Mercy: An Invitation To Eternal Life

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37) 

Today we hear the story of a lawyer who came to Jesus to put Him to the test. Little did he know that in testing Christ, he himself would be truly tested as he came face to face with and heard the voice of the living God.

As an aside, I want to say that when we approach Christ, when we approach God, it should not be to test Him. What do I mean? I know people who read in the Bible with the goal of proving it to be wrong or false. Or they read it to defend their opinions or test their positions against the positions of Christ and the Holy Scripture. Similarly, we sometimes pray in a way that is not respectful, we test God to see what He will do for us, instead of coming to Him with our brokenness and humility and allowing Him to be our guiding hope and our comfort. Sometimes we live outside of the commandments of God and then we have the audacity to blame God when our life falls apart, when in fact it is our own selfishness and unrighteousness that have put us in such a bad state. These are not trivial matters. The psalmist says “Feel compunction upon your beds, for what ye say in your hearts.” So we must be careful that our hearts are truly directed towards Christ whenever we are reading the gospels or spending time in prayer.

In today’s gospel reading, we have this lawyer who comes to test Jesus and he asks “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a very good question. It is an excellent question, really. The problem, as we will see, was not the question, but the intent of the questioner. The Lord then asked a question of this man “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” And we are told that the lawyer answered in this way “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” It is really remarkable because he gave the correct answer! He knew the answer in the head, intellectually speaking. Our Lord said to him “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” So this is the simple way of our Christian faith, to love God with everything that we have and everything that we are, and to love our neighbors fervently. It is simple but it is not always easy. Why? Because loving others, means thinking and living outside yourself. To love is to risk and to sacrifice and even to suffer. 

The lawyer was still quite inquisitive and he asked a final question, an important question:“And who is my neighbor?” This shows us that whatever he knew intellectually, he still did not possess as knowledge in his heart.So the Lord Jesus then told him the parable of the good Samaritan. This parable would have been quite a scandalous thing to the ears of those who were listening. The Lord Jesus took the group that was looked down on and often was despised because they did not believe and worship exactly as the Jews did, and He lifts up one of them as an example of mercy and love for everyone else. He reminds us that anyone can love his neighbor and often as we sit and judge people both inside and outside the church, those same people are working quietly to serve God by serving their neighbors. Our mind is not the mind of God. He sees what we do not see, He judges rightly. 

We are taught by the Lord that anyone can love their neighbor and we are also taught that anyone can be your neighbor, the person that you ought to love. St. Jerome writes,

“Some think that their neighbor is their brother, family, relative or their kinsman. Our Lord teaches who our neighbor is in the Gospel parable of a certain man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.… Everyone is our neighbor, and we should not harm anyone. If, on the contrary, we understand our fellow human beings to be only our brother and relatives, is it then permissible to do evil to strangers? God forbid such a belief! We are neighbors, all people to all people, for we have one Father.”

St. Jerome reflecting the teaching of Christ, is telling us that nothing should cause us to separate ourselves or withhold our love and mercy from anyone else, no matter their creed, or their appearance, their race or their political affiliation, nationality or ethnic origin or any other man made classification that causes strife and division. Each person we meet is our brother or sister, each one is our neighbor. 

Origen writing about this parable says that,

“One of the elders wanted to interpret the parable as follows. The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience. The beast is the Lord’s body. The pandochium(that is, the stable), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the church. The two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the church, to whom its care has been entrusted. The fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.”

So we see that what appears to be a simple parable has many rich layers of meaning and ultimately, it is a reminder that the true neighbor is our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is reflected in the icon of the parable, if you’ve ever seen it. Christ himself is the Samaritan.He has taken each of us as He found us, no matter what condition we were in, and He has shown compassion on us and carried us to the place of healing. He has poured out Hismercyupon us. In return, He asks us, who have received mercy from Him, topour out loveon those who need assistance. We are encouraged and commanded to do more than talk about love, we are encouraged to do and to be love. This is our high calling as the adopted children of the Most High God. God is love. He desires us to become love, to make love present. May He give us courage to take risks and to have a heart for those who are in need around us. May the Lord give us strength to sacrifice for others, to follow the path of the cross, the path that He has made clear to us. And glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Loving The Poor Makes Us Human

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (16:19-31)

In today’s gospel we are told a parable, a story from the mouth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. This story is both frightening and hopeful. Whether it will be frightening or hopeful for us will depend strongly on how we respond to the Lord’s message. The Lord tells us that there was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. We are told that he wore purple and this was a sign in antiquity of having great wealth. Purple dye and purple cloth was very rare and expensive at that time. This man who dressed ver well also ate very well. Every day he had the equivalent of a great feast. I imagine that this man was not very physically healthy because of the way that he ate but more importantly we know that he was really very sick in his soul. It was not the fact that he had great wealth, that made him unwell. It was that his wealth was not directed to anything outside of himself and his will. His wealth was centered around his own disordered desires and not towards the God who had blessed him with all of this wealth to begin with.

How do we know that this man was self-centered and not God-centered? We see it clearly demonstrated in the way that he neglected the poor man who was at his gate. Why should this be an issue? Isn’t life about making as much money as possible and focusing all of it on our own comfort and enjoyment? Isn’t that the American dream? Yet, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, this type of attitude is a great sin. As we are about to jump on the roller coaster that we call “the holiday season” we would do well to remember that our life in Christ needs to be rooted in His teachings and the main two commandments we are taught is to love God with everything that we have and everything that we are, and the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments apply to every season, even every second of our lives.

The poor man, named Lazarus, was at the very gate of the rich man. It means that he was in plain view, not hidden away. The rich man could see him but he had no compassion, no love, no mercy for the terrible situation of the poor man at his doorstep. Sometimes we are the same. We see beggars at the exits of the highways and we wonder whether that person is really poor. We see them and we wonder why they are just sitting there and not out working. But this is not what the Lord has asked of us. He doesn’t want us to assess the situation but to do our part to be obedient to His words and His example.

This rich man knew of the existence of Lazarus, but he pretended that he did not exist. He saw a fellow human being, created in the same image and likeness of God, and he treated him as if he was nothing at all. We are told that the dogs came to lick the sores of the poor man. St. Cyril of Alexandria writes “Yes, it says that even the dogs licked his sores and did not injure him yet sympathized with him and cared for him. Animals relieve their own sufferings with their tongues, as they remove what pains them and gently soothe the sores. The rich man was crueler than the dogs, because he felt no sympathy or compassion for him but was completely unmerciful.” 

Can you imagine that the irrational dogs showed more compassion than the man who was created with a rational soul and created in the image and likeness of God, who had the means to offer real help and assistance? What does that say about the rich man? Nothing good.

You see that this is kind of attitude he displays is possible when we are wealthy and well fed. We can forget that others suffer and have very little. We can find it hard to empathize and feel their pain. So we are reminded by the Lord that it is our duty to care for those who are around us and are clearly in need. You don’t have to go far away to look for the poor, and needy and serve them. You will find them near you, if you are looking for them.

We are struck by the hardness and lack of mercy of that rich man. Can we imagine how we would be treated if God Himself were like this rich man? We would all be in dire straits. But we thank God that He is not like this rich man and also not like us. He is generous and merciful, long-suffering and His love is boundless and unending love. Whatever He has, He is willing to share with us. He is not content to see us in our poor suffering state, but He has gone out of His way to help us, even at the expense of the suffering and death of His own Son.  This is the pattern of mercy and love that we are called to follow. It is not easy, but this is the way. The Church helps us to learn this pattern through teaching us the disciplines such as fasting. We are encouraged to feel hunger and thirst, to feel our need for God. This helps us to become more human.  We are also encouraged by the Lord and by the fathers of the Church to give alms and help the poor as often as we can.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich once said,

“Similar things happen in almsgiving and in Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we receive the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of bread and wine; in almsgiving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy. A certain man in Constantinople was unusually merciful. Walking along the streets of the city, he would press his gift into the hands of the poor and hurry onward, so he would not hear their gratitude or be recognized. When a friend of his asked how he had become so merciful, he replied: “Once in church I heard a priest say that whoever gives to the poor, gives into the hands of Christ Himself. I didn’t believe it, for I thought, ‘How can this be, when Christ is in heaven?’ However, I was on my way home one day and I saw a poor man begging, and the face of Christ shone above his head! Just then a passerby gave the beggar a piece of bread, and I saw the Lord extend His hand, take the bread, and bless the donor. From then on, I have always seen Christ’s face shining above the beggars. Therefore, with great fear I perform as much charity as I can.’

So, what would be dreadful for us if we were neglectful, becomes a source of great hope for us when we are obedient. God loves us and He will reward even the slightest dead done in His name with love. Regardless of whatever we give to the poor, the Lord will supply our needs and will count our acts of mercy as a great act of love not only towards the poor, but towards the Lord Himself.  It is a double blessing guarantee. So let us not be like the rich man who was not even named in the gospel. He was not to be found in the book of life. But let us be tools that God might use us for His purposes and our benefit. To Him alone be glory, honor and dominion always now and ever and unto ages of ages AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Safeguarding Ourselves Against The Demonic

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39) 

Every year around this time, mid-October, we hear this powerful somewhat frightening story in the gospels about a man who is possessed by demons. Modern psychologists and scientists tell us that that was probably some kind of mental illness. They tell us that the people of old were not very sophisticated and did not properly understand these things so they attributed them to superstitions. The problem with all of these theories is that they completely ignore the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth in response to what He has encountered. In addition, these baseless theories ignore what happened to the herd of swine. Something more than psychosis was certainly at work here.

The Scriptures and the New Testament speak of demons and the demonic as a reality of our fallen world. Just as there are angelic spirits, ministers and messengers of the Lord, likewise there are demonic spirits that serve Satan who is himself a fallen angel. We know that Satan and the demonic exists because we believe the teaching of Jesus Christ, we believe that He is trustworthy…much more trustworthy than anyone who has ever lived. We believe that He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and also cast out demons from people on a number of occasions. We also believe the witness of the rest of the Old and New Testaments.

So we are left wondering, why was this man possessed? More importantly, what can we as Christians do to protect ourselves from demonic influence. One step to avoiding demonic influence is guarding our senses. When I say this I also mean that parents should be working to guard their children’s senses. What should we be guarding against? Anything that trivializes sin or distorts our Christian worldview. I am thinking about the shows and movies that we may be allowing our kids to watch, I am thinking about the smartphones that suck the children in, and of course there are other things. We even have to be vigilant regarding what is being taught to our children in the schools.

Regarding our children, St. John Chrysostom says In children we have a great charge committed to us. Let us bestow great care upon them, and do everything that the Evil One may not rob us of them. But now our practice is the reverse of this. We take all care indeed to have our farm in good order…. We take care of our possessions for our children, but of the children themselves we take no care at all. Form the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter.”Homily 9

It goes without saying that it is much easier to implement these things for our children, if we as adults do them as well. If we are not vigilant regarding these matters, we will slowly be affected and we can be manipulated and turned away from the Lord and His path. Let us not think of our senses as something given to us merely for our pleasure or for the doing of my will, but rather as a gift given to us as a way for us to seek, to know and to experience God. The senses were given to us for the doing of God’s will and the living of a true, holy life.

We can also avoid demonic influence in our lives by filling our lives with Christ and the things of Christ. We can fill our lives with the word of God, with the lives of the saints, with the hymns of the church, with the holy services, with prayer, with the sacraments, especially the life giving Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We can also fill our lives with acts of mercy, kindness and love…even towards those who hate us and despise us.

All of these works act like a torch and they disperse the darkness of demonic activity that swirls around us. If Christ is present as the center of my life, the demons will be forced to scatter as they did in today’s gospel reading. They will be more like annoying gnats and less like fearsome dragons, because God is much greater than our greatest enemies.

Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from St. Theophan the Recluse, who lived in the 19thcentury, he wrote: 

You must never be afraid, if you are troubled by a flood of thoughts, that the enemy is too strong against you, that his attacks are never ending, that the war will last for your lifetime, and that you cannot avoid incessant downfalls of all kinds. Know that our enemies, with all their wiles, are in the hands of our divine Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, for Whose honour and glory you are waging war. Since He himself leads you into battle, He will certainly not suffer your enemies to use violence against you and overcome you, if you do not yourself cross over to their side with your will. He will Himself fight for you and will deliver your enemies into your hands, when He wills and as He wills, as it is written: ‘The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee’ (Deut. Xxii, 14).”

Let us not fear the Lord, like the villagers in today’s gospel. Let us also not fear the demons. But let us take every opportunity to cling to the Lord Jesus Christ and to become a part of His world, instead of trying to jam Him into our world. Then we will be like the man who was healed in today’s gospel and we will be able to declare all that God has done for us. Glory be to God Forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

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.

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Source: Sermons