the other things God has given. But, we must understand where our treasure is. Our treasure is in being rich towards God, in having full faith in Him. And then He will bestow His goods to us. We can't even imagine what those goods really are. We can only speak of them in a poor way. Language can't communicate what God wants to give us. He will give it to a man who is open to Him, who is rich toward Him. Who hears of the commandments and says, "I wish to do this."

Even if a man can not do a certain commandment or can not in every way change his life, in his heart, if he is a Christian, he says, "I want to change. I want to direct my life according to that which is true, that which is perfect, that which is holy." Then a man, not matter what state he's in, is rich toward God. This is the purpose of our life: to know God, to become like Him in moral attributes, to become pure and holy. And this rich man, this nameless, wanton sinner, did not understand that. He did not understand anything of what God had given him and what the purpose of his life is.

So here we have before us, brothers and sisters, a bad example. We must learn from bad examples as much as we learn from good examples. This is an example of how not to live, how not to think. We should not live according to the flesh. We should not acquaint the flesh with our life. There are necessities of the flesh and we take care of those. There are pleasures of the flesh and when they are lawful, may it be blessed. But if we ever acquaint any pleasure of the flesh with our life, we have ceased to be a Christian. No longer are we a Christian if we think of the flesh as our life. May God help you. May God enlighten you. There is much depth here. I can't begin to plum the depths of it because I don't have the purity to see it all or the eloquence to express it all. But, there is depth here. There is in this parable a teaching trying to teach you how to live, what kind of attitude to have. That's the depth of it. May God help you and enlighten you to live according to God, to be rich toward God. Amen.

27th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Healing of the Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years on the Sabbath Day.

The primary reading for today we hear about the healing of the woman who had an infirmity of eighteen years, and she was healed on the Sabbath day. As is usual, in the readings of the Gospel, there is an inner and an outer meaning. The outer meaning is pretty clear to see, when Jesus Christ rebukes this synagogue leader. It is very clear how foolish his words were. So we know the outer meaning that there is no time prescribed especially for mercy. All time is for mercy. God implants in us understanding of things, and we have to be able to judge rightly. And we know when we should show mercy. There is no time when man should put some law ahead of showing mercy. There is an inner meaning, too, because this woman was all bent together. She could not straighten up. She could in no wise lift herself up. There is a great meaning to that infirmity that she had, and our Lord's healing her on the Sabbath day.

Our Lord was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and this was a habit of His. This is a very Jewish habit to speak all day in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And we try to emulate that in a poor way, unfortunately like the apostles did it, because of our sins and laziness. Not like the early Christians did it, who had so much zeal. But we serve the All Night Vigil and we serve the Divine Liturgy and we preach at the Liturgy and I preach at the Vigil as well because we need to know as many holy things as we can. We need to continually be feeding ourselves with holiness, because we're so continually, unfortunately, imbibing the bitter dregs of the world. So we must do something to dilute that and to eventually cast it out. And if you do not meditate upon holy things, you won't become holy. It's too bad that we don't spend all day speaking of holy things. It would be good if we did. The purpose of our gathering together on Saturday and Sunday is to worship, to expect God to do something to us by partaking of His mysteries to be sure, to have enlightenment, the medicine of immortality within us. But also, to taste something of the sweetness of the Church's theology. It's God-breathed, you know. The services are inspired by the Holy Spirit and they breathe as the Holy Spirit breathes. And if you listen and if you pray, you can hear it. You can hear God in His services.

Saturday and Sunday are consecrated to our remembrance of God. Unfortunately we do not Him remember every day. Unfortunately, we fall into grievous sin. We get distracted. But if we can struggle to pay attention on Saturday and Sunday, whatever our position (I struggle to pay attention, too) — God will enlighten us. Of course, we will break bread together, most of us, and be able to taste of the heavenly bread. But I tell you, if you don't come here with an expectation that God will teach you and enlighten you and make you straighten up, as one who cannot lift yourself up, and if you do not struggle, then you will come away today poor and wretched and unenlightened. You might commune but you won't have received any benefit from this heavenly food because you won't have struggled. So you must struggle. Struggle by coming to the vigil and having expectation that God will teach you, listening as well as you can. And when you fall away from listening, pull yourself back. I don't know any other way to do it. I don't know any other way to explain it. You just struggle and struggle and struggle. And eventually God will indeed make us capable of those things that we are struggling to do. He will help us.

"And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." 3

The God-man can just say, "Thou art loosed.," and she was loosed from her infirmity of eighteen years, long standing pain and sadness over her infirmity. It was a long time, and the fathers say that this was mentioned so that we could know, this was God's work. This is in God's territory. God can heal a man. No man can heal another man. And this is a very simple miracle. There is not much fanfare to it. There is not much of a lead up to it, such as in the miracle of Jairus' daughter 4, where there is a whole procession that occurs. And that has something to each us. But here, Jesus Christ, matter of factly, as the God-man, as the one who created us, cast out Satan with only a word. "Thou art loosed," by the authority of the God-man. Now man cannot do this. This woman was bent. She was crooked. Solomon says, "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered." 5

"Thou art loosed." Our Lord tells her, `Thou cannot help Thyself, but I, the God-man can. And I have come to help, and I will. Thou art loosed from thy sins, from thy passions.' And why do I say that? Because crookedness is a metaphor for sin and for tempestuousness, for being lost in the vanity of the world. `I am the healer. I came to heal thee. I came to make thee able to see me. You cannot see me when you are bent down. You can only see the ground. But I will straighten you up, and then you will see Me, as I am.'

Why was this woman oppressed? I told you before, again, I say it was her sins that oppressed her. This is a great mystery. We don't always know why a person suffers. Sometimes they suffer because of their sins, sometimes not. But that is God's territory. We cannot delve into these matters. We must only speak of them with fear and trembling, so as not to offend the Divine Majesty. Some people grow old and fat and they are wicked. Some people are young and they die in virtue. Some people struggle and never seem to be able to get around the problems of life. Other people have a relatively easy time of it. God knows for each man what his position in life should be for the best possibility for his salvation, and we don't know., But this woman was bent and crooked, so the crookedness indicates that she was suffering because of her sins. And she suffered manfully. She suffered for eighteen years. And she came to the temple, and she was hoping to be cured.

There is another incident where Christ cures someone. I can be so bold and say that this woman had sins is because of this incident. " And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." 6

What an odd thing that must have been to hear. Here a person comes laid out, unable to move their limbs, and Jesus Christ says, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Some of these people must have thought, "Well, yes, but don't you see what's wrong with the man?" And then others thought, "He blasphemes." But this man was sick because of his sins, and this woman was crippled because of her sins. And God enlightened both of them. He healed them of their sins first. He loosed this woman of her infirmity so that she could look up at the God-man, and then she could commence to live a Christian life.

Our Lord came indeed to straighten out crookedness. The Baptizer says -this is quoted from Isaiah, which is a prophecy about the Baptizer- "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:" 7

The baptizer only announced that this would occur, and the God-man made it so. Our Lord directly promises through the mouth of the God-inspired Isaiah "And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." 8

Only God can make that which is crooked straight. And so what happened when this woman was loosed from her infirmity? You would think that everyone would have been in awe before God and they would have fallen on their faces saying, "Lord have mercy." But what happened?

"And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." 9

What amazing words. What amazing stupidity. This man was filled with envy and jealousy, and that's what clouded his mind. His anger made him crazy to say such insane things. What kind of beast would liken mercy on the Sabbath day to common labor in the field? Isn't the Sabbath a day of rest, though? He's right about that. The ruler of the synagogue is saying a partial truth you know. The Sabbath day is a day of rest according to the Jewish law. And our Sabbath, our day of rest, today, is the same, where we should rest in Christ and meditate on holy things. But is not Christ giving this woman rest? Is He not fulfilling the Sabbath day? Indeed. This woman had eighteen years of no rest, of sleeplessness, and of hunger, and of pain, and of despondency. And our Lord, on the Sabbath, the day of rest, gave this woman rest. And this synagogue leader was too stupid, too full of pride, too full of arrogance to see this.

Notice how he addresses this question that he brings up. He does not say anything to Christ directly. He doesn't have the guts to do it. But he is aiming for the glory of men, for the honor of men. So what does he do? He says this out to the congregation, so as to get partners in crime with him, so as to feel emboldened by other people being full of sin. But the Lord answered him very simply and plainly. And he said a word that does not occur very often in the scriptures, by the way. And when it occurs, you should be terrified, concerning what a hypocrite is.

"The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him." 10 This man, this sinner, this prideful and arrogant person looking for the glory of men, would not address the Lord directly, but our Lord indeed directly talked to him and to all of the Pharisees and the other fellow sinners who wanted the glory of men, and gave up mercy for their pride. Why is this man a hypocrite? He's putting on airs. He cares nothing for mercy, but only for show. "An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered." 11

So it says, the holy Solomon says, in his proverbs. And then, our Lord says, concerning the scribes, the Pharisees, the synagogue leaders, and all those others who are hypocrites, "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." 12

This principle that Christ gives about food and about true defilement is the same principle about whether or not one should heal on the Sabbath day. Of course one should heal on the Sabbath day! One should heal on any day. One should show mercy on any day, in any circumstance. And to even ask the question shows the abysmal ignorance of the interrogator. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!", you people who question in silly and obtuse ways the mercy of God, " for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." 13

To be called a hypocrite is indeed a terrible thing. And hypocrisy is something that is probably present in each one of us. It is a sin. We must confess it. We must root it out. Our whole society is full of hypocrisy. Our whole society runs on hypocrisy. It is a lie. It is trying to look like something we are not. It is not being genuine. It's making false promises. It's not showing mercy when we proclaim ourselves to be Christians. It's not praying for our brother when we see he has a need because we have some other task that troubles us. It's not living the Christian life when we have made that promise in our baptism. Oh yes, hypocrisy is a great sin. And if a man looks inside himself, he should say, "Thou hypocrite." And the moment he says those words he should think about what our Lord says about hypocrites and he should fall on his face and be like the publican who said, "God, be merciful unto me a sinner." 14

Now this woman was called a daughter of Abraham. And why? On account of her faith. "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." 15

This woman was not dead. This woman was alive in faith. She had faith, and therefore she was considered a daughter of Abraham. And Jesus said in another place to a man, who had also been healed of his infirmity, having nothing wrong with him physically but being filled with the sin of lust for wealth, that is Zacchaeus: " This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." 16 So indeed he is a son of Abraham, and this woman is a son of Abraham, and not because of her virtue but because of her belief, and because of her desire to live virtuously.

But He wouldn't say such a thing about the ruler of the synagogue now, would he? He called him a hypocrite. Here is what Jesus has to say about the hypocrites. In another context, it was written that, "They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham." 17 So this is why I tell you that this woman was a daughter of Abraham on account of her faith. You can see that to be called a son of Abraham or a daughter of Abraham means that you believe and act according to your belief. And even though this woman had some sins that had bound her, God released her. And now she was able to live virtuously.

There is a practicality that I think we should inculcate in ourselves, that we can learn from this particular passage of scripture. It's easy to see that one should show mercy on any day. And yet this man, this synagogue leader, this sinner, didn't see that, because he was so concerned about other extraneous details, and concerned about the boastful pride of life, and the honor of men. But if we're guided by the Holy Spirit, we can discern rightly. We can discern truly. We can see what is right and what is false. We can understand. We can know that the body is not for meat. Meats are for the body 18, and if one has a need according to the body, one eats according to one's need. We understand that principle in fasting. It is because the Holy Spirit inspires us, and makes us know. Makes us understand that only if we have humility, only if we expect and hope that God will fill us with His grace. And then of course we have to act upon His grace, and we have to root out this sin of hypocrisy that is being shown.

I tell you a hypocrite will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. And I also tell you that the vast majority of people in this life are hypocrites. It is true. It is very true. That is why there is so little piety in our day — because people give lip service. These people, their heart is far from me. 19 Their lips speak about me but their heart is far from me, the Lord says. And that is what our day is like. Root out from yourselves hypocrisy, brothers and sisters. If there is anything in you that puts on airs, if there is anything in you that forgets to show mercy, if there is anything in you that looks for the honor of men, if there is anything in you that is lazy and does not wish to worship God at the appointed times, then you have something to repent from: your hypocrisy. Because you made promises, as I made as well. It's true, I suppose on a small level, moment by moment we fall into moments of hypocrisy. That is why God will loose us — He is there to loose us -from our infirmity. If we struggle against such things, God will indeed loose us. But if we do not, then we will fall into the depths of hell, maybe not even knowing it. Maybe we'll be very surprised on Judgment Day when our Lord says, "I don't know you" 20. `I don't know you because you are a hypocrite. And I have no concourse with hypocrites. I told you everything you needed to know. I gave you everything you needed. And I had children that were suffering, lack of bread and jail and derision for my sake and they still prayed with fervor. And you lived without care and without thought. You lived as a hypocrite. You are no better than the ruler of the synagogue, and you can go join him.'

Let us not be hypocrites. Let us ask God to enlighten us. And in any sin that we have, whether it be hypocrisy or any other sin, let us fall down before Christ. Let us ask Him to forgive us. And then we have to seal our part of the bargain. We have to make an effort to live according to His commandments. May God help us in all things. Amen.

Bibliography:

Old Believer Sermon for the 27 th Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

"Drops From the Living Water," Bishop Augustinos

"Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke," St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On November 25, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, and Apodosis of the Entry of the All Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

Apodosis means "leave-taking," and is the day in which the major aspects of a feast are revisited in the church's hymnology, and is the third "part" of the proper way in which a Great Feast is celebrated, these being:

* Preparation

* Hymns are sung sometimes weeks in advance of the feast, especially the Katavasia at the canon.

* In the case of especially solemn and important feasts, fasting in enjoined (such as before the Lord's Nativity, Pascha, the Dormition of the Theotokos, and the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul).

* There are often pre-festal services in the immediate day or days before the feast. An example of this would be the true Vespral liturgy (this is NEVER substituted for Vigil and liturgy on the day of the feast itself) that the Typicon directs to be served the day before Theophany and Nativity. The entire week before Pascha, "Holy Week" is considered a "pre-festal" period! If you miss even one of those services without due cause, you are cheating yourself out of a full understanding of the feast, and a full measure of the outpouring of God's grace upon you.

* The Day of the Feast

* The Feast itself is always served with Vigil with Divine Liturgy the following day. If vigil is not served, great vespers with a FULL matins (otherwise the essence of the feast is lost) and Divine liturgy is served the next day.

* The Post-festal period and Apodosis

* In the days following the feast, sometimes up to a week, or in the case of Pascha, even until The Ascension, forty days later, the feast is continually remembered with hymns.

* On the last day of the feast, it is recalled again with many of the hymns that were sung on the feast day itself.

The Orthodox way of celebrating a feast, unfortunately forgotten or ignored in our day, is very "Jewish." For example, Pentecost was a three day feast for the Jews.

This day was also the commemoration of Hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome The Epistle reading appointed is Ephesians 6:10-17, and the Gospel is 13:10-17.

There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Cf. Luke 2:18-19 "And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her hea"

3 Luke 13:11-13

4 Cf. Mark 5:22-42 and Luke 8:41-56, where the raising of Jairus' daughter, and the healing of the woman with an issue of blood is recounted in powerful detail.

5 Ecclesiastes 1:14-15

6 Matthew 9:2

7 Isaiah 39:3-4

8 Isaiah 42:16

9 Luke 13:14

10 Luke 13:14-17

11 Proverbs 11:9

12 Matthew:15:7-11

13 Matthew 23:13

14 Cf. Luke 18:13-14, "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

15 Matthew 22:32

16 Luke 19:9-10

17 John 8:39

18 Cf. ! Cor 6:13

19 Cf. Matthew 15:8, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." and Mark 7:6, "Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." See also Isaiah 29:13, which the Lord quotes.

20 Cf. Luke 13:25, "When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are."

 

28th Sunday after Pentecost.

What Shall I do to inherit Eternal Life?

The scripture begins: "And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 2

This is a good question, as it appears, but actually in the case of this man, it was not a good question, because our Lord knew his actual desire was to test the Lord. St. Cyril of Jerusalem talks about this in his homilies. He was really trying to trip Jesus up, and get him to say something contrary to the law.

A better question would not really be a question at all, but a prayer, a yearning, a desire. Our prayers are full of this quality. All the prayers of the Saints have this quality to them — beseeching the Lord to enlighten us, and fill us. It is not so much `What do I have to do to be saved', as if there is a checklist of things, but instead, an ardent desire to please the Lord in all things. That's what our life should be. So our entire existence, every breath we take, should be a PLEA to our Lord and Savior, that He would enlighten us, to be able to do good works for His glory and to be pleasing to Him. In doing good things, we are becoming like Him, which is our goal, which is the process of our life.

A question like this is really a very shallow question. The answer, though, is very simple, but profound. We know the answer. We follow Christ. Where Christ is, there is all blessedness, and we learn to be like Him. We learn how He thinks, and we learn to think like Him (and by the way, the church is His body, and the way the church thinks is the way He thinks).

Another aspect of Christ that this question does not bring into account at all is that Jesus Christ is a great healer! He is the Great Physician. To be near Him is to be near warmth, actually to be near fire, and to be enlightened, and to be made ABLE to do good works. It's not just a matter of questioning what should I do. It's,... O Lord, help to DO that which I should do.

Jesus know the character of this man, and He knows that He's rich, and He is first going to test him a little bit, to the end that He shows how silly his question was.

"And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God." 3

This is merely a rebuke of the ruler. He is essence is saying, `Do you KNOW Whom you are talking to? You are talking to the uncreated One. You are talking to the God-man, Jesus Christ. Moses had to hide in the cleft of a rock for Me to pass by, because He could not endure my sight. 4, and you talk to me as if I am a common man'. Then He answers the ruler some more, in a way that must have seemed to the man to have been insulting:

"Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother." 5 These are "givens" aren't they? He gives him the law by the way, so that this man can have nothing to say against him. From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He had enemies, mortal enemies, and they were trying to kill Him for the entire three years, but Christ picked the time and the place in which He was to be executed. It was His choice when He went to His cross, and this was not His time yet. So, He avoids the possibility of censure by saying to follow the commandments, to follow the law. No good Jew would be able to disagree with Him, but He is also making another point here, and later on He tells the man what he really should do.

Following the law is merely the bedrock upon which the virtues begin. They are just in a fledgling state, if we can follow these things, The really high virtues of the soul are much more profound than not committing adultery. They are not having any thing unclean at all in our hearts! They are much more profound than not stealing. They are to have love for another man to such an extent that we would be willing to die for him, or we would be willing to prostrate and prayer with tears for him, as so many of the holy fathers did. The Christian life is well above these commandments. These commandments are minimums. They are just the beginning, and the law cannot save — becoming like Christ, though His grace — that's what saves.

Now if we take the law and these commandments, and we extend them to our life in the church, we can say, `thou knowest what thou shouldest do': accept the church's teaching, accept the church's authority in your life (which is a big stumbling block for so many people). Come to the services! This seems to be a given. Come to all the services. I will say this until I have no more breath — in today's climate, with it's incredible temptations, if you are not coming to all the services offered, you are endangering your soul. And I believe, and the church teaches that it is a sin, if you are able to come to church, and you don't want to give due service to God. It's a sin, and you are cheating yourself. You struggle with your passions; that's another given. You keep the fasts. This is just the beginning of virtue now, just the foundation. We say our prayers in the morning and the evening. I have counseled everybody, I think that, to pray together, if you are husband and wife, to pray together at night. I t is absolutely critical to do so. Read holy things together as a family with your children or with each other, and say prayers together at night to edify one-another. Confess frequently, commune frequently, prepare yourself for the body and blood with fear and trembling. Now, that's all the beginning.

The rich ruler was too overconfident in his own virtue, and said:

"All these have I kept from my youth up." 6

In his case, he didn't know Who he was talking to., He didn't know that the God-man could see right through him. He didn't keep all these commandments from his youth up! Which one of us, would say, even among the small list mentioned here (and remember, there are many more), that we have never participated in even one of them? No man lives and sins not. 7

So this man is full of pride and vanity, and cannot see himself. He just sees externally. I never committed adultery, I have not stolen, I have not killed anybody. I'm a pretty good person. I'm a good Jew. He is not even close, because he has missed the essence of the law. I tell you, it was there, albeit in shadows and darkness, it was there even before Christ. Many of the Saints in Old Testament times became exalted in virtue. Joseph the All-Comely, David, the prophet and King, Elias. It was still possible for a man, even then, before the full light of Christ had shone, to understand the depth of the law, that is was much more than just a few commandments. But now more so we have the writings of the fathers, the beautiful services, we have the whole witness of this incredible choir of Saints for the past two thousand years — even more so for us, we should know that just keeping a few commandments is not the Christian life.

"Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. " 8

As is usual in the Gospel, there is more than one meaning here. Externally, Christ knows that the man is rich, and is speaking to his particular vice, his greed. The internal meaning here, that we must grasp, is that the real Christian's life is EVERYTHING. God said `Give me your heart' 9. He want all of us. Christianity is not some list of rules that we should follow, that we should check off, that limits our responsibility, as if we only have to do so much. Even if the rules are lofty, we may erringly think we only have to do so much., That is why I have never told anyone that we should tithe, that you must give ten percent. I don't think ten percent is enough! According to the early church it isn't. There is no percentage of your funds that you should necessarily allocate to the church — it's all God's money.

Christianity is higher than mere laws. It is life. Christianity is the breathing of the Holy Spirit, and Christ is showing to this man the TOTALITY of the Christian commitment. "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." 10 Completely live in and imbibe the sweetness of Christ every moment of your life. And if you are doing that, you wouldn't be asking a question like `what should I do to be saved'. You would be too busy struggling against your passions, saying Lord have mercy on me! feeling compassion for your brethren, weeping over the predicaments of someone else, and asking God to help that person, even if, perchance, it would mean your own damnation. You would be too busy with those things. The church has already told us what we need to do to be saved. We need to be everything in Christ. We need to become perfect.

"And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." 11

A camel, in this context, is a thick cable, as used on a ship, and the eye of a needle is a part of something on the ship that the camel must be threaded through. This is very difficult to do, but it is not impossible for the rich to be saved. Christ isn't saying this. What about St. Philaret the merciful (we just read about him yesterday). He was very rich, and yet, his face shone like the sun when he reposed. The prophet David was rich, the Patriarch Abraham was rich, incalculably rich, the Tsar Martyr Nicholas... many saints have been very rich. It's not money that damns a man. Here, our Lord is not only exposing the weakness of the ruler, but also comparing rich to being distracted. Being rich in money, but poor in virtue and the knowledge of the Holy is what He is railing against here. We must be rich toward God. Remember the parable of the harvest of the rich man? 12 He was not rich towards God, and his soul was taken from him, and he was forgotten and buried.

"And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." 13

It's difficult to be saved, and we ask this question sometimes. I've asked it, and I daresay, everyone in this room has asked this question — "How can I be saved?" Sometimes we ask because of humility, although also with lack of faith, and one should never ask this question without warm faith in the mercy of God. We ask the question of ourselves, how can I stop doing these things that I am having so much trouble with. God help me! I can't stop! God will help you though. You just need to increase your faith, and God will bring you through the storm.

Other times, we ask this question, not because of a religious reason, but because we want to keep doing those things we want to do. And we ask the question, wanting to hold onto our sins. Well, the answer is easy. Stop doing what you are doing. Stop sinning. Give up these sins. The rich ruler did not want to give up his sins, so he went away sorrowful, very sorrowful. He encountered the God-man, and he missed Him, he lost Him.

God help us to be truly rich in Christ, and to know the answer to the question in our hearts — not like something we can write on a piece of paper, as in an exam, but to know the answer to the question — what should I do to inherit eternal life. It's easy, very easy. Take the yoke of the sweet Savior upon yourself, and live for Him,. And in him, and He will help you.

Amen.

Bibliography:

"Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke," St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On December 2nd, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, and commemoration of the conception of the Prophet Habbakuk.

There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Luke 18:18

3 Luke 18:19

4 Cf. Ex. 33:22-33, "And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.." These word were spoken to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai.

5 Luke 18:19-20

6 Luke 18:21

7 Cf. Eccl. 7:20

8 Luke 18:22

9 Cf. Proverbs 23:26

10 Deuteronomy 6:5

11 Luke :18:23-26

12 Cf. Luke 12:16-20 This passage is read on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost.

13 Luke 18:27-28

 

28th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers.

The reading today is about the Healing of the Ten Lepers. In this miracle, like most of the miracles in the Gospel, is presented to us an inner meaning and outer meaning. The inner meaning is about what true faith really is, and also about the unfaithfulness and unthankfulness of the Jews. The outer meaning seems to be clear, that we should in all things give thanks to God, particularly when we are given great gifts, and only one man gave thanks to God for this great boon that he was given, this healing from his leprosy.

"And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." 2

Leprosy was an affliction that represented uncleanness. A leper was disenfranchised from his community. He could not enter into the temple, and he could not even come near a Jew, much less touch one. Someone who came close to him or touched him would be considered unclean, until he fulfilled various ceremonies prescribed in the law. A leper was truly an exile among his own people.

These lepers were "afar off." They were afar off because they had to stay away from the Jews, because of their uncleanness. They also were afar off because we cannot approach God, being full of sins. Leprosy is a metaphor for our sins. A man who has sins is certainly afar off from God. When they lifted up their voices to ask God to have mercy, this reminds us of the two blind men. In another place, it says: "two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us." 3 They were insistent, just as these lepers must have been insistent. Being afar off, they must have had to shout loudly and often, since with the bustle and press of the crowd, it would have been hard to make their voices known. They must have insistently had to cry out for mercy to God, far away from Him, in their sins.

At least they knew they were fall away. So many of us don't understand how far away we truly are, and how much we need to call out to God, and ask forgiveness for our sins, like the publican 4, or like the blind men 5, or like these lepers.

"And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed." 6

He is following Jewish law to the letter here. He did not always do it this way. "And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." 7 There was a whole ritual and ceremony that was necessary when a leper was cleansed. It is quite beautiful, and symbolic of Christ's economy, and cleansing of us. I cannot really go into it, because I don't know it very well, but St. Cyril of Jerusalem talks about it extensively.

Our Lord was following Jewish law so that He would not be judged before His time, but we can see from this other example that our Lord will touch the unclean and make it clean. He also shows from what we are reading today, that obedience can make a man clean. He just said to the lepers, before they were cleansed, `Go to the priests'. Now, why in the world would a man go to a priest, when he is still full of leprosy. This is akin to the man, who was born blind, even without eyes, to go to the pool of Siloam, and wash, still being blind. Because of obedience, these people were cleansed. Even the ones who were not thankful to the Lord were cleansed, because, after all, they were obedient too, but they lost their reward, as we will see in a minute.

"And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan." 8

This man uses his head, or should I say, he uses his heart. He was ordered to go to the priest, and then he was cleansed on the way. He knew that the Great High Priest had healed him, so he obeyed the command. He went to Great High Priest and worshipped Him. This man understood. He had eyes to see, and ears to hear. He saw what a great miracle had been worked, and he knew that only God would be able to do such a thing. This man was a thoughtful man. He considered things. These other nine, even upon seeing the example of one of their kindred, were not thoughtful. It did not occur to they why they were cleansed, and Who they had just encountered. They had just seen the God-man, and been healed by His mercy, and yet they did not really understand.

The law is about love and thankfulness. The law is about becoming like God. The Jewish law is very intricate, and you would be amazed how many things in the Jewish law we still follow to this day, but it's essence is the Christian law. that essence is to become like God, to be enlightened, and, being enlightened by Him, to become like Him. Not in His essence, but in His actions. to be full of love for every man, to be fire. This leper understood that he had just encountered fire, and he went back to it. These nine men, who had also been healed, did not understand, because they were not thinking with their hearts. They were not being enlightened.

The other Gospel says something that relates very much to what we are considering here. It says:

"Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." 9

Be careful how you hear. Everyone is hearing the same thing, but we are hearing it differently, because we are hearing it through the prism of our consciousness, and our passions, and our sins, and our agendas. To the pure, all things are pure. 10 The pure in heart will see God 11. The impure will see Him, and yet not see Him, and hear Him, and yet not understand him. They may be healed by Him, and yet they will not really be completely healed by Him. The real healing of the leper we are about to see. His healing from leprosy was only the beginning, just like the man who was born blind. 12 When he went to the pool of Siloam and came back, having been given eyes to see, he was enlightened to see the God-man, and to know Him, and REALLY healed at that point. 13 We can see this over and over again. Christ heals the man inside and out. We have seen only a partial healing so far today. The leper still has a bit more medication to be given, and his healing will be completed.

"And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger." 14

A Samaritan was a heretic, plain and simple. They worshipped false gods, and also the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, as the falsely understood Him, and rejected all of the sacred scripture, save the Pentateuch, the first five books. They were shunned by the Jews, as they should have been, because they were an unclean people, and yet, even among those people, there were ones with great souls, that God was able to touch, just like St. Photini, who was a Samaritan, the woman at the well. 15 The nine Jews who did not return represent, in microcosm, the Jewish nation. Someone in that audience certainly understood what He was really referring to. This healing, and many other actions of our Savior was a harbinger of things to come, bringing the nations into communion with God. As for those who were first given the promise, so many of those would reject it, just like these 9 lepers who rejected God by not giving Him thanks.

"And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole." 16

We have heard this so many times in the scriptures, "thy faith hath made thee whole." Now, what was his faith? He was told to go to the priests. We don't know if he had a sure hope of being healed at that time. He might have been confused. We don't know if his faith was in that action or not, but when he was healed, he came to the God-man and worshipped him There was his faith! Faith is how we live. Faith is how we act. Faith is when God enlightens us, and He fills us, and there is so much within us that we cannot but act in ways that are pleasing to Him. A spring overflowing from our hearts! — that's what faith is. Faith is not believing something only. It is being so filled with God, that we act like God, in mercy in love, in compassion, and that we recognize God, and we worship Him as Who He is. That is faith, and this leper, this former leper, had faith, because He saw the God-man, and he was touched by Him, and he reacted to Him!

What can we learn from this short, little story, just a few lines? We can certainly see that one should give thanks to God, but more fundamentally, the inner meaning is that this leper had eyes to see, and ears to hear, and saw the God-man, and ACTED upon what he learned and what he knew Then, the God-man, truly healed him, and made him filled with knowledge, so that he would grow to fruition. It is the same principle for us. The church gives us so many wonderful gifts, so many incalculable riches, and many times, we do not value them very much at all. We don't understand what a great thing we have been given. On an intellectual level, perhaps we understand, but we don't act with fervent faith because of them. The gifts we have been given are so tremendous that they should spur us on, and make us live in Christ. Brothers and sisters, living in Christ is not only knowing those things that God has revealed to us in the books and the traditions of our church. Those are all God inspired, and God breathed, but we must make these things to be the definition of who we are, not just what we know. We should have such a mastery of God's mercy in our life so that we would react in ways that are good and holy naturally. It was natural for this leper.

For us, just as for this leper, this comes though labor, through effort. The leper was sick for a long time, he had to endure much for a long time. So do we, unfortunately, mostly because of our sins. So, let us endure, let us proceed, and let us try to capture God's mercy in our hearts, and let it warm us and enlighten us.

Bibliography:

Old Believer Sermon for the 29 th Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

"Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke," St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria

1 This homily was transcribed from one given On December 19 th 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, and commemoration of the conception of the Most Holy Theotokos.

There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Luke 17:14

3 Matthew 9:27

4 Luke 18:10-14, read on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, one of the preparatory sundays before Great Lent

5 Matthew 9:27-30, and especially, Matthew 20:30-34

6 Luke 17:15

7 Matthew 8:2-4

8 Luke 17:16

9 Luke 8:18 (part of the reading for the Conception of the Holy Theotokos by St. Anna)

10 Titus 1:15

11 Matthew 5:8, sung at liturgy as part of the 3 rd Antiphon (the beatitudes)

12 Cf. John 9:1-38, the Healing of the man born blind from his birth, read on the Sunday of the Blind Man, the 5 th Sunday after Pascha

13 See especially John 9:35-38

14 Luke 17:17-18

15 Cf. John 4:5-42, the story of the Samaritan woman, who became a great Saint, and equal to the Apostles, St. Photini. The Sunday of the Samaritan woman is the 4 th Sunday after Pascha.

16 Luke 17:19

 

 

35th Sunday after Pentecost.

The healing of the Blind man.

How do we know he had faith besides that the Lord said so? We could see his faith very well by four things. First of all, when he heard that someone was coming, he heard the multitude, he said, "Who's here?" and when they said, "Jesus," the man showed his faith. He said, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." That shows that the man knew Him to be the Messiah, because it had been prophesied that the Messiah would be from the loins of David. He is crying out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me," and the multitude is saying, "Be quiet," trying to shut him up.

But he keeps crying: another sign of the man's faith. And then, when the Lord is made aware of the commotion and has the man come before Him, and stand before Him, and says, "What do you want Me to do?" he showed his faith by asking simply and forthrightly for what he needed, what he desired. And the Lord told him, "Thy faith hath saved thee." And he received his sight. And then, yet another sign of his faith, what did he do after his healing? He went and followed Him and glorified God.

Now. Do we have this sort of faith, brothers and sisters? This man was blind in his eyes, but certainly not in his soul. But we, unfortunately, have it the opposite way. We see with our eyes, but we don't see very well with our souls. We don't recognize the God-man as Messiah and as King and Lord in everything we do, everything we are, both in our weaknesses and in our strengths. We are too forgetful.

The multitude told him to be quiet. Who was the multitude? Well, in this case, it was probably some well-meaning people, probably the apostles among them. But it also means, the rabble, the crowd, the demons, the world. The world says what we do is crazy. The rabble, the crowd tells us we are not "open-minded" enough. They say we are too strict with this and that and the other thing, or even fanatical, schismatic and a hundred other pejoratives. In all these things the world totally and completely fights our faith, telling us to be "quiet."

Do we listen to the world? It can be something as simple as, we are afraid to make the sign of the cross when we have a meal among our business associates. Or we may justify false and foolish priorities. Somebody wrote to me and said, "I am going to be going to my friend's wedding on Saturday and, and don't get on me because I know it's going to be on Pascha. There will be many, many Paschas, but my friend is going to get married only one time." He was listening to the multitude, listening to the crowd, not crying out again and again, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."

And do we ask for the things we need? As I get older, I get more and more of a lesson in asking for the things that we need. Ask for them! Many of you — most of you — if you have confessed something that you have difficulty with, I tell you, "pray about this sin." Do you get angry? Do you pray and ask God to help you with your anger? Then how do you expect to get better? Do you have unclean thoughts? Do you ask God to purify you? Do you stand before a large icon of the Mother of God, as I have suggested and our Metropolitan has suggested, and beg her to intercede for you, she who is most pure, so that you can become pure? Is there a family difficulty? Is there some approaching calamity? Do you beg God for help, or do you just say a portion of your Trisagion prayers in the morning, and then be off to the rest of your daily activities?

Ask God for what you need, brothers and sisters. But you must ask with faith, and part of asking with faith is also, how you react after God gives you what you had asked for. Look at the example of the blind man to teach you this. The Lord, of course, in His omniscience knew that this man would glorify Him. He knew all aspects of his faith: from his belief that He was the Son of God, to his steadfastness in his confession and his persistence in supplication, to his thanksgiving afterward. How do we react? We've been given the pearl of great price. We forget so often to give thanks to God, so often.

I have something to tell you that's extremely personal that I was going to save for after the Liturgy, but is apropos now. I am full of thanksgiving to God because Christina had surgery this week, on Wednesday. It wasn't really very complicated surgery. It's very easy now, very "routine" to cut someone open and poke things in them, and screw a lead into their heart. It's all routine now, very easy, compared to other types of surgery. And yet it was still done on my daughter, and I was worried and concerned, and for Christina, from the time she has had the manifestation from her heart ailment, it has been four and a half years. (2) And I tell you something honestly; I've learned something about thanking God, because these have been four and a half sweet years, very sweet years. And we almost didn't have them, we came within a minute of not having them. Four and a half sweet years. And may God grant that there will be forty or fifty or sixty more! But even if there are not forty more, these four and a half I truly give thanks to God for.

I wish to tell you that I love my children dearly, but I learned to appreciate them when I saw how easily and quickly one of their lives could be snuffed out. And as Christina continues to live her life and make me (I admit it) very proud and very happy, I think back many, many times to that time four and a half years ago on a hot July day when she almost died, and how none of these experiences I've had with her, none of the fatherly pride that I experience, none of it would have happened. I would have been much poorer because of it, and my family would have been much poorer because of it. So I have learned to thank God because of something like this, that Christina was almost taken, but she is with us. Thank God for this medical technology that saved her. Sometimes God saves through just pure miracles no one can understand, and then other times He guides the hands of surgeons to perform other kinds of miracles.

Is there anything in your life that you should thank God for? It's very easy to forget how good God is. It's very easy to get wrapped up in our lives. It gets so complicated, we get so distracted, but what is really important? God's mercy flooding in us, and us appropriating it, and us praying, living with those we love, working out our salvation. Happiness is really a very easy thing to attain if we only have faith in God. But you just remember to thank God for the things He gives you, for those you love, for the mercy that He has shown you in leading you to the church, and helping you. You must remember to pray, so that God would say that you have faith. And you must also remember, based upon the knowledge of how merciful God is, seeing how He has worked in your life, to have faith that He will help in all things.

Ask Him for things that are important to you. Not trivialities! We've talking about things that touch your heart, that burn within you. Ask Him for those things, like this man. He needed sight, so he asked for it. What do you need? What do you desire? In your heart of hearts what is it that you really desire? I should hope that first and foremost it would be the knowledge of God, and with it purity and holiness. I should hope that you would beg God for these things; certainly our written prayers do. But you know our prayers are sometimes things that we read mechanically. If we read them with faith and with care, they would express every desire and every need we have. That's why we should pray the morning and evening prayers. Absolutely. But if you have trouble sometimes saying these things mechanically, ask God for what you need.

I'm fortunate that in my work I am near a railroad track, and it's very seldom used, although it's used often enough that I get to see the train go by and crush pennies and stuff. I walk on these railroad tracks and I pray at lunch, most lunch times. It gives me an opportunity to just pray. I just pour out my heart about things that matter to me as a father, as a pastor, as a friend, for people that I know that are suffering, people that I love dearly, people for whom my heart hurts. I try to pray. I don't pray as well as I should or as often as I should. Sometimes I allow the tedium of the day, the difficulties, to get to the point where I didn't take any lunch and all I had was a few M&Ms from the dispenser somebody has, and that's it. Then all of a sudden it's 4:00, 5:00, it's time to go home. I missed that opportunity to show faith by begging God for help.

Don't miss too many opportunities like this, brothers and sisters. We don't know how many more we'll have. Remember to thank God for the sweet things He has given you. And remember to beg Him for the things that you need, like this man, who is certainly a model for us. May God help us to live with faith, to thank God in all things, and to beg Him for help in things, no matter what the world says, or people say, or friends or family. Live with faith, brothers and sisters. Live as the blind man did. Ask Him or what you need, and then thank God for all the things He has given you. May we have vision and sight to see truly how sweet God is. Amen.

1 Luke 18:35-43 is read on the 35th Sunday after Pentecost. This sermon is transcribed from one given at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas, Sunday, Jan 17/30 2000

2 Christina has "long QT syndrome." It is a usually undiagnosed condition, until it's first manifestation. It renders the heart much more likely to go into a fatal ventricular arrhythmia, that leads to ventricular fibrillation and death very quickly. It is treatable by beta-blocker drugs, but in some case, these drugs are not effective or lose the affectivity over time. In this case, a pacemaker/defibrillator is implanted in the patient (usually in the left pectoral muscle, and an electrical lead is screws in to the heart, in order to detect the onset of the arrhythmia, and prevent it, or in the case of an arrhythmia occurring that leads to fibrillation, to defibrillate the heart and cause it to beat normally again.

5. Fixed Feasts.

 

Annunciation.

Sermon by St Proklos, Patriarch of Constantinople

Our present gathering in honor of the Most Holy Virgin inspires me, brethren, to say of Her a word of praise, of benefit also for those come unto this churchly solemnity.

It comprises a praise of women, a glorying of their gender, which glory is brought it by Her, She Who is at one same time both Mother, and Virgin. O desired and wondrous gathering! Celebrate, O nature, that wherein honor be rendered to Woman; rejoice, O human race, that wherein the Virgin be glorified. "For when sin did abound, grace did superabound" (Rom 5:20). The Holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary hath gathered us here, She the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of Second Adam — the locus, wherein was accomplished the co-uniting of natures, wherein was affirmed the Counsel of salvific reconciliation.

Whoever is it that ever saw, whoever heard, that within a womb the Limitless God would make habitation, Whom the Heavens cannot circumscribe, Whom the womb of a Virgin limiteth not!?

He born of woman is not only God and He is not only Man: This One born made woman, being the ancient gateway of sin, into the gateway of salvation: where evil poured forth its poison, bringing on disobedience, there the Word made for Himself a living temple, bringing in thither obedience; from whence the arch-sinner Cain sprang forth, there without seed was born Christ the Redeemer of the human race.

The Lover-of-Mankind did not disdain to be born of woman, since this bestowed His life. He was not subject to impurity, being settled within the womb, which He Himself arrayed free from all harm. If perchance this Mother did not remain a Virgin, then that born of Her might be a mere man, and the birth would be no wise miraculous; but since she after birth remained a Virgin, then how is He Who is born indeed — not God? It is an inexplicable mystery, since in an inexplicable manner was born He Who without hindrance went through doors when they were locked. When confessing in Him the co-uniting of two natures, Thomas cried out: "My Lord, and my God!" (Jn 20:28).

The Apostle Paul says, that Christ is "to the Jews indeed scandal, and to the Gentiles yet folly" (1 Cor 1:23) : they did not perceive the power of the mystery, since it was incomprehensible to the mind: "for had they understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory" (1 Cor 2:8). If the Word had not settled within the womb, then the flesh would not have ascended with Him onto the Divine Throne; if for God it were disdainful to enter into the womb, which He created, then the Angels too would have disdained service to mankind.

That One, Who by His nature was not subject to sufferings, through His love for us subjected Himself to many a suffering. We believe, that Christ not through some gradual ascent towards the Divine nature was made God, but being God, through His mercy He was made Man. We do not say: "a man made God"; but we confess, that God was incarnated and made Man.

His Servant was chosen for Himself as Mother by That One Who, in His essence did not have mother, and Who, through Divine foresight having appeared upon the earth in the image of man, does not have here father. How one and the same is He both without father, and without mother, in accord with the words of the Apostle? (Heb 7:3). If He — be only a man, then He cannot be without mother — but actually He had a Mother. If He — be God only, then He cannot be without Father — but in fact He has the Father. And yet as God the Creator He has not mother, and as Man He has not father.

We can be persuaded in this by the very name of the Archangel, making annunciation to Mary: his name — is Gabriel. What does this name mean? — it means: "God and man." Since That One about Whom he announced is God and Man, then his very name points beforehand to this miracle, so that with faith be accepted the deed of the Divine dispensation.

To save people would be impossible for a mere man, since every man has need in the Savior: "for all, — says Saint Paul, — have sinned, and come short the Glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Since sin subjects the sinner to the power of the devil, and the devil subjects him to death, then our condition did become extremely hapless: there was no sort of way to be delivered from death.

There were sent physicians, i.e. the prophets, but they could only the more clearly point out the malady. What did they do? When they saw, that the illness was beyond human skill, they summoned from Heaven the Physician; one of them said "Lord, bend the heavens, and come down" (Ps 143144:5) ; others cried out: "Heal me, O Lord, and I shalt be healed" (Jer 17:14) ; "restore Thine power, and come yet to save us" (Ps 7980:3). And yet others: "For if God truly be settled with man upon the earth" (31 Kg 8:27) ; "speedily send before Thine tender mercy, O Lord, for we are brought very low" (Ps 7879:8).

Others said: "O woe to me, my soul! For the pious art perished from the earth, and of the upright amongst men there is none" (Mich 7:2). "O God, in help attend to me, O Lord, shield me with Thine help" (Ps 6970:1). "If there be delay, endure it, for He that cometh shalt come, and not tarry" (Hab 2:3). "Perishing like a lost sheep: seek out Thine servant, who doth hope on Thee" (Ps 118119:176). "For God wilt come, our God, and wilt not keep silence" (Ps. 4950:3).

That One, Who by nature is Lord, did not disdain human nature, enslaved by the sinister power of the devil, the merciful God would not accede for it to be forever under the power of the devil, the Ever-Existing One came and gave in ransom His Blood; for the redemption of the race of man from death He gave up His Body, which He had accepted of the Virgin, He delivered the world from the curse of the law, annihilating death by His death. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law" — exclaims Saint Paul (Gal 3:13).

Thus know, that our Redeemer is not simply a mere man, since all the human race was enslaved to sin. But He likewise is not God only, non-partaking of human nature. He had body, since if He had not clothed Himself in me, He then likewise should not have saved me. But, having settled within the womb of the Virgin, He clothed Himself in my fate, and within this womb He perfected a miraculous change: He bestowed the Spirit and received a body, That One only indeed (dwelling) with the Virgin and (born) of the Virgin. And so, Who is He, made manifest to us? The Prophet David doth point it out for thee in these words: "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" (Ps 117118:26).

But tell us even more clearly, O prophet, Who is He? The Lord is the God of Hosts, says the prophet: "God is the Lord, and hath revealed Himself unto us" (Ps 117118:27). "The Word was made flesh" (Jn 1:14) : there were co-united the two natures, and the union remained without mingling.

He came to save, but had also to suffer. What has the one in common with the other? A mere man cannot save; and God in only His nature cannot suffer. By what means was done the one and the other? Wherein that He, Emmanuel, being God, was made also Man; both this, that what He was, He saved by — and this, that what He was made, He suffered as. Wherefore, when the Church beheld that the Jewish throng had crowned Him with thorns, bewailing the violence of the throng, it said: "Daughters of Zion, go forth and behold the crown, of which is crowned He of His mother" (Sng 3:11).

He wore the crown of thorns and destroyed the judgment to suffering from the thorns. He Only is That One both in the bosom of the Father and in the womb of the Virgin; He Only is That One — in the arms of His Mother and in the wings of the winds (Ps. 103104:3) ; He, to Whom the Angels bowed down in worship, at that same time reclined at table with publicans.

Upon Him the Seraphim dared not to gaze, and at the same time Pilate pronounced sentence upon Him. He is That One and Same, Whom the servant did smite and before whom did tremble all creation.

He was nailed to the Cross and ascended to the Throne of Glory — He was placed in the tomb and He stretched out the heavens like a skin (Ps. 103104:2) — He was numbered amidst the dead and He emptied hell; here upon the earth, they cursed at Him as a transgressor — there in Heaven, they exclaimed Him glory as the All-Holy.

What an incomprehensible mystery! I see the miracles, and I confess, that He is God; I see the sufferings, and I cannot deny, that He is Man. Emmanuel opened up the doors of nature, as man, and preserved unharmed the seal of virginity, as God: He emerged from the womb thus as He entered through the announcing; the same wondrously was He both born and conceived: without passion He entered, and without impairment He emerged, as concerning this doth say the Prophet Ezekiel: "He returned me back the way of the gates of the outer sanctuaries, looking upon the east: and these had been shut. And saith the Lord to me: son of man, these gates shalt be closed, and not open, and no one go through them: for the Lord God of Israel, He Only, shalt enter and come forth, and they wilt be shut" (Ez 44:1-2). Here it clearly indicates the Holy Virgin and Mother of God Mary.

Let cease all contention, and let the Holy Scripture enlighten our reason, so that we too receive the Heavenly Kingdom unto all eternity. Amen.

Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.

by Saint Andrew, Archbishop of Crete

The present feastday is for us the beginning of feastdays. Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth. "For Christ is the end of the law" (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph 1:10), hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), "so that we — sayeth the Apostle — be not enslaved to the elements of the world" (Gal 4:3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law. Here is the summit of Christ's beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the théosis [divinization] assumed upon humankind — the fruition worked out by the God-man.

The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Suchlike also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Mother of God, and as its purposive end — the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible. The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Wherefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, showing forth the light of virginity and as it were the crown woven from the unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, doth proffer creatures a common joy. Be of good cheer — sayeth it — behold, this is the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She groweth and is raised up and prepareth Herself to be the Mother of God All-Sovereign of the ages. All this, with the assist of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Mother of God manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous co-kinship of God with mankind.

And thus, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her, as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. How? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law there follows the freedom of grace.

The present day solemnity is a line of demarcation, separating the truth from its prefigurative symbol, and ushering in the new in place of the old. Paul — that Divine Trumpeter of the Spirit — exclaims thus about this: "For anyone that be in Christ, ye are remade a new creature; the old passeth away and behold all is become new (2 Cor 5:17); for the law hath perfected nothing adducing for a better hope, whereby we draw nigh to God" (Heb 7:19). The truth of grace hath shown forth brightly.

Let there now be one common festal celebration in both heaven and on earth. Let everything now celebrate, that which is in the world and that beyond the world. Now is made the created temple for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator. Now our nature having been banished from the land of blessedness doth receive the principle of théosis and doth strive to rise up to the highest glory. Now Adam doth offer from us and for us elements unto God, the most worthy fruit of mankind — Mary, in Whom the new Adam is rendered Bread for the restoration of the human race. Now is opened the great bosom of virginity, and the Church, in the matrimonial manner, doth place upon it a pure pearl truly immaculate. Now human worthiness doth accept the gift of the first creation and returns to its former condition; the majesty darkened by formless sin — through the conjoining by His Mother by birth "of Him Beauteous by Goodness," man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation — by théosis, and théosis — by a return to the original perfection! Now a barren one is become beyond expectation a mother, and the Birth-giver hath given birth without knowing man, and She doth sanctify natural birth. Now is readied the majestied color of the Divine scarlet-purple and the impoverished human nature is clothed in royal worthiness. Now — according to prophecy — there sprouts forth the Offshoot of David, Who, having eternally become the green-sprouting Staff of Aaron, hath blossomed forth for us with the Staff of Power — Christ. Now of Judah and David is descended a Virgin Maiden, rendering of Herself the royal and priestly worthiness of Him that hath taken on the priesthood of Aaron in the order of Melchisedek (Heb 7:15). Now is begun the renewal of our nature, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, doth receive the principle of a second Divine creation.

The first creation of mankind occurred from the pure and unsullied earth; but their nature darkened the worthiness innate to it, they were deprived of grace through the sin of disobedience; for this we were cast out of the land of life and, in place of the delights of paradise, we received temporal life as our inheritance by birth, and with it the death and corruption of our race. All started to prefer earth to heaven, such that there remained no hope for salvation, beyond the utmost help. Neither the natural nor the written law, nor the fiery reconciliative sayings of the prophets had power to heal the sickness. No one knew, how to rectify human nature and by what means it would be most suitable to raise it up to its former worthiness, so long as God the Author of all did not deign to reveal to us another arranged and newly-constituted world, wherein is annihilated the pervasive form of the old poison of sin, and granting us a wondrous, free and perfectly dispassionate life, through our re-creation in the baptism of Divine birth. But how would this great and most glorious blessing be imparted to us, so very in accord with the Divine commands, if God were not to be manifest to us in the flesh, not subject to the laws of nature — nor deign to dwell with us in a manner, known to Him? And how could all this be accomplished, if first there did not serve the mystery a Pure and Inviolate Virgin, Who contained the Uncontainable, in accord with the law, yet beyond the laws of nature? And could some other virgin have done this, besides She alone, Who was chosen before all others by the Creator of nature?

This Virgin is the Mother of God — Mary, the Most Glorious of God, from the womb of Whom the Most Divine issued forth in the flesh and by Whom He Himself did arrange a wondrous temple for Himself. She conceived without seed and gave birth without corruption, since that Her Son was God, though also He was born in the flesh, without mingling and without travail. This Mother, truly, avoided that which is innate to mothers but miraculously fed with milk Her Son, begotten without a man. The Virgin, having given birth to the seedlessly Conceived-One, remained a Pure Virgin, having preserved incorrupt the marks of virginity. And so in truth She is named the Mother of God; Her virginity is esteemed and Her birth-giving is glorified. God, having conjoined with mankind and become manifest in the flesh, hath granted Her a unique glory. Woman's nature suddenly is freed from the first curse, and just as the first did bring in sin, so also doth the first initiate salvation also.

But our discourse has attained its chief end, and I, celebrating now and with rejoicing sharing in this sacred feast, I greet you in the common joy. The Redeemer of the human race — as I said — willed to arrange a new birth and re-creation of mankind: like as under the first creation, taking dust from the virginal and pure earth, wherein He formed the first Adam, so also now, having arranged His Incarnation upon the earth, — and so to speak, in place of dust — He chooses from out of all the creation this Pure and Immaculate Virgin and, having re-created mankind within His Chosen-One from amidst mankind, the Creator of Adam is made the New Adam, in order to save the old.

Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joakim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joakim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God's law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless — she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless. Thus, Joakim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition — the Immaculate Virgin. The constraints of infertility were destroyed — prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother. Thus the immaculate Fruition issuing forth from the womb occurred from an infertile mother, and then the parents, in the first blossoming of Her growth brought Her to the temple and dedicated Her to God. The priest, then making the order of services, beheld the face of the girl and of those in front of and behind, and he became gladdened and joyful, seeing as it were the actual fulfillment of the Divine promise. He consecrated Her to God, as a reverential gift and propitious sacrifice — and, as a great treasury unto salvation, he led Her within the very innermost parts of the temple. Here the Maiden walked in the upright ways of the Lord, as in bridal chambers, partaking of heavenly food until the time of betrothal, which was preordained before all the ages by Him Who, by His inscrutable mercy, was born from Her, and by Him Who before all creation and time and expanse Divinely begat Him, and together with His consubstantial and co-reigning and co-worshipped Spirit — this being One Godhead, having One Essence and Kingdom, inseparable and immutable and in which is nothing diverse, except the personal qualities. Wherefore, in solemnity and in song I do offer the Mother of the Word the festal gift; since that He born of Her hath taught me to believe in the Trinity: the Son and Word Without-Beginning hath made in Her His Incarnation; the Father begetting Him hath blessed this; the Holy Spirit hath signed and sanctified the womb which incomprehensibly hath conceived.

Now is the time to question David: in what did the God of all forswear him? Speak, O Psalmist and Prophet! He hath sworn from the fruit of my loin to sit upon my throne (Ps 131132:11). Here in this He is forsworn and wilt not break His oath, He hath forsworn and His Word is sealed with a deed! "Once — said he — I forswear by My Holiness, that I lie not to David; his seed wilt prevail forever, and his throne, like the sun before Me and like the moon coursing the ages: a faithful witness also in heaven" (Ps 8889:35-38). God hath fulfilled this oath, since it is not possible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). Consider this: Christ in the flesh is named my Son (Mt. 22: 42), and all nations will worship my Lord and Son (Ps 7172:11), seeing him sit upon a virginal throne! Here also is the Virgin, from Whose womb the Praeternal One issued forth, incarnated at the end of the ages and renewing the ages, likewise sprung forth from my loins! All this is so!

People of God, holy nation, sacred gathering! Let us revere our paternal memory; let us extol the power of the mystery! Each of us, in the measure given by grace, let us offer a worthy gift for the present feast. Fathers — a prosperous lineage; mothers — fine children; the unbearing — the not-bearing of sin; virgins — a twofold prudence, of soul and of body; betrothed — praiseworthy abstinence. If anyone of you be a father, let him imitate the father of the Virgin; and if anyone be without child — let them make harvest of fruitful prayer, cultivating a life pleasing to God. The mother, feeding her children, let her rejoice together with Anna, raising her Child, given to her in infertility through prayer. She that is barren, not having given birth, lacking the blessing of a child, let her come with faith to the God-given Offshoot of Anna and offer there her barrenness. The virgin, living blamelessly, let her be a mother by discourse, adorning by word the elegance of soul. For a betrothed — let her offer mental sacrifice from the fruits of prayer. All together rich and poor, lads and maidens, old and young (Ps 48:2, 148:12), priests and levites — let all together keep the feast in honor of the Maiden, the Mother of God and the Prophetess: from Her hath issued forth the Prophet, foretold of by Moses, Christ God and Truth (Dt 18:15). Amen.

Holy Theophany.

Today we celebrate a day that is called by many names: the Baptism of our Lord, Theophany, and it is also called Illumining. We commemorate our Lord's baptism today in the Jordan. Theophany is the appearance of God, where indeed the Holy Trinity manifested Himself after Our Lord's baptism. Why would we call it Illumining? It is because through baptism we are indeed illuminated.

God had a plan for man. The primeval plan was for us to grow in knowledge and in wisdom, according to how we could bear it, in purity, without any knowledge of evil at all. But man didn't choose that plan. So God, in his wisdom knowing this, sent his only-begotten Son. Salvation is the knowledge of God, but only the pure can know the pure. We can even see this in our daily lives. There are people whom we just don't completely understand, and we know this because we understand that they're somehow more pure and more humble than us. And we think: "I don't understand how that person can take such abuse from her husband, or his son, or his co- worker, or some other person, and be so humble about it." We know people like that. Hopefully there are people that speak about us in those kind of tones, because we are supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, you know.

Only the pure can know the pure. But we're dirty, and we need purification. And what's more, we don't have any way to become pure. We don't have any way to clean ourselves. We're blackened, and we have no way to clean ourselves on our own. And our flesh, what is more, wars against us. Even if we wished to clean ourselves, (and we don't have the means, without God's help, mind you), we cannot. We don't have the strength, the ability, we don't have the knowledge, we don’t have the grace. W cannot t understand God without Him revealing himself to us. So, that is why our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came incarnate of a Virgin, into the midst of us — to invigorate us and make us able to live. But not only that; but also to give us an example.

His ministry was two-fold. Being God, He taught us all the things that were necessary for our salvation, by His example, by how He lived, by how He spoke, by His demeanor. And He transmitted this faithfully and carefully to his disciples. And this is only to be found — this mind of Christ is only to be found — in the Orthodox faith, and it has been transmitted carefully and perfectly, throughout the ages, by the Church.

He showed us no only by His teaching, but also by how He lived. And He was a man, as well as being God, so He was subject to the things we are subject to, even unto death. So therefore, when He told us to be baptized, later on, after His resurrection, his words certainly have weight, because He subjected himself to baptism. He was not the kind of leader, or the kind of king, who would tell his subjects to do something that He wasn’t willing to do. In fact, he said to James and John, that you cannot drink the cup that I will drink and be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with. They could not bear what our Lord bore for us.

He will do more for us than He requires of us and expect more of himself. And indeed, that is a principle of leadership. A leader, whether he be a father, a mother, or a priest, or an employer, or someone who teaches children, such as many of the men in this church, must lead by example. All the men in this church, should be teachers of our boys, and all of the women, of our girls, and you teach them by being selfless, and emptying yourself as Christ emptied Himself. He taught us how to do it, and gave us the blueprint of how to do it.

Today we have an amazing thing before us. He who created the waters submits to being baptized in them. He who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good and not any whit evil, submits to cleansing in waters. He who regenerates our flesh, Who is the Regenerator, He descends in the flesh into regenerating waters. And he does this to show us how necessary it is for baptism.

To know Christ we must be like Him. You cannot know somebody unless you become like that person — it is not possible. So our Christian life in the flesh is to try to acquire the virtues, to be a good husbandman, to acquire the Holy Spirit, as my patron, St. Seraphim of Sarov, said, "By fasting, by diligence, by care, by prayers, by weeping, by repentance, by the whole Christian life." That is the whole reason for ascetical exercises. It's not because they're rules to be followed. It's because they are LIFE!

A man who sees a way of life that leads to eternal life, would be crazy, blind, not to follow such a life. So our Lord taught us many principles of how to life, but the most important aspect of His ministry is that He made us ABLE to live this way. I can tell you many things, and they might be, (I hope that they will be) true, about the teaching of the Church, but I cannot invigorate you or make you able to live this way. That is only possible through your submission to the God-man Jesus Christ and the All-Holy Holy Trinity, Who makes a man able to live. So the God-man, when He preached, preached with authority, because He was able to back up his words like nobody else can.

Baptism is an image; it's an image of death and of life. The church says it over and over and over again. When we descend into the waters, we die. Our old man, with its lusts, dies in the waters. When we ascend out of the waters, we are reborn a new creature. This is a hard thing to understand. We cannot fathom it. We do not know how a man is reborn of water and the Spirit, we just know how we are told to begin the Christian life. Baptism is the first mystery. Although perhaps one would say the first mystery is really the incarnation of the Son of God, which made everything else possible. In our life, our entrance into the Christian life is through baptism. Without it, we're not able to progress one wit in the knowledge of God. And the knowledge of God IS salvation, brothers and sisters. But remember, one cannot progress in the knowledge of God without progressing in purity at the same time.

We have no "armchair theologians" in the Orthodox Church. He who is a theologian — who studies God — lives as God wishes him to live, and is enlightened. We have had theologians that have not been able to read or write. Or even, and this is hard for us in our industrialized society to understand, they might not even have been intelligent, as we would think of intelligence. But they were intelligent in the ways of God, because they lived a life in accordance with His grace.

I hope you understand now why our Lord was baptized. There was no NEED for Him to be baptized. In fact, what does it say after He was baptized? "Straightway He came up out of the water." To the fathers this is crystal clear, and therefore to us it will be now, too. He came straightway out of the water because He has no sin. In those days St. John was baptizing for repentance, right? A baptism of repentance, but not for remission of sins, because he cannot remit sins. But people would, when they came out of the water — (and how would you like this, some of you have been baptized in streams that are cold!) — they were held in the water. They came up partway, (obviously their head was out of the water), and they confessed their sins right then and there. And then they were released out of the water. That's how it was done. But our Lord had no need to do so, He had no sins to confess. In fact, when He went into the water, the demons fled. You see the icon? You see the demons in there? The demons are fleeing from the water, because they could not bear to be in the same place as the God-man Jesus Christ.

How can anyone stand against this mystery when our Lord endorses it so emphatically?! And also, if we have an understanding of how water was treated, throughout the whole history of the Church — now I mean the history of the Church from Adam, you know, because God had a salvific plan from that time. There is a cute bumper sticker, but it's not true: "Founded AD 33, Christian Church." It was reborn, and recreated in AD 33, but the plan had been in place since Adam and Eve.

Let's take a look, a little bit, at these short scriptures we read today. "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. But John forbade Him, saying "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?" And Jesus said unto him, "suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." It's a little bit of a riddle; what is He talking about, "all righteousness?" It was a tradition, a strong tradition, a God inspired tradition, of the Jewish people, that when a prophet said something, you did it! Jesus obeyed a prophet. John was the greatest of the prophets; our Lord Himself said so. So He obeyed a prophet, by being baptized. John did not mean for the God-man to be baptized, and he wanted to tell him, "no, I can't. I am unworthy. I want to be baptized of you." But our Lord showed obedience. That's how he fulfilled all righteousness. And also — I said this before — He gave us an example.

Our Lord does not tell us to do anything we are not capable of doing. He does not tell us to do anything in the flesh that we cannot do in the flesh, and that he did not already do in the flesh. He told us that our flesh should become pure. He purified His flesh. His flesh was always pure; he made his flesh completely invigorated with the Godhead. And indeed, that will happen to us, because He did it to Himself. He promises us that we will rise from the dead. Well, he did it to Himself, so we are capable. He commands us to be baptized; He did it himself. He turned the other cheek when he was slapped by the arrogant Pharisees and by their henchman, the Roman soldiers. And He commands us to turn our cheek when we are slapped. He commands us to forgive, and He forgave. There is nothing, there is no commandment that the Lord gave that He did not fulfill Himself in the flesh. And He even told us to be perfect, and He was perfect — in the flesh and as God. So all those things we are capable to doing because He did them for us and made us able to. He led by example, and He led by power and grace and mercy.

"Then He suffered him. And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the waters and lo! The heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And a voice from heaven saying "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." We already said what it means that He went "straightway out of the water." John was in the water trembling, as a man before God. And God comes out of the water, and the Holy Spirit descends upon His shoulder, Jesus' shoulder, so as not to confuse the two. And the voice says, "This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased."

And the heavens are opened. Why? Because the heavens are opened to us through baptism. And also the heavens are opened to us through something else. Right away after the baptism, St. Mark barely catches his breath, I don't think he even has to dip his pen again in ink, and he starts to write, "and straightway He was led out by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days." There is a reason why he writes with such haste, why he doesn't even finish talking about baptism and wham! He is talking about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, because this happens to us. Right after our baptism we are tempted. During the whole of our life we're tempted, and sometimes we feel that we are in a barren place, a rocky dessert, with no water and no comfort, and we get despondent. Our Lord had the same things happen to Him; He became hungry as a man, tired as a man, He wept as a man. And right after His baptism He shows that we should expect that we are in a life or death struggle.

Immediately upon being baptized we are enlisted as soldiers. Not as conscripts, mind you, but as willing men, willing to put on the armor of faith and of righteousness. We are willing to fight the good fight, because we have stated so, whether it was as an infant when our sponsors stated for us and we grew to maturity and we learned of the church, or whether it is, in the case of most of us, where we spoke for ourselves and agreed to the tenets of the Christian faith before we were thrust down into the water and out of it three times.

The Church today, (and yesterday by the way), blesses water. This is called the great blessing, and in it we read amazing passages from the Old Testament about water and its salvific qualities. And then we take this water and we sanctify everything with it. And you should listen closely to the services — especially I can remember some things from last night — they talk about how our Lord cleanses the water, casting out demons from it, and making it pure and wholesome. It is good — to drink, to anoint ourselves with, good to bless and sanctify everything. And we indeed bless and sanctify water because our Lord blessed and sanctified water.

I am always amazed — even after 18 years (the first 18 years I lived was not as an Orthodox Christian, actually the first 20), how our faith involves all of our life — everything! All of our senses — sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste — everything! And every aspect of our life — nothing is untouched by the holy church. In a pious Christian life, nothing is secular, but everything is sacred. So after we bless the water today, and bless the inside of the church, and go around and bless the outside precincts, you will take water home. You should drink this water in the morning, with the sign of the cross, and also eat a small piece of antidoron, before you eat or drink anything else. And you should also drink this water if there is a temptation or a difficulty in your life. You should anoint yourself with the water. You should sanctify things in your home. I have had the custom of going around all the rooms of my house with a censer, with all the rest of the family carrying candles and singing the Theophany Troparion, to bless everything with holy water on a regular basis. I do not do it as much anymore — I guess I am more distracted and busy than I should be — but this is an important task. Anyone can do this. The demons see the water, even after the water dries on the walls and you cannot see it, (except if you have sprinkled it on paper, the marks never go away then), the demons still see it, and you have marked your house as a dwelling of Christians. But of course, if you do this, then you must live as a Christian. What happened to the man who had the demons taken out of him, and the demon went around deserts and rocky places, and desolate areas, and the found no place to dwell? What did the demon do? He got seven other demons worse than himself, and he went back to the man. They found his soul was all swept and garnished inside, but since the man had not lived a virtuous life since his deliverance from the one demon, and the demons were able to make their abode in him, and the last state of the man is worse than the first!

There is responsibility placed upon you, brothers and sisters, because of the grace you have been given — because of your baptism. Also because of the All-Holy mysteries which all of you should desire to receive today, and the services of the church, and all the mind of the church. Everything that you do is sacred, and it makes you responsible, for living according to how you have promised to live. The good news is that you are ABLE to do it, because the God-man made you able to do it!

God revealed Himself, and continues to reveal Himself to us, as we are able to understand Him. As we become more pure, He reveals more of His purity to us. And we ascend like eagles! That is the meaning of Theophany. That is the meaning of the illumining. May it be that all of are illumined and follow Him in all ways. Amen.

6. Different.

 

About Prayer.

By Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Prayer is what we need more than any other thing — true, fervent, real prayer. And this is where we sin most of all. Often we pray merely with our lips — this is the ultimate fall. Or we may pray with our mind — we limit ourselves to an intellectual understanding of prayer, and this is the extent of our prayerful struggle.

We forget that the last great man of prayer of the Russian land, Fr. John of Kronstadt, has left us his book, My Life In Christ. This book is not just a description of certain spiritual states, it is the teaching which he has left to us about heartfelt prayer.

But when we pray without our whole heart, we are not really praying at all.

However, heartfelt prayer is not within our power. We can raise up our hands, walk, stand up, sit down and even think of whatever we wish. In one second we can even be transported in our thoughts to any point on the surface of the earth. All this is within our power but we are not capable, whenever we wish, of praying from the heart.

So we must acquire this heartfelt prayer, for without it, as one great elder has said, Russia began to slide down towards her fall. She began to feel the burden of outward prayer, did not put her heart into the prostrations or into the candles which she offered before the icons or into any externals, so that these outward forms became a great burden for her and she threw off this burden, threw off the truth and so cast aside the Church.

The real cause, the profound inner cause, of the fall of any individual person, of any family, of any people or any individual Church, arises when the people of this Church, the children of this Church, no longer join in with their hearts in the prayers or prostrations, but bear them as a purely outward burden. So now we, the Russian people of the Diaspora, who enjoy complete freedom, which is a great gift of God, must make every effort to acquire this heartfelt prayer, remembering that when we stand up to pray, when we say the words of a prayer, when we understand the prayer, we are still just knocking, knocking at the door of the heart.

The Lord will see this struggle (podvig) of ours and He will Himself touch our hearts with His mighty right hand and He will enter into the prayer.

When our prayer enters the heart, then the Lord will hearken to us, because we are praying in our entirety, without remainder — there is nothing in us that is not praying. The mind is praying, it does not soar away anywhere, all is silent, all the senses are silent, but the human heart is praying to God, the body is praying, everything in it is praying, so is it possible that God shall not hearken to such a praying man? The Lord will hear such a man and avenge him, as the Holy Scripture says. He will defend him, will protect him, when He sees such a man.

So we have a task before us, a great task, one which would appear simple, but is really very great — to acquire heartfelt prayer. With all our strength we must ask the Lord, ask our great men of prayer: St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Sergei of Radonezh, St. John of Kronstadt and all those whom we know.

We must ask our Guardian Angel to lift us up to prayer, to wake us up to pray, for this is, one might say, his duty. We can have such boldness before God as to ask our Guardian Angel to waken us, to give us vigilance in prayer and to remind us of the whole of Holy Scripture, to ask the great saints and men of prayer, St. Elijah the Prophet, who brought down fire and burnt up the wood which was covered in water, to ask all whom we remember, to whom our hearts are drawn, to ask all the saints, that the Lord should give us heartfelt prayer and them if we pray this way, the heavens will be opened, the Lord will fulfill our prayer...in this lies the whole key to the mystery of prayer.

Brothers and sisters! This is the greatest school of all schools. Prayer is the science of sciences. But prayer does not have its own special school. The Church is the school of prayer. Somebody asked an elder how to pray, how to learn to pray. He said to him, "Pray, and you will learn how to pray!"

And so, my beloved brothers and sisters...I invite you, I ask you, I beg you and will constantly repeat: we must acquire heartfelt prayer.

In it you will find everything — both your own personal happiness, and unselfishness, and all the qualities: the illiterate becomes learned, the poorest man becomes the richest, each person is transfigured, and each in his own way. Before prayer all are equal and each can obtain from God, depending on the gifts of his spirit.

Let us remember the two robbers before the crucified Christ: they are the whole human race, all are suffering. But the sufferings are not the same, and God grant that our sufferings should be those of the wise robber. He turned to the Savior with heartfelt prayer and censured the other, unrighteous one, who was crucified.

When he confessed the true faith, then he acquired heartfelt prayer and said to the Lord, "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom," and God grant that to each the Lord should answer thus, to the repenting servants, that each repenting should hear ; "Verily, I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."

 

Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism.

Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism of Katherine Kirk 1999.

This is a day of great joy, not only for Daniel and Marisol, and David and Elizabeth, but also for our entire community. We have in our midst a newly chosen warrior of Christ, the newly illumined Child Catherine.

Baptism is the beginning. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, of an enriched life, of life the way God intended our life to be. It begins sometimes with a little bit of pain, a little bit of tears, a little bit of crying. I have noticed that infants generally cry during the chrismation. They don't have time to cry in the water. They cry a few tears, but those tears dry, and the water from the baptism dries, and the chrism is absorbed into the skin, but the Holy Spirit remains, and makes His abode in the child. The Holy Spirit will never leave, if we live as God intended us to live.

I admonish both you who are the parents, Daniel and Marisol, and also you who have taken on the weighty task of being the Godparents, David and Elizabeth: you must keep a careful watch over this child now. A child is pure, but can easily learn impurity. We adults know too well about evil in the world, and we would like to save our children from it as much as we can. We must do this through prayer, and dedication to their welfare and benefit. I tell you, it is absolutely necessary that Catherine, and all children, grow up in a spirit of piety. You are the principle people that God has called upon to pray for this spirit of piety to be inculcated in Catherine, and to live in this spirit, as an example to her.

Sponsors, you are required by God, and all the angels and Saints and our community have seen you make a commitment, to remember this child, Catherine, in your prayers. Of course, Daniel and Marisol remember their children before God, and care for them, and this is a requirement of them as well. I also tell you, our community, it is a requirement that we pray for one another. You sin if you do not pray for your family in the church.

Catherine needs many things to grow. What do children need? They need food, care, supervision, discipline. Sometime they need admonishment and even punishment. They also need the example of their parents. The food is the body of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, and also, all the things that happen in the life in the church, the prayers, the fasting, our God-inspired services and festal days, and everything else. Children have an innate sense of the holy. I have observed this now for about 18 years, and I tell you, children recognize what is holy, and they are easily attracted to it, but only when they are very young. They do not understand holiness in an intellectual way, but they react to what is holy, and love what is holy. We parents must present them all the time with holiness, and a holy purpose for their lives.

We must expose them to holiness in coming to the services regularly. It is an absolute necessity that they be brought to the church every week, and be taught to commune the Holy Mysteries with joy and reverence. They should also be brought to the church for the evening services and festal days, at least occasionally, so they do not develop a false view that "church is on Sundays." This is critically important, and will grow out of the way we think, and the way we live, and what our purpose in life is.

Every parent wants his child to be happy, to be blessed, to have a fulfilled life. Every parent, whether they are Christian or not, wants these things for their children. Our parent, our Father who is in heaven, also wishes what is best for us. He has presented us with all that is needful to obtain the best. We as natural parents, and as Godparents, must give our children also what is needful for them to grow. We must give them piety, love, steadfastness in the faith, purpose. The purpose of our life, and that of our children, is very simple. It is to save our souls, and to know Christ intimately. This is the destiny for all of us, if we choose it. God has chosen it for us, but we have to choose.

Now, for Catherine, we have made this beginning for her. She is a child, and according to the teaching of the church, children must be exposed to the grace of baptism as soon as possible. Now, it is the responsibility of Daniel and Marisol particularly, and also David and Elizabeth, as the "second tier" as it were, to raise Catherine in, as the scriptures say, "the fear and admonition of the Lord." This is a terrible responsibility, but is also a great and wonderful privilege. You have the opportunity to see a child grow up to completion in Christ. This is what every parent should dream of. We should also "dream" this for ourselves.

I tell you, the same things that are necessary for Catherine are those things that we need. As you heard some of these prayers in the baptism, you should have thought and reflected on your own life. You should have asked yourself, "Am I doing the things that these prayers speak of?" The prayers speak of great and mighty things. The priest invokes the name of God in a mighty way. Do we live as children of a great and mighty God, of a king, and we as his slaves, or do we live outside of the understanding of Whom He is? We must have the fear of God in our hearts. This is not to be afraid that He is going to send us to Hell. That is not what the fear of God is. The fear of God is the knowledge of Who He is, and because of the knowledge of Whom He is, the great and ardent desire to become changed. May it be so that little Catherine will become truly changed. She has started in the right way. Now, her life is to be lived, and to glorify God, and to know Him. I rejoice for you, Daniel and Marisol, and David and Elizabeth, for a newly chosen warrior has been born. Now, I tell you, you have your work cut out for you. Pray for her. Pray for yourselves, and feed yourselves with a pious purpose and way of life, so that you can feed her. May it be that all of us, gathered together here this morning, will be in the Heavenly Kingdom, in the last day.

Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism.

Thoughts on the Orthodox Christian Baptism of Sven Fulanchek 1999.

This is a day of great joy, not only for Jason and Pelagia, and John and Mary, but also for our entire community. We have in our midst a newly chosen warrior of Christ, the newly illumined child Sven. Sven is a Nordic form of "Stephen," and the lad's patron and protector is St Stephen the Protodeacon and first Martyr. 1 May God grant that he would have the purity, and tenacity and courage of his protector and intercessor before the throne of God.

Baptism is the beginning. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, of an enriched life, of life the way God intended our life to be. It begins sometimes with a little bit of pain, a little bit of tears, a little bit of crying. I have noticed that infants generally cry during the chrismation. They don't have time to cry in the water. They cry a few tears after, but those tears dry, and the water from the baptism dries, and the chrism is absorbed into the skin, but the Holy Spirit remains, and makes His abode in the child. The Holy Spirit will never leave, if we live as God intended us to live.

I admonish both you who are the parents, Jason and Pelagia, and also you who have taken on the weighty task of being the Godparents, John and Mary: you must keep a careful watch over this child now. In so doing, you must first keep a careful watch over yourselves, because it is an immutable spiritual principle that you cannot impart to your child purity and righteousness if you do not experience it yourselves. A child is pure, but can easily learn impurity. We adults know too well about evil in the world, and we would like to save our children from it as much as we can. We must do this through prayer, and dedication to their welfare and benefit. I tell you, it is absolutely necessary that Sven, and all children, grow up in a spirit of piety. You are the principle people that God has called upon to pray for this spirit of piety to be inculcated in Sven, and to live in this spirit, as an example to him.

Sponsors, you are required by God, and all the angels and Saints and our community have seen you make a commitment, to remember this child, Sven, in your prayers. Of course, Jason and Pelagia must also remember their children before God, and care for them; this is a requirement of them as well. I also tell you, our community, it is a requirement that we pray for one another. You sin if you do not pray for your family in the church.

Sven needs many things to grow. What do children need? They need food, care, supervision, discipline. Sometime they need admonishment and even punishment. They also need the example of their parents. The food is the body of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, and also, all the things that happen in the life in the church, the prayers, the fasting, our God-inspired services and festal days, and everything else. Children have an innate sense of the holy. I have observed this now for about 18 years, and I tell you, children recognize what is holy, and they are easily attracted to it, but only when they are very young. They do not understand holiness in an intellectual way, but they react to what is holy, and love what is holy. We parents must present them all the time with holiness, and a holy purpose for their lives.

We must expose them to holiness in coming to the services regularly. It is an absolute necessity that they be brought to the church every week, and be taught to commune the Holy Mysteries with joy and reverence. They should also be brought to the church for the evening services and festal days, so they do not develop a false view that "church is on Sundays." They must also constantly and consistently experience prayer in the house. All of this is critically important, and will grow out of the way we think, and the way we live, and what our purpose in life is.

Every parent wants his child to be happy, to be blessed, to have a fulfilled life. Every parent, whether they are Christian or not, wants these things for their children. Our parent, our Father who is in heaven, also wishes what is best for us. He has presented us with all that is needful to obtain the best. We as natural parents, and as Godparents, must give our children also what is needful for them to grow. We must give them piety, love, steadfastness in the faith, purpose. The purpose of our life, and that of our children, is very simple. It is to save our souls, and to know Christ intimately. This is the destiny for all of us, if we choose it.

Now, for Sven, we have made this beginning for him. He is a child, and according to the teaching of the church, children must be exposed to the grace of baptism as soon as possible. Now, it is the responsibility of Jason and Pelagia particularly, and also John and Mary, as the "second tier" as it were, to raise Sven in, as the scriptures say, "the fear and admonition of the Lord." This is a terrible responsibility, but is also a great and wonderful privilege. You have the opportunity to see a child grow up to completion in Christ. This is what every parent should dream of. We should also "dream" this for ourselves.

I tell you, the same things that are necessary for Sven are those things that we need. As you heard some of these prayers in the baptism, you should have thought and reflected on your own life. You should have asked yourself, "Am I doing the things that these prayers speak of?" The prayers speak of great and mighty things. The priest invokes the name of God in a mighty way. Do we live as children of a great and mighty God, of a King, and we as His servants, or do we live outside of the understanding of Who He is?

We must have the fear of God in our hearts. This is not to be afraid that He is going to send us to Hell. That is not what the fear of God is. The fear of God is the knowledge of Who He is, and because of the knowledge of Who He is, the great and ardent desire to become changed. May it be so that little Sven will become truly changed. He has started in the right way. Now, his life is to be lived, and to glorify God, and to know Him. I rejoice for you, Jason and Pelagia, and John and Mary, for a newly chosen warrior has been born.

Now, I tell you, you have your work cut out for you. Pray for him. Pray for yourselves, and feed yourselves with a pious purpose and way of life, so that you can feed him.

May it be that all of us, gathered together here this morning, will be in the Heavenly Kingdom, in the last day.

 

Orthodox Christian marriage.

Homily at the Crowning of David and Elizabeth.

Before we begin the crowning service, I'm charged to say a few words. And David and Elizabeth well know that I am seldom a man without words. But I feel unable really to say what I feel. I feel unable to speak with enough eloquence to describe my love for David and Elizabeth, and my desire and their desire to show their Orthodox faith to you, their family and their friends, and of course, our parish family, who of course already know their faith.

In order to begin to explain, I'd like to ask the question that is answered much differently to an Orthodox Christian than to the rest of the world-and that is "Why should we marry?" What is the purpose of marriage? Well, in the world, people marry because they fall in love, they have a mutual attraction to one another, they have mutual interests, they are compatible, not to be lonely. Those are all good reasons, and those all apply to David and Elizabeth.

But the purpose of marriage is identical to the purpose of life, identical to the purpose of monasticism, which involves, of course, no marriage at all, but the celibate life. The purpose of marriage for those who are in the married state is the mutual salvation of the soul.

And that is all. That is the reason people should marry. Now, we grow up, we fall in love, we desire to be with someone the rest of our life, and that is all part of our life if God grants it and allows it, as God has granted to David and Elizabeth. But the purpose of your marriage, the purpose of my marriage, is the salvation of our souls. So, you should continually life one another up, as Christians.

Now, the crowns before us are not only attractive pieces of jewelry that make the ceremony beautiful, but they are actually martyr's crowns. Marriage is, indeed, voluntary martyrdom. And, indeed, Christianity is voluntary martyrdom. Our Lord and our Savior voluntarily gave Himself up on the Cross for us of His own free will. We give up our wills, our ambitions, our false ways of thinking, voluntarily, so that God can enlighten us. Marriage, indeed, for those who pursue it seriously, is a martyrdom.

I got married when I was 21 years old. I didn't know nothing from nothing, and I didn't understand what a selfish person I was until I got married. I thought I was really a pretty decent person. But I found out that, even with someone you love, it is very difficult to always subdue my own will and put their needs first. And, indeed, my wife would be required to put my needs first.

Both of us preferring the other-that is truly what marriage is. It is an image of how Christ is with us. Because He gives all to us, and He became a man for our sake and suffered indignities and even death on the Cross because of His love for us. We deserve none of it. And yet He gave us everything needful for salvation. One of the greatest things we need for salvation is the knowledge of ourselves.

Marriage, more than any other estate other than monasticism, teaches us about ourselves. It is often not a very good story. Anyone who looks in their heart can say, "There are many times I've been a selfish husband, a selfish wife." Now, because of love, the wife, the husband, forgives-over and over again. But we should remember our own unworthiness and our own lack of love. And it is usually seen among those we love the most-which is an unfortunate fact of human life.

Now David and Elizabeth wish very much to sort-of make a statement of their faith before all of you. This is much more than a crowning, it is their attempt to tell you that they have found the Pearl of Great Price. And I wish I could do justice to this Pearl. I wish I could speak of it eloquently enough so that you could see it shine, as we experience in this humble Church. I only hope that you will see something in the Orthodox Faith that attracts you. This is David and Elizabeth's wish, and of course it is my wish. I remind you again: the purpose of David and Elizabeth's marriage is the salvation of their souls.

So, when you listen to the prayers tonight, pray for the salvation of their souls-that they mutually would help one another, mutually preferring the other, mutually lifting one another up, mutually praying with each other and for each other. And all of us who are married should have this same prayer for ourselves.

Now, none of us, if we have any sense about us, should be able to say such things as I just said and not feel some guilt that we have not reached this goal. God forgives, though, those who try, those who help. In marriage we are made strong enough, because God is in everything we do. St. Paul quotes Genesis, "therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." And then he says "and this is a mystery, of Christ and the Church.."

So marriage is an image of our relationship with Christ. Let the world romanticize it; let the world speak of attraction and mutual interests and such things; we will speak of the salvation of the soul. So, David and Elizabeth, your charge before God is to assist one another in the salvation of your souls. That is your task in life, and that is why God has brought you together.