How To Save Responsibly

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (12:16-21) 

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much that He does not desire that we should live in delusion. He does not desire that God’s people should live under illusions. He tells us that it is only the truth that will set us free. The Lord loves His people with such fervor and depth that He grants them knowledge of the truth, even when it is painful, in order that He might correct their hearts and their eyes and give their lives meaning and purpose. This is one of the takeaway points of today’s gospel reading. We should order our lives in reality and with a vision towards our true purpose in life.

St. Mark the ascetic writes, “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” “On the Spiritual Law: Two Hundred Texts” No. 54, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

We encounter a man who is journeying without direction in today’s gospel. A man who is working hard but ultimately wasting his efforts. Like the man that plans to drive to one destination with his family but takes off in the opposite direction. He will never get there. He claims to desire one thing but his actions demonstrate something else. The man in today’s gospel reading is wealthy and he has worked hard and been fruitful and now he would like to have an even larger place to store all of his crops. He would like to say to himself “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” 

But something unexpected happened. God intervened and called him “Fool!” Take note that the Lord Jesus tells us that we should never ever call another man a fool, and we will be judged by our words, so only the Lord can declare someone a fool. But after God called this man a fool what did He say next? He corrected the man saying “This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” And here is the whole point of the matter. What was the purpose for which the man was trying to live? Was it for God or for himself? No doubt, he would say that it was for himself, yet even in this he would be wrong. Our Lord gives us a spiritual principle when He declares “he who desires to save his life will lose it, and he who desires to lose his life for the gospels sake and for my sake will save it.”

This man was hoping to save his own life, through working, and saving and working and saving even more. He had everything, humanly speaking, yet he lacked the one needful thing. It is not wealth or produce or savings or our comfort that will ultimately bring us eternal joy and life. All of these things that I’ve mentioned can be taken away. Indeed, they must be taken away because we will not be around to enjoy them forever. The Lord tells the man that all of his work is for nothing because it is not rooted in something eternal and everlasting. The work and the life were not rooted in God. They were rooted in self and pleasure and these distract us from the truth and purposes for which we are meant. This reading is not ultimately about the person who has riches or wealth stored up. Sometimes we are financially poor but have the same inner state as this man. We can be rich with pride, or talents or physical beauty or knowledge and intellect, or power and position. There are many ways to be rich, but none of these will help us unless we are rich towards God first. 

All of these things I’ve mentioned are rooted in self and pleasure and they distract us from the truth and purpose for which we are meant. What is that truth and purpose? 

St. Theophan the Recluse writes, “The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God. To this end the Son of God became incarnate, in order to return us to this divine communion, which was lost by the fall into sin. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we enter into communion with the Father and thus attain our purpose.”

Our chief end (or aim) of life is to live in communion with God. That’s it. The rich man’s aim in life was comfort and rest. So he lived his life by making this goal a reality. He saved crops and when he couldn’t possibly store any more, he wanted to tear down the barns and build even larger ones. 

If our aim of life is to live in communion with God, we have to be a bit like the rich man. We have to plan tolive our lives in such a way that this goal becomes our reality. This man planned and saved. You and I must also plan and save. Father, what are we saving and where are we saving it?

My dear friends, we are saving up the virtues and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We are saving within our hearts and souls and this savings is transferred into the heavenly kingdom on our behalf. Imagine that somebody came to you on the day that Apple stock first went public and they said to you, “here is a gift, one share of Apple stock.” What if they said to you, if you call me everyday, and say hello, I will add another share of stock to your account, but there is only one catch: I will not let you know when you can have access to what is in that account. It is completely yours but you may not touch what is saved there until a mystery date in the future. Would you agree to such a proposal? 

Our Lord makes a similar proposal with each of us. He says to us on the day of our baptism “My child, I am giving you a share of my inheritance. It is yours, and every day that you reach out to me and speak with me, I will put more into your account.” However, we will even have a foretaste of the riches and inheritance inthis life. The spiritual fruit is so abundant that it affects every aspect of our lives. Let us work diligently to save and to store spiritual riches. How can we do that? As we are now in one of the major fasting seasons in the life of the Church it is good to remember that our fasting is not simply to abstain from foods but to serve and help others in need. Let us help others while we have the ability to do it. St. Augustine quoting Proverbs 13:8 writes that “The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches.” He continues saying 

“Obviously he was not redeeming his soul by giving relief to the poor. He was hoarding perishable crops. I repeat, he was hoarding perishable crops, while he was on the point of perishing because he had handed out nothing to the Lord before whom he was due to appear. How will he know where to look, when at that trial he starts hearing the words “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat”? [Mat 25:42.] He was planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns. What he was stowing away in those barns was perhaps even then being stolen away by thieves. But if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely.

Let me conclude with a quote from St. Ambrose of Milan, he writes, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours either. Only virtue is the companion of the dead. Compassion alone follows us. It is the guide to the heavens and the first of the mansions. Through the use of worthless money, it acquires eternal dwellings for the dead.”

So be hopeful my friends, live with a purpose directed towards Christ and let every aspect of your lives fulfill that purpose so that you can stand on the day of judgement and hear the Lord’s words “Come you blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This is our inheritance. Amen.

Source: Sermons


The Question That We Should Ask Every Single Day

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

There is a question that each of us should ask every day of our lives. We ask many questions as it is: “what shall I eat?” “What should I wear?” “What should I watch?” “What should I say?” “What will I ask for this Christmas?” But the question that we must ask every day of our lives is this: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that is asked by the lawyer who comes to put the Lord Jesus Christ to the test. You begin to experience freedom in your life and your thoughts when you are free from things that enslave you. You experience freedom when you focus on the things that will live on forever, specifically focusing on the state of your soul. But you experience slavery when you are attached to the material world and the things of the body and it’s pleasures.

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Do we begin each day and each activity with this thought in mind? If not, how will we remember that every part of life is meant for loving God and loving my neighbor? When the Lord is tested and asked this question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He answers by saying “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” And the lawyer answers Him saying

“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.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

This is the next critical question that the lawyer asks: “And who is my neighbor?” Today we are confused about this. Social media has weaponized the news to divide people. It uses impersonal communication to further hamper real discussion and easily leads people into strife. We are not content seeing people as human. We are told that the only way to see people is through categories. That we should see people as Black or White as male or female as Democrat or Republican and the list goes on. According to ideologies, such as the Marxism that has taken hold in the universities and parts of corporate America today, there are no normal people. You either fit neatly into one category or another, either you are a part of the oppressed or part of the oppressor class. My dear brothers and sisters, reject Satan and his lies and his division no matter what form it takes. Each and every human being is created in the image of God our creator! Do not participate in anything that renders anyone as less than human.

The Lord Jesus saw past labels when He answered the lawyer’s question with a parable. In His parable, the hero of the story is a Samaritan! And Samaritans were considered as bad, ungodly, and less than human by the Jews of the day. Yet the Samaritan demonstrates his true knowledge and love of God through His merciful care of the one who was in need.

It is interesting to note that many of the Church fathers see in this parable, the gospel of Christ and the Samaritan as a symbol of our Lord Jesus himself. In fact when you see an icon of this parable, it will typically feature the Lord Jesus as the good Samaritan who tends to the needs of the man who fell among thieves. If this parable is an allegory than who is the man who fell among thieves? It is each of us, all of humanity. We fell prey to Satan and His demonic forces. We were tempted and provoked into sin and the demons stole our immortal inheritance and our virtues, while also wounding our souls. But Christ came to us and found us in that terrible state we were in and He had compassion on us.

Origen tells us that according to one interpreter, the inn where the man was taken is a symbol of the Church. St. Augustine tells us that the wine and oil are symbols of the powerful and life giving sacraments of the Church. He says “Robbers left you half-dead on the road, but you have been found lying there by the passing and kindly Samaritan. Wine and oil have been poured on you. You have received the sacrament of the only-begotten Son. You have been lifted onto his mule. You have believed that Christ became flesh. You have been brought to the inn, and you are being cured in the church. That is where and why I am speaking. This is what I too, what all of us are doing. We are performing the duties of the innkeeper.”

When we hear these words of the parable we are corrected and taught to see everyone as human and as our neighbor. We are challenged and expected to show mercy to others, even when it is not convenient to do so. When mercy is convenient and easy, it is not worth much in the eyes of God. But when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable and we are still merciful to others, that is noteworthy. I would like to add another aspect to this. Mercy is not simply to care for the physical needs of others, although that is very important. It is to care for their spiritual well-being.

If the fathers of the Church are correct and the inn is the Church, then it is an invitation or a mandate for each of us to act like the Samaritan (who is Christ) and to bring others, even if we have to carry them, to the Church of God. It is not enough to live a private religious/ spiritual life. Can I tell you something very important? Now the world needs us. Now we are called to be the light and the salt to the world around us. Now we are the Samaritans who are called to see everyone as our neighbors. We are called to carry others to Christ through our prayers. We are also called to invite others to life in Christ, within His Church.Can we do that? Can we challenge ourselves to invite others to Christ and to His Church? Who is brave enough to follow through with this challenge? Who is brave enough to do what the priest and the Levite would not do and bend down to serve our neighbors and invite them to Christ? Your neighbor is the person who lives next to you. Your neighbor is your classmate. Your neighbor is your co-worker. Your neighbor is your friend or family member. Your neighbor is the cashier or the waitress you see on a weekly basis. Perhaps one of these people in your life is waiting for a Samaritan to lift them and carry them to Christ. After all, this is what the Lord Jesus did for each of us.

Today we also begin the start of the Advent or Nativity fast. In 40 days we will celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we prepare our hearts to properly celebrate that feast with 40 days of fasting in the Orthodox tradition. That means that the next 40 days are to be days that we rededicate ourselves to prayer and reading and the things of God. The world would like us to lose the Christian perspective and simply celebrate like everyone else. But we are not the world. This is one of the great fasting periods in the life of the Church, don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow in your spiritual life. What can we do to make sure that we do not squander this opportunity from God?

Turn off the television 30 minutes earlier than usual in the evening, and use this time for extra reading and prayer. Perhaps choosing a good Christian book or story Bible to share with the family. We could add some prostrations or kneeling bows to our prayer routines, even 5 or 10 before prayer will be a positive. We could make a list of people that we would like to give gifts to, who are not our friends and from whom we expect nothing in return. We could dedicate an hour each week to caring for someone in need or even call people who might feel isolated and need our support. Perhaps we can spend a little less on gifts and give a little more to those in need. If we want this to be a special Christmas, let us consecrate this season of our life to Jesus Christ, and He will bless and transform the meaning of this feast for you and open up new realities within your souls. If we are faithful and we allow Him, He will become the reason for our joy. And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


He Becomes Our Hope

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:41-56) 

There is nothing worse than seeing your children sick, suffering or in pain. It pulls the heart in a thousand different directions at once. For a parent it is difficult. Yet there is something that is worse. I cannot begin to imagine the thought of losing a child. Imagine the pain and anguish of having to bury your own child. It is a tragedy that is beyond words or comprehension. Yet we meet with this scenario in the gospel reading today. Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue has come to Jesus for help. His beloved daughter has fallen ill and she is dying. So this man, this father, who loves his daughter dearly, and would easily give his own life for his daughters, does something that could cause scandal within the jewish community since he has a high position in the synagogue. He falls at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and begs Him to come to his house and help his daughter.

Each of us gets into a rut or a routine and sometimes we also do that with our relationship with the Lord. We go through the motions, we might do enough to check the boxes but oftenwe don’tpress further and go past our comfort zone. Sometimes we don’t seek God genuinely from the depths of our heart unless we are at a true point of despair. It might be that this is what happened to Jairus. He hit rock bottom as he saw the life fading from his precious daughter’s eyes. So he cried out to the Lord from the very depths of his being. 

We should know that if we humbly cry out to God from the depths of our being, if we pray like everything depends on that prayer, if we put our heart and our focus into our prayer, the Lord will be listening to us as He listened to Jairus. He will be present with us in the midst of whatever we are facing. Will God always answer our prayers? Absolutely. Will He always answer them in the way that we want? Absolutely not. One of the silent prayers that the priest prays during the divine liturgy is “Fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Your servants as may be most beneficial to them, granting us in the life the knowledge of Thy truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.”

God is interested in being present with us and helping us. He wants to answer our prayers, but there is an important point we cannot neglect to mention. Not everything that we pray for, not everything we desire is beneficial for our salvation. So if God doesn’t answer your particular prayer it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist or that He doesn’t care about you. He cares for you deeply. He loves you more than Jairus loved his own daughter! The Lord wants the very best for you. Sometimes that means that He doesn’t answer our prayers exactly as we hope for. Sometimes He doesn’t answer our prayers exactly when we expect them to be answered. Sometimes the answered prayer comes much later than we would have expected. But who can know the mind of God? Thank God that He answers our prayers in precisely the way that He chooses, because His way is better than anything we can imagine. 

Each of us has faced or will face dismal situations in our own lives. Situations that are terrifying, difficult, painful, nearly impossible to handle. Be comforted my brothers and sisters., be comforted. Christ our Lord will never ever leave us or abandon us. But don’t you leave and abandon Him either! And never doubt His power to change your difficulties or to redeem them and to restore us and help us in our struggles. That is what happened in the gospel. When the Lord came to the house where the young girl had died, people were gathered and followed the custom of wailing and lamenting the loss of this young child together. And when the Lord told them that she was not dead but sleeping, they laughed in the Lord’s face! Let us not be faithless like these mourners and wailers in the secret place of our hearts.God is in the business of healing what is broken and working what seems impossible in our lives. First and foremost, He aims to heal our spiritual brokenness and restore each of us to spiritual life and health. He aims to bring us back from the dead.

What the Lord did in the life of this little girl is the same thing that He does for those who desire to grow in Him. They come broken, but they leave healed. They come with sins, and they leave forgiven. They come to Him as dead men and He alone has the power to bring them back to life, for He is “the life and the resurrection.”

His love for us is much more than we could imagine. May we take hope in His love and care for each of us. Jairus came to Him, broken, and hopeless but he fell at the Lord’s feet. What the Lord said to Jairus, He also says to each of us, no matter what we are facing in this life: “Do not fear, only believe.” And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Elections and Illusions

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

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but on Tuesday there will be a presidential election. Both sides are digging their heals in and hoping for an outcome that will give them power, potentially the power to reshape and reimagine this nation, possibly for better and possibly for worse. It looks like it will be an interesting few days as votes are counted and results are announced. Do not be surprised that lawlessness will abound and people will look for excuses to cause trouble. It would be best if we do not defend it or even comment at all. Stay off of social media and pray that God would pour out His grace to heal our nation. About 51% of Americans will be very happy with the results and about 49% will be crushed, almost to the point of despair, depending on the result…. But take hope my brothers and sisters!

Today’s gospel reading is a great vaccine for our potential hysteria. In this gospel we are reminded that this life is finite, it will come to an end. Whatever happens during this election, whatever happens here on earth, it won’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things because every one of us will die. Whether rich or poor, male or female, child or adult, black or white, clergy or layman, republican, democrat, or independent,each of us is going to leave this life. In the Orthodox funeral service we hear these words “I looked again into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare, and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner?” We understand Death is the great equalizer of all men, no matter how great they may be in this life. Our life is very short and passing away.

The election will not change that fact of our death in any way shape or form because only the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death, and He is not running for public office. As Christians we should already hold Jesus as the only master and King of our lives. As Christians we are also called to make peace with this fact: one way or another, we are going to die. However there is still an issue. Each of us will be called to account for our lives. That my brothers and sisters is a dreadful thought. Even the process of the soul departing from the body can be terrifying. According to some of the Church fathers, it is dreadful if we are attached and enmeshed to the pleasures of the flesh and the material world around us. St. John of Damascus writes “Truly most frightening is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently separated from its concord with the body and, by divine decree, the most natural bond of their cohesion is severed.” — St. John of Damascus

In the parable that we heard today, Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us a story about a very rich man and a very poor man. He shows us how one feasted and indulged himself while the other simply begged for scraps of food. But their condition and situation changed in an instant at the time of their deaths. It reminds us that our lives can be like an illusion. One of the two men lived a life of relative ease, the other lived a fairly miserable life from an outside perspective. But death changed everything and turned what they thought to be true, upside down! The one who was comfortable and wealthy was now in anguish while the other who had suffered so much and been in want, was now comforted and full of peace in the bosom of Abraham. Death shined a light on the reality of their lives and it removed all the shadows and illusions. The only thing that was left after their physical death was whatever was connected to God and to His Son Jesus Christ. Everything else perished.

In light of this parable, this life giving teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are forced to reconsider our lives and our actions. The question that each of us should ask every day as we begin the day is this: “Is my life pleasing to You O Lord?” Perhaps another way to ask it is: “What shall I do to serve you and please you and live a life of lasting significance?” We could even stretch this line of thinking further and say “Lord help me to live this day and serve You as if it is my very last day on earth.” Hopefully you understand that our focus is not on death. We are not being dark or depressed, rather we are living truthfully when we think this way. The world wants you to believe that you will live forever. The world wants you to continue in the pursuit of pleasures and the purchase and consumption of material goods. But when we make these things our focus, we lose sight of the Lord and His will for our lives.We are not of the world. St. John the theologian writes “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—  the desires of the flesh and  the desires of the eyes and pride of life  —is not from the Father but is from the world. And  the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 Jn 2:15-17) 

“But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” That is our calling! To be doers of the will of God. The rich man in the parable did not do the will of God. He failed to feed the poor one at his very feet. He failed to show mercy. The rich man was a stranger to mercy and love and for this reason he was a stranger to God and His love. But let us not live like this rich man, attached to our pleasures and our own will, but marrying ourselves to the will of God our Father who loves us and wants to give our lives real purpose and meaning. How do we know if we are being pleasing to Jesus Christ and doing His will? Our obedience to His commandments and teachings. Our obedience to the teaching and life of the Church. Our imitation of the lives of the saints. These are our surest guides. 

Let me leave you with this verse from St. Symeon the New Theologian. He writes “Let us flee the world. For what have we got in common with it? Let us run and pursue until we have laid hold of something which is permanent and does not pass away, for all things perish and pass away like a dream, and nothing is lasting or certain among the things which are seen.” Discourses 2.14 

May we truly struggle for what is permanent and does not pass away, that is our Lord Jesus Christ, His kingdom, and His righteousness. And Glory be to God forever and ever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons


What Is The Good News Of The Gospel?

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

We encounter a powerful story of the love and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ for mankind in today’s gospel reading. The word gospel means “good news.” But if someone came to us and asked us about this, if they posed the question to us “What is the good news?” How would we answer them? It is important that each of us has an answer and can give an answer. In the first epistle of St. Peter, he writes “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” What is the good news of which the gospel speaks? This particular reading helpsgives us a glimpseof the good news that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Luke the evangelist tells us that Our Lord travelled across the sea of Galilee. This was not a short trip, likely taking at least 2 hours by sailboat and possibly twice as long depending on the winds etc.Why did our Lord Jesus travel to this land? Was He going to visit one of the cities of the Jews and preach the news of the kingdom of God to them? The answer is no. We know that the place were He went, the country of the Gadarenes was not a habitation of the Jews. This is clear from the fact that there are swine or pig farmers in that area.We recallthat pigs were considered unclean and forbidden by the Mosaic law. Jews did not eat swine and did not want to be anywhere near those animals. 

So it becomes clear to us that our Lord Jesus Christ had travelled to this region for one very specific reason: to help this poor tormented soul, who was possessed by demons. That is a glimpseof the good news, that Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much, that He is willing to go out of His way in order to heal us, even when we are far, far away from us. He is always looking to help us.This was true of the demon possessed man who lived verynear the gentiles, and it is true for each of us. The Lord goes out of His way in order to encounter each of usin our lives and evenon a daily basis.

One of the dirty little secrets of many religions is that there is typically a preferred group that believes that they are favored by God, His chosen and elect. This manifests itself in Hinduism with the caste system. You are born into a class and there is nothing that can be done to change your class. It is set for life. Likewise, the Jews believed that they were God’s chosen people (which is of course true, but not completely true). The good news of Jesus Christ is that God’s love is revealed to us in further detail. Things that were hidden are now made clear to us. His love is not limited to one group of people, one ethnicity or race or one specific time. God’s love is for all of humanity, the pinnacle of His creation. He created us in His image and likeness and He is focused on repairing and restoring this perfect image within us. St. Paul writes “He desires that all men be saved, and come unto a knowledge of the truth.” That is the character of God and we believe this with all our hearts as Christians.

The demon possessed man is an image of the old man, similar to Adam afterhisfall in the garden. We are told that this man was naked and out of his mind. Instead of living in a house, he lived among the tombs. From this we get the sense that he was close to being dead. Spiritually he was defeated, corrupted, overthrown by the enemy. His soul was dying. The passions had become so energized and prominent within him that he was quite beast like and literally crazy.He was alsonaked, his body was not warmed and protected by clothing, but exposed to the elements, the heat of the sun, the chill of the night, the biting of bugs, the filth of the ground. He is a symbol of our spiritual state before our baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is it that we sing when we baptize someone into the church? “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia!” We put on a white garment when we are baptized, that is in fact why the priests undergarment (sticharion) is white or light in color. It is to be a reminder of the baptismal garment of purity and holiness. When we are baptized, we put on Christ and His righteousness and holiness. Our soul is no longer naked, but clothed with the very best garment, the wedding garment that we will wear to the great banquet in the Kingdom. 

When we are baptized we no longer live among the tombs and associate with the dead in soul. We once again live in a house. Yet this is not like any ordinary house. It is a mansion that belong to our heavenly Father. The Lord spoke of this when He said “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” Through our baptism, we cast off the old and dying man and we are renewed by the new Adam, who is Christ. Since we are clothed and cleansed we are also invited to come and live in the shelter of the house of God. We are protected from the spiritual elements and embraced by the loving protection of God our Father. Finally, through our baptism we are seated at the feet of Christ attentively and in our right minds. The Word of God rescues our lives from insanity. He grants us sanity, He makes our lives whole. These are just some aspects of the good news that we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are desired by Christ, forgiven by Christ, purified and healed by Christ, clothed by Christ and invited to live together with Christ. Can anything be better than this?

Yet another aspect of the gospel and it’s good news is that all news is a double edged sword. The coming of the Lord to the Gadarenes was good news for the demoniac, but it was bad news for the villagers and townspeople. They were afraid of Jesus and His great miracle of sending the demons into the pigs. Do you understand why? Because it was unlike anything they had ever seen, but there is something else…they were afraid that they would lose their food and their income if the other pigs in the areabehaved similarly. Let us not be like them my brothers and sisters. Instead of thinking and worrying about everything we might lose by inviting Jesus into our hearts and our lives, we should think about everything that He desires to offer us.Let us cling to Christ and sit at His feet regardless of what we might have to sacrifice in return. After all, is any sacrifice too much for us in comparison with what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and given to us by His grace? As St. Paul writes,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”(Phil 3:7-11)

This is the good news. A God who loved us so much that He gladly took our weakness and our death and abundantly gave us His strength and His life…and glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Will Our Names Be Written In Heaven?

The Reading according to the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 10:16-21

Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 2020

In today’s gospel we see the 70 apostles and disciples come back to the Lord after going out and ministering among the people. They are thrilled that the demons are subject to them in the name of Jesus Christ, yet the Lord answers them with these words “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you.” My beloved, if these words hold true for the apostles and disciples even before the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, even before their receiving of the Holy Spirit in baptism, how much more is this statement true for each of us who have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit and put on Christ? 

The spirits are subject to us because we are the children of the King and Master of the universe. It may be difficult for us to perceive that and to think this way, but as baptized Christians it is important for us to realize that we have put on Christ and become sons and daughters of the Father. The spirits have no real power over us, except for the power that we allow them to have. We invite them and let them into our hearts and we accept their influence in our minds. But if we cling to Christ, they have nothing to grab hold of, we become like fire and they would be burned by us. 

But we need not think too highly of the fact that we have been given such power in Christ because as the Lord says “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Meaning, it was his pride that caused him to fall in an instant. So what is required of us is Christ-like humility so that we will not stumble as Satan did when he fell. And yet there is more. He reminds them saying “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It’s such a simple statement and yet it is so profound. Our great joy is that each of us has a name that is written in the Lord’s book in the kingdom. We are His. We belong to Him. You know in the business world they say that if you don’t appear on the first page of Google, you don’t exist. Well if this is true of a search engine, imagine how much more it must be true with the Lord. If we don’t appear in the book of life, do we even exist? But on the other hand, if we are found in the book, we exist, we have life and this can never be taken away from us. This is our inheritance and our birthright as children of the King. 

As we think about these words and ask the Lord to guide us and to bless our lives so that our names might be found in the book, we remember a saint who was likely present that day and heard the Lord’s words in person. Today celebrate the memory of St. Luke the Apostle and Evangelist. This is an extra special celebration for our community because 2 years ago we received a small portion of his holy relics.

We have many details from the life of St. Luke but for the sake of time we will only briefly touch on it. We know that he was born in Antioch, Syria and that he was a convert to the Jewish faith. He was a brilliant man who took his studies seriously and excelled especially in medicine and became known as a physician. Frequently we see this type of work ethic and diligence applied by the saints. They aren’t one dimensional. They are men and women who often excelled in their crafts and duties. This was a reflection of their gratitude to God for the talents and gifts they had been given. To do you best at the tasks that are given to you, is to honor God who has put those things before you and given you the ability to do them well.

We are told that St. Luke was one of the 70 apostles of the Lord Jesus and very likely was present at the crucifixion of the Lord. Tradition also tells us that Luke was one of the two men who spoke as they walked along the road to Emmaus when the risen Lord Jesus came and walked beside them and taught them. 

After the resurrection and Pentecost, Luke went out to preach the gospel and travelled to Sebaste, Antioch, Greece and Phillipi in Macedonia. He also travelled with the Apostle Paul and documented much of the history of the early Church in his work “the Acts of the Apostles.” Of course we cannot neglect to mention that his most important work was the writing of his gospel, one of the four most important books of the whole Bible aroundthe year60 a.d. As well as his chronicle of the early life of the church in the Acts of the Apostles.

Holy tradition also tells us that Luke probably saw the martyrdom of St. Paul in Rome and that he later went to Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, Macedonia and Egypt to labor on behalf of Christ and His Church. During all of these travels he ordained priests and deacons and healed those who came to him. Ancient tradition also tells us that Luke was the first iconographer of the Church and that his first icon was the image of the Mother of God with the infant Jesus.At the age of 84 he was martyred in Thebes, Greece by being crucified on an olive tree. 

The location of his relics werewell known during the fourth century because of the many miraculous healings that occurred there. At that time they were transferred to Constantinople. In 1204 they were stolen by Roman crusaders who plundered Constantinople and the relic ended up in Padua, Italy. In 1992 the Metropolitan of Thebes requested a significant portion of the relics to be returned and this prompted a scientific investigation of the relics in Padua which confirmed that the relics indeed belonged to an individual of Syrian descent from between 72-416 a.d. A large portion of the relic was returned and since then has worked many miracles. On December 22, 1997 the marble tomb of St. Luke began to stream myrrh.

We should never be surprised when we hear of all the amazing feats and accomplishments of the saints. God is faithful to those who love Him and He gives us much more than we can ever begin to imagine because He is the life and the light of the faithful and there is no other life or light outside of that which He alone can give us. May our lives also shine with the love of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Source: Sermons


Icons Remind Us That God Became Man

Remembering the Fathers of the Seventh Council

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that assembled in the city of Nicaea in the year 787 ad to resolve the issues and controversies around the veneration of icons and those who had tried to outlaw and ban them from the churches. 

On Tuesday we will begin our Introduction to Orthodoxy classes and one of the aspects of the faith that we talk about are the sources of authority within the life of the Church. Is the only source of authority the Bible or do other sources exist? It becomes clear to anyone who studies just bit of church history that the Bible is not the only source of authority. Other sources exist to clarify and to expound upon the words of Holy Scripture and the New Testament. One source of authority within the Church is the bishops themselves as they gathered together in prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these ecumenical councils, in order to lead and guide the Church through difficulties especially those of a doctrinal nature. When anyone picks up and reads from the Old Testament Scripture or the New Testament, he can very easily misinterpret or misunderstand the text. He or she can even twist the text and convince themselves and others of this novel or incorrect reading. Yet the Church reminds us that it has certain safeguards in place in order to avoid such issues. Even the Apostle Peter tells us that no Scripture is of private interpretation, but is subject to the greater community. Likewise the bishops of the church are not islands unto themselves, they are responsible to one another and to the whole of the Christian community. Each is accountable to the other and all of them as members of the body of Christ become keepers of the sacred traditions and teachings of the Church as they have been passed down to us. I am not quite sure how I can awaken you to the amazing gift that you have been given through the Church and through her faithful “passing down” or traditioning of our sacred faith, but I will share some of the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann to emphasize the point. He says,

““Orthodoxy,” “the true faith”; if for one moment we try to understand what it means: the true, the full Christianity, as it has been proclaimed by Christ and His disciples; if our Church has preserved for all ages the message of the apostles and of the fathers and of the saints in its purest form, then, my dear friends, here is the answer to the questions and to the problems and to the sufferings of our world. You know that our world today is so complex. It is changing all the time. And the more it changes, the more people fear, the more they are frightened by the future, the more they are preoccupied by what will happen to them. And this is where Orthodoxy must answer their problem; this is where Orthodoxy must accept the challenge of modern civilization and reveal to men of all nations, to all men in the whole world, that it has remained the force of God left in history for the transformation, for the deification, for the transfiguration of human life.”

The Church commemorates the fathers of the ecumenical councils because they have upheld andprotected the life giving faith for us and that is the greatest victory that we can have as Christians. St. John the Theologian writes, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4)

According to Christian faith, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in the entire history of the universe. Yet, in order for them to be understood as more than myth or legend, something must anchor them to reality. What the Church has understood as the anchor of our faith is the eye witness accounts of the apostles. They gave up their lives, they went to their deaths preaching and teaching that they had indeed seen and touched and heard and known the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. 

Icons, according to the fathers of the 7thcouncil, are a necessary part of all Christian worship. In our Church, we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. The Orthodox faithful underwent many years of hardship and persecution at the hands of those who believed that the use of icons was forbidden and was wrong according to their understanding of Scripture (an understanding that incidentally was heavily influenced by the rise of Islam). These Christians read Scripture with a narrow understanding that denied the living experienceof the universal Christian churchof the early centuries.Nevertheless, truth won the day.

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

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

God became man and dwelt among us. That is our Christian faith. It is not philosophical theory but experience that includes our senses. We don’t know God through books. We know God by experience. In the Orthodox faith we have a sensory experience every time that we enter the church. We taste the Lord’s body and blood, we smell the incense, we see and kiss the icons, we hear the hymns. It must be so! Because our redemption and healing happens not only on some far-away cosmic level, but it happens even within the individual person and within his very cells. Sanctification through the life of the Holy Spirit, transforms us at every level. As a person participates in worship,through the body, through their senses, they are healed. The Lord Jesus Christ in His abundant mercy and love for mankind, has made this healing possible by truly taking our human flesh and lifting it up to His level. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Everything is healed. Everything is transformed. Everything is made new in the light of the incarnation andbodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

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

Each and every week at Matins we sing “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us.” Truly God is the Lord and has revealed Himself tous! Let us embrace the divine gift that has been shared with us through God’s grace and the witness of the Holy Fathers of the 7thcouncil, and glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons


The Difficult Path To Peace

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (6:31-36) 

Today’s gospel reading is a reminder that the values and behaviors of a Christian, a son or daughter of God, must be drastically different from the values and behaviors of the world around us. We are called to be  strangers compared to the world around us. We are called to be like aliens in a strange land. Perhaps nowhere in the entirety of the gospels is this more on display than in today’s reading as Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us these life creating words, “Love your enemies.” So often we see the Lord acting and speaking in ways that turn the world upside down, and this is no exception! Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t tell us to do the things that are easy or come naturally, He tells us to do what is quite difficult and will take work for us in our current state.  Have you ever known someone who loved their enemies? Or does that seem like a foreign concept to us? When we are angry with someone or feel that someone has hurt us or done us wrong, how do we react? How do we respond?

A little more than a week ago we celebrated the memory of a great modern saint, Silouan of Mt. Athos, who reposed in the year 1938. This wonderful and holy man, taught with amazing words of eloquence although he had never had any formal schooling in his life. We learn that he had a very deep, intense and profound prayer life in which he entered into a living relationship with God. One of the most beautiful of his teachings is something that he repeated quite often, about loving our enemies. Listen to his teaching, this is a lengthy quote but it’s so good,

“The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned from God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us. The Lord taught me to love my enemies. Without the grace of God we cannot love our enemies. Only the Holy Spirit teaches love, and then even devils arouse our pity because they have fallen from good, and lost humility in God. I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: “O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,” and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God. 

If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts – or good thoughts. The good man thinks to himself in this way: Everyone who has strayed from the truth brings destruction on himself and is therefore to be pitied. But of course the man who has not learned the love of the Holy Spirit will not pray for his enemies. The man who has learned love from the Holy Spirit sorrows all his life over those who are not saved, and sheds abundant tears for the people, and the grace of God gives him strength to love his enemies.”

In our world it is the most difficult thing in the world to imagine that we can love our enemies. We are taught to hate everyone who stands in our way. In fact the world that so often claims to preach tolerance, quickly shows it’s true colors, it’s contempt and hatred for anyone who so much as has an opinion that is not popular or favorable by the majority. Do we react similarly, like the world around us, or do we react in the way of St. Silouan? Do we really, actually, love our enemies? I believe this is a really fundamental question for a Christian to answer. 

St. Silouan’s rule is like a powerful litmus test of our knowledge of God and relationship with Him. If I truly know and love God, I feel His mercy and love in my life. I see His generosity towards me although I am a sinner who does not deserve anything. This living relationship informs and illumines my heart and it impresses upon my being and dramatically changes how I relate to others, not just those whom it is easy to love, like our friends and family, but those whom it is humanly impossible to love. Instead of seeing people around me as enemies, I begin to see them as my brothers and sisters. Instead of condemning them and hoping that God judges them, I begin to pray on their behalf and ask God to show mercy to them and reveal Himself to them. 

The answer for St. Silouan isn’t that you try to understand the concept with your mind and earthly wisdom, the answer is that you grow in your prayer life, in your relationship with the Holy Spirit, who comforts us as we struggle to learn to pray. Prayer is our way to accept God’s invitation to enter into this love and open ourselves up to Him and to be healed through repeated encounters with His powerful love. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love because He is love, God is love.  And we might ask, “How much love does God have for His enemies?”  Let’s conclude with the words of St. Paul who tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” May we also grab hold of this great love that has been offered to us! AMEN. 

Source: Sermons


Do We Have A Reaction To The Gospel?

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

My dear brothers and sisters, to preach is a joyous but also a grave endeavor. The gospel teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is not something boring or mundane. It is something powerful and life giving. Since it is dynamic and spirit filled and powerful, we should have a reaction to the words of the gospel. Our reaction should be negative towards ourselves and positive towards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why should it be negative towards ourselves? That seems like a strange thing to say. We live in a society that coddles every individual and emphasizes self-esteem as the focus of development. The problem is that this leads us to become prideful and self-sufficient, and if we are prideful and self-sufficient, we are under the delusion that we have no need for God in our lives. We fall under the impression that we have nothing to learn and certainly don’t need to waste our time developing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His saints. We begin to have faith in ourselves and we trust our opinions as good or trustworthy or important. So this is why I tell you that you should have a negative reaction to yourselves, which will lead you to repentance and to have a humble spirit that can learn at the feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

But today’s society is a direct result of what I have just mentioned. It is a society that has been bred on self-esteem and pride. This has infected nearly every aspect of life. Actions and works that ought to cause shame, are a point of pride and society has even gone so far as to condone and celebrate those awful and shameful things. I will not speak of them because there are children present and they don’t need to be exposed to and corrupted by such things.

But the opposite has also happened in our society, the greatest wisdom ever given to the world, the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ has become taboo. We are ashamed of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are afraid to stand up for our faith and our beliefs. So the world is upside down. What should bring us confidence and joy, instead brings us shame and we are silent in the midst of those who hate our God and our way of life. Yet we are not ashamed of the things of this world, it’s corruption and false teachings and the ways that will lead to spiritual death. Our Lord Jesus says “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” 

I started by telling you that preaching is a joyous and yet a grave endeavor and this is precisely why: I will be judged on whether I have taught you and warned you. I am responsible. The task of preaching is also joyous and yet a grave endeavor because the gospel forces us to pick a side and to change our very way of life. It never allows one to remain static in life. Either they are living faithfully or faithlessly, although there is a spectrum of faithfulness. That is why I tell you that we should have a negative view of ourselves and a positive view of Christ and His words of life. So if you hear something that you do not like, understand that one of the goals of a homily or sermon is to bring the gospel to life and to activate it in your heart. But understand that it cannot be activated unless our heart and mind are pricked and we begin to realize that we have to change our way of life. So the sermon is never meant to pick on anyone. It is not meant to attack. It is meant to expose our darkness (yours and mine) to the light of Christian truth. 

When we’ve been in the dark for a long time and someone shines a light at our face, we will squint and draw away from the light. We will have the perception that the light is awful and terrible and painful. Yet this is not really the case, but only our perception because we’ve been in the darkness for so long. We’ve grown accustomed to it and have not been regularly exposed to the light. That is how it is when we read and study the Scriptures and hear the gospels and the homilies that are based on the gospels. When we become accustomed to the word of God, we are changed and transformed by exposure to the light. 

Today, we live fairly comfortable lives. We have what we need and then some. We are entertained and informed nearly 24 hours a day. On this note let me say that we need to be vigilant with our own senses and with our children and the media and screen time they consume. It not only affects their psychology and development, but it also creates an imprint on their souls. Balance and moderation are necessary. I know that you love your children, take the task seriously and do not trust the television or computer to do the job.

We live comfortable, wealthy lives. We have so much and yet according to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we don’t have His teaching in our lives, we are really empty. More than this, we are already dead. As Christians we are called to live radical lives and that will not look anything like the radicals you see on the news. The radical way of the Christian is the way of obedience to the teachings of Christ and the radical way of love. When we live this radical love, we will probably be attacked and misunderstood. But that is precisely our cross in this world. Listen the words of the Lord “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.”

What are we willing to compromise in order to be comfortable or safe in this world? On the other hand, what are we willing to sacrifice in this world in order to be comfortable in the presence of God and His angels and saints? Because we can’t escape that reality. One day, we have to meet God. We will be in His presence. What are you willing to deny yourself for the hope of knowing God more intimately? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend on social media or Netflix? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend socializing and playing games? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend working on our projects and taking on additional work? The time and attention we have are finite. What might happen to us if we dedicated some of these finite resources to the infinite God? Time and energy is given to you as great and precious gifts? How will you answer for these gifts and how you redeemed them? 

In today’s reading The Lord said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” I want to leave you with a quote from St. Nicholai of Zicha, he writes, “What does it mean to take up your cross? I means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, that is offered, bitter though it may be. Do great catastrophies fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.”

If we do this we will have great joy because we will be following the Lord truly. AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Why We Celebrate The Feast of The Cross and How We Can Live it

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Joy of the Feast, Happy Feast Day! Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the exaltation of the precious and life giving cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is this feast and why do we celebrate it?

There are actually two reasons that we celebrate a feast on this day, regarding the main reason, The reading for the day tells us that, “The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulcherof the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulcherof the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire.

In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped…. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.”

Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6).

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius of Jerusalem to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326.” (oca.org)

In this feast we are reminded that as Orthodox Christians believe that matter itself can be sanctified because Jesus Christ the Son of God took human flesh and became a man and dwelt in the material world. He sanctified this material world by His presence and of course this extends most powerfully to the wood of the cross upon which Our Lord was crucified. It is a reminder that the crucifixion really happened and really matters for us. Through the Cross is joy given to the world. Through the cross is life given to us through our baptism.

St. Theophan the Recluse wrote: “The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross: on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He reconciled us with our God and Father; and through the Cross He brought down upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.” But he continues by saying something rather striking, he writes,“But this is the Lord’s Cross itself. Each of us becomes a partaker of its salvific power in no other way than through our personal cross. When the personal cross of each of us is united with Christ’s Cross, the power and effect of the latter is transferred to us and becomes, as it were, a conduit through which every good gift and every perfect gift (James 1:17) is poured forth upon us from the Cross of Christ. From this it is evident that the personal cross of each of us is as essential to the work of salvation as the Cross of Christ.”

St. Theophan is telling us that it is not enough to pay attention and venerate the cross of the Lord. He tells us that we also have to respect, almost revere the crosses and struggles that God has given to each of us, because we are sons and daughters of God through our baptism and whenever a son or daughter of God faithfully carries their crosses, multitudes of people are sanctified and saved through such heroic acts. In this way, each and every one of us is given an opportunity to live the life of Christ, to choose the hard way, to deny ourselves and to make our only desire, the will of the Father. St. John Chrysostom writes, “Through the Cross we learn the power of love and we are taught to die for others.” So take stock and inventory of the difficulties and the hardships that have been allowed by God for you and be thankful and trust that through perseverance and faithfulness, God can transform what is difficult and painful in your life into something truly majestic, wonderful and holy. 

What are the difficult and painful things in your life? God knows. For some it is struggling through addictions or physical and mental illness. For others it is a struggle with a difficult husband or wife or a marriage that is less than satisfying. For some it is difficult co-workers. For all of us it is the struggle against our disordered passions and our inclinations to sin. God sees your struggle and knows your crosses. Sometimes we are at wits end and we look up to the heavens and say “Lord I cannot do it any longer, I cannot bear this cross!” At this very moment, we are encouraged not to deny our crosses and run away from them, but to have faith and focus our gaze on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross is a reminder of God’s powerful sign of love and we can ask the Lord for strength to carry our crosses with joy and strength, trusting that even these present difficulties can be used for our salvation and our good.

I want to leave you with another lovely quite from St. John Chrysostom who writes, 

“What is more precious than the Cross and what is more saving for the soul? The Cross is the triumph over demons, the armor against sin and the sword with which the Lord has struck the snake. The Cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Only-begotten, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the ornament of angels, the protection of the Church, the praise of St. Paul, the protection of the Saints, the lamp of all the world.” Joy of the Feast! 

Source: Sermons