Paralysis of Soul

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

When we come to Church we are constantly exposed to the words of the gospels and all of the miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are “over-exposed” we take what we are hearing or reading for granted. One of the most important aspects of our spiritual life is to continue to see everything with new eyes. We are reminded not to take anything in our life for granted. Like the young man who works hard to woo the woman of his dreams. He hopes and prays and dreams of making her his wife. But what does he do once he has this woman as his wife? How does he treat her? Does he approach her each day with renewed enthusiasm and with a fresh sense of love? Or does he neglect her and consider her boring and old news? Does he mistreat her or does he live each day to work for her and show her unending love?  This is how we approach the gospel of Jesus Christ; with renewed enthusiasm on a daily basis. If we feel that the gospel has gotten old or stale, it is possible, that we are the ones who are in fact old and stale and we require a renewal of heart and mind.

Today’s reading tells us that the Lord came into his own city and that there was brought to Him a paralytic (one who is paralyzed). It is impossible for us to imagine the torture and struggle of someone who is paralyzed. But perhaps it is not hard for us to imagine the possibility of being paralyzed with fear. Some are paralyzed with anxiety and worry. Some are paralyzed by their addictions. Some are paralyzed by their hate for others or the grudges they hold. We can also be paralyzed by extremely difficult situations, many of which are outside our control. Most importantly, we are all paralyzed by sin. It paralyzes us from doing good and more than this, it paralyzes us from entering into a deep relationship with our Master and Lord.

What we see in today’s gospel is that the Lord’s first concern is not necessarily our first concern. The people who carried the paralyzed man on his stretcher were concerned with his physical sickness but the Lord Jesus Christ went straight to the most important matter, the paralytic’s spiritual condition. The Lord doesn’t begin by healing the man and allowing him to walk. He begins by healing his soul so that he might walk towards God. As St. Macarius of Optina once said “The soul is greater than the body: the body becomes sick, and with that it is finished. But a spiritual sickness extends into eternity. Deliver us, O lord, from such illness, and grant us healing.”

Many times I have read this passage and been completely overwhelmed by the words of Jesus, by His mercy and tenderness, not only for this man, but for each of us. When we are young we don’t really understand that we are sinners. As we get grow and mature we begin to see just how difficult it is to be faithful to God and to live the life that God intended for us. We begin to realize that we are not perfect. At times the realization that we are not perfect can be a difficult burden. It can weigh us down along with our sins. But I thank God that He is really full of abundant mercy and He continually says to each of us who come to Him “Take heart, my son (or daughter), your sins are forgiven.” Do we realize how amazing this is? These are words we take for granted but we shouldn’t.

The freedom from sin completely changes the equation of our lives. We may have some terrible and difficult situations, but God is offering us liberty from the worst type of bondage that mankind has ever known. The Lord began this liberation from the tree of the cross, but it doesn’t end there. And it doesn’t end by making a declaration for the Lord Jesus and moving on with our lives. That sounds more like magic than a transformational faith. Ours is a continual renewal of our spiritual life and this comes through the life that Christ imparts to us by His grace. This is not simply a nice idea or wishful thinking, it happens through our baptism and in our continued immersion in Christ and His Church.

This grace of Jesus Christ is seen in this passage as the man never asks for anything at all. The Lord sees him and knows his deepest needs. In fact, He sees past his outside appearance to the man’s heart. Do we ever stop to think about how God can see straight into our hearts? He knows what we are made of, He knows what we desire, He knows our sicknesses and infirmities of soul. So there is no use to running and pretending. He sees straight through each of us. He helped the man who could not help himself in any way. But you and I are not completely helpless. Christ can help us if we can acknowledge that we are also paralyzed and in need of His powerful healing, and if we are willing to come to the place that offers healing.

St. John Chrysostom writing in the 4thcentury says “The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins. Nothing is so joyous in our life as the thanksgiving that we experience in the Church. In the Church, the joyful sustain their joy. In the Church, those worried acquire merriment, and those saddened, joy. In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest. “Come,” says the Lord, “near me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden (with trials and sins), and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) What could be more desirable than to meet this voice? What is sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to the Church for a rich banquet. He transfers you from struggles to rest, and from tortures to relief. He relieves you from the burden of your sins. He heals worries with thanksgiving, and sadness with joy. No one is truly free or joyful besides he who lives for Christ. Such a person overcomes all evil and does not fear anything!”

May Christ our Lord grant us all of this and may He heal us of our deep paralysis so that we may begin to run towards Him with strength, fervor and love. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

 

Source: Sermons


The Supreme Court and the Healing of the Demoniacs

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:28-9:1)

We have become quite familiar with this story of the two demon possessed men and the way that the Lord Jesus Christ chooses to heal them of their terrible infirmity.  In modern times many people believe that these gospel stories about demons have nothing at all to do with demons. In our times we are much more likely to see the work of nutrition or mental health or any other possible materialistic explanation for the phenomenon of demons that is observed and recorded in the gospels.  Our problem with such explanations is that they do not maintain the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the existence of demons and their power.

Today the issue of demons is often ignored as a reality and yet it is interesting to see the Roman Catholic Church has said that the occurances of demonic possession are on the rise and that in fact they do not have enough trained exorcists to deal with all of the activity they are seeing.

One of the amazing features of this gospel passage is the way that the herdsmen of the town responded to the casting out of the demons and the healing of the two possessed men.  We would imagine that after such an amazing miracle and the sanity that was restored back to these two men, the people would have come in droves to receive the blessing of the Lord Jesus and to investigate this man who held such power and authority.  But we know these men to be people who do not know the God of Israel. How do we know this? Because they are pig farmers and pigs were considered unclean and forbidden according to Mosaic law. So they don’t really respond in a surprising way. Their response is what we would expect from those who do not know God.  Instead of being awestruck by God’s mercy and His wonders, they are offended by what they perceive as a great loss of income. We could see a similar response here in this country as people may rush out to protest the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice.

We heard the news this week that Justice Kennedy will be stepping down after 30 years serving this country as a member of the high court.  His departure will open up a position that will be filled by the president. For the first time in perhaps a generation, the court has the possibility of being firmly and solidly conservative in their interpretation of the Constitution.

Since this is the case, one of the first issues that might be tested could be the issue of abortion, which is in truth the single most divisive issue of the last 40 years.  There have been approximately 60 million abortions in this country since the high court decision of Roe V. Wade. 60 million. To put that into perspective, that is approximately 6 times the number of Jews that died in the holocaust in Nazi Germany.  To put it another way, the rough estimates of the number of people killed in the communist Soviet union is placed at somewhere between 60-100 million. As a nation, we’ve almost equalled those atrocities in half the time.

So it is a big deal that there will be a new Supreme Court Justice and it is possible that many will be up in arms and will protest the newest pick.   Why? Because like the herdsmen in today’s gospel, they are people who do not know God or His will. In addition I would like to say that also like those herdsmen, there are organizations that stand to lose billions of dollars if procedures like abortion are greatly reduced and limited only to medical necessity.  Why am I telling you this? Because it is high time that we as the people of God wake up and refuse to be taught by those who have alternate forms of morality and are not themselves taught by the word of Christ.

We might hear that abortion is about women’s rights.  What right does a woman have over another human’s life?  What right does a mother have besides caring for her own flesh and blood?  If she does not want to be a mother, she can give the child up for adoption and there will be thousands who offer to take her.  We might hear people claim that the government has no right to tell a woman what to do with her body. Only, the government isn’t concerned with the woman’s body, but with the body of the other human that is dwelling within her.  The concern is with respecting all people, no matter their age and protecting those who have no voice and cannot protect themselves.

Where do we get these teachings?  From Christ the Lord and from the saints and holy fathers of the Church. And they are still revolutionary in their power to shake up society and culture and restore our identity as a country that loves and lives by the teachings of Jesus Christ first and foremost.  

Pray.  Millions upon millions of lives are at stake.  Pray fervently, daily, during this time of societal struggle that the Lord’s will be done.  Pray that our country will wake from the fog of ungodliness and that the Lord would remove the demons that possess our culture and offer us His healing and sanity in their place.  And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

 

Source: Sermons


The Nativity of John the Baptist

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80)

Today in the holy Orthodox Church we celebrate a very important event in the life of the people of God. We celebrate the nativity, the birth of the one whom we call the Forerunner, St. John the baptist. St. John is an amazing prophet and the Lord Jesus actually calls him the greatest born of a woman. Imagine just how important St. John must be that the Lord would speak so highly of him!

St. John is really the bridge between the Old and the New Testament for us. He connects the prophets of the Old Testament to the long awaited messiah of the new covenant. All of the Old Testament prophecies predicted the coming of the anointed one, the King of Israel and St. John fulfills his role as the last of the prophets in the mold of the Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Isaiah. A prophet has the role of correcting the people and bringing them back to God. St. John does exactly this and he does it while reminding all the people to prepare the way for the Lord and to make His paths straight. Where should we prepare the way? Where should we make the paths straight? Somewhere in Jerusalem? Somewhere in the wilderness? Perhaps somewhere here in this place? No.

St. John asks the people to prepare themselves. It is the heart and the mind that need to be prepared. It is the activities of our lives that need to be made straight. One paves the way for the other. We repent not out of thin air. We repent of actual deeds and thoughts and words and ideas that we hold within us. We repent of things that we’ve actually done wrong. When we start with this honest and brutal repentance where we are merciless with ourselves, we find that God Himself pours out His mercy on us and He does this in a way that we do not expect. He visits us. He visits us! We are preparing a way and making a straight path so that He can come and visit us and dwell with us. The Lord wants to make an abode in us. St. John tells us that God cannot get to us unless we first clear a path for Him to walk and find us. He reminds us that getting to God, or allowing God to get to us is really rather straightforward.

His birth was full of miraculous events as we hear in today’s gospel. His mother Elizabeth, whom we also celebrate today, was a great saintly woman. She was not only meek and holy but courageous and tough as nails. She was married to the priest Zacharias who was brutally murdered, but she did not blame God or sit and wallow in her tragedy. She fought to keep her son alive and in fighting to keep him alive she did God’s will. She hid her baby son in the wilderness to keep him safe and away from the threat of King Herod who was looking to kill all of the male infants at that time.  She did this as an elderly woman. In suffering, she suffered for our benefit. In fighting for her son, she fought for each of us and our salvation.

The apple does not fall far from the tree because the holy mother and father brought forth a son who was also holy. One of the amazing verses that jumped off the page when I was reading this gospel passage was the words of the angel to Zacharias, the father of St. John. He says to him “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord.” He was told that his son, his own flesh and blood would bring him joy and gladness. We are told that people would rejoice at his birth. We are told that he would be great before the Lord. I wonder if we raise our own children with these thoughts in mind? Do we have joy and gladness at the birth of our children? Hopefully.  Joy and gladness represent something more than happiness. They represent a deep abiding presence of fulfillment with God’s work in our lives. Most people are happy when they have children, but sometimes happiness fades. Do we continue to have lasting joy? Do we raise these children in a way that allows others to also rejoice in them, or do people do the opposite when they see our children? Every child is cute at a young age. What happens when they get a little older? Do they delight others and bring joy? Do they bring joy to the Lord?

Will our children be great in the sight of God? I’m not suggesting that we can raise the next St. John the baptist, there can only be one. But we can raise the next saints. It is our holy and solemn task and if you are a parent, it is one of the few tasks that you ought to be taking seriously.  Zacharias and Elizabeth were holy. It is no wonder that St. John was holy.

Each of us has been baptized into the Lord Jesus and into His holiness.  The potential is there my brothers and sisters, what are we doing with it?  St. John’s life and the life of his parents is a reminder that many have suffered to bring this living faith to us.  Who will take up the call to suffer and deliver this faith to others? Who will follow in the footsteps of St. John and live in the wilderness, cut off from the world?  I’m not suggesting that you should really go to the wilderness, but that you should make part of each day a type of wilderness that is cut off from the world and it’s distractions.  

The saints lives inform our lives.  May the miraculous and powerful life of St. John the baptist inspire us to prepare our hearts for the Lord through daily struggle and may future generations rejoice when they hear the stories of our lives and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to Him be the glory along with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Be A Follower!

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)

In every person’s life there are moments where making a certain choice or decision will forever change the course of their life. This is true both in a positive as well as a negative sense. People sometimes choose to do something which is wrong or sinful and it will cause untold damage and destruction not only in their life but in the lives of their families. I am thinking for instance of the husband or wife who chooses to be unfaithful. Often they do so under the illusion that they won’t get caught or that they deserve better or deserve more, or that they will “find happiness”. But that one choice can obliterate life as they know it. That is why we call some sin, sin unto death. Sin can only take away and destroy, it has absolutely no power to give or to create. It is destructive.

Likewise, it is possible that a certain choice or decision that we make can positively change the course of our life forever. We exactly that in today’s gospel. As the Lord Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee, He comes up to two brothers, fishermen, and He says “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” These men, Simon Peter and Andrew, were going about their daily business. They were in the middle of their work. They weren’t fishing for fun or for sport, they were fishing for their livelihood. The Lord’s call came to them and it also comes to us, but it never ever comes when it is convenient. What could be less convenient than calling these men to follow Him in the middle of their workday? Yet that is exactly how the Lord Jesus does it. We should expect that when the Lord speaks to us, He will do so when it is not convenient in our lives.

Little did those brave disciples know how that moment would not only change their lives but begin a path that would change the course of history as we know it. He told them to follow and they took it not as a request or as an invitation, but rather as a commandment. We are told that they immediately left their nets and followed Him.

The Lord Jesus is constantly telling people to follow Him. He whispers it in their hearts. He speaks it through the words of the gospel. He is the great fisher of men who seeks to ensnare our hearts and minds so that they would not be held captive by the world and by the traps and snares that have been set by the evil one.

Some people hear this call and they delay answering the call. They think that an ideal time or circumstance will allow them to take the first step. Some hear this call and never even think of the possibility of following the call. They can’t imagine such a disruption in their lives. They have plans and they are focused on those plans. They also can’t imagine what blessings the Lord has in store for those who obey the call. Yet others reject the call completely because they don’t want their lives to be branded and marked as belonging to Jesus Christ. The don’t want to be labelled.

But some hear this call and respond to it immediately. I once spoke to a young man who was driving along and heard this verse and when he heard it, it was like it had been sent directly to him. He immediately changed all of his plans and dedicated his life to serving the Lord and bringing others to Him. At that point, all of the calculations and the obstacles and the circumstances of his life vanished. They became minor and insignificant details because he had heard the calling and he immediately decided that he must do it. He told me that the choice was easy because he didn’t want to spend his time and energy working on things that would not last, but what the Lord was offering him was a chance to work on something of eternal value.

One of the reasons that I like to hammer the idea of reading the gospel every day is that the gospel can have the force of an atomic bomb in your life. By the Word of God, the sun and the moon and the earth came into existence. And by the Word of God, you can also be born again, recreated and refashioned. We can go from taking up space to existing as children of God who serve and glorify Him.

It is for us to discern the ways that the Lord is calling us to follow Him. Each of you is being called to serve in different capacities within the life of the Church but each of you is being called to serve. Not everyone is called to be a fisher of men. Not everyone is called to be a deacon or priest. Not everyone is called to be a chanter or reader. Not everyone is called to bake the holy bread. But every one of you has been called to follow Christ more fully. If we are not sure of our calling, we should fast and pray about it and beseech the Lord saying “Lord, how can I follow you more? Lord, how can I unite my life with the life that you desire for me? How can I serve you more faithfully?”

None of us is worthy of the calling. Peter and Andrew were not worthy of the calling. It was obedience to the calling from God that made them worthy to know Him intimately. Imagine the things that they saw and experienced for those precious three years that they followed the Lord. Imagine what they would have missed if they had stayed with their nets and kept on with their own work. They would have missed the single most important event in the history of the world! They would have missed the chance to see, and speak with and experience the incarnate God in the flesh. What might we be missing by ignoring the Lord’s call to follow Him? Better yet, what might we gain by following His calling? Jesus Christ desires that each of us follows Him. We follow primarily through our obedience to His teachings and even in this simple act there is great blessings and treasures. God doesn’t look to disrupt our lives in a negative sense. He offers us life. Have faith and be obedient to everything that Jesus Christ is trying to teach you and through this you will grow in love and hope and your growth will be a light for others.

Peter and Andrew were given no guarantees about the future. They left their work and they did not even know how or where their next meal would come. They also did not know the true identity of the Lord. They had great hope and great faith. But we know the true identity of this man who walked by the sea of Galilee. We know the power of this Messiah. May we follow Him boldly and allow Him to transform our lives and to transform our very world by His power! Glory to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Is God Real?

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (11:33-12:2) and from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)

Today we celebrate All Saints day. As you may remember, this feast falls on November 1staccording to the western tradition. Since it falls on November 1stthat makes October 31st All Saints Eve, which is also called All Hallows Eve, from which we get the word Halloween.

According to our tradition, the best time to celebrate this feast is exactly the week after the celebration of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. This feast is a culmination of the saving acts of God through His Son Jesus Christ and ultimately the Lord sent to us the Holy Spirit, one of the Holy Trinity in order to change our lives completely, to make us saints.

The Lord says in today’s gospel “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before me, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” We hear this verse and we might have a vague understanding of what it means to acknowledge the Lord Jesus. But here is the really interesting thing, there is nothing vague about being a saint.

The saint is the one who acknowledges Jesus Christ not simply with his speech or his mannerisms, but with the complete sacrifice of his life. The saint is the one who gives whatever God has asked him to give and when he has done it, he doesn’t then begin to complain, but he goes further to see what more he can do to offer his life to God.

In today’s epistle reading we hear of many references to people who loved God and gave themselves up to all sorts of brutality and suffering. They often had the chance to run away and avoid pain and suffering but they accepted it gladly for the sake of their love of God. St. Paul speaks of this group as “a great cloud of witnesses” and he encourages us to follow their witness, their sufferings and martyrdoms. He calls us to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”

This life is a race. Are we running in the right direction? I often hear the phrase “running the rat race.” But really it is no good. We are not rats. We are men and women who where created in the image and likeness of God, unlike any of the animals. God loved us and the potential that was within us so much that He sent His Son to become our ransom. His life was given in order to give us the potential for new life. And this act of salvation was completed with the sending of the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Each of us receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after baptism. Each of us is then opened up to the potential to become saints and holy ones. In many of his epistles, the Apostle Paul writes to the church and refers to them as “saints”. According to St. Paul, what is necessary for us to become saints is to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” The first step is heartfelt contrition and repentance. The holy people of God did not start that way. They were not necessarily born holy. St. Moses the Black was a murderer and a thief. St. Mary of Egypt was worse than a prostitute. After their encounters with the living God, they did not continue to wallow in their sins. They faced them head-on by running the race with perseverance. Here in the life of the Church we face our sins head-on by confessing them in the presence of a priest. They don’t try to find ways to hide themselves from exposure, they come and expose themselves to the core. This is exactly how we face our sins and begin to conquer them with the help of God.

They kept their eyes on Christ and ran towards Him with every moment of their lives and every fiber of their beings. That is what is required of saints. We can’t roll around in our sins and in all the bad habits that weigh us down and expect that we are going to come out clean. We change by desiring to change, and aiming towards the One who alone can offer healing and transformation.

It doesn’t matter whether or not we are ever officially recognized as saints. That is not the goal. The goal is to be recognized by the Lord Jesus and this is the outcome of first recognizing and acknowledging Him with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength. If you want to be a saint, God will help you more than you can imagine. But if you don’t want to be a saint, why are you here?

God wants you to be sanctified and to take the adoption that you have received and run with it! He wants us to make this adoption our own. He wants us to become partakers of the divine nature as is written in 2 Peter 1:4. That is why the Holy Spirit was sent down to us. He was sent down, that we might rise up!

And guess what? We have many modern examples of people who have done just that. People who have taken this adoption seriously and chosen to live, and sometimes to die for Jesus Christ. By the way that they lived and died, they acknowledged God and they proved that He was real. Is God real to you? He is so real to the saints that He becomes the single most powerful force in their lives. Imagine what we could do as a community of believers, if we took seriously the gift that was given to us by God? But we don’t have to imagine. We have only to read the multitude of the lives of the saints of the Church to see the glorious possibilities of a human life that is energized by the Holy Spirit.

The Psalms tell us that God is glorified in the saints. May He be glorified in and by our lives. May their lives inspire our lives. May Jesus Christ who is the life of the saints, become our life. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Women and the Church

An aspect of Christianity that deserves more attention than it usually receives are the lives of our many wonderful and saintly women.  One of my beloved parishioners, Anna Cory is doing her part to highlight some of the saints with a new blog.  I believe that this work serves as a much needed antidote for the misguided ideas of “femininity” and “womanhood” that are peddled by our society.  Please take a look. I am sure that you will be edified just as much as we have been by her thoughtful and loving work.  Here is the link:  BrownDressProject.com

 

Source: Sermons


Pentecost is Now!

Acts of the Apostles. (2:1-11) and the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (7:37-52; 8:12)

Long ago, in ancient times, there was a story about a large group of people who desired to build the tallest structure that had ever been built. They plotted and schemed and worked in order to build something that would be to the glory of their name. We call this structure the tower of Babel, though interestingly enough in the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint), it is called the tower of Babylon. St. Augustine tells us that the men worked diligently to build this tower in order to protect themselves from future floods since God had wiped out the early inhabitants of the earth by a flood because they were evil and had spread wickedness everywhere. Instead of being people who chose righteousness and holiness, they chose the opposite and continued to make plans to safeguard their evil ways.

For this reason something dramatic happened and it quite literally changed the course of human history. We are told in Genesis chapter 11 that the Lord God was unhappy with the people and therefore descended to confuse their tongues and their speech. The Lord decided that if there was no other way to encourage the righteousness of the people, He could divide them so that they could no longer communicate effectively with one another. Without proper communication, their evil schemes would be limited in their scope and efficacy. The Lord divided their language but this was a sign of something deeper, that is the internal division of the one who rebels against God. When someone doesn’t live for God and obedience to the will of God they find that there is division everywhere in their life. They are divided from their children and their parents, they are divided from their co-workers, they are divided from spouses as well as friends. Sometimes they can fake their “health” but it won’t last. The division will manifest itself in peoples lives in the way that the division of sin became manifest in the peoples of Babylon at the time of the tower. They won’t be able to “speak the same language” or “see eye to eye.”

What is the answer to this problem of division? Where can we find healing for the internal division that is within us and the division we see in our country, our society and even in the world? Today we celebrate the answer. We read the passage from Acts that describes the great and holy day of Pentecost which occurred 50 days after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are told that there was a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind. The Holy Spirit descended and filled those who were present and they began to speak in other tongues. Amazingly, they could also understand one another in these various languages that they were speaking! In one moment, God had once again united the human race through Himself. He had divided their speech and He now united their speech. Why? It was not in order to awe them or astound them. It was in order that they might take this gift from God and use it to spread the faith in every corner of the world.

At the time of the tower of Babel, the people used their hearts and minds to devise schemes of evil and to share these schemes, influence one another and cooperate in their wickedness. At Pentecost the Lord was saying to them, you now have something worth speaking about. They now had the message of the gospel and the life of the Lord Jesus, but that alone was not enough. The Lord, the Holy Spirit would come and dwell within His people and allow them to be living, breathing temples of God. He would support His people as they went on doing the work of spreading the gospel, which is the work of giving life and light to others.

When we become Orthodox Christians we receive the full grace of the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Chrism (this is often called confirmation in the Roman Catholic tradition). So this celebration of Pentecost is not a mere celebration of some events that happened long ago, which we now remember. No. We don’t live in the past. Our celebration is continual and our faith is vibrant and alive because the Holy Spirit is still with us!

One of the names of the Holy Spirit is Comforter. The Holy Spirit is with each of us in order to restore and heal our inner division. This division which was the ultimate sign of humanity since the time of Adam, is caused by our sin and rebellion against God and against the life He offers us. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon each of us is a powerful invitation to healing. This happens when we allow Him to work and when we cooperate in this work through our life of submission to God and to one another.

In addition to this internal healing, the Holy Spirit is the proper source of healing within a family, a town, a city, a nation and even within the universe. The Holy Spirit is one of the Trinity. He existed before the foundations of the universe. He is powerful in His love and desire for our unity. He fosters this unity from person to person. As one is touched by the Holy Spirit, peace and unity come.

Since the work of the Holy Spirit is manifested in our works and our life, we are ambassadors of Christ through the Spirit. We each have an apostolic ministry and it is built on the apostolic foundation, which is the gospel of Christ and the life of the Spirit. What are we doing with these blessings that we’ve been given? How are we ambassadors for Jesus Christ? When was the last time that we introduced someone to Jesus? When was the last time that we thought of ourselves as evangelists? The holy work of evangelism was given the disciples but it doesn’t end with them. It is our holy work to continue. We have become quite good at having success in our life, but what are we doing to multiply the work of the Holy Spirit? We were made for more than earthly successes. The Holy Spirit is within you in order to heal you and sanctify you and energize you to become saints that live to do the will of God.

When we start the day by asking “what do I need to do today?” we have missed the point of our own existence. It’s like the car that sits on concrete blocks in someone’s front yard. The car was made for so much more than to be a decoration on the lawn. It was designed for more. You were designed for much more. The proper question isn’t “what do I need to do today?” It is “What can I do to serve God today?” The Holy Spirit healed the broken languages of humanity so that the disciples could communicate the truth of God’s love to other peoples. He energized the disciples and allowed them to become partakers of the divine nature. God’s divinity dwells within us! The potential is there for us to become saints and to continue the story of God’s work in the world. May He dwell within us richly and may His name be glorified by our lives. Glory be to God AMEN.

Source: Sermons


What happened to the Church of Acts?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (17:1-13)

On this wonderful Sunday that falls between the Feast of Ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday and the feast of Pentecost which we will celebrate next Sunday, we celebrate the Holy Fathers of the first ecumenical council assembled at Nicaea. We also hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. One of the last things that the Lord prayed aloud on the night in which He was betrayed were these words “Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.”

Imagine the deep desire of the Lord Jesus Christ for unity. Imagine the love that He has for His Church! His prayer is not for Himself but for His followers. His goal is our unity. When someone loves God he desires peace and unity everywhere. The Lord loved His bride the Church so much that He was praying for her with fervent prayers. The Lord desires unity. This unity is a sign of love between all the Christians and it is a sign of love for God. When this unity is broken, everything in the life of the Church begins to fall apart. It is the same in any family, but the Church is not just any family. It is the household of God.

In Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 verse 42 we hear these words “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers.” For us, this verse tells us so much about the early life of the Church and what it tells us has the power to change our lives by reorienting how we understand the church.

We are told that those who were Christians maintained a bond of love and a unity with the apostles. We know this because they continued steadfastly in their fellowship, meaning they remained united to the apostles and to those who had been appointed by the apostles. In addition, we find that they show their unity by being of the same mind as the apostles. We are told that they steadfastly kept the doctrine of the apostles. We see the early Christians devoting themselves to fulfilling this prayer of the Lord Jesus. They are steadfast in their resolve to be united. To have one mind, one heart, one doctrine, one fellowship. This is how Christianity is supposed to look.

In the early Church you either followed the apostles of the Lord or you broke away from the fellowship and were treated as a schismatic (one who breaks away) or worse yet, as a heretic (one who has false teaching). Today we have hundreds if not thousands of denominations that supposedly represent Christianity. They are not in fellowship with one another, let alone with the apostles themselves. Not only is there not fellowship with the apostles, but there is no continuation of the apostles doctrine in it’s fullness. In addition to that there is no continuation in the breaking of the bread, which we know as Eucharist, holy communion. So in virtually every respect we see Christians who are divided from the one, holy, apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ.

They are divided from the doctrine of the apostles and from the life-giving sacraments that only the Church offers to the world. I say that with a heavy heart, not with a sense of joy or triumphalism. I am sad when I think about the way that Christianity is fractured and splintered into tiny fragments. I can’t rejoice when I know that so many people are not receiving the true faith and the spiritual healing that Christ provides through His holy Church. So we pray continually that people would come not only to Christ as the savior, but to His one unbroken Church so that they might receive the fullness of the faith and not some revised, “reformed” version. When God created the Church He did not have a beta test. He made one Church and there is no version 2.0.

For Orthodox Christians it is natural to want to trace our apostolic lineage all the way back to the apostles and to the Lord Himself. We want to know the spiritual “bloodline” of the Church and ensure that it is truly the same unbroken, undivided church that existed in the book of Acts. Every Orthodox Church can trace itself back to one of the Apostles in an unbroken manner. We are the church spoken of in the book of Acts.

At times this one Church faced divisions and often those divisions were the result of false teachings or heresies by influential people (usually clergy). The Church was forced to deal with these issues, not because she desires power, or control, but because she desires what her Master desires, that is, a united Church which leads people to salvation and true knowledge of God. In fact the Lord Himself says in today’s gospel “And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the one true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent.” For us, the only way to have eternal life is through true knowledge of God and His Son. Yet it is precisely the truth of God and His Son that is distorted by false teaching.

Imagine the potential problems. How can people be introduced properly to Jesus Christ when there is no unity in the Church and everyone teaches different things, false things? Perhaps that is why this country and it’s citizens are so confused and in disarray. Yet our holy Orthodoxy stands in sharp contrast to this predicament because you can go anywhere in the world and find that the Orthodox worship in the same way, pray in the same way and believe in the same way. In addition, they can all clearly show that they are united to the Apostles through the laying on of hands, and they are still united to one another.

So today we celebrate the memory of the holy fathers who met in the city of Nicaea in the year 325ad. This council was a gathering of many of the Christian bishops around the world and it was paid for and organized by the emperor Constantine the great. They gathered to discuss a great heresy that rose in the Church at that time. This was the heresy of Arianism. In modern times, Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons are modern offshoots of this heresy which teaches that Jesus was the Son of God but was not actually equal to God the Father. They teach that Jesus was a creation of God the Father and not eternal, without beginning or end.

It is interesting to note that those priests and clergy who argued for this doctrine, did not do so simply from their own twisted opinions. They used the Scriptures! It reminds us that using the Bible alone, may not be enough to come to the truth. One can twist the Bible to come up with strange variations to our faith. Such is the problem with those who claim Sola Scriptura. The Bible alone does not always give clear answers to certain issues.

The Church believes in an enlightened reading of Scripture which comes to life by the Holy Spirit and is properly interpreted within the boundaries of the Church and the protection it provides. The Church exists to hold onto the truth and pass it to generations. It exists to continue the work of the Lord Jesus and His apostles and disciples. So anything that does not line up with the teaching of the Apostles or comes from outside of the fellowship of the apostles, is considered suspect.

This council of bishops was the first but not the last to address the many theological heresies that arose in the life of the Church. They prayed and reasoned and argued from scripture and holy tradition in order to clarify and properly teach the faith as they received it from their predecessors. And in doing so, they have transmitted to us the gift of knowledge of the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ. What a gift we have received! We thank God for the holy ones who gathered together out of their love for the Church and their firm desire to see her united in truth. May we be like these holy fathers and like the Lord Jesus and pray earnestly for the unity of the Church and the spreading of her true faith, which is eternal life. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (9:1-38)

We hear about a blind man that the Lord was walking past along with His disciples. And an interesting question was put to the Lord Jesus. His disciples asked “Rabbi (teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That is a really fascinating question.

When bad things happen in our life, or when we see tragedies, we are often inclined to think that someone must have done something wrong to deserve the bad thing that happened to them. This is one of the reasons that I love some of the stories of the saints such as the story of St. Athanasius of Mt. Athos. He was this holy man who loved God and all the people and he died during a construction accident while the dome of his church was being built. What is all the more interesting is that God prepared him for this event by speaking to him beforehand. Another example is St. Artemius who was killed by a lightning strike at the age of 12. Many people believed at that time that this must have been God’s judgment on the boy, but in later years they found his body perfectly incorrupt and whole and many miracles were worked by his body after his physical death. And before we say that such things are not possible according to the Scriptures we should read 2 Kings 13 and see what the body of a saint is capable of doing.

When something bad happens, we often assume that God caused it to happen in order to punish the person or group. But often that is not the case at all. So we see that the disciples ask a question that is part of our nature to ask. And we see that it is ok to ask questions. You should feel comfortable asking questions but you should be careful about assuming the answers. The disciples want to know if and why God punished this man with his blindness. I have found that this is often the way that people deal with troubles and difficult circumstances of life. They will say things like “I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve this.” But the remarkable answer that we see in the lives of these saints we just mentioned and in the words of the Lord Jesus is that sometimes these things happen in order for God to show His marvelous works through them.

The disciples could see a man who was born without eyes, but they could not see past that. For them, the only reality was the man’s blindness. That was the end of the story. But for the Lord Jesus, what appears to be an end, may just be the beginning of the story. And we see this in His own life. If you were an observer to the events that happened on one terrible Friday in Jerusalem around the year 33 ad you would think that the crucifixion of Jesus upon the cross as a common criminal was the end of the story. Indeed, that is exactly what the disciples thoughts. But for the Lord Jesus, the son of God, what appears to be the end, can in actuality be the beginning or the start of a new story. We know this story, we are living this story.

Jesus tells us that “It was not that this man sinned or His parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” This should give each of us hope! You may be going through difficult circumstances in your own life, but that does not mean that God is punishing you. St. John tells us that God is love. God is not going around looking to cause harm to others. He is love. He seeks us in order to love us and to do good to us and for us. The reason why God might be allowing tough situations in your life is to show you His works through those events. He is able to help us and change our situations. He is able to take a situation that looks hopeless and add a new chapter to it. So have faith in God, don’t despair. God may use your situation or your life to strengthen your faith and glorify His name.

The man who was born blind did not know that God had allowed all of this to occur so that it might be for his benefit and the benefit of those who would see it. With this miracle the Lord could not only bring sight to one man, He could bring spiritual sight to many more. After all, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the long awaited messiah would bring sight to the blind! And this was the most dramatic possible healing. The man born without eyes, is healed by Christ and returns with eyes and can see! Even more than this, the man now has spiritual vision.

He has knowledge of the identity of Christ, he sees the truth. What a blessing he received! Can you imagine his joy? He had gone all of his life without ever seeing a single thing and yet now he could see much more than most because he could see that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He receives full sight while we see that the Pharisees do not acknowledge the miracle. They don’t believe that such a miracle is possible and they certainly do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth could have done it. So who is really blind?

In actuality, the Pharisees are blind to what God is doing in their midst. Even their reading of Scripture is uninformed and darkened. They claim to be students of Moses but what did the Lord Himself say about that? “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, but these are they which spoke of Me.” It is the very words of Moses and the rest of the prophets that should have prepared the Pharisees for the Lord, but they were confused, blinded by such acts of love. They tried to constrain the love of God and force it to act within their predetermined boundaries. They could not understand a miracle being performed on the Sabbath day. But who are we to enforce the rules on God Himself? Who are we to limit God’s love?

As Christians we have to be careful not to limit what God can do in our lives or in the lives of others. We can have abundant faith, abundant hope and abundant love and we can believe that God is capable of doing anything at any time because He is a God without limits. He makes what is impossible, possible. When you truly believe this, you will be like the man in today’s gospel and receive full sight. That is sight and vision that can never ever be taken away from you. May God give us the ability to clearly see the light of the world! Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons


Addiction and Fulfillment

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (4:5-42)

Have you ever noticed that it is really easy for people to become addicts? We look all around us and we find that people are addicted to all sorts of things. Sometimes we are addicted to material or physical things like certain drugs or alcohol and sometimes we deal with addiction on the emotional level such as being addicted to praise or being addicted to power and authority or being addicted to attention and the admiration of others. We are addicted in the sense that we are not satisfied with what is given to us and we continually seek more and more of whatever it may be to get a temporary boost or “high.”

There is good news in this phenomenon of addiction that we see. It points to one of the realities of being human. We have urges that are almost infinite. That is what causes addiction. When a man starts drinking he feels good. But over time his tolerance grows and so the one drink doesn’t make him feel good enough, so he then drinks another. This cycle is vicious and it puts people in a bad place no matter if we are talking about alcohol or drugs or porn or sex or food. Our urges cannot be fulfilled by these limited and material things. We are programmed to continually look for more.

In today’s gospel we encounter a woman who sums this up quite well. She has been with 6 different men. She had five husbands (we are not told exactly what happened to them, so we do not know if they died or divorced). And the man whom she now has a relationship with is not her husband. They are not married. This woman has urges and desires that have not been fulfilled by all these relationships. She may have emotional dependence. She needs to feel loved, she needs to feel desired, she needs attention, she needs a warm embrace. There is nothing wrong in those feelings she had. Those are all natural feelings but the passions when left unchecked and out of balance, always take something that is good and noble and beautiful and they twist and pervert it until it is something else. We stop looking at how our life relates to God and we start thinking about how everything relates to us and to our pleasure or needs.

She had natural human urges but she didn’t direct those urges to the right place because she did not know where to direct them and even more than that, she did not know where to find something that would finally fulfill her. As Christians we are the most blessed of all people in the world because we know that we have deep, almost infinite hungers and thirsts and that such profound urges can only be addressed by going to the One who is big enough to address those needs, to the One who is infinite.

We know this in theory, but do we believe it enough to make it real in our lives? The woman at the well encountered the Lord Jesus Christ but that was not the end of the story. People encounter Jesus Christ every day. They encounter Him through the preaching of others. They encounter Him through the words of the gospel. They encounter Him through prayer. They encounter Him through the life of the Church and her worship (this is true because St. Paul call’s the Church, the body of Christ). And they encounter Him specifically through the receiving of the eucharist which is in truth the mystical body and precious blood of Jesus. Of this the Lord himself said “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him.” Each of these is a point of encounter with Jesus Christ, but what is our response? Do we respond with humility and allow ourselves to be corrected and perfected by this encounter or do we run away from these burdens?

What made this woman special was that she took the correction of the Lord. She spoke of not being married and the Lord corrected her and exposed her sin. She spoke of the worship of the Samaritans and He told said “You worship what you do not know, but we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” How many people would allow themselves to be corrected the way she did? She was humble and she was hungry for more. I have found that very few people can handle just a portion of the correction that the Lord offered this woman. They will leave or go away offended or they will argue.

He like a masterful surgeon, began the process of healing this woman by removing the dead or diseased tissue of her heart. He made her ready to receive His life giving water and then He refreshed her and gave her water which became in her, a well that overflowed abundantly. She was open to the Lord and she proved this by being full of humility and accepting some correction. And for this He poured out the water of life on her. We know her as St. Photeini and we know that this encounter with Christ truly changed her life. She became like one the Apostles and worked tirelessly to bring others the joy of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s food became her food. He says “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work.” She followed her master.   If we have a true encounter with Jesus Christ, it should change our lives! Our faith becomes less a matter of what we say we believe or what we think we believe, rather it becomes a belief that is translated to the actions, decisions and ways of our daily life.  This encounter gives us a whole new purpose and meaning for our lives!

The woman was thirsty for something more and the Lord was fed by doing the will of His Father. May we thirst for this life giving water and may it give us strength to do our Father’s will and bear much fruit in His name. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Source: Sermons