Do We Dare Divide His Body?

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (1:10-17)

In today’s epistle we hear the apostle Paul’s works to the Christians at Corinth. His warning to them is a simple one that requires our attention every so often. Often as we read the Scriptures and the New Testament we are reminded of things that we might take for granted or ways that we may have become complacent in our own lives, and attitudes.

Listen to these words: “Brethren, I appeal to you, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissension among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispos and Gaius; lest anyone should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)”

For St. Paul, the greatest tragedy would be a church that is not united. He had spent his life in serious study and prayer, looking for the truth and trying to know God more fully. He was zealous for the ways of his teachers and fathers and this zeal, although misguided, had enflamed the apostle with a desire to see the truth spread and the false teachings stamped out everywhere. This is why he led attacks on Christians and threw many into prisons. Because his zeal was misguided and ill-informed. One day, by the will and the grace of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to St. Paul on the road to Damascus and this set off a chain of events that have rippled through time and completely changed the course of history. Paul became the apostle to the gentiles and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide. He had a new focus for all of his earlier zeal and love for God. Rather, God came into focus more clearly for him. Through the encounter with the risen Lord Jesus, Paul’s world was turned upside down. His life was now fully dedicated to teaching others about Christ and helping others encounter and know this messiah, this Son of God who could save mankind from their sins.

With all of this as a background, we see St. Paul undertaking major missionary journeys all over the known world and the Roman empire. He gave the rest of his life to this daunting and joyful task of bringing the news of what God had done for humanity through His Son Jesus to the whole world. He set up communities and spent time with them, loved them, prayed with them and encouraged them. He would then pick up and move to the next area to start the work again in a new place, to bring new souls to Christ. St. Paul would often hear news from these communities that he had started, some good, some not so good. And what St. Paul understood clearly was that there were a few things that could hurt, if not destroy a church community.

First, false teachings. Second, immorality. Third, dissension or division over smaller issues. This is the one that St. Paul is focused on in today’s reading. What was the issue that began to cause division for the Christians at Corinth? It was their baptismal lineage. Who had been baptized by whom? Some claimed their baptism was better because it was at the hands of Apollos, some at the hands of Cephas (Peter), some at the hands of Paul. And this rather trivial matter became a big issue that divided the people.

In our world there are always things that will divide us if we let them. Today we divide over political affiliation, the use of vaccines, the wearing of masks and who serves the most delicious cheeseburger. But we are reminded that to divide over trivial matters isn’t just bad manners, it is a serious sin. It is tearing the fabric of the body of Christ in two. Shredding a lovely, single garment made by the hands of God, into pieces. It is a sign of a deficiency in love towards Christ and His Church and towards those for whom Christ gave His life upon the tree of the cross.

My brothers and sisters, it should not be so. We should not be like the world around us, uncivil, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, easily provoked, easily offended. As Christians we are called to see Christ in every person and to love every member of the church with a godly love. The things that unite us in Christ are much greater than the trivial and childish things that cause us to separate from one another. And if we find that perhaps our opinions are too strong, too offensive, too harsh and polarizing, we can choose the path of humility instead of the path of prideful resistance. We can choose to be peacemakers. I believe that our Lord said something important about being peacemakers. Being the man or woman who works for peace with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, is more important than feeling right or justified in my opinions.

It should go without saying, that this is true even during coffee hour or when we are on social media. Not everyone does a good job of showing restraint and thinking about how their comments and opinions might serve to alienate or push away their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That we don’t think about others makes us more than negligent, it makes us selfish and self-centered. So we are all called to restrain ourselves and to think of others. That is how we love actively. That is how we honor Jesus Christ.

St. John of Kronstadt writes, “As the Holy Trinity, our God is One Being, although Three Persons, so, likewise, we ourselves must be one. As our God is indivisible, we also must be indivisible, as though we were one man, one mind, one will, one heart, one goodness, without the smallest (mingling) of malice – in a word, one pure love, as God is Love. “That they may be one, even as We are One” (John 17:22).” He writes in another place “A Christian must always be kind, gracious, and wise in order to conquer evil by good.” Sometimes we are the ones being offended. Even then we are not let off the hook. We are commanded to forgive everyone so that we also might be forgiven.

My friends, let us work diligently for the salvation of our fellow brothers and sisters, every minute of every day, especially when we are here with this great extended family. Let us love and be ambassadors of Christ’s love just as the Lord first loved us and sacrificed Himself on our behalf. Let us not push others away carelessly, instead let us draw them further into Christ’s Church with the net of mercy and compassion, for this makes us shine with the radiance of the All- Merciful and compassionate God, the Lover of mankind. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Asking For What Is Best

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35)

Today’s reading reminds me of another gospel passage which is read soon after the celebration of Pascha, on the Sunday of the Blind Man. Today we hear of not one but two blind men who were together. We never learn exactly how they learned about Jesus but one thing was for certain, they knew who He was and they were motivated to have an encounter with Him. They cried out to Him loudly with these words that should be so familiar to us, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

Why should these words be familiar to us? Because they are a part of the very fabric, the DNA of Orthodox Christian prayer. This is seen and heard repeatedly throughout all of our liturgical services and especially in the liturgy. The phrase which is repeated more often than any other is precisely this “Lord have mercy!” We say this so often and yet like anything, sometimes it is good to step back and to ask ourselves “what does it really mean?” It means to have pity or compassion. In praying this prayer we pray it with an assumption that we don’t have much to offer to God, but that we are in dire need of whatever it is that He is willing to offer to us. We should model our prayers after those who successfully petitioned the Son of God for such things.

How do we model our prayers? By aligning our hearts with the hearts of those who cried out to the Lord with everything within them. They didn’t reserve anything of themselves and their desire for Christ. Repeatedly throughout the gospels we see men and women like us who pour out their pains and struggles to the Lord and repeatedly we see the Lord Jesus respond with precisely what they seek. He offers them healing. He offers them fulfillment. And yes, He offers them mercy.

So how do we align our hearts to be like those who asked with confidence and received? We start with humility. If you notice the blind men never actually asked to be healed of their blindness. They were truly humble and truly faithful men. You don’t have to tell God exactly what you need, He knows what you need even before you open your mouth! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray and ask. It means that you should pray with humility and faith. Humility that God knows what is best for us and faith that God is able to provide for us. The blind men don’t ask for healing of their blindness because they don’t have to. They truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the long awaited Messiah and they ask for mercy knowing that the Lord will give them whatever is good according to His will for their lives. That is an example of faithful humility. They ask for mercy and trust God to give them what is good.

It turns out that the thing that is most good is in fact mercy. When we have mercy from God, even mercy from others, we feel that everything is right in the world and in our lives. We run to the Lord in prayers in a way that invites the Lord to work in our lives. What is required is humility, an understanding of our own brokenness. The blind men could cry out to the Lord because they knew their own infirmity. They knew their own brokenness. They knew their desperate need for Him. How do we pray? Sometimes we have trouble praying for more than a minute without feeling distracted or bored. Sometimes we pray for help from God and then we go about our business trying to make things happen, forcing things that may or may not be God’s will. Sometimes we pray to God and then go about our lives living in open rebellion to God, in disobedience to His teachings.

King David, the prophet wrote “a broken and humbled heart God will not despise.” When we pray to God and ask for anything we should do it in a way that invites Christ to help us. We should pray as if there are no other options, no other solutions. Pray like nothing else matters. Don’t pray and keep one eye on the clock. Pray and forget whether you are in the body or out of the body. Pray as if the only thing that matters is that God will hear you. Because if God hears you, nothing else will matter.

So this is why we pray such prayers frequently and with repetition such as “Lord have mercy”, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner” and so forth. They are prayers that get to the heart of the matter. When they are combined with a small bit of humility and faith, even the faith like a mustard seed, these are prayers that get to the heart of God. This is our meeting place with God, the heart. St. Dorotheos of Gaza writes “In the mercy of God, the little thing done with humility will enable us to be found in the same place as the saints who have labored much and been true servants of God.”

The blind men cried out from their hearts and after the Lord asked them if they believed, they answered from their hearts. We can say that they believed, that they saw Christ with their spiritual eyes. That they would see him with their physical eyes was the next natural step in Christ’s divine wisdom.

It was Christ’s good pleasure to heal their blindness. It is Christ’s good pleasure to heal our blindness and every other sickness within us, the physical and especially the spiritual. But let us turn to the Lord with everything in our hearts. Let us learn how to completely give ourselves to Him in prayer and without distraction, without grumbling over our situation, without complaining and without watching the calendar or the clock in order to time God. This is why it is important that the Lord says to the two men “According to your faith be it done for you.” If we don’t believe much it becomes difficult to receive much. For this reason it is even good to ask God to increase our faith just as the Apostles did (Luke 17:5).

I would like to leave you with this beautiful quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian. He writes, “To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said, ‘I waited on the Lord and He came to me.’” AMEN.

Source: Sermons

How To Become Great

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19)

Humans have always had an irresistible urge to reach for greatness. Rarely do people wake up and say “I want to be completely mediocre as a person.” We should desire to be great. Great husbands and wives, great friends, great children, great students, great co-workers, and great children of God.

Actually this is commanded of us. We are meant to reflect the greatness of God Himself in our lives and our work. This doesn’t mean that we will do all of these things perfectly. But that we will continually strive for perfection, for greatness. But what are the criteria for greatness? Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us very clearly. “Whoever does them (the commandments) and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s it. Greatness is found by obedience to Christ and by teaching and encouraging others to obey the teachings of Christ.

According to the Lord, greatness isn’t found by learning to argue with others, or by joining the various causes of the day. I change my profile picture to the flag of Egypt and then I think that I am great. I tell people that I recycled today and that makes me special. All of this is fluff, a worthless substitute for the gospel of the Lord. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is concerned with our repentance and the forgiveness of our sins, leading to righteousness and holiness of life. These are the true attributes of greatness. We recognize and commemorate the multitudes of the saints because of their willingness and desire to follow the teaching of the Lord and to teach others through their words and even more so, through their examples.

In today’s reading Our Lord Jesus begins with these words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Do we appreciate who we are and what our role is in this world? Your role isn’t yours to decide. You were bought at a price. Your life belongs to the Master. Your role is simply to be the light of the world. To reflect the light of Christ. To walk into places that might not be very bright, places that in fact might be pitch black and transform those places by your presence. It is so sad that we are so worried about what the whole world thinks about us. We are so eager to fit in with classmates and co-workers. We live to be liked. We aim not to offend. We just want everyone to think highly of us. But in truth, that isn’t supposed to be our path. The path for saints is the path that makes us seek the acceptance of God before everything else in life.

St. John Chrysostom once said “If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Of our City ‘the Builder and Maker is God.’ Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are but strangers and sojourners in it all. We are enrolled in heaven: our citizenship is there! Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great, and admire those which are little!”

You are the light of the world. You became light when you were illumined by the teachings of Christ and put on Christ in your baptism. You now always carry the light of Christ with you. Sometimes the light we carry is a tiny barely lit wick. At other times the light we carry is enough to shine light on everything we are near. Our ability to be light is a reflection of our love for God and the teachings of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Let me share another word from the saints. The great modern saint, St. Nektarios of Aegina writes,

“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”

St. Nektarios reminds us of what is really important, of which kingdom we seek. Our Lord Jesus Christ also tells us what it will take to be considered great in the kingdom of heaven. There is no thought for greatness in this life. The greatness of the world looks like foolishness from heaven. And there is no doubt that the greatness of the kingdom looks like foolishness to the world, since that is precisely what we see with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greatness through obedience, humility, sacrifice and surpassing love.

Today as we think about the kingdom, we are reminded of some of the saints of this day including the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia. Tsar Nicholas, His wife Alexandra, and their beloved children Aleksy, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia. We remember the tragedy of that day for the Russian people and their homeland. But above all else we remember the victory of the Royal Martyrs. We admire their willingness to disregard one kingdom to inherit another. They were literal royalty. They had a vast kingdom here on earth, and yet they became like the great apostle Paul who wrote “For his (Christ’s) sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:8-11

Resurrection with Christ. This is the kingdom promised to those who truly love Him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. May we reach out with boldness and grab hold of what is offered to us with the help of God. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

As You Have Believed

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:5-13)

In today’s gospel reading we hear the familiar story of the Roman soldier (a centurion) who found the Lord Jesus and asked Him to heal his servant. We are told that the servant was sick and that this sickness seems to have caused a paralysis. We should immediately be comforted by the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ to this centurion. “I will come and heal him.”

Is there anything more comforting than to know that Our Lord is ready, willing and able to help us in our times of need? It comforts us greatly to know that He is willing to offer us His life, and His healing. He actually can’t stand to see us unhealthy, especially in our soul. He can’t stand to see us in pain, especially pain of the soul. He desires to see us become whole.

The centurion is an impressive man. He actually impressed Our Lord greatly! How did he do that? He showed tremendous faith in Christ although he was a Roman soldier and not a Jew. He showed so much faith that when the Lord told him that He would come and visit his house, the centurion said in effect, “you are so powerful that your word is enough to heal him from this distance.” It is really quite astonishing. This points to the fact that the truth is all around us and many people perceive and apprehend it even without fully understanding it. Yet often, those who should perceive and understand the truth, especially the truth about Christ, are the least faithful and most likely to ignore it. This is why Our Lord said “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

We hope that we would not be like the people of Israel at that time regarding our own faith. But don’t be surprised if you see that history does indeed repeat itself. Whether we start with this faith or receive this faith in Christ later in our lives, we are always charged with cultivating and keeping this faith of ours. You can grow up as an Orthodox Christian, be raised in the Church, know her teachings and yet sadly, somehow find yourself far away from faith in Christ. This is why the Lord says in today’s passage “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” And likewise, there are those who grew up without all of the blessings of being born and raised as an Orthodox Christian and who nevertheless grow to love and honor Jesus Christ, His teachings and the teachings of His Church. Glory to God.

Whether you are born or raised in the Church or you hear about Christ later in life doesn’t matter so much as what you do with this knowledge. Do we grab hold of it and accept it like oxygen, like water? Or do we push it away? The centurion accepted Christ’s power and he made bold requests. You and I as children of the living God can make requests that are even more bold on behalf of others and for ourselves. What are some of these bold requests?

Lord Jesus, heal my hardness of heart. Lord Jesus, forgive my sins. Lord Jesus, help me to become a man or woman of prayer. Lord Jesus, help me to hear your voice in my life. Lord Jesus, bless my neighbors. Lord Jesus, bless my children and make them saints. Lord Jesus, bless my husband or wife. Lord Jesus, save me from the pits of despair. Lord Jesus, remove my anxieties and sadness. Lord, strengthen me for all the difficulties of life. My Lord Jesus, allow me to grow in virtues. My Lord Jesus, make me holy. And of course, Lord Jesus heal my bodily sickness if it is for my salvation.

Although we are not worthy of receiving the Lord, He is ready willing and able to help us, and just as He was willing to go to the centurion and enter into his house. He is also willing to enter into the temple of our souls and bodies. How does He do this? One way is through our reception of the Eucharist.

The holy gifts, the body and blood of Christ are so important that one of the stories that is most highlighted about our saint of the day, Joseph of Damascus is about holy communion. On July 9, 1860 a massacre of Christians began in the city of Damascus, and St. Joseph, just a day or so before his own courageous martyrdom focused completely on his ministry. He travelled under cover of night, jumping from rooftop to rooftop of different dwellings visiting the sick and the infirm to give them time to confess and to receive the holy gifts. He wanted them to be strengthened in their faith. He wanted them to be in full communion with Christ, to have Christ dwelling within them. He wanted to prepare them for paradise. Within a short period of time, just two or three days, nearly 3000 of the faithful lost their lives in that persecution. Among those who escaped the city were Michael Hawaweeny and his young wife Mariam, who was pregnant with St. Raphael our beloved patron.

Let us treat the things of God with this kind of faith and reverence. If we have this kind of faith and love towards Christ we will surely hear the words of our Lord “Go, be it done for you as you have believed” because He is the lover of mankind. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Focusing On God Instead Of Ourselves

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:22-33)

How blessed we are to have the privilege and joy of hearing the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ each and every week, or if we choose, each and every day of our lives. Is anything more beautiful, more meaningful or more powerful than the words of Our Lord?

I feel that each week the Church gives us a new angle, a new insight into the mind of God. Each thought from the mind of God guides us, heals us and has the power to give us renewed purpose and focus in our lives. In fact, today’s gospel reading really does focus on our focus. Our Lord says “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Often we hear or listen to these words and we think very straightforwardly that this is about what we look at with our physical eyes. Now there is certainly some truth to this, no doubt. But the Lord goes further and it helps to clarify the teaching for us. He says “No one can serve two master; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Our Lord tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body, but as we read we understand that this isn’t all about what we look at with our physical eyes. Put another way, if a man is blind, is his body full of light or darkness? The answer is “it depends on his heart.” Our Lord chooses the eyes as a symbol of our focus in life. What do we desire? What do we live for? Where is our heart? To what do we dedicate our energy, our minds, our hearts and our lives? This, and this alone determines whether or not your body is full of darkness or light.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is the very next word from our Lord after He reminds the people that they cannot serve two master. Why does He say this? Because He knows us well. Our Lord Jesus Christ knows that His people will worry about the details of life. He knows that they will worry about how they will survive, how they will live, how they will eat. The Lord knows that our fear and our desire to survive can leave us spiritually compromised. Instead of focusing on the one needful thing, on the things of God. We slowly and gradually drift in our focus and aim in life. What is mammon? Mammon is often understood to mean “money” but in fact many of the Church fathers had a more thorough understanding. St. John Chrysostom saw mammon as a demon.

When we think of mammon in this way then it gives a new meaning to where we focus our lives. Where we focus and what we prioritize are the most important signs of who or what we really serve. So who do we serve with our time, our focus and our energies? Where do we direct our talents and the resources that we gain through the use of our God given talents? To answer these questions is to know whether we are full of light or darkness.

Our Lord knows His people, and as a word of encouragement He tries to comfort us. He says “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not the soul more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Anxiety steals our joy. Our fear for all of the “what ifs” of life actually works to destroy our relationship with God. How does it do that? It causes us to doubt God and it focuses our energies on false gods, and temporary solutions. If a man thinks that his biggest problem in life is poverty, will he not focus on working to make as much money as possible? Will he not pour himself into the thing that he believes is the solution to all of his problems?

The gospel challenges us. It never stops challenging us! When you find that the gospel no longer challenges you, that means you aren’t paying attention to it. The gospel challenges us today and reminds us that our biggest problems are not lack of food, lack of money, lack of clothing, lack of beauty, lack of happiness or even a lack of justice. Our problem is the lack of righteousness and holiness. This is man’s only real problem. This is your only real problem. St. Andrew of Crete in his canon writes “I have been anxiously concerned only about outward adornment, and have neglected the inner temple made in the image of God.”

The other things we lack might be important in our short term understanding, but only one problem has lasting effect and significance. The problem is our constant search for comfort, belonging, identity and survival apart from God our creator. And according to the Lord, when we focus our sight on these things, we in fact begin to serve another master apart from Christ! How sad that is for Christians, for children of our heavenly Father!

Our Lord says “Don’t be anxious!” Many times within the Scriptures we read the phrase “fear not!” Fear is a strong negative emotion and driver in the spiritual life. It changes us and deeply affects us. In fact we are reminded that only fear of God is really appropriate. This healthy fear can be the seed to our repentance and a renewed life where we seek God, His kingdom and His righteousness before all else. God loves you, each of you, more than you can possibly fathom. He will not abandon you or leave you poor. He wants to give you all of His riches and His wealth. He wants to clothe you with the beautiful garment of a clean soul. He wants to welcome you into His heavenly mansion so that you are protected from the elements. He wants to feed you with His own flesh and blood. Everything that we think we need to struggle and worry about has already been arranged for us. Trust Him and direct your lives to serve Him alone. Focus on Him because He is already focusing on you.

Finally I want to leave you with this wonderful quote from St. Isaac the Syrian. He writes, “While we are living improperly, we fear all kinds of things. When we recognize God, there occurs a fear of His judgment. But when we start to love God, all fears vanish.” May all of our fears also vanish as we run to Christ and focus all of our efforts on Him for He alone is worthy of our focus and worship.

Source: Sermons

Starting Again At The Beginning

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)

Last week we celebrated the Sunday of All Saints and we rejoiced in the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women just like you and me. Today since this is the second Sunday after Pentecost, the Church rewinds and begins to replay the story of the gospel for us again. We can see that last week was a fulfillment of the whole plan of salvation which ends with the glorification and deification of those who are willing participants in God’s plan. Yet today we start again, almost at the beginning. We encounter the Lord Jesus Christ walking near the Sea of Galilee. And we see Him beginning to call the disciples. According to St. Matthew this is the first time that the Lord calls disciples, although we learn from John’s gospel that in fact Andrew was the first called disciple.

The Lord doesn’t wait for an invitation or an opening, He sees the men and He invites Himself into their lives. He sees them pursuing their livelihood and He doesn’t insult their work or their lives. He doesn’t say to them “leave behind this stinky job and come take a more glamorous and important job. He adopts and accepts who they are and yet He challenges them to become more. He does all of this using their language. Since they were fishers, He extends a beautiful invitation to them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Ten words that had potential to change the history of the world. Yet what allows potential to become actualized? Decisive action. And we see exactly that from Peter and Andrew. We are told that “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”

Last week the Church reminded each of us of our potential in Christ, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. We saw potential that was actualized in the lives of the saints. We read about these saints and we are astonished by their lives. Men and women who sinned and fell into every manner of evil. Murderers, thieves, adulterers, idol worshippers, all of them were recreated by God’s grace through serious repentance and the cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Today the same potential is offered to each one of us again. I say again because in truth this is offered to us every day of our lives. God is never far away from us. It is we who are far away from Him and His Church.

Today we are again invited to rededicate our lives and our hearts to following Jesus Christ wherever He will lead us. What am I missing, why am I not transformed into a saint? What I am missing is decisive action. He asked the disciples to follow Him and they immediately left everything. Christ our Lord asks each of us to follow Him but how do we respond to that calling? Are we slow to respond? Are we afraid of what it will cost us to follow Him? Are we lazy? Are we too comfortable with our lives and our stuff? What is standing between us and Christ? What is preventing us from immediately and decisively choosing to turn our focus to Christ and living for Him daily? These are the difficult questions that we should ask ourselves, because God and His kingdom are worth it.

The Lord holds out this invitation for each of us. To what are we being invited? To a new purpose for our lives, to refreshment, to unending light and joy, to Christ’s presence, to the kingdom, to salvation, to transformation, to eternal life. Christ never tries to take away from our lives. He desires to strip away what is necessary and to remove whatever is a hindrance to our growth as His children. The invitation to follow Him is the beginning of a new life for those who take this calling seriously. The Lord says “Come with Me, follow Me, be with Me and I will change you in ways you can’t imagine.”

And what happened to those men who faithfully followed the Lord? They were changed, transformed and healed through their encounter and their openness to Christ. They opened their hearts to Him and He conquered their lives. And what the Lord did, He allowed His disciples to also do. To teach, to preach and to heal the people. Such is the power of God when we allow Him into our lives and we obey Him in a serious way, with conviction.

Not much in our spiritual life is more important than this virtue of obedience. And virtually every one of the Church fathers mentions obedience, firstly the obedience to God as this is the seed for humility.

St. Diadochos of Photiki writes, “It is well known that obedience is the chief among the initiatory virtues, for first it displaces presumption and then it engenders humility within us. Thus it becomes, for those who willingly embrace it, a door leading to the love of God.”

St. Heychios the priest writes “We should of our own free choice gladly cut off our whole will through obedience. In this way, with God’s help, we shall become to some degree tractable (easy to control or influence) and free from self-will.”

St. Gregory Palamas goes further in his encouragement to us saying “Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is union with the soul. As the soul was separated from God and died in consequence of the violation of the commandment, so by obedience to the commandment it is again united to God and is quickened. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, ‘The words I speak to you are spirit and life’ (Jn. 6:63).”

Finally, St. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us of the example of the obedience of Christ as he writes “But human nature, which fell sick through the disobedience of Adam, now became glorious in Christ through His utter obedience. For it is written that as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (cf. Rom. 5:19).”

Everything that we need and that we truly desire is offered to us by Jesus Christ. It is all hidden within this word, this invitation, “Come follow Me.” Follow Him daily. Read His words, implant them in your heart, implement them in your life. Follow His example of life. This is the start of a Christian life, just as it was the start of a new life for the disciples who obeyed Him that day on the Sea of Galilee. May we also strive to be worthy disciples to the glory of God. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

May We Shine Like Stars

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)

Today on the Sunday directly after the Feast of Pentecost we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. This is a commemoration of all the saints of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We celebrate them directly after the feast of Pentecost because it is only through the gift and the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers that they are transformed into more than just mere humans, into sanctified and glorified children of God. As we celebrate this feast we hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ for us,

“Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

These difficult verses give us a glimpse into what separates us from the saints, what makes the saints special. And what is it that makes the saints special people? Is it that they are quiet? Is it that they are more humble than others? Is it that they speak softly and do not get easily angered or annoyed? Is it that they make every effort to come to the church and worship the living God? In fact, none of these things are what make the saints special. These are all of the outward signs of what God has done to transform their hearts. The saints are those who have given their hearts fully to God.

Yet the Lord tells us that if you really want to be a saint, someone who is acknowledged by God the Father and will then also be acknowledged by the rest of the Church and its angels and saints and heavenly hosts. If you want to be a true saint, you have to acknowledge the Son of God openly with your life. In both your words and your deeds. St. John Chrysostom said,

““But why,” you object, “should I need to confess faith with my mouth if I confess faith in my mind?” No, we must confess with our mouths in order that we may be steadily trained to speak boldly. It is only through this more abundant love and determination that we will be raised on high. In this way Jesus addresses himself to each one of us personally. He is not here addressing his original disciples only but every one of us who follows after his disciples in accord with their witness to him. One who learns this lesson will teach it in boldness to others, prepared to suffer all things easily and with a ready mind. This is why so many have come to have faith in the witness of the apostles to this Word.”

St. John tells us that boldness of faith, vocal faith, is needed from Christians. This boldness of faith allowed the apostles to go boldly and preach even though it would cost them their lives. These days shameless and perverted people go around with diabolical agendas and sexual perversion and guess what? They do it boldly, with courage, and the world holds them up as heroes! Where is our courage my brothers and sisters? When was the last time that you mentioned Jesus Christ and His teaching in public? When was the last time that you even wore a cross in public? When was the last time that you prayed in public? Are you afraid of what others will think? Are you afraid to be labelled weird or strange? Are you afraid to be called a Christian?

Let me also be clear that I’m not suggesting that you should be bold on social media. That is not real boldness. It is better for you to be silent on social media (which fuels the ego) and be bold and courageous in person. If we are bold as lions, as children of the King, then we will not be timid with our faith and love for Jesus Christ or His teachings. When we love someone we move heaven and earth to let everyone know that we have this love. We go above and beyond not only to prove our love to our beloved, but in order to let others know about this love. When was the last time that you went out of your way to tell others of your love for Jesus Christ? We know for certain that our beloved Jesus Christ moved heaven and earth in order to demonstrate His love for each of us. His love for us was the very purpose of His life and it became the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

During this feast of All Saints we are reminded of our ultimate goals in life. We are reminded by the lives of the saints themselves. Whatever the saints are doing, this is our calling. Not one saint is identical to any other. Each one is unique and stunning, yet all are united by the Holy Spirit through the love of Christ. Read about them, study them, know them and love them.

As we study their lives we are reminded that everything in the life of a human being, even in the life of a saint passes away…everything except what we have dedicated to God and acquired through the practices of faith and love. Everything else fades away and is forgotten. Wealth, fame, popularity, health, power, trials and tribulations, all of these are counted as nothing by the saints. Why should that surprise us? Our Lord Himself owned nothing and suffered a shameful death as a common criminal. None of that mattered because the Lord and His saints didn’t put their hope and their trust in the world. They put their hope and trust in God and His kingdom. In the book of Revelation the angel shares these words with St. John,

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Rev 14:12-13 “Their works follow them.” If we died tomorrow would our works follow us or leave us behind? What would our works say about our love for Christ? We are reminded that the world is ultimately divided into two and only two camps. Those who love, obey and serve Jesus Christ and those who deny the Lordship of Christ and serve the demons. Who or what is the focus of your life? We know the focus in the lives of the saints is the Lord Jesus Christ and His body the Church. Through this focus the saints have found a place to safely gather and store treasure that won’t rust or fade or ever be stolen away. My friends, this treasure is offered to each one of you just as it was offered to each of the saints who were men and women just like us. The life and treasure of Christ was offered to each of them and they grabbed hold of this life.

I want to leave you with this beautiful quote from St Dimitri of Rostov who writes:

The lives and praises of the saints are like the stars in brilliance. Because of their number, we do not know the names of all the saints; still, they amaze us by their radiant majesty, as do the stars, which while fixed in their position in the heavens, illumine all that is below… Similarly, the radiance of the saints, though their relics be entombed in sepulchers, is not bounded by the ends of this earth here below. Therefore, we marvel at their lives and are amazed at how God has glorified them that please Him.”

And may we also shine with them to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Worse Than Blindness

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (9:1-38)

In today’s gospel passage we hear so much about blindness and the miracle of the Lord to restore a man’s vision, his physical sight. As we have witnessed in many stories of the gospel, as we go through the passage we begin to understand that things are not quite what they seem. We learn over the course of the reading that the true problem isn’t the lack of physical sight of the blind man, but rather the lack of spiritual sight of the Pharisees. Spiritual blindness is more significant than physical blindness. I should be quite content to be physically blind as long as my heart and soul are not blinded as well.

What does spiritual blindness look like? It starts with each of us and our understanding of ourselves. St. John of Kronstadt said “Every man on earth is sick with the fever of sin, with the blindness of sin and is overcome with its fury.” So this blindness is caused by and is a direct result of sin. And it is coupled with pride. Pride justifies our behaviors and our failings to others and to ourselves instead of admitting that we struggle and fail and are in desperate need of God’s mercy and healing.

We begin the process of healing and of receiving our sight when we counteract our pride with the virtue of humility. This process begins when we can confess our sins. That doesn’t mean simply saying that you are a sinner, but really recognizing it from the depths of your heart because that is where the healing happens. St. Nikolai of Zicha writes, “It is of more importance to the Lord that a man acknowledge and confess his sickness and cry for help in his heart than with this tongue, for the tongue is capable of deception, but the heart is not.” As Christians we demonstrate our true heartfelt compunction and repentance by coming to a priest and confessing in his presence. This is a difficult thing to do because it requires humility. In the sacrament of confession we confess with our tongue but we must have a heartfelt desire to bring these sins to the priest. It requires us to bring our sins out of hiding in the depths and into the light where they can be exposed to the Son.

We are encouraged to come without shame but instead to be courageous in our repentance. We should have shame when we sin, and we are often bound with the sense of shame after we sin, but we should repent and confess with courage and the Lord will give us an increase of humility and courage to continue to struggle as warriors. St. John Chrysostom taught “Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.”

All that we have said so far is summed up in this verse from the Apostle John who wrote,

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1Jn 1:8-9

The spiritual blindness of the Pharisees was not limited to refusing to see their own sins and judging others. It was even greater. It was a refusal to acknowledge the works of God that had been revealed to them. How does this relate to each of us? It relates to us because we often lack gratitude and forget to see the hands of God working in our lives each and every moment of every day. If we understood even a tenth of a percent of what the Lord does to bless our lives and protect and provide for us, we would fall down on our faces in awe and wonder.

We can get stuck in our negative ways of thinking. We can be so focused on what we don’t see happening in our lives or what we don’t have, that we refuse to see what the Lord is actually doing and how He has generously provided for us. We can get stuck in way of thinking and relating to the world that is unenlightened, blind.

The Pharisees were so stuck in their preconceived thoughts and ways that they couldn’t see the hand of God when He was working right before their very eyes. Imagine the magnitude of missing out on what was happening right before them, and the One who had caused these things to happen. But the corrupt Pharisees went even further than to simply ignore what God was doing, they rejected Him completely. They believed in their own opinions and judged all who came to them without hesitation. They did not see Christ in the face of the man born blind, and since they had rejected him, it was only natural that they would also reject the Lord who had healed the man, restored his health and in truth, given him new life.

This is the God whom we serve, the God whom we love because He first loved us. He didn’t heal the blind man because He needed attention or acclamation, He did it because He desires to heal and to make all things new. Run to this Lord and God and cry out to Him. Let us not harden our hearts but in humility let us confess and ask the Lord to remove our blindness again and again so that we might see the gift of life that has been given to us and all of the ways that the Lord is continually working to care and provide for us. Then there is no doubt that we will proclaim boldly “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation!” Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons

Always Drinking, Yet Always Thirsty

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (4:5-42)

In today’s gospel reading we have the longest discourse between our Lord Jesus Christ and another person in all of the 4 gospels. We are told that the Lord Jesus was tired from His journey and He decided to rest in Samaria at Jacob’s well. We are told that at about the sixth hour a woman of Samaria came to draw water from the well. We sometimes think of the Lord as being like Superman, invincible, strong etc. Yet here something quite unexpected happens. The Lord asks the woman for a drink of water. He who created the heavens and the earth and set a boundary for the seas and the oceans, the creator of water itself, is thirsty and asks this woman to serve Him. However that is not the only amazing feature of this encounter. The Samaritan woman is quite surprised by the request for water because Jews traditionally had no dealings with Samaritans and because men did not generally interact publicly with women who were not well known to them, such as a close acquaintance or family member.

Yet our Lord shrugs off these social conventions because He has a purpose. Her soul was His purpose. This woman, whom we later call Photini, stands as a symbol of humanity. Our Lord demonstrated His tenderness and dedication by lifting her up out of her shame and darkness and making her a radiant and beautiful human being. Until this moment in her life she was probably considered outwardly beautiful, but on the inside she was full of filth. Sin had made her downright ugly. Her path was darkened through her life of rebellion. What was her sin? She was sexually immoral. She was divorced multiple times and as the Lord reminds us, when we divorce and move on to another person, that is a form of adultery. Later she did not even marry but simply had relations with another man. She did much of this in secret. It was her burden that she carried around within her soul. Yet the Lord who was thirsty for water was even more determined to aid this woman’s spiritual thirst.

“Give me a drink.” He started to engage with her through these simple words. The Lord could have fetched His own water, it wasn’t a difficult task and the Lord wasn’t helpless, but He instead, connected with her. His interest is hardly in the water, water only goes so far. Yet it is the potential of her transformed life that will truly refresh Him. Yet the Lord’s interest is not so much in refreshing Himself but in refreshing this woman’s life. He saw her and understood her burdens and He took pity on her and offered her something that she could never have earned or deserved. He offered her living water!

Our Lord tells her that “everyone who drinks of the (water) of the well will thirst again”, what does this mean? It means that physical water quenches the physical thirst. But it is temporary. It doesn’t last. We get thirsty again. Yet this applies to more than just water, it applies to all of the things that we think we need in life. It even applies to our addictions and our passions. They have such a powerful sway over us that we think that we cannot live without fulfilling those desires. We turn to things that are addictive. Sometimes it is food or alcohol, sometimes it is drugs, or thrill-seeking, sometimes it is movies and texting and games, sometimes it is the desire to control life. Sometimes it is sex, as it is for those struggling with pornography or as it was for Photini, the Samaritan woman and her addiction to attention, relationships and men. No matter what we thirst for within our flesh, it can never be enough. We get what we desire and we immediately desire more. We are never satisfied. Indeed the Lord says that “everyone who drinks of the water of the well will thirst again but whoever drinks of the water that the Lord gives will never thirst forever”!

Which water do we desire and chase after in our lives? Is it water for our flesh, or water for our souls? If we keep chasing the various waters that satisfy our passions temporarily, we will always return empty, hungry, thirsty and ultimately broken. This was the life of Photini. She thought the answer was to be found in the embrace of men. But she would find out that the answer was only found when she first embraced the living God!

Through her life Photini had learned about God, but she had never had a relationship with Him until this very moment at the sixth hour of the day. You and I are not so different from her. We may know about God but to know and converse and have a living relationship with God is another thing altogether. The Lord tells us that we must worship God in spirit and truth. It means that we have to rightly believe in God and that we must have inspiration from the Holy Spirit to help us.

St. Basil the Great writes, “To worship in the Spirit implies that our intelligence has been enlightened…” He continues, “By truth he clearly meant himself. If we say that worship offered in the Son (the truth) is worship offered in the Father’s image, we can say the same about worship offered in the Spirit since the Spirit in himself reveals the divinity of the Lord.”

Going on further St. Basil writes,

“Light cannot be separated from what it makes visible, and it is impossible for you to recognize Christ, the image of the invisible God, unless the Spirit enlightens you. Once you see the image, you cannot ignore the light; you see the light and the image simultaneously. It is fitting that when we see Christ, the brightness of God’s glory, it is always through the illumination of the Spirit. Through Christ the image, may we be led to the Father, for he bears the seal of the Father’s very likeness.”

So here we see the harmony of worship and prayer life in the Holy Trinity. We know who God is because of the person of Jesus Christ. This woman at the well also learned who God was because He came and spoke with her and revealed all things to her. This encounter with the living God changed her life. Our encounters with the living God also promise to change our lives, my brother and sisters. Understand that the whole of your life is meant to be an encounter with God. Don’t chase after water that will never satisfy your deepest needs. Don’t live your lives in constant thirst. Instead let us chase after the life-giving water that proceeds from Trinity and is shared with each of us in the life of prayer and worship. To Christ be glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

St. John and Our Living Faith

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. John. (1:1-7)

A few years ago there was a group of so-called biblical scholars who formed a group called “the Jesus Seminar.” One of the core tenets of this group was the belief that there was a difference between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. They would then take the texts of the gospels and they would highlight certain passages as being likely, unlikely, improbably etc. What did they use as the basis of their studies? Not much. It was basically a matter of their opinions which were grounded in the secular and materialist worldview. If you would like to read a truly devastating critique of their work please read “The Real Jesus” by noted scholar Luke Timothy Johnson.

Now the problem with the approach of these scholars is that it doesn’t allow for the supernatural. It doesn’t allow for the possibility that the most unlikely explanation (in earthly terms) is still the very best explanation for the events and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But there is another more serious issue: The Christ who is preached by the Church is in fact, the true and only Christ, the historical Christ. If the Christ that we preach is different from some other “actual” or “historical” Christ than we have a problem. How would we know that the Christ we claim to follow is in fact the true and genuine one?

Moreover this becomes even less likely when we remember that the main historical documents about Jesus where those written by His very own disciples and apostles. One of those disciples is commemorated today, St. John the theologian. He was a young disciple who not only followed John the baptist, but then followed Christ with his brother James. He travelled with the Lord and witnessed His life and miracles for three straight years. He tells that the Lord Jesus performed so many miracles that all of the books could not possibly contain them! This same disciple was at the foot of the cross and witnessed the Lord’s final hours in agony and pain. Later, he was among the first to run to the place where Jesus had been laid and to witness the empty tomb. He spoke with the resurrected Lord and he took the Mother of God, Mary as his own adopted mother.

And He, the apostle John tells us that what he has written, and what he and his fellow disciples have preached, and what his very own brother has died for is “that which they have heard, which they have seen with their own eyes, which they have looked upon and touched with their hands.” We do not make a distinction between the Christ of the gospels and the true, historical Christ. They are one and the same. This is not a matter of opinion. It is the teaching. If you want to know joy and life and peace you have to believe rightly in the one who bestows these gifts by His grace. More than this, we are called to follow the teachings and to be molded into His image and to live a life that is well-pleasing to this one who is the way, the truth and the life.

St. John writing in today’s epistle reminds us that he is writing this “so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” So our fellowship with St. John, and the apostles and the whole Church depends upon our belief in the Lord. If we believe rightly and live rightly, then we are in fellowship and communion with God and His Church as well as His saints. St. John goes even further saying that he is writing this “that our joy may be complete.” He is speaking of the joy of the apostles. What makes their joy complete is the fulfillment of the preaching to which they have dedicated their lives. Their joy is complete in the generations of men, and women, boys and girls who would come to reject their former lives and choose to live in, through, and for Christ. The generations who would reject the darkness of sin and spiritual death and choose light and life. When we struggle to live genuinely and to walk in the light of Christ, then St. John assures and promises us that “the blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin.”

I pray that these living words of the Apostle John will give us hope and encouragement as we strive to know the Lord and to serve Him.

I want to leave you with a quote from another John, St. John of Kronstradt who writes, “When your faith in the Lord, either during your life and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of quitting this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, and from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones:

St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the Prophetess, and others; the Apostles, prelates, venerable Fathers, martyrs, the disinterested, the righteous, and all the saints.

See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and of the life eternal, and strive to imitate them.” AMEN.

Source: Sermons