But Will We Bear Fruit?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:5-15)

One of my greatest joys as a priest is seeing people grow in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is also a great joy to bring people into the Holy Orthodox faith. We train them and instruct them and receive them into the Church, and we hope that they will continue to have zeal and fervent faith for Christ and His Church. In the beginning, people are often energetic, but sometimes we have seen people who begin energetically and later they seem to fizzle out or fall away. We pray for them and we hope they will become Christians who bear mature fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, but the truth is that we can never be certain because God has given us freedom to choose Him or to go in another direction.

In today’s gospel reading we hear the life giving words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He describes the heart of the human being as soil, and the life giving word of God as seed. Either the soil of our heart is receptive to the seed of the word of God, either it is a good place for the seed to be planted, to grow and to bear much fruit or it is place where the seed goes to die and the person remains fruitless. What is the difference between the good soil that bore fruit and the other places where the Lord threw seeds that did not bear fruit? More importantly, how can we make prepare our own hearts to receive the seed of the word of God faithfully?

On Tuesday night we began our Intro to Orthodoxy class with a quote from Met. Hierotheos Vlachos who once wrote that “According to the patristic meaning of the word, everyone is a psychopath, that is to say, his soul is sick…he continues by saying “For the psychiatrist, the psychopath means…he is suffering from a psychosis: a schizophrenic. From the Orthodox standpoint, however, it is someone who has not undergone purification of the passions or attained illumination…” 

The Church stands as a hospital for us, a place that cures the sick. She is a hospital but not simply a hospital, she is also a school of repentance and prayer. These are the medicines and practices that help us to undergo purification of our souls, and it is this purification that helps us develop the good soil of the heart. These things help us to follow the words of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully, to the end. To become those who “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” 

The chalice that is brought out for communion every Sunday is plated in gold in order to reflect the precious nature of that which it is carrying. The gospel cover is wrapped in a beautiful decorative cover, usually with some gold plating, in order to remind us of the precious quality of the words that are contained therein. In the same way, we are called to make ourselves purified and cleansed vessels in order to receive the precious seeds of God’s word in a fitting and acceptable manner. Everything in the life of the Orthodox Church is meant to help us on this path, this royal road, this narrow way of Christ. 

We are consistently called to help the poor and needy, to visit the sick and the prisoners, and to clothe the naked, to support the church. Acts such as these help us to become detached from our wealth and possessions. As Orthodox Christians we are called to fast for over half the year. We also undertake other forms of asceticism, such as doing prostrations in our private prayers or staying up late and praying even when it means getting less sleep. We undertake activities that are not easy and not convenient. We serve others, we love our enemies. We do these things so that our heart will remain soft and fertile for God and not stony, rocky and hard. We do these things because we don’t want to be choked by the pleasures of life. Once someone is sucked into the quick sand of a life of pleasure, it is tough to crawl back out. So this is why the Church offers us her spiritual practices and methods and these have been tried, tested and true according to the lives of the saints who have lived them for centuries.

In addition the Church as a wise mother, gives us powerful nutrients and vaccines to help us grow and keep us away from various forms of spiritual danger. She gives us the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Communion, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. She gives us the support and fellowship of the whole community, the body of Christ. She gives us the sacrament of confession.All of these gifts and many more are given to us because God desired that we would all be saved and would come to know Him. 

Perhaps some of you feel that you are simply going through the motions of your faith. Perhaps some of you are already exhausted by the cares and worries of this life. I want you to remember your purpose and your gift. You were created to serve and to love God, first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. Live with that as a constant reminder.I also want you to remember your gift. It is the gift of adoption into the household of God. It is yours. Everything that the Father has, He shares with you. He doesn’t do it begrudgingly but with openness and great generosity. He says, “come to me, sit with me, know me, partake of me, live with me.” 

As Christians we are reminded by the words of the Lord Jesus, that life is short and that we should guard and treasure His words like precious jewels or something exceedingly rare. The best way for us to do this is to diligently hold fast to the practices and disciplines of the Church. To continually soften our hearts and train ourselves to be receptive to the grace of God that is working in our lives. God desires to save you and to transform you. But He asks us to make room for Him, to prepare the soil of our hearts for Him through daily, methodical, habitual practices of prayer and repentance and participation in the life giving worship of the church.

So we do this day by day, hour by hour and we believe that if we are diligent to tend the garden of our hearts, in time, He will faithfully fulfill His promise to bring forth the abundant fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And glory be to God AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

When We Are Forced to Stare At Death

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (7:11-16) 

In today’s gospel reading we are privileged to hear an amazing account from St. Luke the evangelist. We are told that many of the disciples as well as a great crowd of people were following the Lord Jesus as He went to a city called Nain, which was a village of Galilee. What the disciples and the people would witness that day was something very special, almost unbelievable. It was a work that had only happened a select few times throughout the whole of the history of the people of God. I am sure that when they woke up that morning, they could not fathom what their eyes would behold that day.

As our Lord Jesus Christ drew near to the gate of the city He encountered one of the sights that He abhors above all else. He encountered something that might have caused Him pain of heart. He was entering the city as a funeral procession was passing by. Why should such a sight be something that the Lord Jesus hates? Because He created us to live forever. He created us to be full of life, not to be swallowed up and embraced by death. He was sad at the sight because from the beginning it was not meant to be. We were meant for so much more than to simply lie in a box with our eyes closed.

I believe that every time the Lord encountered death, it was deeply troubling to Him, as it should be to us. Because it reminds us of the fallenness of humanity and the sin of our forefathers. It reminds us that death had dominion, or lordship over all human life. Yet we find that in Christ, all things become new.

We are told that when the Lord Jesus saw the procession and the widow whose only son had died, He had compassion on her and said “Do not weep.” These are the precious words of the Lord, whose word created Heaven and Earth and all of creation. He condescends to this poor widows pain and anguish and He comforts her with His word “Do not weep.” Who are we that any of us should be shown such comfort and compassion by the Lord, as He demonstrates in this story? What a beautiful master we serve!

After comforting the widow with His words, and as an aside, let me say that when someone is sick or suffering, we should be careful not to try and comfort them with empty words of comfort. The Lord comforted with a full knowledge of what He would do. We should not tell the sick and suffering that everything will be okay, when in fact, their world might be falling apart. We should be with them in their pain. You can’t tell them that everything will be better, because we don’t know that. End of aside.

After His comforting words, the Lord does something that no one that day expected or foresaw. He came up to the bier (the casket) and He touched it and said “Young man, I say to you: arise.” And we are told that the dead man sat up and began to speak. It was such a shock to the crowd that we are told that “fear seized them all.” But the evangelist goes on to say, “and they glorified God saying “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!”

My brothers and sisters, this story is about each of us. Sometimes we are like the widow who is staring into the face of the darkness and trying to somehow make sense of the death of a loved one. And we will all certainly be like the widow’s son who was laying lifeless in the casket, because all of us are going to die. Death is beyond our control. Death is beyond our control but life is the gift of Jesus Christ to those who love Him, who hear His words and follow Him.

We do not need to be troubled by death, because death has no more dominion over Our Lord Jesus Christ, who conquered and defeated death. He destroyed it and destroyed sin. Each of us is called then to live as if Christ has already touched our casket and brought us back to life, and He has! We were dead in sin! We were buried with Him and raised again in baptism! We were given new life and put on the new man. We have become sons and daughters of God by this royal adoption into the household of God. Now we are called to live a resurrected life, not bound by sin as ones who are spiritually dead, but living in the Spirit, in newness of life.

Each of us was dead through sin and each of us has been restored. St. Paul says at least three times in his epistles “walk worthily.” He writes “that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Again he writes “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” and finally he writes “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called”.  Let us indeed do just that.

I pray that this gospel passage will bring you great hope. Sometimes we have to face difficult circumstances in our lives, even death, but we should face them knowing that life has defeated death itself in Christ the conqueror, who rose from the dead. Let us then live in Him and for Him that we might also be redeemed and hear His powerful words inviting us to share in His life, “I say to you, arise!” 

Source: Sermons

Searching for God In The Depths

The Reading from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (1:21-2:4) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (5:1-11) 

When I was a young man in school, I remember one of our teachers telling us something that we thought was strange at the time. She said to us, you shouldn’t be upset when I correct you, you should be really upset when I stop correcting you. As a kid this didn’t make any sense to me, after all, the worst thing in the world is to be corrected, or at least I thought. But it turns out that there is great wisdom in this saying, and in fact it is clearly echoed in today’s second epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. The holy apostle writes, 

“For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”

St. Paul clearly wrote a letter of correction to some of the members of the Corinthian community. It seems that this letter caused them some pain and consternation. Perhaps some feathers were ruffled and it’s possible that even some feelings were hurt in the process. But St. Paul tells them and us that this is part of what it means to be a father who loves his children. He was ready to seem like the bad guy, if it meant caring for his people with the love of Christ. He says “I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice,” What does he speak of here? He is speaking of the pain that he would suffer if his people were not living correctly, in true faith. Since he did not want to suffer such pain, since this would hurt him and it would hurt to see others struggling and falling away from the Lord, and it would also be an indictment on his lack of fatherhood and pastoral care, he corrected them and caused them some pain in the process in order that later his joy would be full since it would be the shared joy ofthe true faith in Our Lord JesusChrist. 

He reminds us that any good father sometimes corrects his children, even when they don’t really like it. Sometimes he corrects them more sternly, but always with love and with a keen eye towards their progress and salvation. He wants the best for them. If this is true with the natural father, how much more is it true with spiritual fatherhood? Not only do pastors and priests have an interest in seeing you thrive, not only do we take great joy in watching you grow in the faith, but more than all of that, we are accountable to God who ordained us to this task, and most of the priests that I know do not take this task lightly. The burden is heavy. So if you’re priest happens to correct you out of love, try to accept it as love. As my teacher once said, we should be more concerned if the one responsible for us stops correcting us.

Now focusing on the gospel reading for a few minutes, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ comes to the disciples with a simple command: “put down into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” The problem with this command was that the disciples had fished all night long. They were exhausted, they had just finished wrapping things up, washing their nets, taking care of their equipment and were about ready to head home for some breakfast and time with their families. So what was otherwise a simple command, was for these disciples, a big deal. Often the Lord gives us simple commands but the particular situations and circumstances of our life, can make these simple commands seem particularly burdensome. But guess what? The circumstances don’t matter as much as the obedience to Jesus Christ. We that in this gospel passage, the disciples lead by Simon Peter said “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Thy word I will let down the nets.” This simple act of obedience, obedience against all common sense, led to the greatest catch of fish that the disciples ever took. It is possible that this great catch of fish made it possible for them to leave everything behind and follow the Lord for a time. More importantly, it allowed the disciples to see the fruit of obedience to the Lord and through this they had a newfound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing is more valuable than that which gives us new appreciation for the Lord and His place in our lives.

While most of us are not fishermen by trade, we can still take many lessons from this gospel reading. One of the most important is to see this story as symbolic of our prayer life. Sometimes we are lazy with our prayers, barely getting through the written text. Other times, we are faithful and diligent.But often we leave our prayers wondering if we have achieved anything. We are not sure what has happened. Yet listen to the words of the Lord “Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.” This can be taken as an invitation to go even deeper, to a place that we do not yet know, to the deepest corners of our hearts. Christians have to pray that way and not superficially. God has billions of people who pray to Him, but only a very precious few who pray deeply from the heart. St. Joseph of Optina once said“Prayer is food for the soul. Do not starve the soul, it is better to let the body go hungry.” 

So even after we have prayed, and toiled in a manner of speaking, don’t think that we can just stop there. Sometimes we have to go beyond our expectations and obey the words of the Lord to go deeper and let down the nets of our heart in order to catch a net full of the grace of God. After all, this is what the Lord wants for us. He wants to know us and dwell with us, and this most precious gift requires a great effort on our parts and the acknowledgement that just like Peter, even after we receive it, we are completely unworthy of God’s blessings. May the Lord give us courage to go deeper, into the unknown places of prayer and seek the Lord there, where He can make Himself known to us. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Losing Life In Order To Find It

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. (2:16-20) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1) 

Today we celebrate the Sunday after the elevation of the cross. The story of the elevation of the cross is a very important one in the life of the church. It reminds us that the cross of Jesus Christ is a very real material object. And upon this very real material object, this means of extreme torture, Jesus Christ hung as a perfect man. Our Lord Jesus Christ says to us “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” These were not just mere words. He lived them, he even died them. 

St. Paul writes about this in Philippians when he says Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

He continues saying,

Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Phil 2.3–11).

This is the humility that poured from love and drew the world to our Savior. We can enter into this humility and into this love in only one way, by following after the example of our Lord and denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and carrying them.

So often we are completely overwhelmed by the things that God has put on our plate. We become despondent, we despair, we look for any way to escape our situations which sometimes seem quite dreadful. One turns to drugs, another to gaining attention from the opposite sex, one to pornography, another to alcohol, one to sloth and social media, another to focusing on the sins of others, and so on and so forth. It never ends if we take that path, because our deep needs and desires cannot be filled by the finite and limited things in front of us, we can only be filled by the infinite and unlimited love of Christ which comes through the grace of God.

In fact St. Paul says as much in today’s gospel. Even regarding the works of the law. He says that there is nothing that can justify us except faith in Christ. Christ opened the door to our salvation through His death upon the cross. He willingly went through everything including death in order to give us the gift of divine life.

In today’s gospel we hear the Lord say these words “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.” Our Lord Jesus invites each of us to lose our lives, our ways of living, our improper thoughts, whatever it is that keeps us from Him, must be given up. We must stop carrying distractions and diversions in our heart, because this heart was made by God and for God. God has a way for us to gain real life, the life of the Holy Spirit, but we have to carry the crosses that the Lord gives us faithfully.

Our crosses are often difficult and we barely feel like we can carry them without stumbling and falling on our faces. Parenthood is a cross. Marriage is a cross. Being single and celibate is a cross. Working and going to school in our society can be a cross. Staying home to raise children is also a cross.

We can feel the weight of these crosses. They push us down. Life can be very difficult. We don’t know if we can survive some of the crosses that we’ve been given in life. Yet our Lord gives us hope. By carrying His cross to the end, He demonstrated how a sacrificial offering of one’s life out of love, can change the course of history. It can be that way for all of us here, carrying various crosses. It is not enough to carry them for a while. If you have ever seen a woman in labor, it is an amazing sight. She can’t give up halfway through pushing and contractions. She is compelled to go further even though she cannot humanly stand the pain. She does this out of deep love for the child who will be born. She wants to meet the child, hold the child, know the child. And when the child is delivered she forgets about all the pain, all the suffering. She knows only love for the new baby. 

Likewise, we also cannot stop halfway while carrying our crosses, and especially the cross of being a faithful Christian. We are called to carry these crosses to completion. That is your God given invitation to life. Our salvation is bound up in being steadfast and faithful to whatever God has given us and through our patient, sacrificial love, the Lord transforms these things into joy, life and resurrection! His resurrection becomes our resurrection, through the gift of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. May we also love Him and joyfully, energetically, give ourselves to Him. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Are We Healers or Destroyers?

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to St. Timothy. (2:1-7) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (4:16-22) 

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Church new year. Now at the start of the new year, we are given an opportunity to reflect and make some resolutions. We have a chance to aim higher and desire higher things for ourselves and for those around us. In today’s epistle, St. Paul writing to his spiritual son, St. Timothy says “Timothy, my son, first of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”  St. Paul does not ask us to pray only for those of our particular political leanings, he asks us to pray for everyone, every leader. And He does this because that is part of what it is to live a quiet and peaceful life Christian life. You may not have noticed this but the world seems less quiet and less peaceful. Even this country which has received great riches and blessings is starting to show manysigns of disturbance. The fathers and teachers of the Church tell us that every division starts with sin and Satan seizes upon division and multiplies it whenever and wherever he can. As the one who is responsible for your souls before the Lord, it is important that I warn and implore and try to steer you away from things that are harmful to you and to our unity.

What we do as Christians matters and sets the tone for dialogue and conversations in the society around us. When we spend time either online or in public, sharing political articles and political opinions, we unknowingly push away many members of the body of Christ. As I mentioned in a previous sermon, about 2 months ago, I don’t want people to see me as a Republican or Democrat or a capitalist or a socialist. Those things should not identify me. What should identify me to others is my attitude of love and humility, and in this people can see the only thing that matters about us, they can see whether or not we belong to Christ. Our Lord says “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is not forcing political opinions on others. Love is not demonizing the leaders or the politicians on either side. Love is not dismissing large portions of people as dumb or stupid or evil. Love is to be quiet and to pray that each and every human on earth would come to know the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ our savior. In fact, St. Paul says as much when he continues this epistle and writes, 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,” He continues saying “Who (God) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all”

What is the purpose of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ if it is buried beneath your political leanings and your opinions. You were not called to be ambassadors of certain politicians or parties. You were called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and if you won’t do it…who will?

The country feels fractured. People are fractured. People are hurting. They are blaming one another but we should know better. Every fracture, every division starts with me. It starts by asking myself “what is in my heart? What do I love? What am I living for?”

In today’s gospel reading, given to us for the Feast of the new year, we hear the words of the Lord as He quotes from the prophet Isaiah and says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor and to heal the broken hearted. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

We are the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed of whom the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking! We arein need of healing from the damage of our sins. We are captives toour wrong thoughts and misdirected ways. We are in need of sight, to look to God as our only help and only comfort in life, to walk in the right direction.We are in need of liberty from our sinful passions and crooked ways. 

We should not help destroy our culture by entering into this toxic environment with human ideas and human arguments. The most powerful healing that has ever taken place in the history of creation did not happen through treaties or deals or new laws or charismatic leaders. It happened by the death of one innocent man upon a cross in Jerusalem. This is the God-man whom we praise and worship and claim to follow. Crowds and multitudes wanted to make Him a king! Yet He refused out of His love for us. He could only give us temporary comfort if He was an earthly king, but He desired to die in order to ensure that we could reign with Him forever, as members of the royal family. He gave Himself up for the life of the world. Healing requires love and love requires sacrifice, not force.

Healing does not come from arguing with others.It comes from genuine repentance and the healing that only our Lord can provide. Healing proceeds from Christ and moves through the human heart when we cooperate with Him. 

As we begin this new year, I am encouraging you to be ambassadors of Christ with your words and your attitudes and your actions. Let us try to love all people with a powerful love, through heartfelt prayer, and sacrificial actions that bring healing instead of multiplying divisions. Then and only then, will they begin to know that we are the disciples of the One who is love. Glory be to God AMEN.

Source: Sermons

With Faith Like A Mustard Seed

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:14-23) 

In today’s gospel reading we see a picture of faith, but it is not yet perfect faith. We see a picture of incomplete faith in the actions of the man on behalf of his son, who is possessed of a demon. At the outset we are quite impressed by this man’s demonstration of reverence and piety. He comes before Our Lord Jesus Christ and kneels like a beggar without any regard for the crowds or how he might be perceived. He cries out “Lord, have mercy on my son,” In this he showed great faith. Would that we would all have this kind of love for others and this kind of boldness before the Lord! He fell on his knees and called upon the Lord, out of love, not for himself, but for his son. However there was an issue, his faith was only a small faith and it was also not pure. 

According to St. John Chrysostom, there were problems with his request. Hesays that this is the same man whose story is also told in Mark chapter 9, and in that chapter the father says “Help my unbelief.” He also goes on to say to the Lord please heal my son “if you can.” This phrase “if you can” is a sign of his unbelief. So we see that this man, if it is indeed the same man, showed many signs of unbelief, yet he comes to the Lord and asks him to help but he doesn’t ask with purity of faith. He says“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.” And then he continues “And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not heal him.” So he adds a publiccomplaint against the disciples of the Lord and blames them when things don’t go according to his plan. 

He is not looking for something selfish, he has come out of love for his son. In this he has done well, yet he mingles impurity in his request by pointing the blame at others. In fact St. John says that the disciples could often cure the sick, even though no one brought them with faith. He saysthe faith of the one bringing in the sick was often sufficient for receiving a cure even from lesser ministers, (and)so the virtue of the minister was also sufficient to achieve a miracle even without the faith of those bringing them in. Both of these are demonstrated in the Scriptures.”

Sadly we are sometimes like this father. We blame others and are quick to judge and point when things don’t go our way. We say things like “this is all your fault!” That is not good. It is a sin. Each and every Christian must be accountable for their own actions as well as their shortcomings. We should not judge or blame others when things don’t go our way or when we feel hurt. To do so is to invite the Lord to be harsh in His judgment of us since the Lord says “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2). 

Sowe see the man blaming the disciples since his son was not healed by them, yet the Lord turns the tables and putsthe blame in the rightful place,on the father and his lack of faith.The Lord says “O faithless and perverted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” This was said not only to the man, but to the crowd in general. The Lord is reminding us that our issues and problems are often problems that we ourselves have caused or allowed. While it might be convenient to point the blame at others, it does us no good from a spiritual perspective. That is why we see thatthe saints are quick to ask forgiveness of others, even when they have not done wrong. This act of humility is enough to free us and cause God’s face to shine upon us. Husbands and wives, even when you are having a disagreement or a misunderstanding, this principle can be applied. Be quick to take the blame upon yourself, and slow to place the blame on the other.

Now after the boy was healed by our merciful Lord, He is approached by His disciples who came privately and asked “Why could we not cast it out?” And the Lord toldthem, the same thing that He said to the crowd “Because you have no faith.” So we see that it was a combination. A perfect storm of faithlessness. Yet our Lord goes on to give the disciples hope and this hope became a promise that was fulfilled in the lives of the disciples. The Lord said “For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” What the Lord has said seems quite unbelievable. Can we imagine a mountain moving from one location to another? Yet, we have to keep in mind that He is not telling them that they can do it by their own strength or power, but according to His strength and His power. This is the same power that created the Sun, the moon and the stars. It is the power that created all things, including the mountains. In addition, some writers such as Origen tell us that the mountains are an allegory that refers to the evil that resides within some people. Yet with faith even this can be healed, meaning the mountain can be removed.

Chrysostom also commenting about this verse says But if you say “Where did they move a mountain?” I will say that they did things much greater than that in raising up innumerable dead. For moving a mountain and moving death from a body are not at all comparable. After them other saints, far inferior to the disciples, are said to have moved mountains when necessity demanded. It is clear that the disciples also would have done so had necessity demanded.”

So we see that the promise of the Lord was fulfilled in the disciples. They became men of truly great faith. They who could not help a struggling boy, later were filled with the Holy Spirit and did indeed raise men from the dead and heal the sick with their very shadows. This promise is given to all of the children of God. Only take your faith, however small it may be, and work to multiply this faith actively. And how do we do that? We take steps to exercise and increase our faith. We start by drawing near to the One in whom we have faith, we draw near to God in fervent prayer. Faith begets prayers and prayer begets faith and both of these together beget life in Christ. May the Lord accept our faith, no matter how frail it may be and may He multiply it and say to us “O faithful and uncorrupted generation!” And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

On the Dormition of the Mother of God

Sermon on the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos by St. John of Kronstadt 

Let us be happy, beloved brothers and sisters that we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, worthily and rightly glorifying the Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos on this eminent day out of all the days of the year with special solemnity. There exists on earth many societies and entire governments that do not consider the need nor the obligation to call upon and glorify the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and other saints and angels; to submissively serve Her lovingly, as the true Mother of God. Sadly in Russia nowadays we have heretics (among us) who actively dishonor the Mother of God, the saints, their icons, their relics and their festivals. O, if only they also unanimously with us glorified the worthy Queen of heaven and earth!

Today the Holy Church solemnly glorifies the honorable Dormition or translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven. A wonderful translation – she died without serious illness, peacefully. Her soul is taken up in the divine hands of Her Son and carried up into the heavenly abode, accompanied by the sweet singing of angels. And then, her most pure body is transferred by the apostles to Gethsemane where it is honorably buried, and on the third day it is resurrected and taken up to heaven. You see this on the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. On it is represented the life-bearing body of the Theotokos laying on a bier, surrounded by the apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the most pure soul of the Theotokos. The translation of the Mother of God is a paradigm of the translation in general of the souls of Christians to the other world.

We say that our dead have “fallen asleep” or “passed away.” What does this mean? This means that for the true Christian there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the cross. But there is a translation, i.e, a rearrangement of his condition, i.e. his soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, that is what is meant by “falling asleep”. It is as if it were a temporary dream after which, by the voice of the Lord and the fearful yet wonderful trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). This is what the Christian means by translation. We should be ready for this translation, for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this indescribable world event, recorded in the Holy Scriptures.

This preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person’s preparation throughout the whole of his life. This preparation means a change in all his thoughts, and the moral change of all his being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that he is adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.

Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consist of these things. The heavenly King desires souls adorned with immutable virtue, souls prepared so that the Very Lord Himself could abide in them. Do not marvel that the Very Lord wants to live in us. In fact the human soul is more spacious than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in it and will fill it with Himself.“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23), says the Lord about the souls who love Him. And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen.

Originally posted by oca.org

Source: Sermons

Earthly Logic and Heavenly Solutions

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (14:14-22) 

How often we take for granted the mercy and kindness of God towards all people. How often do we get wrapped up in our own lives and our own trials and difficulties and forget that many years ago, God sent His only begotten Son to dwell with us, to experience our pains, to enter into our humanity.

Into this very world, God sent His Son Jesus Christ. And when He grew, He went out and preached the good news of God’s love, and the need for repentance to all people. As He preached and taught, He healed them, not only with His words, but also by laying hands on the sick and suffering. It is possible that we never imagined the types of crowds that would be drawn to a man who could offer the people so much. They came by the thousands and followed Him. And He showed His compassion on them by speaking to them, teaching them, laying hands on them, healing them, and forgiving their sins. During one of these encounters with the very large multitude, the disciples came to Our Lord and said “This is a deserted place and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” What the disciples were asking was a reasonable human request. On it’s face, it makes sense and is quite logical. The people are hungry and they have almost no food here, so they need to go away and find food to eat.

What was the problem with their thinking? It eliminated God from the equation. According to human wisdom it was a good idea, but according to the wisdom of God, it was completely unnecessary, in fact, if we really understand the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, it was just plain wrong. But the disciples did not yet understand fully. They understood that Jesus was special. They thought that He might be the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. But they did not fully understand did they? What did they not understand?

They failed to recognize Jesus as the only Son of God. They failed to recognize Jesus as equal to God the Father. They failed to recognize Him as the creator of the whole universe. When we have a problem in our life, it is important to put it within the proper context. It is important that the context includes God and that with God as part of our context, we understand that the whole situation has the potential to be completely transformed. The disciples were looking for an earthly solution because they did not see the Heavenly standing right before their eyes. They contemplated what was humanly possible because they could not fathom that the One in their midst could do the impossible.

Each of us has situations in our life that are like this one. We find ourselves hungry or tired and lacking the things that we think are necessary for life. But the Lord reminds us that when He is present, hunger and want are absent. And this is not strictly a physical matter of hunger and want, but even more importantly it is a spiritual matter. We feel that we lack peace, we lack fulfillment and we may be tempted to seek out distractions or to seek out something to numb the pain, or we may even seek to follow false gods that would tempt us by offering “peace” or “happiness” or “contentment”. For instance this is one of the alluring temptations put forward by those who encourage meditation.

Through all of this, we should remember that our human problems require more than mere human solutions. They require Divine intervention. This by the way, is why we should take politicians and politics with a grain of salt. On that day when the Lord was teaching and healing the sick, the disciples had only 5 loaves of bread and 2 meager fish. There is no way that they could have possibly fed ten or twenty thousand people with such a small amount of food. And even today, we look at our problems and our limitations and we allow these limitations to define us and our situation. Yet God is not defined by our limitations. When we have faithful obedience, He reminds us that He is beyond limitations. He is the one who creates “out of nothing.”

Again, this can apply to our physical circumstances but it is even more appropriate to our spiritual condition. We are hungry for the grace of God. We are hungry for spiritual gifts. We are hungry and thirsty for righteousness (or at least we should be). Yet, we look at ourselves and we feel that there is nothing good within us. We fail continually. But let’s look at what happened to the large crowd. The Lord ordered them to sit, and those who obeyed were treated to a royal meal with the King of kings. I imagine that there were some who did not sit and did not obey the Lord. They may have said to themselves “While I would like to sit down, it is getting late and we’ve been here all day and we have a long way to travel. I better get on the road and find some food and lodging.” Yet those who obeyed, saw and partook of a great miracle.

Regardless of what difficulties we face. Regardless of our own shortcomings. One this is certain, when we obey the Lord Jesus Christ, He will allow us to see wonders in our life. He alone has the power to give us good things, things that we truly desire in our hearts. He alone can multiply grace and spiritual blessings and the peace and joy that come with them. And what is asked of us in return? Simply that we obey and sit in His presence.

This imagery is so powerful and it reminds me of another miraculous meal….our Sunday Liturgy. All over the world, millions of Orthodox Christians are coming together in obedience to the teaching of the Lord, and they will receive the body of Christ. All of us are mystically and spiritually connected. We are not partaking of separate loaves, but of the One loaf and the One cup! We are united through these in the One Lord and then just as we hear in today’s gospel passage, the Lord dismisses us and allows us to leave filled, nourished and satisfied. This is another spiritual law; No one who comes to Christ hungry or thirsty is turned away empty handed. The Lord provides because He loves His children. There is no good father who doesn’t offer the very best to his children. Only bring your small offering and obey His voice, sit at His feet and be patient. As the psalmist writes “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry.” May He also hear our cries and multiply whatever we may have to the glory of His name. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

How to Find Encouragement and Hope

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (15:1-7) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35) 

One of my great fears for each of us in our day to day modern lives is that it is very easy for us to live a distracted life. We have become very comfortable and very distracted as a society. Not too long ago I was out having dinner and I saw a scene that broke my heart to pieces. I saw a mother having dinner with her two young children probably about 7 and 5 years old. A son and a daughter. The mother was sitting in front of her laptop, probably working. The 7 year old boy was playing games on his kindle, and the young girl was watching a cartoon on her own tablet. Three people, three screens, one table, zero relationship, zero shared experience. It disturbed me greatly. If this behavior was normal for this family, it was a tragedy. The mother would not know her own children and the children would not know their own mother, at least not in a deep and meaningful way.

My fear is that we are sometimes like this with God. The difference is that He does not sit at the table distracted. He patiently waits for us to look up from our distractions and speak to Him and to hear His voice. In today’s epistle we are reminded that we need to hear the voice of the Lord through the writing of the Old Testament scriptures and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”

St. Paul is reminding the Christians of Rome that it is not enough to believe in Jesus and even to come to the gathering of the Christians for the liturgy and prayers. More is required of us if we want to become patient and hopeful Christians, if we want to have a joyous faith. He tells us that we have to turn to what was written in the former days. He reminds us that the holy writings of the Bible were given to each of us for our instruction. He tells us that we need to study these texts to be taught in the ways of God. And that through this teaching we will also grow in endurance and we will be encouraged in our life.

St. John Chrysostom writes “These things were written so that we might not fall away, for we have many battles to fight, both inward and outward. But being comforted by the Scriptures we can exhibit patience, so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another—hope brings forth patience, and patience, hope.” 

Our lives can be very difficult. They are full of trials, failures, sickness, injury, frailty, and on top of all that, we are increasingly finding ourselves living in a world that does not acknowledge God or the Christian worldview. We will increasingly be seen as outsiders and irrelevant, if not hostile to the ways of the world. In all of this, we will need to be rooted and grounded in something other than social media, fantasy novels, video games and Netflix. None of these things can offer us stability. None of them can offer us joy. None of them can offer us comfort or hope. Only the things of God can offer hope because He alone is the source of true hope.

We are in dire need of a return to the study of the Bible. With the Bible we can build a foundation for our lives, without the study of the Bible we are lost as people, as families and as a society. We hear the psalmist say “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Imagine how we would feel if we were forced to walk in the middle of the wilderness with no light whatsoever…in complete darkness or wearing a blindfold. It would be terrifying and extremely dangerous. Yet that is what we are like when we don’t know the word of God. We are like people walking through a spiritual wilderness, like those who are blind, and when we are blind we are in great danger. In today’s gospel passage, we see Our Lord Jesus Christ heal the blindness of the two men. But we are also in constant need of the healing of the eyes of our heart. The word is one powerful medicine for our healing.

Like many other practices, we need to make small changes to incorporate what is beneficial for us. I’ve often told those who come to confession that they should first pray in the morning and read scripture even before having breakfast, and certainly before turning on any of the devices and distractions. The Lord Jesus, when he became hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread replied to Satan “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” If a man is starving, he must eat food. If a man wants to be nourished spiritually, he must likewise be fed by the word. If a man wants to know the Lord, studying the Bible daily is a great step in the right direction. 

Remember that we don’t want to be like the family sitting at the table staring at their screens. We want to acknowledge the Lord who is in our midst. He is eagerly desiring to teach us, to share His wisdom, to share His love. As Christians, our purpose and goal in life is to know God intimately. Do our actions line up with our stated goals and objectives? Do we have enough faith in God to change our behaviors and give Him some priority from day to day? 

There is a story from the desert fathers about monks in Egypt who received an important letter from the Emperor himself. The monks were so excited to hear the words, and yet they noticed one of the monks was not excited at all but was sitting by himself reading the scriptures. When they asked him the meaning of this he replied “you are eager to hear the word of the Emperor, a mere man, yet I am receiving the letter that was given by God.” May we take this to heart and make it a focus in our daily spiritual regimen and may the Lord enlighten us and grant us encouragement and hope that can never be taken away. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Paralysis in Sin, Freedom in Christ

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

Today we hear the gospel passage about a paralyzed man and those who loved him. We are told that Our Lord Jesus Christ saw the faith of those who came bringing the paralytic and upon seeing their faith He said to the paralyzed “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 

I hope that we do not quickly gloss over that beautiful sentence. I have found it to be one of the most powerful in all of the gospels. These words offered to this man in his time of sorrow and tribulation are not only for him. They are words that the Lord offers to each of us. After all, the Lord Jesus came to redeem all of us. He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all. He came to offer each and every one of us forgiveness by blotting out our sins upon the holy wood of the cross.

One of the aspects of sin that we don’t often realize or understand is that the life of sin is a life of paralysis. Sin troubles us in such a way that it can make it very hard for us to move in the right direction, to love Go and to serve Him and to serve others. Sin has a crippling effect in our lives. We want to do good, yet the sinful inclinations within us, make it seem impossible. And yet, we hear the words of the Lord as words of power and comfort for all believers. These words “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” are not simply a promise, they are a reality for the one who has faith.

How do we enter into this reality? We do it first through humility. We pray humbly, we repent and ask Christ to remove our sins, daily…sometimes with tears! St. Nikolai Velimirovich said,

“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.”

We ask the Lord, the Holy Spirit to renew our souls and raise us up again. We make friends with the Jesus prayer and say it as often as we can; “Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on Me, the sinner.” 

Next we come with this disposition to the Church. The Church, the mystical body of Christ, offers this reality of Christ’s forgiveness because it was given to her by Him. The bride owns and takes part of everything that belongs to the Bridegroom. She cannot offer what is not hers, but she can certainly offer what has been shared with her. So the Church continually offers us the forgiveness of our sins. How? First through the sacrament of confession. St. Issac the Syrian once said “The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health.” We come and we humble ourselves and confess our sins. This is doesn’t apply only to lay people but to everyone including the clergy. We all need confession. We need to feel the pain and self-emptying that comes from opening our hearts and humbling ourselves before the Lord. We need to feel the touch of Christ through the priest, laying his hand upon our heads and praying the prayers of absolution, offering the forgiveness of the Lord Himself. We know this to be the case because the Lord gave this as a gift when He breathed upon His disciples after the resurrection and said “receive the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.”

In addition to these marvelous gifts, we also receive healing of our sins through the frequent reception of Holy Communion. InMatthew 26 when the Lord sits down for the mystical supper He says “Take, eat; this is my body” and “Drinkof this blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” So we have amazing treasures here within the Church. People wait in long lines to see movies and shows. I remember seeing people who waited and camped for 3 weeks before the release of the new Star Wars movies. How sad! They focused their entire energy and their life on a silly movie. When the movie was over, they were still in their sins! The movie didn’t have anything to offer them other than a distraction for 2 short hours. Yet, here in the Church, God offers each of you a treasury of spiritual gifts. The Lord offers you the gift of life through the sacraments of the Church. 

It is so easy for us to get down on ourselves. To feel that we can never overcome our deeply rooted sinful desires. In truth, Satan and his army would like you to feel hopeless. The goal is to make you feel completely and utterly paralyzed by your past sins and your sinful inclinations. Yet the Lord’s words can be a comfort to us “Take heart.” The Lord offers each of us a way forward. Only believe in this gift and run with your whole heart towards our merciful Savior and you will receive it because it is God’s good pleasure to share life with you. “Ask and it will be give to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened for you!” 

This is the way to a living relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. A way that we see modeled for us in the lives of the saints. It is God’s good pleasure to raise you up and free you from your sins. May we turn from what is false in our lives so that we might hear these beautiful words “Take heart, my child, your sins are forgiven!” And Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons