How Not To Lose the Blessings of Holy Week

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (12:1-18) 

As we move into Holy Week, we will quickly see that the cries of the people who came to greet the Lord Jesus on Palm Sunday, have changed. They came out by the hundreds and possibly thousands to say “Hosanna! Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” They greeted the Lord as a victorious king, but what a great difference just a few days can make. In less than 5 days, He will be betrayed. In less than a week, the same crowd that came to greet Him and to call Him “king”, will deny Him and cry out with one voice “Crucify Him!”

We are reminded that our feelings are not to be trusted. The people were not watchful, but passionate. They were easily swayed and not firm in their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. We are amazed at their quick change of attitude and we are left much more amazed by the humility of the Lord Jesus. How much patience and mercy He has towards us. His own creation, the very works of His very hands, had completed it’s rebellion and turned against Him. Yet, He did not respond with anger. He responded with humility, in order to turn his curse into our blessing. It is the picture of unimaginable love. Love without limits. Love without preconditions. Love without wavering or faltering. Pure love from the Pure One.

And none of this came as a surprise to Our Lord. He foretold and foreknew the whole situation. He understood what kind of suffering He would face as He entered into Jerusalem. While they cheered and sang “Hosanna!” He already knew how they would change their cheers into jeers, how they would gnash their teeth while they begged for the criminal Barabbas to be freed and for Christ to be crucified in his place.

We probably think to ourselves, “thank God that I am not like those stupid people who betrayed Christ.” But in fact we are the same people! We betray Christ every time we ignore His teachings and do our own will. We betray Christ when we sin. We betray Christ when we do not love our neighbor. We betray Christ when we dishonor and neglect the life that He gives us in His Church, which is in truth, His mystical body. My brothers and sisters, we are not so different from those who came to greet the Lord that day in Jerusalem. We celebrate God when things are going well for us. But we might turn against Him if our life became uncomfortable or if we were sick or if people attacked us or punished us because of our belief in Him.

Why were the people fickle and moody in their attitude changes? Because their faith was based on outward signs and not on the person of Christ. The Mother God knew her Son very well, and she didn’t betray Him. She stood by and watched and agonized over the treatment that Her beloved Son was receiving. Her faith was constant, because it was faith in Christ and not only in His miracles. Faith in the person of Christ can sustain us, because it is a solid foundation upon which to build our lives.

I would like to switch pace just a bit as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. This is the one week of the year when we spend the most time in the church and I want to take a few moments to talk about what we can do to make the most of this time, to gain great benefits. I also want to speak about what we do that steals away the grace of God and the joy of this somber but beautiful week.

Here are a few things that steal our joy and diminish our sense of God’s grace: Extra talking and joking after the services. I’ve noticed that after each of our services, we are happy to see each other, happy to be together. But let us try to hold in some of that enthusiasm and joy. This should be a week full of quiet reflection and a time for us to let the prayers find a place deep in the heart. If we talk as soon as we leave the somber holy week services, we lose some of that grace, we chase it away with idle chatter or boisterous laughter. Instead, try to hold back and safe guard it like a treasure that will gain interest over time. It’s much more difficult than you think, if it has not become a habit.

Next, be extra careful about how you spend your free time. This is not the time for loud music and games and television. But it is a great time for an electronics and media fast. It is an even better time to finish those books you’ve started at the beginning of Lent and even to study the holy week book that we use daily during this week. It is full of amazing hymns, scripture readings, and prayers.

Last, don’t focus on Pascha prematurely. Don’t focus on your meal plans or celebrations too early. This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t lose the blessings of each day of Holy Week by daydreaming about the future. On Saturday after the morning service, you will have plenty of time to think about and prepare for Saturday evening. Only remember that Pascha is NOT about food and drink but about light, joy and life! It is the most special service of the whole year, where we enter more deeply into the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The last thing that I would like to mention that steals our joy and robs us of the grace of Holy Week: Willfully skipping the services. Lent was a time to begin reorienting our lives around Christ and His Church. If Lent was the start, Holy Week is the culmination. It is the time when every Christian is called to put aside the things of the world and hit the pause button on their outside lives. The world is passing away. Only the Lord’s kingdom will remain! Here is a simple rule for the week: If it can be postponed or put off until later so that you can come and pray, then by all means, do it. Or what will a man give in return for his soul?

Holy Week was not instituted in order to make you feel guilty as you skip all of the services. It was instituted by the Church in order to help you enter into the profound beauty of all that the Lord Jesus has done for us. In order to give you a deep experience of the redemption that was won for us by our Lord, through His life giving sufferings and passion. And all of this helps us to fully enter into the joy of life in the risen Christ.

May the Lord give you strength for this holy marathon and make you worthy to celebrate at the footsteps of the empty tomb! AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

It Is Not Too Late!

On this final Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we remember and celebrate the life of the great St. Mary of Egypt. 

Most of us know the story of St. Mary of Egypt but perhaps we can dig a little deeper into the Church’s true purpose for remembering her now at the end of the great fast.

We are told that Mary left home at a young age, about 12 years old. She was wild and undisciplined and she was a sex addict. She had little control over her desires or impulses. She allowed these feelings and urges to drag her from place to place. In many ways she embodies the definition of womanhood that is offered to us in the Western world. Her life was like something out of “Sex and the City.” She would be celebrated by many for her unrestrained lifestyle. Today many women celebrate this so-called freedom. They think that being sexually chaste or modest is some sort of weakness or even slavery. They fight for the freedom of the body and they can’t conceive of the ways in which the body and soul are connected. They fight for sexual liberation and can’t conceive of the ways in which they are hurrying towards their own slavery.

Mary was like many people today. She was governed and ruled by her sexual desires. These desires led her further and further into darkness. It is possible that for most of her life she had never heard the word “NO”. She made herself available to many of the young men she met. She gave her love to one man after another. And this is where she falls right into the biblical story of salvation. Mary of Egypt is a great symbol of God’s people, when they are unfaithful. She is a woman with many lovers.

If you spend some time in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books, you will find a recurring theme. This theme is the marriage of God to His bride Israel. This Israel is not the nation state that we see on the news, it is understood by the Fathers of the Church as the people of God. The problem with the people of biblical Israel is that they are always giving their love to other gods. God wants them to be faithful, but they continue to seek out false gods, day after day and year after year. Israel is the unfaithful wife. According to the Scriptures, she is worse than a harlot.

Are we faithful to God or do we behave like Mary of Egypt. Do we live to serve the true and living God or are we living for other gods such as wealth, beauty, power, security and luxury? When these strange gods come to seduce us, how do we respond? Do we push them away or do we quickly accept them?

Mary had gone her whole life and never been denied because men were looking at her strictly on her visible beauty. But what would happen when she approached the One who could see the inner state of her soul? As she sought to enter the church in Jerusalem she felt a force push against her. The woman who had never been rejected was now being rejected by God Himself. It was a turning point in her life.

It turns out that Mary was not happy in the state she was in, she was miserable. She had been chasing these sins because she was hungry for something deeper. She wanted love. We all want love. The problem is that usually the things we love don’t return love to us. They use us and throw us away once we are no longer useful. They leave us feeling lonely, abandoned and empty.

Mary found the love of Jesus Christ. She was baptized and received communion and for the next 47 years she lived in the wilderness in complete solitude. She repented and prayed and thanked God that He had not rejected her, but had shown her true love and mercy in ways she could never expect. Her transformation began with her heartfelt repentance, but it continued long afterwards. She did not merely accept Christ into her heart and go about living any way she liked. That is not Christianity, that is fantasy land. Mary of Egypt gained amazing spiritual gifts and insights, the likes of which are rarely attained even by those living in the monasteries under spiritual guidance for many years. God was faithful and true in His promises. As Mary continued her struggle, Christ continued to pour out His abundant grace. Once Mary knew who loved her, she gave Him everything she had and everything she was. She poured out her body, her heart, her mind and her strength. She completely embodied the first and greatest commandment to give God everything of ourselves.

Mary becomes a sign of what can happen to the people of God when they turn from their wickedness and actually let God affect them. It’s not a matter of “if” God can change you, It’s a matter of “how”. St. Mary of Egypt shows us that it is God’s good pleasure to transform each of us into His image and likeness. He makes warriors to become peacemakers. He makes brutes to become physicians. He makes the foolish to become wise. He makes harlots to become virgins. He makes strangers to become His sons and daughters.

As we near the finish line of the fast, Mary of Egypt gives us courage to complete our journey. Not one of our sacrifices or our prayers will be ignored. Not one of our struggles will be forgotten by God. Perhaps it is time that we turn to Him and trust Him completely as did this wonderful saint. God loves you just as He loved St. Mary. He doesn’t desire your death but your purification, sanctification and illumination. He desires to have communion with you, to know you intimately. No matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter what sins are in your past, God is ready to redeem you. Even now, at the last hour of Great and Holy Lent, God can transform each of us and bring us true healing. It is not yet too late. What is impossible with men, is still possible with Christ our God!

Glory be to the God Forever. AMEN.

(Adapted from a sermon given on 4-5-2014 )

Source: Sermons

Instructions For The Laity From St. John Climacus

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31)

Today’s reading is given to us on this, the fourth Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. This day we commemorate the memory of our father among the saint John Climacus. He is most well known for the spiritual classic which he wrote called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”. In this powerful book, he outlines steps of the spiritual life as rungs of a ladder that lead up to heaven. As we climb and gain new virtues through God’s help, we ascend further towards the Kingdom. This book is so highly regarded that it is often the main lenten reading in monasteries around the world. This of course makes great sense when you realize that this book was written for monastics and from a monastic mindset. Nevertheless, it has many wonderful treasures for the average layperson who eagerly studies it with some guidance from their priest and spiritual father.

At the beginning of the book, St. John has some important words of advice for those living in the world, especially those who are single and might consider monasticism. We will get to that in a moment. But I think it is important to remember that not everyone needs to get married. Some are not called to marriage. But if we desire to be single then we must be single in the way that is pleasing to God, and not in the way of the world. If we desire to be single, we should also desire to be celibate or chaste. You can’t stay in the world and live anyway that you like and claim to believe in God and serve Him while living in any way that you please. 

The Church teaching (which is the teaching of Jesus Christ), does not allow for the gratification of sexual urges and desires outside of the sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman. We are certainly free to live that lifestyle but it is to our own harm and death, and not to life. So even those who live together and pretend to be married are living in grave sin, that does untold spiritual damage because they have chosen to live without the blessing of God. One of the modern fathers likened this to a man putting on a priests vestments and trying to serve the liturgy. Just wearing the vestments isn’t enough to make someone a priest. He has to be ordained with the laying on of hands, from an authentic bishop, that bestows the grace of the priesthood. And he will have to sweat and struggle to become worthy of the grace that he was given. In similar fashion, the ones who desire to live lawfully and in a godly manner, must wait for the Holy Spirit to bless the union and make the couple, one flesh. Then they must work diligently to confirm the gift they received. So each of us must decide and be firm in our conviction. Nevertheless, right at the beginning of his epic work, St. John has some words of advice especially for those who are unmarried and perhaps feel the pull to the monastic life. He writes, 

“In the world, when an emperor summons us to obedience, we leave everything aside and answer the call at once without delays or hanging back or excuses. We had better be careful then not to refuse through laziness or inertia, the call of the heavenly life in the service of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God of gods. He continues… “Someone caught up in the world can make progress, if he is determined. But it is not easy. Those bearing chains can still walk. But they often stumble and are thereby injured. The man who is unmarried and in the world, for all that he may be burdened, can nevertheless make haste toward the monastic life.” 

In this he encourages those who have contemplated leaving the world to do so without delay and to enter the heavenly ranks. As you may know, our very own Mother Angelina and Father Gabriel did just that, and what joy we take in their offering of their lives to the Lord.

Next, St. John gives some words of advice to those who are married and must live in the world. What he says is short, sweet and to the point, and within it the whole Christian life is present. St. John writes,

“Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?” I answered: “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies (Liturgy). Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.” 

In a brief paragraph that is dripping with spirit-filled wisdom, St. John all but hands us the keys to the kingdom. He shows us what is required if we want to live in communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

Now some of you may be thinking to yourselves “Father, there is a problem. I want to do all of these things that St. John has mentioned but I cannot seem to do them. I speak ill of others, I judge others, I tell small lies, I carry hatred in my heart, I skip the liturgy at times, I desire and covet what belongs to my neighbor and am not content with what God has given me. What can I do now?”

In a way, the gospel reading is meant to address this. We hear of a boy who is brought to Jesus by his father who asks for the Lords help. The boy exhibits symptoms of being an epileptic. He often falls down and convulses. He has moments where he is no longer in control of himself and in fact, it goes beyond mere epilepsy since his father tells us that often the spirit which possessed the boy, tried to throw him into fire or water and destroy him. To all of this our merciful Lord Jesus responds “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Yet the father, overwhelmed by this trial and the way it has affected his son can only cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” So it is quite similar to where we might be. We want Christ, we want the kingdom of God, we want to do all of the things that St. John mentioned above, but perhaps we feel powerless to get there. 

The gospel tells us that the disciples, who had been given power by Jesus, had earlier tried to help the boy but could not do the job and they wondered why. The Lord replied “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” It is the word that the Lord gives us today. We are reminded that we are in the middle of Lent precisely to increase our prayers and fasting. Why? Because it is in heartfelt prayer and humble fasting, that the greatest changes can happen to our spiritual state. Prayer when coupled with fasting, becomes a powerful catalyst in our transformation as sons and daughters of God. Fasting helps us to overcome obstacles and temptations as well as habitual sins that seem like they can never be defeated in our lives. Yet, we notice that it is the Lord Himself who has blessed the act of fasting. It is the Lord who began His own earthly ministry with 40 days of preparation through fasting and prayer. 

Fasting allows us to shed our sinful inclinations like a snake sheds its skin. So we fast in order that the transformational power of God might be magnified to it’s fullest potential. And we are amazed that as we are healed and transformed we sense that Christ is doing to us what He did to the boy in the gospel reading. He takes us by the hand and lifts us up. What a beautiful image! The Lord looks each of us in the eyes and He desires to reach out His hand to us and lift us up with His healing touch. We are in the difficult final weeks. Now is not the time to despair. It is the time to cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

The Way That Leads to Life

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1) 

One of the worst things that can happen to us is to begin thinking that if we love God or have true faith, that somehow our life will be easier, or less painful or have less suffering. When all of a sudden we are faced with difficulties or tribulation, we then question our faith, we question God, we question everything. Why? Because in fact, we had made an idol of pleasure or ease of life.

Even now during the Great and Holy Fast we are sometimes surprised at the level of discomfort we have. We might say to ourselves “Didn’t Father tell us that if we fast and pray faithfully, we will have an experience of the Lord, we will grow in communion with Him?” But let us put our struggles into perspective. Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. It is officially the mid-way point of the fast. Three weeks down, three weeks to go. At the end of the next three weeks, we will enter into Holy Week, the holiest and most solemn time in the life of the Church.

We have struggled a bit. We have prayed a bit, fasted a bit, done a bit of prostrations, done a bit of repenting, done a bit of weeping. At this point we might find ourselves tired. We may begin to question the logic of all this hard work, all of this struggle. Yet what does the Church to to offer us encouragement? She doesn’t bring out the icon of the resurrection of the Lord. She brings out the cross. She reminds us of the love of God for each and every man, woman and child that has ever lived. She reminds us that the Lord Jesus, suffered for us and died for us on the precious wood of the cross in order to give us true life.

My brothers and sisters, now is the time to struggle. Later it will be time to rest. When I say that now is the time to struggle, I am speaking of this holy fast, but I am also speaking of our life in general. There is no one who can avoid suffering. No one can avoid trials. No one can avoid difficult people in their lives. My friends, there is no life for us unless we take up our crosses and carry them all the way to the end.

The Lord taught us what He would also demonstrate for us. He had courage and carried His cross with strength. He knew it was unjust. He knew it was painful. He knew that He did not deserve such treatment. They spit in the Lord’s face and they slapped Him. They beat Him and whipped Him. This was the reward that He received for the many thousands of people that He had fed and healed and taught. They rewarded His love with their hatred. They nailed Him to the tree of death. Yet the Lord took all of this patiently. What a Lord we have! He took this suffering because it was the only way to offer us true life! He took our death and gave us His divine life.

As we each enter into our particular struggles of life, we must enter into them by asking the Lord for strength. Mothers need strength to keep up with their duties and the raising of their children. Fathers need strength to continue working difficult jobs with difficult people. Husbands and wives need strength and patience to deal with one another and to accept one another and support one another. Children need strength to fight peer-pressure and courage to act differently than the world around them.

We enter into our sufferings with determination and a focus on the love of God and of the example of the Lord Jesus. If there was another way, God would have surely shown it to us.

We are called to suffer in life and to carry our crosses so that we might live the life of Christ within our bodies. Instead of seeking pleasure, we seek to please God. Instead of temporary rest, we seek eternal rest when the Lord chooses to give us this rest.

Every decision we make creates a ripple effect. And every day we are faced with the decision that once faced the Lord after He had fasted for 40 days and was hungry. He was faced with a choice of who He should serve. We are faced with that same decision every day. Do we follow after pleasure, after ease of life, after Satan? Or do we follow after the commandments of God, after the way of Christ, no matter where it might lead? The Lord tells us that there is nothing so special as the soul of a man. Don’t forfeit your soul or the souls of those around you for fleeting pleasures.

It is so sad when someone is overcome by serious temptations and their lapse in judgement doesn’t just affect them. It affects everyone in their social circle in a negative way. In fact, it affects the whole Church. Instead of offering life through their struggles, in the model of Christ, they try to throw off their crosses and run after whatever it is that they feel they are lacking.

The cross is brought out to us today not only to give us strength but to remind us of the way to life. It is time to rededicate ourselves in these final weeks of Lent, and to rededicate the days of your whole life to the Master who can redeem your life and offer you something that transcends your every concept of life and joy. Now we are climbing up the mountain of prayer and making progress through the grace of God. Soon we will rejoice with the angels and with the whole universe as we celebrate the One who took up His cross for our sake and in return, gave us to eat of the fruit of eternal life! 

Source: Sermons

What Can Happen When We Pray

The Second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, St. Gregory Palamas Sunday

I’m amazed every year when I’m reminded that St. Gregory Palamas was once called “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church.” Now imagine that he was called “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church” by the Patriarch of Constantinople himself. The year is 1344. This comment was made during a Church council and it caused this man to be thrown into prison for the next 4 years. The man who was “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church” was St. Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonica. Yet the Church in her wisdom has set aside this the second Sunday of Great Lent as Palamas Sunday.

Why was this man called “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church?” and yet why do we remember him on one of the Sundays of Lent? To simplify this I will say that St. Gregory was an accomplished monk who became the abbot or head of one of the monastic communities. In the course of his spiritual life, he had learned many things about our life in Christ, about true Orthodoxy. One of the things that he learned and taught was of great controversy and we better hear it and understand it because it is part of our theology and understanding of God. St. Gregory taught that we could know God intimately and personally. That we can commune with God and that when we do we actually partake of His energies. That we can, through heartfelt daily repentance and ascetical efforts, grow in purity. And when purity is coupled with true prayer, we can feel, know and be bathed in the presence of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

I have to tell you that even today, even now, that is a radical idea for many. I was recently speaking with someone who told me that they felt much better and achieved much more from meditation than they ever did from prayer. I replied that it was probably the case that no one had actually taught them what prayer is or how to pray apart from opening a prayer book and repeating what is in it. In addition, I told them that if we dedicated the same time to prayer that some people dedicate to meditation, the “results” would be quite positive.

We think of prayers as formal words. We sometimes think of prayers as speaking empty words into a blank space, never to hear anything in return. So we are often lucky to spend even 3 minutes praying before we get tired or bored. That is not prayer according to the Fathers of the Church. Prayer is living communion with God that is experienced in a genuine way and this always transforms us, even though we rarely sense it as it is happening. God is not far-away, He is not known only through mental knowledge and books. He is known in truth as we participate in His energies. Rather than say too much from my own words, I will share some of the words of our Fathers and what they had to say about experiencing God. As I share these things please note that we do not pray for to have similar experiences, but God sometimes gives them by grace. Either way, the grace of God is working in us, when we pray. Whether we have a dazzling experience or something far more subtle. Let us first hear the words of St. Gregory Palamas himself,

…the grace of the Spirit takes possession of the quiet soul, and gives it a taste of the unspeakable good things to come, which no passionate and negligent eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of such a man (cf. I Cor. 2:9). This taste is the earnest of these good things, and the heart which accepts these pledges becomes spiritual and receives assurance of its salvation.” 

That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.” -St. Symeon the New Theologian 

Finally, I will share with you the words of the modern, yet to be canonized saint, Elder Sophrony of Essex 

Towards evening at sunset I would shut the window and draw three curtains over it, to make my cell as quiet and dark as possible. With my forehead bent to the floor, I would slowly repeat words of prayer, one after the other. I had no feeling of being cooped up, and my mind, oblivious to the body, lived in the light of the gospel word. Concentrated on the fathomless wisdom of Christ’s word, my spirit, freed from all material concerns, would feel flooded, as it were, with light, from the celestial sun.At the same time, a gentle peace would fill my soul, unconscious of all the needs and cares of this earth. The Lord gave me to live in this state, and my spirit yearned to cling to his feet in gratitude for this gift. This same experience was repeated at intervals for months, perhaps years….Under the influence of this light, prayer for mankind and travail possessed my whole being. It was clear that the inescapable, countless sufferings of the entire universe, are the consequence of man’s falling away from God, our creator, who revealed himself to us. If the world loved Christ and his commandments, everything would be radically transformed, and the earth would become a wonderful paradise.”

I have shared these things with all of you because I want you to know that we do not fast and undergo lent for some outward ritual and symbolic observance, but for the opportunity to be purified and healed. God is not far away. We can have peace with Him. We can knowand experience God.How do we begin to know Him? We begin with heart felt repentance. When we repent, our sins are removed and no heavy weight will weigh us down as we climb up the mountain of prayer. Next,we pray patiently and as we begin to pray, we ask for the gift of prayer. There is no doubt that the Lord desires to give this gift to you. And like any good activity, it must be undertaken with discipline, as a daily part of our life. So continue to strive, because knowing Him is worth it. He desires to know you and to transform you completely, because He loves you. May the grace of the Lord be with you all! AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Why Is The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the First Sunday of Lent?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (1:43-51) 

On this, the first Sunday of the great fast, we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This day specifically commemorates the restoration of the holy icons into all of the churches of God. We might be asking ourselves, “why does the Church celebrate this at the beginning of Lent?” “What is the connection between the veneration of icons and this holy season?” Let me share a few thoughts with you.

The culmination of the great lenten struggle is found in the glorious events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. According to Christian teaching these are the most important events in the entire history of the universe. Yet, in order for them to be understood as more than myth or legend, something must anchor them to reality. What the Church has understood as the anchor of our understanding is the eye witness accounts of the apostles. They gave up their lives, they went to their deaths preaching and teaching that they had indeed seen and touched and heard and known the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. They were witnesses, in the Greek language a witness is a martyr. 

Icons are a necessary part of all Christian worship. In our Church, we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. The Orthodox faithful underwent many years of hardship and persecution at the hands of those who believed that the use of icons was forbidden and was wrong according to their understanding of Scripture (an understanding that incidentally was heavily influenced by the rise of Islam). These Christians read Scripture with a narrow understanding that denied the living interpretation of the universal Christian tradition of the first few hundred years.  Nevertheless, truth won the day, through the life giving breath of the Holy Spirit, as the Church came together to reason and pray and understand what is God’s will regarding this subject that had created so much controversy.

The 7thecumenical council, a universal council of the east and the west, tells us that icons are not only good, but absolutely necessary to Christian worship. They are a continual reminder that God is no longer understood as simply an invisible spirit. God is understood as having a Son, who Himself took real human flesh, real human existence. Who was born on an actual day in history, in an actual place, with an actual human mother from whom He received His actual human DNA. St. Peter writes “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter1:16 

In the Old Testament, God forbid the making of images for worship because the people did not have a proper understanding of Him. No one had ever seen God, for God is spirit. For the people to attempt to depict or worse yet, to pray to what they had not seen or understood, would be a great blasphemy because they were bound to depict God incorrectly. They were bound to worship something false. But, the Lord Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the day is coming when the true worshippers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This indeed has happened with the coming of the savior into the world. The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). His actual word from the Greek is not image but icon. It is thisrevelation of the Son of God in the flesh, that makes iconography not only proper, but necessary. Since mankind looked on the face of the Son of God and dwelt with Him and witnessed all of the events of His life, we know that He is real. To forbid iconography is to deny the incarnation, to deny the taking of flesh by the Son of God. So before the Church leads us to the cross and the resurrection of the Lord, the Church first reminds us of Christmas (the nativity).  The Church reminds us that what we believe is not myth, but truth, and truth has consequences.

In today’s gospel reading Nathanael says to his brother Philip “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And how does Philip respond? “Come and see.” That is the Christian faith. It is not philosophical theory but experience that includes our senses. We don’t know God through books. We know God by experience.In the Orthodox faith we have a sensory experience every time that we enter the church. We taste the Lord’s body and blood, we smell the incense, we see and kiss the icons, we hear the hymns. It must be so! Because our redemption and healing happens not only on some far-away cosmic level, but it happens even within the individual person and within his very cells. Sanctification through the life of the Holy Spirit, transforms us at every level. As a person participates through the body, through their senses, they are healed. The Lord Jesus Christ in His abundant mercy and love for mankind, has made this healing possible by truly taking our human flesh and lifting it up to His level. Hisresurrection becomes our resurrection. Everything is healed. Everything is transformed. Everything is made new in the light of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

So now you see why we remember the return of the icons into the Church. Because we can’t get to the resurrection without the incarnation. We can’t get to the life-saving faith unless the apostles had first witnessed the Word made flesh, and been so convinced of this fact that they were willing to die to proclaim the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a powerful testimony of the truth of our faith and it is this faith that gives us new life. It is this faith that we cling to and embrace as we repent and fast and attend extra services andask the Lord to open our hearts and minds and make these truths a part of our being. 

Truly God is the Lord and has appeared unto us! There is no place here for formality, vainworks, or dead religion. Lent is a time to come to life byembracingthe divine life that has been shared with us through God’s grace and the holy witness of the apostles and all of the saints. This alone is real life! Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Practical Advice As We Enter Great Lent

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21) 

Our Lord begins today’s gospel reading, the gospel reading that is given to us on the day before we plunge into the holy waters of Great Lent. Here is what the Lord says to us “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I think that these words are quite clear. Another way of looking at this saying of our Lord Jesus is this: If we cannot learn to forgive others, genuinely, from the heart, we can never accept the forgiveness that God wants to give to us. Why is this the case? Because God cannot impose Himself upon us. He invites us, but He doesn’t impose.

We come to the church on Sundayand you usuallyhear me giving the homily or sermon and you maybe inclined to think that what I am saying has no practical value. That somehow I am speaking theoretically. NO! The Christian faith is not philosophy but practicality that comes from truth and leads to life. If you want to have great relationships with others, one of the most important things that you need to learn is the ability to forgive everyone for everything that they have ever done to you. Whether through words, or actions or thoughts. Forgive them quickly. This will give you tremendous peace that flows throughout your relationships and clears your path to knowledge of God. This is a tremendous life lesson that we can apply daily. For this reason we will come together as a community tonight at 5pm. We will pray together and we will share the rite of forgiveness with one another. All of us, both members and those who are training to become members of this community. It is a powerful service that helps us to start Lent on the right foot.

Now I would like to share with you some more practical tips for getting the most out of Great Lent.

Guard your eyes: The eyes are the lamp of the soul. Lent is a great time to really pay attention to what we read and see. It is now an established fact that social media such as facebook has tragic consequences on teens and youth, but it is also becoming clear that these forms of social media are poisonous to most people (even, or especially those in denial). In addition, we know of the poisons in the entertainment industry as well as pornography and news. All of these things, even when they seem innocent or harmless, are of questionable value because they usually distract our minds away from the things of God and direct them to the things of the world. 

Perhaps this Lent can be a time for you and your family to dramatically cut your screen time, whether it is games or tv or web browsing. Perhaps we can use this extra time for activities that build up the family like group reading of good stories or board games. Perhaps it could even be used for more personal reading and prayer. This doesn’t apply only to youth, but to parents. Parents, let’s try to put down our phones from dinner time until the children go to bed. Let’s give them our attention and not withhold our love to focus on trivialities. Either way, let’s guard our time and our minds through the gateway of the eyes.

Guard your lips: Our Lord Jesus tells us that it is not what a man puts in his mouth that makes him unclean, but the things that come out of his mouth. During this season we are keen to focus on the food we eat and to try our best to observe the rules of the fast. Let us not forget that the fast is but one way, albeit a powerful one, of attracting the grace of God. But if we fast from certain foods but don’t abstain from gossip or evil words, the grace of God will not rest on us. Then we will be in worse shape then before we fasted. On the others hand, some of the fathers of the Church tell us that practicing silence can greatly help us to receive the grace of God. The lips are connected to the mind and heart. When one is silent, the others begin to quiet down and give room for God to speak to us in our depths. 

Another tip that is closely associate with this one is: Find time in your day for absolute silence. No phones, no music, no people. Just 10 or 20 minutes of silence, preferably sitting or kneeling in front of an icon, can make a great difference in our interior life.

Next, Attend more services: If in the past, you attended lenten services once a week, perhaps you can increase your level of participation and commitment to attending two lenten services a week. If you have never come to mid-week services, perhaps it is within your power to attend once a week. For us, the holy prayers and services are a great means of receiving the grace of God. To come to the Church and pray is truly a counter-cultural and revolutionary act. It is a declaration of our time and faith and commitment to the living God and His people. When you come, you greatly benefit not only yourself but the others in your family and in the church. If for instance, the church is empty on Monday night. Let us suppose that one person comes to pray. He or she might think to themselves “Am I strange?” or “Perhaps I am missing some other important event.” But when there are many together they are strong and they bear witness to one another that Christ is the center of our life, that worship is an essential part of our day.

Finally, expect to be fiercely tempted: When we fast and increase our prayers, we are making a declaration of war against the demonic. But just because the enemy has wokenup and increased his attacks, does not mean that we should back down and run away or retreat. No! It is the time to fortify our defenses and increase our attacks, primarily through prayer and the study of the Scriptures.St. Theophan the recluse once wrote “For a believer there is nothing terrifying here, because near a God-fearing man demons only busy themselves, but they do not have any power over him. A sober man of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from him, not daring to approach, and fearing the defeat which they have already experienced.”

When you pray and use the name of Jesus Christ you mercilessly whip the enemy and bring him great shame. It is better that your enemy should know shame then to succumb to temptation and have the shame placed on you! Remember that Lent is not just a season. It is a symbol of our whole life.

You desire the good things of life. You desire eternal life. Turn to the living God and you will have them! Let this Lent be your return to paradise. Paradise is not a place, paradise is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever we put it during this sacred and special season will be returned to us with heavenly interest! Our time spent in the church will not be lost! Our money given to the poor will not be lost! Our efforts to pray and struggle will not be lost. None of these will be lost, but in return for all of these, we will be found!

St. Porphyrios once said “All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously. Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].” And glory be to God, forever. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Rock Bottom and The Return To God

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (15:11-32)

We are now entering the second week of the pre-lenten period in the Holy Orthodox Church. Last week we heard the Lord’s beautiful words about the publican and the Pharisee and we concluded from His words that the most important aspect of our prayers must be humility. Humility is the bedrock upon which the rest of the lenten journey begins and it is indeed a journey, a marathon. It is a challenge, not an easy task. Lent is no time to simply go through the motions, but a time to embrace the motions and activities as if they are holy supplements for our salvation. The Church knows that we as her children often lose our way. We often lack focus. We lose track of time. We lose track of ourselves. But the Church does not lose track of us. She is like a good mother who is watchful, and patient and gently teaches and corrects and makes sure that her children are on the right path.

Last week we began with the foundation of holy humility, and as we move on, we can’t forget the lessons of the previous week. Each one adds on to the whole structure that we are building. And what is that structure? It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is made up of each of us as individuals and even more so as a community of the faithful. Today we continue with the magnificent parable of the prodigal son. I believe that you all know this parable. We should know it well. It should be etched in our hearts because not only is it a picture of true heartfelt repentance, but it is also a splendid vision of the unconditional forgiveness of our heavenly Father. Both of these lessons are bound up together.

In the parable, we have a rebellious young man, not unlike the modern teenager or college aged student. Due to our fallen condition, it is fairly normal for young men and women to rebel. They rebel against their parents, against their teachers, sadly, they even attempt to rebel against God and the Church. I say attempt, because no one succeeds at rebelling against God or the Church. They succeed only at rebelling against themselves by betraying themselves into the hands of the enemy. In their search for freedom and power over their own lives, they often become slaves to sin. They neither add nor take away from the Lord or His Church. This happens because we are still affected by the sinfulness of our forefathers Adam and Eve and their rebelliousness towards God.

So youth will often rebel. It’s nothing new. It has happened for a long time. The Lord Jesus knew it to be a reality. But it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story. If you rebel away from your family and your church and your God, you must understand that that doesn’t have to be the end of your story. It can be the start of a turning point. It can be a chapter in a longer tale. So it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story, it is the possibility of redemption. 

How did the redemption of the prodigal son come about? The son asked for his share of the father’s inheritance. He took the money and used it to live a loose life. He partied, he drank too much, he gambled, and he dated many women, instead of uniting himself to one woman in marriage. Everything that he could do wrong, he did. We are told that when he had spent every last cent, when his wallet was completely empty, a great famine arose in that country. He was now poor, hungry and could not even live off the land due to the famine. So he did what he thought best at the time and became a servant to one of the citizens of that area. Not only did he become a servant, but his servitude was a bitter one as he was charged with tending to the pigs in the field. But in all of this there was a hidden blessing. As the prodigal was sitting in the fields watching the pigs as they fought to eat the pods he had spread for them, he became so hungry that he even considered eating the pigs food. And in his hunger, we are told that he came to himself.

In modern language we would say that he experienced the rock-bottom moment. Often people who are in the midst of sin and addiction, need to experience such a moment before they wake up and take personal responsibility for themselves and their situation. But what was it that caused this to happen in the young man? It was his poverty and his hunger. It is one of the reasons why we fast; to open our hearts to God that we might come to our senses. And by coming to our senses, we might genuinely repent with hunger and thirst for all of the blessings that come when we live in the house of God, in His presence.

The young man, came to his senses and he repented with bitter tears. He had betrayed his father and squandered everything that was given to him. But he repented sincerely and said to himself “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.” We see his genuine repentance in the fact that he does not just come and say “sorry.” He plans to tell his father that he is not even worthy to be called his son, but to be treated like a hired servant. 

The Lord Jesus says all of this for our sakes. God desires us to return, but He desires us to return in a genuine way. Not with words, but with heartfelt compunction. He wants us to know that while He calls us His sons and daughters, we are in no way deserving of such titles. They are a product of His grace and His mercytowards us.

We are told that the young man rose and went to his father. This is the picture of repentance, as we get up from where we have fallen into sin and turn back and head towards God. But something unexpected happens to us as it did to the young man. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him. He ran to him and embraced him and showered him with his kisses. What an amazing God we serve! What love God has for each one of us! And what is required in return? Simply to reject our old ways and to direct our gaze towards Him and to move towards Him in the heart and mind followed by the body. We take a few steps but God rushes towards us through the grace of the Holy Spirit. While we are still on the ground, praying and weeping, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort us and embrace us. He raises us up and robes us in one of His kingly garments. 

We see the whole picture of redemption here. We see the fall, we see the repentance and we see the love of our heavenly Father to lift us out of despair and give us new life. We all fall. We all sin. We all rebel. Don’t let that be the end of your story. You do not have to remain hungry and enslaved to the evil one. Come to your senses quickly and run back to your Father’s house! He is waiting patiently for you to return. He desires to share everything that He has with you.Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

False Spirituality or True Prayer?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:10-14) 

For some strange reason people are now too busy for the church. They are too busy to hear the word of God, the word upon which the whole of western civilization was founded. Is it any surprise that the very foundations of western society and morality are crumbling before our very eyes? Is it any wonder that people are often miserable? In truth, they are not only too busy for the church. They are too busy for their salvation, and salvation means a living relationship with the Holy Trinity. That is real life. 

People in their greed and corruption of soul would run here or there for a few dollars, or a few moments or experiences, but they are completely unaware or unwilling to seek out the One who is more than every treasure, the One who is life itself. What good is the few dollars that we have when one day we will leave it all behind? God made us to have dominion over all of creation, and not that we should be the slaves of creation, which is the definition of idolatry and death.

I say all of this as an introduction to our pre-lenten period. This parable of the publican and the pharisee is like a warning bell. It tells us that it is time to begin waking up, my brothers and sisters. It is time to wash our faces and drink our coffee and perk up and stand at attention because the judge is right around the corner. It will not be long before He comes to meet us. You are the most blessed of all people because it is the Lord’s day, and you are here to listen to His words, so listen to them carefully. Lay aside every earthly care, and focus. Allow the words of the Lord to burn you, to scrape you, to cleanse and purify you, to refashion you into who God intends you to be.

Today’s parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee is a powerful introduction to the purpose of Great and Holy Lent. One of the men fasted twice a week, gave a tithe of all that he had, and prayed regularly at the appointed times. The other man did not pray much. He didn’t tithe, in fact, he regularly took money from others. Sometimes he probably took more than was necessary in order to line his own pockets. If I gave you only this information and I asked you to make a determination about which one was righteous before God, there is almost no doubt that you would tell me that it was the first one and not the second… and you would be completely wrong. Why? Because thereis one aspect of each man’s character that I have not mentioned and it is the most important aspect of all. Listen to the parable.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ ” 

So what was the characteristic that the tax collector had, which the Pharisee did not? Humility before God. Right here at the start of the preparation period we are reminded that neither fasting nor almsgiving nor prayer will help us, if they are self-centered and full of arrogance and judgment towards others. Woe to those who go around and point out the deficiencies in the practices of others. 

The ascetical practices like fasting,mustbe undertaken, but they must be undertaken with the right spirit and attitude. We are not practicing these religious behaviors to fashion a weapon to use against others or in order to grow in pride and feel that we can now judge others as God does. We practice them precisely because we know our infirmities and are in need of the mercy of God and these exercises help to defeat our flesh and energize us towards Christ, when they are done with the right attitude and demeanor. 

One of these men prayed as if he was something special. The other prayed as if he was nothing. Yet, the Lord accepted the prayers of the one who prayed as if he was nothing. He proves that truly God creates out of nothing. When we offer ourselves up to God as nothing, He, according to His good pleasure, makes us into something that pleases Him.

One of the men looked around and compared himself with others. The other man, would not so much as look up, but stared at the ground and prayed that God would be merciful to him. And the Lord Jesus who is rich in mercy towards us, has taught us that this is what He desires from us. This is the way that we should pray. 

The noted Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol writes “Condemnation begins with pride, and pride is nothing other than the absence of love. A proud man does not love his neighbor. And when we condemn our brothers, it means that we don’t love them. If we loved our brother, we wouldn’t condemn him. Even if we clearly saw some flaw in our neighbor, we would find a justification for it and cover it.”

“The saints never condemned, not because they watched themselves closely, but because they had great love.”  “When we notice that we’re condemning our neighbor, we have to understand that we’re suffering from spiritual immaturity.” He then writes, “How can a man learn to produce good thoughts (about others)? Above all, he must sit and think: “Lord, how many sins I have!”

Instead of praying like the Pharisee, we come andpray as people who are very poor and filthy and very sick. We think of ourselves asif we are coming to the King in this awful, dirty condition. We come in prayer, knowing our own sinfulness, and hoping in God’s ability to have mercy on us and cleanse us. Instead of coming to the Lord imagining the best in ourselves, we come to Him with the belief that we are the worst of all men. He will then transform us into much better than we could ever imagine.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich once said “Do the healthy go to hospital, to boast of their health to the doctor? But this Pharisee did not come to the Temple with a whole and healthy soul, to boast of his health, but as a man seriously ill with unrighteousness who, in the delirium of his sickness, no longer knows he is ill.” He continues with a story, “Once, when I was visiting a mental hospital, the doctor took me in front of a wire screen across the cell of the most seriously ill of his patients. “How do you feel?”, I asked him. He immediately replied: “How do you think I feel, among all these madmen?” 

I pray that the Lord will allow us to see the extent of our own sicknesses, and to genuinely, humbly, seek out the one Lord, who alone can redeem and heal us completely. Glory be to God, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Does God Ever Ignore Our Heartfelt Prayers?

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (15:21-28) 

Three. That is the number of times that the Canaanite woman begged and pleaded with the Lord Jesus for His help. She came to him begging and crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 

This woman came with the noblest of intentions. She came with the right attitude. She came and asked for the right thing from the only one who could possible offer to fulfill her request. We are then left wondering why the Lord ignored, or seemed to ignore the first two requests and only responded after the third?

Is the Lord a cold-hearted individual? Is the Lord Jesus mean-spirited? At a glance, this seems to be the case. The Lord all but calls her and her people dogs. He says “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Can we imagine what the media would do if any public figure were to refer to anyone else in such a way today? They would have a field day. 

Yet the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, often surprises us and this must be so! God is often unpredictable. We do not understand His ways or His mind. The Apostle Paul wrote “For who can know the mind of the Lord?” Rom 11:34 So we should not be confused by His actions but we must humbly try to discern or understand what is happening here. 

It seems clear that the Lord is testing the woman. But the truth is that the Lord Jesus already knew her heart. There was another reason for this back and forth exchange according to St. John Chrysostom. He says “we might surmise that this is the reason he put her off, in order that he might proclaim aloud this saying (O woman, great is your faith) and that he might crown the woman: “Be it done for you as you desire.” By this the Lord allowed those who were standing nearby to learn the meaning of true faith in God and in His chosen one, and to learn it from a gentile of all people. This should have put the Jews to shame. Shame because they did not have that level of faith in Christ or the humility that preceded it. 

This scene teaches us many things about our own relationships with the Lord Jesus. First and foremost we learn that often we have to persevere in prayer patiently to receive the things that we ask for. It’s not enough to pray for something once or twice. Even when it seems that God is ignoring us, it is not the case. If it is important we should continually pray for it. In the process of praying for it patiently we will gain many blessings even if we do not receive the thing that we had asked for. Prayer is not simply a list of things we want. It is a chance to eat and drink and bathe in the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. In fact there is nothing that is greater than the invisible gifts that God desires to give us in prayer. 

We thank God that we don’t always receive what we ask for. Not everything that we ask for is in fact good for us. In the Divine Liturgy we ask God to answer our prayers according to His will and according to what is for our salvation. We will have a chance to find sufficiency in Christ as St. Paul did when he prayed three times that the thorn of the flesh would be removed from him and the Lord replied “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Maybe our prayers will be answered in the way that we hope. Maybe our prayers will be denied. Maybe our prayers will be answered in a way that we could never anticipate. Either way, prayer is the prerequisite to a living encounter with Christ. 

We also see the great humility of the woman. St. John Chrysostom compares her attitude to that of the Jews who dealt with Christ. He says 

“Behold the woman’s wisdom! She did not venture so much as to say a word against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor was she indignant to be reproached. Behold her constancy. When he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” she said, “Yes, Lord.” He called them “children,” but she called them “masters.” He used the name of a dog, but she described the action of the dog. Do you see this woman’s humility? Then compare her humility with the proud language of the Jews: “We are Abraham’s seed and were never in bondage to any man.” [Joh 8:33.]“We are born of God.” [Joh 8:41.]But not so this woman. Rather, she calls herself a dog and them masters. So for this reason she became a child. For what does Christ then say? “O woman, great is your faith.”

She could have looked around and complained about the people around her. She could have called them hypocrites and sinners. She did not. Likewise, we are often tempted to hold ourselves up as pillars of the faith while criticizing others. She did not act in such a haughty way, looking at what others are doing or not doing. Our attitudes should be like this “I am the chief sinner….I am no better than anyone who has ever lived on the face of the earth.” We should have that heartfelt opinion of ourselves. Because God is drawn to those who do not look around and condemn others. He is drawn to those who support others and are merciful to others.

And we see exactly this in our final point today. We see the great power of intercessory prayer. We see a woman who goes through all of these struggles for the daughter that she loves. And guess what? The Lord accepts the mother’s struggles on behalf of the daughter. In the same way, the Lord accepts our struggles and prayers on behalf of one another. Why do you think that we ask the saints to intercede and pray for us? It is because they are alive in Christ and we believe that the Lord will accept their faithful prayers on our behalf. Likewise we should practice saintliness and do what the saints do, here and now for one another. We become saints by living like saints, energized by Christ. Pray for othersas the saints do. Beg and plead on their behalf with faith. This is one of the most concrete forms of love that a human can undertake on behalf of another. We pray for others knowing that it is possible that they do not have the strength or knowledge to pray properly. In this way, our prayers are sacrificial and powerful.

Regardless of whether we are praying for others or for our own struggles, May we come to the Lord with the perseverance and humility of this Canaanite woman. May the Lord say to each of us “great is your faith!” Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons