Remember The Promise

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (6:13-20) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:16-30)

These readings are given to us for the fourth Sunday of great and holy lent. We are more than halfway through the contest. But it still seems that the end is a long ways off. We begin to feel exhausted by the extra services and because we have fasted. Little things might frustrate us or make us feel anxious. Things that didn’t tempt us in the first few weeks of the fast may have worn us down and now we find ourselves feeling a bit defeated. Perhaps our passions have gotten the best of us. Perhaps our poor habits are trying to overwhelm us.

Now is precisely when the Church reminds us of why we fast. We see this clearly in the gospel reading. A young boy was demon possessed and his father brought him to the disciples to cure him. The disciples had done this many many times over the years. Our Lord Jesus gave them the power to do this. Yet in this particular case, it was all to no avail. The father of the young man was so desperate for a cure for his son and in his desperation he uttered beautiful words from the depths of his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”

Perhaps at this point of the fast each of us has had a moment or two where we feel the depth of this despair and where we want to cry out with the father, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” The Lord does not like to see us suffer, but we know that the Lord loves it when we understand our situation and turn to Him as our only hope. In truth we don’t have the power to solve our problems or fix our brokenness, but God does have this power. So we are given the opportunity to become like the man and cry, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” To this cry, the Lord responded swiftly with His cleansing words and healing touch and he healed the young man.

Later, after the crowds dispersed we are told that the disciples were surprised and wondered why they couldn’t cast out the demon and heal the young man. What the Lord Jesus tells them is an important thing for us to remember today. He said “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” He is acknowledging a spiritual reality that we cannot see with our physical eyes. Not all problems are the same. Not all spiritual issues are of the same strength or intensity. Some issues are far more stubborn than others and in order to counteract such stubborn demonic issues, our faith must be really strong, fully charged and ready for the warfare.

It is no surprise to us that the Lord tells us that the path to strong prayers and strong faith is through bringing our prayers together with fasting. God desires to give us control over our spiritual lives and to make great progress. Fasting is part of the path to spiritual victory. This is one of the reasons why fasting is a staple of Orthodox Christian living. We fast for over 200 days of the year. The Church is reminding us that while we are alive and in the flesh, we are at war and we have to be ready for the assaults of the enemy.

St. Theophan the Recluse writes, “Although there are a slew of demons and all the air is packed with them, they cannot do anything to one who is protected by prayer and fasting. Fasting is universal temperance, prayer is universal communication with God; the former defends from the outside, whereas the latter from within directs a fiery weapon against the enemies. The demons can sense a faster and man of prayer from a distance, and they run far away from him so as avoid a painful blow.”

My brothers and sisters, it is God’s good pleasure to help you and to heal you of all your spiritual infirmities. In fact this is exactly the message of today’s epistle to the Hebrews. It tells us that “when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely I will bless and multiply you.”” and it continues saying,

“So that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”

All of this is shared with us today to give us encouragement and boldness. God has promised to bless us, His children, as He promised to bless Abraham. Now is not the time to wilt like an old unwatered flower. Now is the time for us as Orthodox Christians to seek Christ even more boldly and to grow strong and courageous in this battle. If God is for us, who can be against us? The battle of Lent has lingered on but it will not go on forever. We will be victorious over our sins, our passions, our spiritual infirmities and weaknesses not because we are strong. Far from it. Because HE is strong. We will even defeat our final enemy, the final boss, who is death, because He has defeated death. Have faith. Be firm. Be ready to follow Christ now on the path that He has given us, with prayer and fasting. The struggle is worth it because Christ is worth everything in our lives. To Him alone be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Citizenship Through The Cross

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

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” That is the powerful question that is posed to the disciples and to us today. And it is such a fitting question for us because we are people who can engineer our lives to have almost anything and everything that we desire. If I can’t afford something, I can even buy it with a credit card. Yet we know that at some point down the road, we will have to pay back what we owe. Yet this is much more true regarding our souls. Our soul is given to us as a gift from God. A gift that we can choose to nurture and grow or that we can choose to neglect and disregard or even abuse. Either way, at the end, we will be responsible to answer for how we have treated our souls, what have we done with them and whether or not we still possess them.

Of all of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is among the most important in the daily life of one who wants to follow the way of Christ, of one who wants to be called by the name of Christian. Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, my dear brothers and sisters. He loves us. He cannot stand to see us far from Him and far from His Father. His desire is to have us present with Him at all times and especially in His kingdom. This makes sense doesn’t it? When we love people and enjoy their company we find that we want to be in their presence, to share time and space and life with one another. And the Lord Jesus desires to share all of this with us. But He tells us that the way won’t be easy and it definitely won’t be for everyone. The key to following the path laid out by the Lord Jesus Christ is to deny yourself.

We can imagine it in this way. All of life is a series of choices, a series of forks in the road. At each and every fork we are given an important choice, to turn to the left and follow the desires of our hearts whatever they may be, or to deny ourselves and turn to the right and follow after the Lord Jesus Christ. We are given this choice, to do what feels right, or to do what is right. And how often we find ourselves in the middle of this struggle! Perhaps for seasons of our life it feels like we are in this type of struggle daily. That we constantly have to reflect on where we are and what we are seeking in life. We are called to do this, with sobriety of heart and mind. We are called to remind ourselves of this question posed by the Lord Jesus “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” It’s not that the world is not offered to you. It is offered to you. Satan offered the whole world to the Lord Jesus Christ if only He would bow to him. It is offered to you. You can have it. But you can’t keep it and you definitely can’t have it and have your soul left intact. Sacrifices must be made either way. Either it is a sacrifice of our souls in order to gain our wants and desires. Or else it is a sacrifice of our wants and desires in order to gain our souls renewed in Christ.

Every single day Christians have to choose the way of denial, the way of the cross. Whether you are husbands or wives or parents or friends, whatever stage of life you are in, every day is another opportunity to see just how far we can go in setting aside our wants (even though they are sometimes powerful and feel like needs) and we try to see just how far we can go to carry our burdens and serve one another. Humanly speaking this is absolutely impossible. So how can we possibly do it? We can do it because Our Lord Jesus Christ first carried His cross for us. He has opened for us the way of the cross through His extreme humility and love for mankind.

St. Augustine says, “For, when I noticed that you were being slowed down in your divine purpose by your preoccupation with domestic cares, I felt that you were being carried and dragged along by your cross rather than that you were carrying it. What else does the cross mean than the mortality of this flesh? This is our very own cross which the Lord commands us to carry that we may be as well armed as possible in following him. We suffer momentarily until death is swallowed up in victory. [Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14; 1Co 15:54-55.] Then this cross itself will be crucified… There is no other way for you to follow the Lord except by carrying it, for how can you follow him if you are not his?”

My friends, this way was opened to us by the Lord to give us a way to life, by allowing us to follow Him and to enter into His life. What’s more, we are told that unless we follow this way, we don’t really belong to Him. So the clear and powerful sign of our life belonging to Jesus Christ is that we submit ourselves and our desires and our very lives to Christ on a daily basis. We learn through failing and repentance and renewed struggle, to offer everything back to Christ. We learn to say to Christ “My Lord and My God, I know that my life is a gift from you, that it belongs to you, help me to use this life to follow you, to glorify you and to be well-pleasing to you for you alone are my hope and my joy. I desire only you.”

St. Isaac the Syrian once said, “Behold, for years and generations, the way of God has been leveled by the cross and by death. How is this with you, that you see the afflictions of the way as if they were out of the way? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or do you wish to go a way which is special for you, without suffering? the way to God is a daily cross. No one can ascend to heaven with comfort, we know where the way of comfort leads.”

Today we celebrate the veneration of the Cross in order to give us renewed hope and strength and inspiration to keep going through the discomfort of Lent and to keep going in our Christian struggles with zeal and courage and hope. “Through the cross is joy come into all the world.” The cross of the Lord brought humanity to the resurrection. And when you faithfully carry the crosses that you have been given, God will use them to bring joy to you and to your world and will ultimately lift you to the culmination of all joy, to share in Christ’s resurrection. May this alone be our hope and our inheritance. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Gathered Before The Throne

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:31-46)

Today we are met face to face with a reality that is beautiful for some and quite brutal for others. Today we hear the words of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ about the last judgment. And we are once again in awe and astonishment that the Lord, the king of heaven and earth should reveal such a mystery to us. He welcomes us into His kingdom to understand what is required of us and how we will be tested on the great and last day.

If we pay close attention to this teaching about the last judgment we are surprised both by what is contained and by things that are not mentioned at all. For instance, there is no assumption of being perfect. The Son of man doesn’t separate the people based on whether or not they are perfect. He doesn’t separate them based on whether or not they have ever sinned or done wrong in their lives. He doesn’t separate them based on how long their prayers are or how diligently they fast. He doesn’t separate them based on how piously they cross themselves or make their bows. He doesn’t separate them based on how many icons they can hang on one wall of their house. These are all external in some sense. The Lord judges the heart and more specifically, the way our heart manifests itself in acts of love and mercy and kindness for others.

At the last judgment, the criterion is love. Love in action. But there is a catch! It is not love of those who are easy to love, like our friends and our families and people who are nice to us, or even towards animals who are furry and cute. No. It is love to those who are typically ignored or even despised within our society. Love for those that are often most difficult to love. Love even for those who seem unloveable. To love the poor and those who are hungry. To love the strangers, who have no family and friends. To love the sick who are stuck at home or in hospitals, or even the prisoners who are serving time for their crimes. In a way, we are encouraged to bend down and to go to their level because this is precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us by becoming man. He becomes like us.

So we know all of the criteria for the final exam. There are no surprises. You are judged on how you treat your fellow men who are created in the image and likeness of God. And the more those people are hidden or silent and easy to ignore, the more important it becomes that we love them and that we sacrifice to serve them. That is what it means to be a son or a daughter of God. It’s not just a title that we are given. It is a role that becomes part of our identity.

And we are reminded that there are very real and lasting repercussions to our faithful action or our faithless negligence. The results are permanent either way because once we die, there is no more hope of change and repentance. We are judged by the real and true divine Judge. Instead of seeing this as a threat to our lives and our existence, we should instead see it as a great wake-up call and opportunity to do good to others with the full assurance that we won’t be wasting our lives, we in fact be gaining our lives through our sacrifices for others.

I will end with an extended meditation from St. Nikolai Velimirovich, who writes,

“Brethren, what is our last awaiting? In the night we await the day and in the day we await the night and again the day and again the night. But this awaiting is not our last awaiting. Brethren, what is our last awaiting? In joy we tremble waiting for sorrow and in sorrow we wait with hope for joy and again sorrow, and again joy. But not even these awaitings are our last awaitings. Brethren, our last awaiting is the awaiting of the Judgment of God. When the judgment of God comes, the Dreadful Day “which burns like a furnace” (Malachi 4:1), then we welcome all that we deserve; a day for some, without change into night, and night for others, without change into day; joy for some without change to sorrow and sorrow for others without change to joy. Brethren, that is the last awaiting of the human race, whether he knows it or does not know it, whether he thinks about it or does not think about it. But, you faithful should know this and you should think about this. Let this knowledge be the zenith of all your knowledge and let this thought direct all your other thoughts. In the knowledge and contemplation of this, include that which is even most important, include your diligence “that you may be found of Him in peace without spot and blameless” (or still more correctly translated: pure and blameless).

Be diligent to be pure in mind and in heart, correct in your conscience and in peace with God. Only in that way will the last awaiting not frighten you with unexpectancy, nor will it hurl you into the night without day or into sorrow without joy. As everything else in the life of the Lord Jesus was a surprise for man, thus will be His Second Coming unexpected, in power and in glory. Unexpected was His birth by the All-holy Virgin, unexpected was His poverty, unexpected also was His miracle-working and every word and humiliation and voluntary death, the resurrection, the ascension, the Church and the spreading of His Faith. Unexpected will be His Second Coming, unexpectation more frightful than all other unexpectations. O Lord, O righteous Judge, how will we meet You, unclad in purity and blameless even in peace? Help us, help us that however much as possible we may prepare for the dreadful encounter with You. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.” (The Prologue of Ochrid, July 31st)

Source: Sermons


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

In today’s gospel reading we once again have the honor and joy of hearing a parable of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the most well known and well loved of all His parables, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We hear this during the pre-lenten period because there are so many valuable lessons to be found within this message.

Among the first of those lessons is that God gives each of us an inheritance that we can either use properly or abuse. What is this inheritance? It is our very life as humans upon this planet. We are created in the image and likeness of God. That is an inheritance that we were given. Our life is a gift that we didn’t earn but it was given to us according to God’s good pleasure. And everything good in your life is also a gift from above. Your talents, your resources, your abilities etc. All of these things come from God.

Sometimes we as human beings can act just like this prodigal son. Sometimes we can forget the source of our blessings and we can forget what a blessing it is to dwell in our father’s house and we can be so hungry for independence and freedom and even fun, that we shirk our responsibilities and we choose to run away from home. Sometimes this happens in actual families, but what happens even more often is that we run away from God and we run away from our Father’s house. When I asked the kids about what the Father’s house symbolized, one of the young ones, only 7 years old answered correctly: The Church! Yes, absolutely. The Church is the house of Our Father. He allows us to dwell here and He feeds us through all of the spiritual blessings of the Church, starting with Holy Communion. All of the things of God, all of the blessings and the virtues that we gain by dwelling within the Church, these are the inheritance that God desires to impart to us. Mostly, He desires to impart Himself to us.

Nevertheless, throughout history we as humans have been rebellious against our creator. We have often run far in the other direction in order to gain a sense of freedom and to find ourselves. It is then not a surprise to us that the way that the young man found himself was not by running away from his father and living a loose and undisciplined and sinful life. He found himself when he ran out of money, lost his friends and lost all hope. He hit rock bottom in his own life. In that very moment where he was hungry and tired, even exhausted by his choices, he realized what he had done to himself and what had happened to his life before his very eyes. In that moment, he came to his senses and realized that in his father’s house he was living like a king and he had true freedom under the shelter of the roof that his father provided for him. He realized that while he had imagined himself to be like a prisoner and a slave, in fact, all of the rules of his father’s house were not meant to make him a slave, they were meant to protect him from becoming a true slave. And this young man had indeed become a slave. He was a slave to his own passions and desires. He was a slave to the will of the demons. He was not free at all.

It is likewise the case that sometimes we leave the Church, the Father’s house, and we imagine that somehow somewhere there is something more fulfilling. We imagine that somehow the Church is restricting our freedom. The world tries to convince us that everything can be ours if we simply deny Christ, His teachings, His Church and His saints and run after all the things that the world offers us. But it is all a mirage as the young man found out. For us as Christians we have come to understand that outside of Christ and His way, there is no true life. We have learned that even if we are struggling with our sins and desires, we will only find peace and freedom through the One who can destroy our chains and can grant us freedom because He even destroyed the bondage of sin and death.

St. John of Kronstadt once said,

“All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life.”

So this is our goal. To take the energy of our struggle and our pain from being separated from God and His life and to use this to fuel our repentance, our return to the Father’s house, to the Church.

I will leave you with a quote from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk who writes,

“Sinners that repent are still saved; both publicans and fornicators cleansed by repentance enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The compassionate God still calls to Himself all that have turned away, and He awaits them and promises them mercy.

The loving Father still receives His prodigal sons come back from a far country and He opens the doors of His house and clothes them in the best robe, and gives them each a ring on their hand and shoes on their feet and commands all the saints to rejoice in them.” + St. Tikhon of Zadonsk: Journey to Heaven

Let us also join them my brothers and sisters and rejoice together in the loving embrace of our Father. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Above All Virtues

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

Fr. Thomas Hopko once spoke about Lent as a time where we refocus our efforts and our energies on doing all of the things that we should do and being all that we should be as Christians. In that sense Lent is nothing special. It is a reminder of what our life should be like. It is true that during the lenten season we abstain from certain food and drinks but that is not the heart of lent. The heart of lent is to cultivate our own hearts or rather, to allow our hearts to be open to the cultivation that God would like to do within us.

During this pre-lenten period we hear poignant and powerful gospel readings each week. And each week we receive a glimpse or an angle regarding what it means to be a true Christian. What it means to be a true human. What it means to have a human heart.

Today we hear the familiar parable of the two men who went into the temple to pray. One man was a pharisee and the other was a tax collector. We had previously learned about tax collectors from the gospel passage about Zacchaeus. We learned that tax collectors were often greedy and immoral men. They took more than their fair share and used the threat of force to enrich themselves at the expense of the common people, even their own countrymen. We know that the Jews considered the tax collectors to be the worst of the worst of society. Men who took advantage of them and even worked hand in hand with the Roman empire, the sworn enemy in the mind of the Jews of that period.

On the other hand we have a pharisee. We see this term often in the gospels but what is a pharisee?

“The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”), their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the written Law, and their teaching that all Jews should observe all 600-plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification. The Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Though they were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they had popular support among the people.

Among the Pharisees were two schools of thought, based on the teachings of two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel. Shammai called for a strict, unbending interpretation of the Law on almost every issue, but Hillel taught a looser, more liberal application. Followers of Shammai fostered a hatred for anything Roman, including taxation—Jews who served as tax collectors were persona non grata. The Shammaites wanted to outlaw all communication and commerce between Jews and Gentiles. The Hillelites took a more gracious approach and opposed such extreme exclusiveness. Eventually, the two schools within Pharisaism grew so hostile to each other that they refused to worship together.

The Pharisees accepted the written Word as inspired by God. At the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, this would have been what we now call the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the Pharisees gave equal authority to oral tradition, saying the traditions went all the way back to Moses. Evolving over the centuries, the Pharisaic traditions had the effect of adding to God’s Word, which is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2). The Gospels abound with examples of the Pharisees treating their traditions as equal to God’s Word (Matthew 9:14; 15:1–9; 23:5; 23And in vain they worship Me,

Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’(Mark 7:7). (Source:

As we turn back to the parable we see this tax collector doing the same thing that the pharisee is doing. They both go to the temple to pray. What differentiates them? Is it their jobs? Is it their politics? What makes them truly different from one another? It is clear from the prayers that they spoke. The Lord Jesus tells us that “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.’”

And likewise Our Lord Jesus tells us about the publican or tax-collector’s prayer. He says “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 separated these two men really? What was the thing that distinguished them from one another? What separated them was the contents of their hearts. Not their titles, not their jobs, not the groups that they were associated with. Their hearts. And this is something that should strike us with some fear. God looks past the outward and straight into our inner being and reality.

He hears our words, but He also hears past our words to the intents and the contents of our hearts. What is God looking for? What does He desire from us? What pleases God? In a word, Humility. Humility means that we see ourselves without an inflated sense of importance or false self-esteem. Humility means that we view ourselves as lower than all the rest and that we see that in and of ourselves, without God’s help, we are nothing at all. If we believe in our hearts that we are something then it means that our hearts are self-sufficient and that means that God’s grace won’t be energized within us. It is as if God will not hear us and that is a terrible thought.

Many of the saints and fathers of the Church spoke about this virtue of humility. St. John the dwarf wrote “Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.” That is a really amazing statement when you think about. But St. Tikhon of Zadonsk goes even further. He says that Humility is actually the evidence that we are true disciples of Jesus Christ. He writes, “From humility it is known that a man is a true disciple of Jesus, meek and humble of heart. If we wish to show evidence that we are true Christians, let us learn from Christ to be humble as He himself enjoins us, ‘Learn of Me; for I am meek, and humble in heart (Mt. 11:29)’”. -St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

I pray that as we prepare to rededicate ourselves to the life of prayer during Lent, we will make sure to build our prayers on this most beautiful foundation of the Christian life.

Source: Sermons

Be Dedicated

The Reading from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (6:16-7:1)

In our day to day lives it is easy to live as if God is not really around. We sometimes imagine that God is floating somewhere “up there” while He leaves us to our business down here. Fr. Stephen Freeman refers to this as the two storey model. God is upstairs and we are downstairs. However that is not a classical Christian or Orthodox Christian understanding. This mindset however does exist among Christians. And if it exists among Christians it exists much more among non-Christians and the non-religious. There is a secularized worldview that believes that what you do at home with your faith and religion is one thing, but in the public eye, everything should be stripped of religious meaning and symbolism. This should be a problem for us as Christians. It should raise red flags. Why?

Because you as an individual are not two persons. You are one person and when that one person is baptized that whole person then belongs to Christ. St. Paul writes in today’s epistle that “you are the temple of the living God.” When there is a temple it cannot have multiple uses and purposes. It is completely dedicated to worship of God and to no other purpose. St. Paul goes even further as he quotes from Leviticus 26:12Jeremiah 32:38Ezekiel 37:27 saying “as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from them, and be separate from them,” says the Lord.”

What an amazing God we worship and serve! He doesn’t dwell above us, or below us or in special handmade containers or sculptures or pieces made of Gold. He dwells with us and in us. He moves in our midst, in the very fabric of our lives. He lives in our hearts and we even partake of Him each week when we meet together. And since God is so so close to us, and wants to be even closer to each of us, He commands us to actually really desire to be pure and holy and uncompromised. He is serious about making us His sons and daughters, making us like His Only Son Jesus, and so we must be serious about desiring to be like Jesus as well. We must be serious about being separate from the world and touching nothing unclean so that we won’t be infected by sin and lose the blessings that are ours through baptism.

What does it look like to “come out from them, and be separate from them”? It looks much like it sounds. We have to create a healthy physical distance and also distance our senses from whatever doesn’t serve or please God. So many things are in the world that don’t serve or please God. It might be technology that we use. It might be co-workers or classmates who don’t share our Christian values and morality. It may be people who live an awful and toxic lifestyle. Whatever the case may be, we love and serve all people but we have to create some healthy distance and make sure that our time with others is ultimately time that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ and doesn’t slowly erode our own faith and zeal for Christ. This is especially true the younger and less experienced we are in our faith. We are susceptible to many problems because our spiritual immune system hasn’t been properly developed yet. But sometimes we are Christians for a long time and yet we can fall through comfort and complacency, so everyone has to keep up their guard. Everyone has to work and everyone has to suffer a bit in order to come to knowledge of God. In a way, we are required to enter into the rejection that Christ Himself faced from the world.

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco said “All righteous ones were sorrowful in the world because they were strangers to the sinful world. All of the apostles suffered in one way or another. Righteous men left for the desert. What made them Saints? Suffering? Not suffering alone makes Saints, but striving towards God, the love of God, and the labor of overcoming obstacles to holiness, which is the fruit of man’s labour and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

My brothers and sisters, God has given us a promise. He is in our presence. He wants to share everything that is His, with us. He wants us to be sharers and partakers of the divine life just like the saints and holy ones throughout the ages. Let’s take it seriously and pursue this goal. No matter how much we progress in this goal, we should remember that our progress happens only by God’s grace and we shouldn’t be proud about our status.

St. John Cassian writes, “When we have attained some degree of holiness we should always repeat to ourselves the words of the Apostle: “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’ (1 Cor. 15:10), as well as what was said by the Lord: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). We should also bear in mind what the prophet said: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it’ (Ps. 127:1), and finally: ‘It does not depend on-man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”

May the mercy of our great God and savior Jesus Christ give us courage and assist us as we struggle together towards this wonderful promise.

Source: Sermons

Exchanging Eagerness For Salvation

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)

Today we once again have the privilege and honor of encountering a short man with a big heart. We are once again encountered by the example of the man named Zacchaeus. He is a man who had every excuse to neglect his spiritual life and to continue to live his life on his terms. He could have blamed the crowds or his lack of height. He could have blamed his job as a tax collector. He could have claimed he was busy, as people so often do. But in this moment in history, we see instead the example of a man who actively grabs hold of the kingdom itself! In this moment, a man is harnessing all of his energies and focus on the one needful thing. He is demonstrating to us what it means to seek God and what it means to truly repent.

Through such examples within the pages of holy scripture we are reminded that there is always a way to pursue whatever we set our minds and our hearts to pursue. No one can change this part of us. People can influence you, but no one can force you to set your mind and heart on God and on His kingdom and on His Son Jesus Christ. No one can make these things a priority in your life. One day you have to choose to make the things of God a priority for you. And as we all know, there will always be excuses not to do so. We can say that we are busy with our lives, with work, with social outings, with friends, with school, with movies and games, with yard work, with house work, with preparing meals. Yet Zacchaeus offers us a gentle rebuke.

Oh Zacchaeus, man of God. While the world thirsted for riches, you chased after the riches of the kingdom. While the world attended to their lives, you pursued the One who alone gives true life.

Sometimes we say that we are serious about God. But Zacchaeus went further. He proved it. How did he do this? First he proved it through a relentless desire to see Christ as He was walking by that day. His desire could not be quenched by any alternative to seeing Our Lord Jesus. So when there were no options left, and the crowds were too big, he did what any sane grown up would do, he climbed up a tree! The Lord who knows the hearts of men, recognized Zacchaeus as a man who deeply desired to know Him and to change his life. St. Theophylact writes, “In return only for showing eagerness to see Jesus he receives salvation. He desired to see Jesus, which is why he climbed up into the sycamore tree, but before he had caught sight of Jesus, the Lord had already seen him. In the same manner, the Lord always anticipates us if only He sees that we are willing and eager.”

Our Lord recognizes us by the condition of our hearts. Sometimes our hearts make us strangers and aliens to God and to a holy way of life. Especially when we are prideful and sinful. But sometimes, our hearts are humble and open to Christ and He sees us as hungry for truth and holiness and purity and righteousness. In the prophet Isaiah it is written, “Upon whom shall I look, if not upon him who is humble and meek, who trembles at My words?(Is. 66:2)” He alone is able to see these needs within us and to provide according to His wisdom and goodness. When our heart seeks God truly, God will look at us and say “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The place where Christ desires to dwell is within our hearts and minds.

Zacchaeus made haste and went down to host the Lord Jesus in his home. Yet that wasn’t enough. Zacchaeus went further in proving that he was serious about God. He repented publicly and he attempted to go so far as to repay anyone that he had defrauded or injured through his shady and dishonest dealings as a tax collector. It wasn’t enough to say “sorry.” He lived his apology. He set out to make things right with man in order that he would truly make things right with God. Have we as Christians demonstrated such love and devotion to God in our own lives? Have we repented in a way that shows that we are serious? Have we gone out of our way to make things right with those that we might have wronged or hurt in the past? These actions not only help us grow in virtue but they are seeds for the growth of those that we might have hurt or wronged. When someone sees us taking responsibility for our sins and failings they might begin to think seriously of how our encounter with God began to change our life. They might see and even desire such change for themselves.

Most of all, the Lord Himself will see that we have changed just as the changes within this man Zacchaeus continued because he truly desired to know Christ at a deeper level.

St. Nikolai of Zicha writing about this passage says,

“Today, salvation has come to this house” said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us. Behold, He did not arbitrarily enter the house of the sinner Zacchaeus, rather He entered as a most desired guest. Zacchaeus of little stature climbed into a tree in order to see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes. Zacchaeus, therefore, sought him; Zacchaeus desired Him. We must also seek Him in order to find Him and desire Him in order that He would draw nearer to us and, with our spirit, to climb high in order to encounter His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus and with Him salvation will come…”

St. Nikolai ends with this prayer “Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.” AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Giving Thanks

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)

Today we heard the gospel story of the ten lepers. Ten men who were very sick with leprosy. As many of you know, leprosy was considered something like a death sentence in ancient times. Lepers were forced to live away from their families, friends and loved ones so as not to make others sick or impure according to the law.

As the ten lepers approached Our Lord Jesus Christ they cried out to Him. We are told that they “lifted up their voices” to Him and said “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” At this request the Lord responded and told them to show themselves to the priests and as they walked away, they were healed. My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ loves us so much more than we can possibly imagine. This prayer that the lepers cried out is the foundation for all of our prayers as faithful children of God. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” It sounds almost like another prayer that we commonly pray during all of our services, “Lord have mercy!” It also sounds nearly identical to the Jesus prayer that is said by the faithful all over the world, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, the sinner.”

Now what St. Luke the Evangelist is telling us is that Jesus will hear us whenever we call to Him from our whole heart. Do we cry out to Him from our whole heart? That is what it means to be Christians. Christians are those who have a deep relationship with God written on their hearts through a life of prayer. We also couple this life of prayer with a prayerful life. These two work together in harmony. Whatever you face in your life, whatever struggle you go through, you can be certain that the very moment that you call out to the Lord Jesus from the depths of your heart, He is present and hears you. Yet, the beauty of our life is that we should never stop calling out to Him. We should never stop searching for Him even when things are “going well.” St. Paul refers to this when he says that we should “pray without ceasing.” This simple Jesus prayer or some similar prayer is key to growing in your prayer life. He listened to the lepers and the Lord will also come to heal the leprosy of our souls.

Yet as the men went away and were cleansed and healed they continued rejoicing. They celebrated wildly. It was if the death sentence had been commuted. It was if they were resurrected from the grave. I can only imagine how they felt as they saw their skin healing before their very eyes and they ran with joy they hadn’t experienced in quite some time. I can imagine this and I can see myself as one of these lepers. But one of them did something quite different than the rest. Instead of running towards home, he ran back towards the One who had blessed him with a chance to return home. Instead of celebrating the miracle, he returned to honor and thank the miracle worker. He had a different kind of joy in his heart. It was a joy that wouldn’t be true and real without first acknowledging that it was Christ who had made all of this happen for him. And yet there was more. We are now told the icing on the cake…the man who returned to give thanks wasn’t a faithful Jew but a Samaritan. Wow. Our Lord was truly amazed. This foreigner returned to give thanks and glory to God, while all of those Jews who supposedly knew God truly, didn’t so much as turn around.

We are reminded here that the Lord always planned to save the gentiles, the non-Jewish people. And this was another sign that the gentiles would indeed come to true faith and would love and serve Christ.

This reading is also a reminder that each one of us should live a life of thanksgiving. Jesus Christ has blessed us with so much. He’s given us abundance both physical and spiritual. He has forgiven our sins and comforted us. He has give us medicines and healed us. He has loved us beyond all measure or comprehension.

As we contemplate all of the things that we are thankful for I want to share something for which I’m thankful. On Tuesday we will celebrate 7 years since the start of this church. I cannot help but remember that first liturgy on Sunday January 17th. We were squished together in the clubhouse at the old golf course and as we started to pray the divine liturgy we were treated to a rare and beautiful light snowfall. For me, every day since that first day has been just as beautiful and just as glorious as that day. But the real beauty and miracle is to see you all come together as a close knit family in Christ. We started this church with liturgy and for us the liturgy brings us together and it renews us and brings us joy. The liturgy and all of the prayers and services of the church offer us comfort and grace and healing. So we thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He allowed this church to be planted and to thrive and grow and that He allows us to serve the services here for the glory of God and for the salvation of our souls.

I know that many of you were not here when we first started praying together. It doesn’t matter. You are here now. Let us show our gratitude to God and to one another by supporting and loving one another and never ever taking the church and her services for granted. The services, and especially the divine liturgy, give us life as Christians. So let us show our thanks to the Holy Trinity through our faithfulness to this task that we share together, to grow in holiness and to love those around us with the love of Christ. To Him be the glory together with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

The Difficult Path To Healing

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:12-17)

Today we find ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, right at the beginning of His earthly ministry, His preaching of the good news. We are told by St. Matthew that a prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled during that time as the Lord entered Galilee in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali. Isaiah prophesied about this event saying “The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

So as we prepare to hear the words of the Our Lord Jesus Christ, the great light who shines His light into the whole world. The light who enlightens us with His teachings which are light. We are astounded that the very first word of His ministry is this: Repent. Very often people will say that if you speak about repentance you are being negative or not focusing on the love of God, but this is not so according to the Lord. Repentance is the solid foundation upon which all of our spiritual lives must be built. And what does repentance mean? It means to turn around. To change your heart and mind. To look away from the direction you were headed, away from sin and rebelliousness and destruction and to reorient yourselves toward God and His ways and His life. The beginning of the good news is that you have a choice in the matter. You don’t have to stay on the path you have currently chosen. You can renounce your past ways and begin the process of rebuilding and reclaiming what is offered to you by the Lord.

St. Nikolai of Zicha writes that “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.”

+ St. Nikolai Velimirovic, “The Thirty-Second Sunday After Pentecost: The Gospel on Repentant Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1

We go through a difficult process when we commit to repentance. We have to face up to our shame. We have to face up to whatever is not good within us. Sometimes it’s our thoughts. Other times it is our words. Yet other times it is our actions. Some of the saints speak of this time of repentance as one where we hate ourselves, or rather, we hate the sins that have become a part of us. They are the part of us that is not worthy of loving. Although it is often painful, we face up to our shame and leave our sins behind and purify ourselves so that we can face up to Christ and cling to Him and His goodness rather than clinging to what is false and destructive. And just as our sins are washed away in baptism. We receive a spiritual washing when we repent fervently. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes,

“Through repentance the filth of our foul actions is washed away. After this, we participate in the Holy Spirit, not automatically, but according to the faith, humility and inner disposition of the repentance in which our soul is engaged. For this reason it is good to repent each day as the act of repentance is unending.”

— St. Symeon the New Theologian, Philokalia Volume 2

St. Symeon tells us that the act of repentance should happen not once or twice, but every single day! That is part of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. Don’t pretend to have it all figured out. Always assume that there is more work to be done within your own soul. When we believe this, we are inviting the Lord Jesus to participate in this mysterious work. And my brothers and sisters, He deeply desires to participate in this work. He loves us and desires our healing.

Through our life in the Church we also come to understand that part of the act of repentance is to come to the Church and the receive the medicine of confession. I want you to know that you should never be afraid to come to confession. Don’t be ashamed. Expose your shame so that you will be able to live faithfully and courageously. Know that as a priest I have no interest in judging you. A priest will actually think more of you because you came with courage and poured out your sins. And this act offers such a tremendous blessing to us. It renews our baptismal oath and the grace of the sacrament. It helps us to heal from our self-inflicted wounds.

Repentance is a difficult exercise yet it becomes a powerful gift. This is why it is the beginning of the gospel message, the foundation of everything that we do as children of God. Finally, St. Silouan encourages us with a beautiful word when he writes, “Glory be to the Lord that he gave us repentance. Through repentance we shall all, every one of us, be saved. Only those who refuse to repent will not find salvation, and therein I see their despair, and shed abundant tears of pity for them. They have not known through the Holy Spirit how great is God’s mercy. But if every soul knew the Lord, knew how deeply he loves us, no one would ever despair, or murmur against his lot.”

May we all come to know God’s great mercy as we strive to repent and become saints. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

A New Year “According to Christ”

The reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. (2:8-12)

My brothers and sisters, the grace of God has brought us to a new year today. How wonderful it is that we can be together doing the most important thing as a church family. As we are celebrating the new year we are also celebrating two very important events in the life of the Church. The first is the eighth day since the Feast of Nativity, the birth of Christ. This is important because on the eighth day according to the Jewish law and traditions, every male child was circumcised. This practice began with Abraham the father of the Jewish nation. It was established directly by God and was to be a sign of the covenant or sacred contract between God and His followers.

Thousands of years later, we see that the Jewish people continued in this practice that was deemed necessary and fundamental to being a Jew in good standing. In fact, if you refused to circumcise your male child, he would not be recognized as a Jew. He would be treated as an outsider. So it is no surprise that we see faithful Joseph and Mary do the same with the infant Christ. This practice of circumcising the infant boys also points us to the Church’s practice of infant baptism. Contrary to the beliefs of some, the covenant doesn’t depend on the understanding of the one who enters into it, rather it depends on the faith of the one who brings the child into the covenant and it likewise depends on the faithfulness of God to His people. The Church understood that baptism was the fulfillment of the practice of circumcision. Circumcision is seen as an outward cutting of the flesh. But baptism was seen as a circumcision of the inner heart by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Today the Orthodox Church also celebrates the memory of one of the greatest saints of the Church, St. Basil the Great. You will notice that one of the features of the day is that we are actually celebrating the liturgy of St. Basil instead of the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In the early church it was actually much more normal to celebrate this liturgy but now in modern practice we celebrate the liturgy of St. Basil about ten times a year including the Sundays of Great Lent. I highly recommend that one of your practices in the new year would be to read the lives of the saints. There are extended versions of their lives at Patristic Nectar and those are available as audio as well. And I would ask you to read about St. Basil and you will find out why the Church calls him “great”.

As it is the beginning of the new year we are inclined to think about the year that has past. We should do so with gratitude to God for all that He has done for us and given us and all the ways He has blessed us throughout the last year and throughout our lives. As we look back at the last year we should also have time to carefully examine ourselves and our choices and even our beliefs to see whether those aspects of our life really and truly glorify Jesus Christ or if they are simply a mirror of ourselves and our own desires. In this way, our looking back will be fruitful and balanced. And this will also lead to a fruitful and balanced approach to this new year.

It just so happens that on this day, the Church prescribes for us a portion of the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians that challenges us to examine ourselves and our ways of thinking. St. Paul writes “Brethren, see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”

St. Paul speaks to the churches and writes to them with love. Real love. We know this because he rarely sugarcoats his message to them. The one who doesn’t love you, never challenges you and instead tiptoes and attempts not to rub you the wrong way for fear of offending you. The one who claims to love you and shows their love by supporting your misguided ways and your sins is not your friend. The one who tells you that you are well when you are very sick, doesn’t love you. This is part of the sickness of our country and culture. The word love is thrown around frequently but it can’t possibly mean love in the Christian sense because it doesn’t lead to healing and life. It is devoid of the life giver. We also can’t be healed unless we are willing to hear the truth with patient humility and we accept the medicine and healing that can only come from the Master, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that we should not become prey to philosophy and empty deceit. What does this word “prey” mean? It means “An animal hunted or caught by another for food.” Or “An object or victim of attack.”

St. Paul acknowledges that false philosophy and human traditions can make you become prey. They leave you vulnerable to attack and to capture. Prey to whom? Prey to Satan and to spiritual death. The apostle tells us that the medicine and antidote to falling into such traps is to live “according to Christ.” As we celebrate the new year and think about our own resolutions for this coming year we should contemplate what it means to live “according to Christ” and what it means to live “the fullness of life in Him.” It shouldn’t surprise that we learn what it means to live according to Christ by studying the words and the life of Our Lord Jesus in the 4 gospels. But just in case that isn’t enough, there are other ways to contemplate what it means to live according to Christ. We can study the lives of the saints. The life of each saint is a rich and unique tapestry of how a Christian life can look. No two saints lives are identical.

We can study the teachings of the Church. Where do we find such teachings? We find them in her sermons, in the commentaries on holy Scripture, in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and in the canons and the councils of the Church. Each of these offers us a different angle and insight into what it means to live according to Christ. When we put these things together and we balance them with the reading of the Bible, we find that there is no possible way that we will be swayed and deceived by the philosophies of the world. Instead of being ignorant or confused, we will live full and rich lives under the spiritual protection of God.

There is one more aspect to life in Christ that I want to share with you and that is our participation in communal prayer and worship. The services of the Church teach and heal and bring freedom and peace if you are faithful, humble and patient. Worship is the very act of making God first in our lives. It is the fulfillment of the first and greatest commandment. As we grow to make worship a priority in our lives, we will find that we have opened enough space in our hearts and lives for Christ to truly enter.

As we begin the new year I want to leave you with this beautiful prayer from St. Thalassios. He writes,

“Christ, Master of all, free us from all destructive passions and the thoughts born of them. For Your sake we came into being, so that we might delight in the paradise which You have planted and in which You have placed us. We brought our present disgrace upon ourselves, preferring destruction to the delights of blessedness. We have paid for this, for we have exchanged eternal life for death. O Master, as once You have looked on us, look on us now; as You became man, save all of us. For You came to save us who were lost. Do not exclude us from the company of those who are being saved. Raise up our souls and save our bodies, cleansing us from all impurity. Break the fetters of the passions that constrain us, as once You have broken the ranks of the impure demons. Free us from their tyranny, so that we may worship You alone, the eternal light, having risen from the dead and dancing with the angels in the blessed, eternal and indissoluble dance. Amen.


Source: Sermons