Fighting on Ladders


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

In today’s epistle we heard these words that were taken from the book of Genesis, where God says to Abraham “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” St. Paul continues saying “And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.” He continues later and writes “We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.”

On this, the fourth Sunday of the great and holy fast we commemorate one of the great giants of Orthodox spirituality St. John Climacus or John of the Ladder. He is called this because of a book that he wrote that became quite famous especially in the monastic traditions in the east. This book is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In this book, St. John speaking from his observation of many monks and monasteries and his own spiritual struggle, outlines 30 steps or rungs in the spiritual life. Each of these rungs of the ladder must be climbed in order to reach the next rung and to finally achieve the ultimate goal of our life, salvation and unending communion with God. This of course was written for those pursuing the monastic life but many of the principles apply to every Christian who is struggling to be healed and to enter into prayer with the Lord.

At this point in the holy forty days we are probably beginning to realize the depth of the struggle that is ahead of us. We realize the depth of our deeply rooted sinfulness. We understand that this struggle will continue long after the fast. We find that if we are honest with ourselves, we have only just begun the spiritual struggle. We have only just begun to apply ourselves to love God and our neighbor. We have only just begun to battle courageously. And we have only just started the process of healing or being healed by Christ our King. In this way, we understand Lent as a microcosm of our lives and as a means of recentering and refocusing ourselves towards our Master and Creator.

St. John’s Ladder tells us that all of our lives is a struggle to climb towards Christ. It is so very easy to fall, but always a struggle to climb. He also tells us that when we struggle with humility, we will be aided by God. In fact God will work on our behalf once we let Him.

A few weeks ago I said something rather difficult. We were speaking about the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, and I said that if we were going to pray like the Pharisee, we would in fact be better off not praying at all. That is, if our prayer is really a cloak for self-righteousness or condemning others, if it is in fact not prayer but sin, it would be better for us not to do it at all. This is clear since it is better not to sin than to fall into sin. But saying this doesn’t mean that we should stop praying. Or that we should wait until we are perfect or holy to begin praying. There is none perfect, not one! St. John of the Ladder reminds us that we are all on different rungs of the ladder, every single person who still lives and breathes is in the midst of a fierce battle and we all need to tackle this through prayer at every moment of every day. It is prayer that unites us to God and heals our wounds and God does not wait for us to be perfect, He wants to be the one to perfect us. So we should pray. Our sins and failings should actually lead us to pray more and with greater humility and contrition. Pray all the time.

Lent is a reminder that all our whole life can become a prayer before God. Indeed, we are so busy with so many services that it is easy to see how our whole life can be consumed in prayer. That is not a bad goal for our lives. In fact that is the definition of genuine life according to Christ. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”(John 17:3).

In today’s gospel reading we see a man who has struggled to find help for his son who is very sick. He goes from place to place and person to person and finally after much toil and difficultly, he finds the Lord Jesus Christ and asks Him to heal his beloved son. The Lord answers the man ““If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” What we see next is a stunning display of the man’s genuine pain and his deep need for the Lord. He replied with tears streaming down his face “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Wow. That should sum up our whole experience of Great and Holy Lent and in turn that could be a verse that sums up all of the Christian life, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Hopefully all of us here love God, but we love God to different degrees. It is not our job to figure out where each person is on the ladder. It is our job to simply keep climbing, to keep going, to keep striving upwards towards Jesus Christ, taking the example of this father who cried out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” May we each make this prayer our own so that God will touch us and lift us up, giving us new life. To Him alone be the glory Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.


Source: Sermons

The Two Roads

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

One of the key aspects of being a human in our world is self-preservation. We believe that people will ultimately do what is best in order to benefit and save their own lives. In fact, the whole idea of Darwinism is precisely this ideology of self-preservation, that everything exists in the hopes of continuing it’s existence. Everyone’s primary goal for their life is to continue to try to live. And we hear strange stories of those who have even tried to plan for their deaths by finding ways to have themselves preserved much like Walt Disney was preserved.

The Christian gospel day in and day out, for two thousand years, has demonstrated it’s utter rebellion against the thoughts of this world, against our “human” way of thinking. Listen to the words of the Lord regarding this subject of self-preservation. 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.”

On this, the third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we celebrate the veneration of the Cross. It is yet another sign that the Church is alive and loves her children. The Church’s very cycle of worship is designed with her people in mind. The Church throughout the centuries has always asked “what is best for My people, what will bring them to their right minds, what will bring them true healing, what will bring them to a genuine experience of life?” Today the answer is the cross of Jesus Christ.

At this the halfway point of the holy forty days, we are given two roads and we are forced to choose one of them. The first is the way of the world, the road of self-preservation. It is the road that looks easy, the road where we aren’t weighed down with extra church services, the road where we eat whatever we want and minimize our own discomfort. This road can even be filled with distractions, what will I buy next? What will I watch next? All of these are aspects of wanting to save our life and wanting to live life to the fullest. We fall into the trap of feeling that there is no time to lose. In fact we are absolutely correct. There is no time to lose. But it’s not our time to gain or to lose, it all belongs to the One who gave this to us as the gift of life.

The first road was the way of the world, the road of self-preservation. But there remains for us another road and the Lord has shared that with us today. This is the way of self denial and self sacrifice and this path is found when we decide to make the teachings of Jesus our life’s work. It is certainly the road that is less travelled, but it is by far the more noble and beautiful way. Every day we are forced to decide whether we will live for ourselves or whether we live for Christ. Every day we are forced to choose between saving what we call a life or denying this life to enter into genuine life with the only Giver of life. And we are reminded that this struggle is a life or death struggle. The Lord 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?” Our beloved Jesus is sharing one of the spiritual laws of the universe with us and for that we should fall on our knees in awe and gratitude. He tells us that if we try to live for our physical and material benefit we will lose our souls. Yet if we forget about ourselves and try to live richly and faithfully towards Christ and towards His kingdom, we won’t just gain our souls, we will gain everything good and much more than we could ever imagine.

Now is the time to choose a path and there are only these two paths available to us. One of those roads looks hard and will no doubt lead to some exhaustion. The other road looks like a bed of roses, but it is filled with hidden thorns. Take up your crosses and commit to following the Son of God during these remaining holy days. Fast and pray with zeal. Show love to your neighbors and serve others with zeal. Understand that we will all have to give up this life and our only legacy and inheritance will be that which the Lord Himself gives us.

We remember that the Lord never ever teaches his followers to do something that He has not already done or planned to do on our behalf. The Lord of glory, who controls the heavens and the earth and who gave life to the whole of creation, willingly offered Himself on behalf of those whom He loved. He took up a cross willingly to endure, to suffer and to die to give us His life! When we understand that sacrifice and that love we are moved to imitation and obedience of the Lord because we see that His way is the only way that leads us to real life and it is so powerful that it can transform our souls that were dead in sins and breathe new life and resurrection into each of us. These solemn and joyful days are days where we draw near to God so that He can pour out His life and revive us. Yet He does this only with our consent and our cooperation. He cannot give life to those who believe they have “life” apart from Him.

At this halfway mark of the fast, we venerate His precious and life giving cross and are reminded of His love for us and His power to destroy not only evil and death in the universe but our own sicknesses and spiritual infirmities. May He who destroyed death by the power of His cross, give us strength and inspire us to carry on with joy, in the hope of becoming partakers of His glorious resurrection! And glory be to God Forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

What is life without the forgiveness of sins?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (2:1-12)

One can only imagine the scene at Capernaum that is mentioned in today’s gospel reading. When people heard that Jesus was there, the crowds once again swelled and there were so many people present to see and to hear the Word of God that they could no longer be contained in the house but overflowed outside. Whenever the Lord Jesus travelled from place to place it was considered a great event at that time. He had a greater following than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones (and without hysterical teenage girls).

In the midst of this scene we are witnesses to an amazing story of friendship and the love of God. Four men have come carrying their paralyzed friend. We don’t know exactly how far they’ve travelled but we can be sure that it has been a struggle to carry their friend the whole way. These men showed a lot of love for their friend but their love would be tested further. When they arrived at the scene in Capernaum, they found that there were so many people there that there was just no way to bring their poor, sick friend to the Lord Jesus. At least there was no conventional way to do it.

One of the beautiful things that we learn from the lives of the saints is that there is not one right way to live the life of a saint or become a saint. Each one of the saints is unique and while they all have certain aspects of their struggles in common, each one must find their own unconventional ways to get to the Lord Jesus. These four men did just that. They decided that if there was no way through the doors and the windows of the house, they would have to look up. They decided that the best course of action would be to drop in from the ceiling by uncovering part of the roof of the house. Of course at this time we are talking about vastly different construction.

The men did just that and hoisted their friend up high in order to uncover a spot on the roof and let him down to meet our Lord Jesus. Now, and this is important, the man who was paralyzed never said anything to Jesus. It was the Lord who looked upon the faith of his friends and said to him “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It reminds us that our faith is powerfully beneficial to others. In fact, this is exactly what we do when we baptize infants. We take the faith of their parents and godparents and we ask Jesus to see that faith and to count it towards the one who is brought to Him, that is to His body, the Church. If the Lord Jesus acted in this way for this man, can there be any doubt that the Lord will accept our faith as well?

Now in the course of this story we see something amazing. Initially, the Lord does not heal the paralyzed man of his paralysis. We might find that to be a bit strange. If you put this man in his paralyzed condition before a group of physicians, and we asked the doctors “what is wrong with this man in your opinion?” I am sure that the physicians would tell us that the problem with this man is his physical ailment. While that is certainly true, it is not the problem according the Lord Jesus. According to Jesus, the most important issue that needed to be addressed was the underlying sins that this man was carrying.

He begins by healing the man’s soul through granting forgiveness of his sins. As we are in the midst of the great and holy fast, we are reminded that physical strength and physical healing means very little if we are spiritually paralyzed. And we would all be spiritually paralyzed if not for the mercy of Jesus Christ towards each of us. We experience this powerful forgiveness of sins in baptism and we continue to experience it through the sacrament of confession and the life of the Church. Wholeness, health and sanity start with the forgiveness of sins. Through our own struggle to repent and be purified of our sinful habits and passions, we can fully participate in the healing forgiveness that God provides. This is what we are doing during these holy forty days. Struggling to repent in a more serious, more strenuous way. This repentance is the foundation of our path to real, actual knowledge of God which comes by His grace.

On this, the second Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas. One of the most important things that we take from his teaching is that one must be struggling through the ascetic life of fasting and fervent repentance to grow in purity and in prayer. This, according to St. Gregory, will bring the faithful to a true and genuine experience of God and allow them to partake of His divine nature by the grace of the Holy Spirit. So in the Orthodox Christian way of life, we find that forgiveness of our sins is a powerful starting point not only to physical health, as we saw with the paralyzed man, but it is the starting point to inheriting the very treasures of the kingdom of God. We go from paralysis to walking, from being poor to being spiritually rich, and from death to resurrection and glory with Christ our God who rose from the dead in glory.

Whether you are in a wheelchair or you can walk perfectly, none of that matters if we are spiritually paralyzed. But if we have the grace of God powerfully working through us because we are humbly, dilligently, courageously struggling to repent, to pray and to grow in the knowledge of God this is the mark of true health and the sign that we are living up to our purpose as saints and bearers of the light of Christ, to Him alone be all glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Excerpts from a Sunday of Orthodoxy sermon by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rejoicing today in the triumph of Orthodoxy on this first Sunday of Lent, we joyfully commemorate three events: one event belonging to the past; one event to the present; and one event which still belongs to the future.

Whenever we have any feast or joy in the Church, we Orthodox first of all look back — for in our present life we depend on what happened in the past. We depend first of all, of course, on the first and the ultimate triumph—that of Christ Himself. Our faith is rooted in that strange defeat which became the most glorious victory — the defeat of a man nailed to the cross, who rose again from the dead, who is the Lord and the Master of the world. This is the first triumph of Orthodoxy. This is the content of all our commemorations and of all our joy. This man selected and chose twelve men, gave them power to preach about that defeat and that victory, and sent them to the whole world saying preach and baptize, build up the Church, announce the Kingdom of God. And you know, my brothers and sisters, how those twelve men — very simple men indeed, simple fishermen — went out and preached. The world hated them, the Roman Empire persecuted them, and they were covered with blood. But that blood was another victory. The Church grew, the Church covered the universe with the true faith. After 300 years of the most unequal conflict between the powerful Roman Empire and the powerless Christian Church, the Roman Empire accepted Christ as Lord and Master. That was the second triumph of Orthodoxy. The Roman Empire recognized the one whom it crucified and those whom it persecuted as the bearers of truth, and their teaching as the teaching of life eternal. The Church triumphed. But then the second period of troubles began.

The following centuries saw many attempts to distort the faith, to adjust it to human needs, to fill it with human content. In each generation there were those who could not accept that message of the cross and resurrection and life eternal. They tried to change it, and those changes we call heresies. Again there were persecutions. Again, Orthodox bishops, monks and laymen defended their faith and were condemned and went into exile and were covered with blood. And after five centuries of those conflicts and persecutions and discussions, the day came which we commemorate today, the day of the final victory of Orthodoxy as the true faith over all the heresies. It happened on the first Sunday of Lent in the year 843 in Constantinople. After almost 100 years of persecution directed against the worship of the holy icons, the Church finally proclaimed that the truth had been defined, that the truth was fully in the possession of the Church. And since then all Orthodox people, wherever they live, have gathered on this Sunday to proclaim before the world their faith in that truth, their belief that their Church is truly apostolic, truly Orthodox, truly universal. This is the event of the past that we commemorate today.

But let us ask ourselves one question: Do all the triumphs of Orthodoxy, all the victories, belong to the past? Looking at the present today, we sometimes feel that our only consolation is to remember the past. Then Orthodoxy was glorious, then the Orthodox Church was powerful, then it dominated. But what about the present? My dear friends, if the triumph of Orthodoxy belongs to the past only, if there is nothing else for us to do but commemorate, to repeat to ourselves how glorious was the past, then Orthodoxy is dead. But we are here tonight to witness to the fact that Orthodoxy not only is not dead but also that it is once more and forever celebrating its own triumph — the triumph of Orthodoxy. We don’t have to fight heresies among ourselves, but we have other things that once more challenge our Orthodox faith……If today we can only proclaim, if we can only pray for that coming triumph of Orthodoxy in this country and in the world, our Orthodox faith forces us to believe that it is not by accident but by divine providence that the Orthodox faith today has reached all countries, all cities, all continents of the universe.

We can already have a vision of that future when, in the West, a strong American Orthodox Church comes into existence. We can see how this faith, which for such a long time was an alien faith here, will become truly and completely universal in the sense that we will answer the questions of all men, and also all their questions. For if we believe in that word: “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 past, the present, the future: At the beginning, one lonely man on the cross — the complete defeat. And if at that time we had been there with all our human calculations, we probably would have said: “That’s the end. Nothing else will happen.” The twelve left Him. There was no one, no one to hope. The world was in darkness. Everything seemed finished. And you know what happened three days later. Three days later He appeared. He appeared to His disciples, and their hearts were burning within them because they knew that He was the risen Lord. And since then, in every generation, there have been people with burning hearts, people who have felt that this victory of Christ had to be carried again and again into this world, to be proclaimed in order to win new human souls and to be the transforming force in history…….Today this responsibility belongs to us….Let us understand that each one of us today has to be the apostle of Orthodoxy in a country which is not yet Orthodox, in a society which is asking us: “What do you believe?” “What is your faith?”…..

.At the end of the first century — when the Church was still a very small group, a very small minority, in a society which was definitely anti-Christian when the persecution was beginning — St. John the Divine, the beloved disciple of Christ, wrote these words: “And this is the victory, our faith, this is the victory.” There was no victory at that time, and yet he knew that in his faith he had the victory that can be applied to us today. We have the promise of Christ, that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. We have the promise of Christ that if we have faith, all things are possible. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit, that He will fill all that which is weak, that He will help us at the moment when we need help. In other words, we have all the possibilities, we have everything that we need, and therefore the victory is ours. It is not a human victory which can be defined in terms of money, of human success, of human achievements. What we are preaching tonight, what we are proclaiming tonight, what we are praying for tonight, is the victory of Christ in me, in us, in all of you in the Orthodox Church in America. And that victory of Christ in us, of the one who for us was crucified and rose again from the dead, that victory will be the victory of His Church.

Today is the triumph of Orthodoxy, and a hymn sung today states solemnly and simply: “This is the Apostolic faith, this is the Orthodox faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith that is the foundation of the world.” My dear brothers and sisters, this is also our own faith. We are chosen. We are elected. We are the happy few that can say of our faith, “apostolic,” “universal,” “the faith of our fathers,” “Orthodoxy,” “the truth.” Having this wonderful treasure, let us preserve it, let us keep it, and let us also use it in such a way that this treasure becomes the victory of Christ in us and in His Church. Amen.” (excerpted from



Source: Sermons

The healing power of forgiveness

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21)

On this beautiful Sunday, just a day before we jump into the lovely waters of Great and Holy Lent, the Church as a wise mother gives us this reading which comes in fact from the sermon on the mount. These are precious words of our Lord Jesus Christ and they remind us that what is contained within the 4 gospels is more important than anything that has ever been written in history. In fact, these gospels are the very foundations of our society. Some might wonder why the gospel book on the table is wrapped in gold plated material. It is to remind us that what is contained within the 4 books of the holy gospels is nothing less than gold! In actuality it is so much more precious than gold. If I gave a man on the street the choice between a block of gold and the 4 books of the gospels there is little doubt that he would take the gold brick and run. But in actuality what is within the gospels can make us truly rich people. It can change lives and it can help to give us an inheritance that makes the gold brick look like a mere speck of dust in comparison.

The message given to us today in this most precious gospel is that before we begin our lenten struggle to grow closer to Jesus Christ, and to His Father, we should first be reconciled to everyone else. Just like the wise builder we are forced by our Lord to ensure that the foundations of our repentance are built on rock solid ground. And how do we know that in fact our repentance is built on solid ground? We know it when we have forgiven everyone of everything wrong that they have ever done towards us. It might make some of us wonder and say “what does this have to do with our own repentance with God?” The short answer is “everything.” When someone comes to their senses and leaves their life of sin and darkness and comes to Christ, the first thing that they do is fall on their knees and beg God to forgive them of all their many sins. We come to God in a broken state and we have nothing to offer Him. Yet He is generous with us and offers us what is needed to make a new start, that is, His divine forgiveness. With this sense of forgiveness we begin again and we stand up straight, no longer bowed down with the extreme weight of our sins.

This Sunday is our reminder that we were once estranged from God and yet He accepted us back into His heart. If we have known this forgiveness the only logical outcome is that we will also pour out this kind of radical forgiveness on those who seek it from us. In fact the worst possible scenario is one in which we continually remember the faults and wrongdoings of others even after they have asked or begged for our forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them there can be little doubt that our prayers won’t even be heard by God. And we actually say this every day when we recite the Lord’s prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” That is a bold statement and we would do well not to pray it unless we believe it and practice it. St. Mark the ascetic says that “The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world.”

One cannot help but think about the state of our society and the way that it is quickly degenerating. This is a sign of our turn away from Christian teaching and from belief that God truly exists. One sign of this is that many people feel themselves to be victims. They believe that they have been wronged and they seek revenge or justice. Everyone is keeping score all the time. One is a victim of this “ism”, another is a victim of that “ism.” I wonder what would happen if we turned from keeping score of all the wrongdoing against us and started to practice radical forgiveness? We might not even think this is a possibility for us. I wonder what might happen if we decided that the story that defined our lives wasn’t about victimhood but about our love for our enemies, both actual and perceived? That would be a radical departure from the current trends that lead to division and it would no doubt, set the world on fire with the love of God.

The Church is the society of God. So we as a group are the first to model the behavior that is taught to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is so important to us that we will even come together tonight to truly ask forgiveness of one another. Let’s not lose this opportunity. If anyone has done you wrong, forgive them quickly from the bottom of your heart. Whether the one who has sinned or upset you was your friend or your brother or sister, your son or daughter, your father or mother, forgive them all in a way that confirms without a shadow of a doubt, that you understand what Christ has done to forgive you.

Let the beginning of this holy season be a time to ask forgiveness of others and to accept others requests for our forgiveness. This is what the love of Jesus Christ looks like. May this love also be ours. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Has Given Us the Questions to the Final Exam

The reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 25:31-46

One of the joys of serving in the priesthood is that any given day can turn out to be an adventure.  When the phone rings, you never know exactly what is coming.  This week someone called the church thinking that we were Roman Catholic and asking me if I would come and perform “last rites” for someone who was dying.  In our tradition of course, there is no such “last rites” but we perform the sacrament of Holy Unction for anyone who is sick, at any time, including on their deathbed.  After talking to them I figured out that they were not Orthodox Christians and I told them that I was not a Roman Catholic priest but that I was willing to come and pray with them and anoint the man who was dying with another blessed oil.  After all, I was not sure how long the man would live or if they would be able to get a Roman priest to visit in time.  They agreed.  I’m sharing all of this with you for a reason, as you will soon see.

I ended up at their home and I went in and saw the older man who was sick.  He was asleep or unconscious, I did not know which.  I did what I could do.  I prayed for him.  I asked God to forgive his sins.  I anointed him with some blessed oil (not the Holy Unction).  But ultimately I have no idea what kind of a life he had lived.  He was preparing to stand before the throne of the judgment seat of God and there was only so much that I could do for him.

The time to prepare for our end is not just when we are on our deathbed or when we find out that we are very ill.  The time to prepare for our end is every single day because we don’t know the hour and the day when we will go to meet the Holy King.  On this the second to last Sunday before we plunge into the waters of Great Lent, the Church reminds us that we are all going to face the same fate.  We are all going to pass through the path of death one day.  So as a mercy, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ has taught us exactly what is expected of us.

When I was in school we would always be nervous about upcoming tests.  There were times when a test could blindside you.  You felt as if you might see questions that you had not anticipated and for which you were simply not ready.  But at times you would get a really kind teacher who would say “I’m giving you a test but these are the questions that will be on the test.  Make sure you are prepared to answer these questions.”  

In a way, this is what the Lord Jesus is doing in today’s gospel reading.  He is giving us the questions to the exam.  He is telling us exactly what is expected of us and on what we are going to be judged.  He is not trying to spring it on us or catch us in some kind of a trap.  He is trying to prepare us in the best way possible.  But we need to be reminded that life is short and that something is expected of us.  Have we fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the imprisoned?  These are the questions on the exam.  How will we answer?  Only you can decide that for yourself.  

Why do these things matter to the Lord Jesus?  Why are they required of us?  Because those who belong to God must be clothed with love.  These act of mercy are some of the ultimate signs of love.  And love is the sign that we know God and are part of His family.

As we are getting geared up for the holy fast, we are likely to focus on things that at the end of the day won’t be on the exam.  We focus on coming to services and fasting and all of the other parts of Lent, but God won’t judge us on these.  He has already told us what is on the test.  “So why should we fast and attend the extra services?” One might ask.  The answer is because these practices and disciplines force us to look outside ourselves and to they help us grow in love by the grace of God.  The lenten struggles and disciplines that we are getting ready to undertake are there to stretch us past our comfort zone and to make us vessels that are able to carry God’s love and mercy to others through the work of the Holy Spirit.  They are meant to help us be numbered among the righteous.  They are meant to help us towards the goal that we all want, namely, our salvation.    

The final exam is coming one day and we already have the questions, but how will we respond?  Who will we be numbered with?  Will we inherit eternal life?  The Lord Jesus tells us that it will depend on whether or not we have shared the things of this life, our life, with those in need.  Our food, our clothing, our comforting presence.  May God number us among the righteous and may He reward us with the true and unending life.  Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

The Hunger of the Prodigal and Our Return to God

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

All of God’s activity in the world is focused on the salvation of humanity. The God who is love is the God who has sent His only begotten Son for us. This God has one great focus…each of us and our souls. Today’s parable is a glimpse into the mind of God and the way that He desires our fellowship and union with Him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us this story about a man who had two sons. The younger son asked for his share of the inheritance from his father and his father agreed to divide out the sons portion and give it to him. We are amazed to find that the father gives this without arguing or hesitation. We are also surprised to find that God wants to give us according to our hearts desire, just as the father gave to his son in this parable. We notice that the son did not have anything in his own name, but wanted to take what was actually his father’s.

We all act similarly to this young man. We look at our lives and we often think that certain things are owed to us. We act as if everything that we desire is actually our birthright. This kind of feeling of entitlement is not a good thing. In fact it a sign of the ultimate act of rebellion against God. We take what is not rightly ours and we consider it our own. We take what was not rightly ours and we forget the source from whom these blessings came. This is what the young son has done in this story and this is what we do with our lives.

It was only a matter of time before the young man ruined his life. He had everything that he could ever want or desire, or so he thought. But all of this was a temporary gain. He would lose it all in the blink of an eye and be back to square one as a young immature boy with nothing to his name. We do the same as this young man when we take what rightly belongs to the Lord and use it in whatever way we see fit, even in ways that are against God. One example in our modern society is the argument around abortion. We are told that it is the woman’s right and the woman’s body. But all of this presupposes that God doesn’t exist, that we don’t belong to Him and don’t answer to Him.

We do the same in our day to day lives. We use our bodies and minds and lips and our energy, all of these things that are gifts from God, in ways that are not always pleasing to God. Why do you exist? Do you exist to serve yourself? Do you exist to pass your time until you grow old and die? NO! You exist because God has breathed His life into you and because of that we know that God has a purpose for your life. Each of you is important, each of you is a son or a daughter like this young man. And each of us is lost when we think that we can live on our own, independent of the Father. The young man thought the same thing and soon he found himself without the friends and the parties and without a penny left to his name. As he went to work for one of the people in the fields, feeding swine, his heart began to turn back to his father and to his home. What was it that began the process of the turning of the heart? It was his hunger.

Why do we fast to prepare for the Great Feast of Pascha (Easter)? Because it is the hunger that brings us to our right mind and turns us back to God our Father, and to His house, which is the Church. The young man fasted unwillingly, due to his own foolishness. We as Christians fast willingly due to the wisdom of the Church. We want to hunger and thirst and desire after God and the shortcut to ardent desire and longing for God is to grow hungry.

Our bodies are closely tied to our salvation as well as our condemnation. We are preparing for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and for our own resurrection from the dead, and this resurrection is in order to stand before the throne of God and be judged for our deeds done in the body. So we prepare to take this time of Lent to do according to the words of the Apostle Paul and “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” 1 Cor 9:27. As we bring our bodies into subjection we find that our minds and heart will properly unite with the body and will not be improperly swayed and influenced by the desires of the body. We will be like the young man who after feeling true hunger, came to himself. He came to his right mind and turned his focus back to his father, he repented.

Great and Holy Lent is our time to repent and turn back to our Father. To understand that all of our desires are not filled by various things and material goods, not even with food! Our deepest desires are met by God our Father who loves us and freely gives us all things that belong to Him. The father celebrated his sons return as if he had come back from the dead. Let us also come back from the dead by the grace of God. Let us turn from the death of our sins and our earthly desires to the resurrection of life in communion with God our Father. It is truly God’s pleasure to give you everything that is His and He has proven this by giving us the very life of His Son, Jesus Christ so that He might give us His divine life. May we repent and come to our right minds, and may we run towards the Father. We will be surprised to see Him waiting for us and ready to embrace us, to love us and to bring us back into His own house to enjoy a great feast together with Him. To Him be the glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Humility as the Path to Life

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

Great and Holy Lent is a preparation for the after-life, namely the standing before the fearful and awesome throne of God, who is King and Judge of all souls. This time before Lent is considered a preparation for the great preparation that is Lent.

Today we hear the short and truly powerful parable of the Pharisee and the publican or tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” We should be amazed by the Pharisee’s attitude towards prayer. He has a certain boldness but it is not born of hope in the Lord and in His generous mercy. The boldness has another source, the man’s ego and pride. He speaks to God as if he has absolutely no need of Him.

Perhaps this should be our first lesson today: If you don’t feel that you have a need for God, if you don’t pray like you have a need for God, do yourself a favor and don’t pray. “But Father, isn’t that a bit harsh”? Well let’s look at the result. The Lord Jesus tells us that the Pharisee did not leave justified before God. This alone tells us that his prayer was a waste. It was fruitless because it did not draw him near to God and because God did not draw near to the man.

What is worse is that the Pharisee sinned greatly in his half-hearted attempt to go through the motions of prayer. How did he sin greatly? The basis of his prayer was a judgment and comparison with other men. He went even further than that. He did not stop at judging other men in a general sense. He continued by looking at another poor soul and judging him directly. Through all of this we learn that the Pharisee’s practice of religion was impure and unfruitful. Yes he tithed, and yes he fasted twice a week, and yes, he even made the motions of prayer. But all of it was for nothing, in fact it was for his own condemnation. The Lord says of such a one “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

In the exact opposite measure, we see the success of the tax collector in entreating the Lord to come to his aid. He went to the temple knowing that he was no good. In fact, each and every one of us should only come to prayer if we first understand that we are not really very good at all. We sin all day long, whether in word or deed or thought, whether we know it or whether we don’t. One of the worst things that we can do when we pray is to minimize our sins while maximizing the sins of others. In fact that is the opposite of love. When we have love we understand our need for God and when we pray we also pray for others to be saved.

The tax collector approached God with a spirit of contrition and extreme humility and this is pleasing in the sight of God. When He sees this spirit within us, He draws near to us quickly because God Himself is a humble Spirit. As Elder Zacharias of Essex says “We have to become nothing, so that God can use us, because God creates from nothing.” All of this is fairly straightforward but it is not necessarily easy. To pray properly means to sit alone and to dig deep and understand just how far we are from God. We have to get to the point that the publican’s prayer becomes our prayer “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Saying it with words is not enough.

The saints of our great and holy Church tell us that we have to say these words, mean these words, and live these words. St. Dorotheos of Gaza says “In the mercy of God, the little thing done with humility will enable us to be found in the same place as the saints who have labored much and been true servants of God.” What a treasure we have if we have humility! To see ourselves as last and everyone around us as better. To see ourselves as poor and sick and in need of a great physician is the best state of all because the great physician Jesus Christ will come to our aid and will give us healing and strength beyond anything that we can imagine or hope for. He will give us strength beyond strength as He shares His very divine nature with us. This is God’s desire and good pleasure for His children. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Zacchaeus and the Steps to Salvation

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

Whenever we hear the familiar story of Zacchaeus, our minds begin to come alive with the thought and the memory of years past and we begin to seriously think about the fact that in just a few weeks, we will begin Great and Holy Lent, which is the most joyous, difficult and beautiful time in the whole life of the Church.

Already the Church is preparing us by giving us small bread crumbs on the path to our salvation and healing. That is what salvation is all about, the healing of the human person, the restoration of his soul. And Zacchaeus clearly demonstrates some of the steps that are necessary for anyone who desires to be healed and saved. You know, I meet many people who say that they desire to be saved or desire to know God or desire to acquire peace. Yet we cannot expect to desire such great things without some effort and work on our parts. If someone desires to be a great athlete, they will have to do more than wish for it to happen. They can’t sit on the couch and eat potato chips while watching the television. That will not help them progress. Likewise the person who wants to become a great author and write the next great American novel, will need to do more than read the work of others. He or she can’t daydream about stories forever. One day, they will need to put pencil to paper or sit in front of their computers and type. The work of salvation and of knowing God is infinitely more difficult than becoming a great athlete or an accomplished author because it involves every part of us and every waking moment of our lives. If we say that we desire these great things from God, we will have to work to prove that to be true. Let us look at the example of Zacchaeus and see what is required.

We are told that Zacchaeus “sought to see Who Jesus was.” What a simple first step. Notice that we are not told that He sought to see Jesus, but to “see Who Jesus was.” Which means that Zacchaeus had a desire to know more about the Lord Jesus. It wasn’t enough to trust the word of others. He had an intense desire to search for himself. But this intense desire was not enough. He acted upon this desire to climb up into the tree. Zacchaeus could have made many excuses as soon as his desire developed in his heart. He could have said “there are too many people” or “I am just not tall enough to see over the others” or even “I would climb into the tree but I am afraid that I will look extremely foolish.” But he did not make excuses or justify inaction. If we are serious about knowing Christ, we will not make excuses or justify our own inactions. This means that we have to be abundantly honest with ourselves, which is maybe the most difficult thing for us to do. The Lord will not appear and force you to seek and pursue him, you must cooperate with the grace of God that is given you and force yourself and your will towards Him.

When the Lord Jesus looked up in to the tree and saw Zacchaeus He said “Zacchaeus make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The next step that we see is a simple one. Zacchaeus promptly obeyed the Lord without hesitation. How often do we hear the Lord’s words to us in our scripture reading or in the words of the Sunday gospel? How often do we hear the words in our conscience? Are we responding to the word of the Lord like Zacchaeus? Do we obey the Lord quickly and without hesitation? Again we are required to be honest with ourselves.

Finally as the Lord Jesus draws near and enters the house of Zacchaeus we witness a transformation occurring. We shouldn’t be surprised that it is happening because the presence of the Lord is full of power and wonder even from the first moment. First, he gave half of his goods to the poor. This is a sign truly the love of the Son of God had permeated his heart and mind. He was being healed and restored by Christ to the image and likeness of a child of God. In addition to demonstrating this love for the poor, he also is showing us that he is completely detached from materialism and the acquiring of wealth. Perhaps that is when we truly know that someone has genuine faith, when they “put their money where their mouth is.” In addition to his generosity towards the poor and his detachment from materialism we see one final step on his path to salvation, he repents greatly and tries to make amends with those around him, saying that he will restore fourfold of whatever he has taken unlawfully or defrauded from anyone. Fourfold! If he unjustly charged an extra ten dollars, he would pay back forty. If it was an extra $100, he would pay back $400 and so forth and so on. Do we need to make amends with people around us? Do we need to make things right with people that we haven’t treated well?

All of the steps that Zacchaeus took to gain salvation are steps that each of us must also be willing to take. 1) Desire to see Who Jesus is. 2) Follow your desire with action. Speaking about the first and second steps we’ve mentioned here our saint of the day, Maximos the Confessor writes “The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.” 3) Promptly obey when the Lord instructs you. 4) Give alms to the poor and needy. Regarding this point, St. Maximos writes “The state of love may be recognized in the giving of money.” 5) Repent not only towards God but by making things right with those that you have wronged at any time in your past.

All of these steps are fairly straightforward but they require honesty and introspection and they call us to action. They are difficult, but Christ is infinitely worth any momentary difficulties we may face when trying to be healed and saved, which is His will for our lives. Zacchaeus followed the path of his desire and hunger for the Lord Jesus and by his faithfulness in a few things, the Lord granted salvation to him and to his household…all within the same day! May our Lord Jesus Christ come to dwell in our homes and in our hearts and allow us to share in this joyous salvation. Glory be to God forever, Amen.

Source: Sermons

Growing Together in Christ

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. (4:7-13)

In today’s epistle the holy apostle St. Paul writes “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We will come back to that in a moment. He also writes“When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” The “He” whom St. Paul refers to is Our Lord Jesus Christ, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”

For our purposes I would like to focus on the second part of that phrase, “He gave gifts to men.” It is a well known fact God loves us so much that it wasn’t enough for Him to forgive us our sins. He did much more than this in order to prepare us to continue in good works which build up the Church, the body of Christ. St. Paul continues writing “And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”. These are different roles within the community of the Church. Not every person fills every role, but each according to what God has given him to do. That is why we began the passage with the verse “grace was given to each according to the measure of Christ’s gift. This means that everyone within the Church has been given gifts not only for their own salvation but primarily for the salvation of others. And there is no use in being jealous or envious of the gifts that another person has because God is the giver of each whether we like it or not, and God gives to each in a different manner and not equally but everyone is given gifts from God for His purposes.

And then St. Paul says something really interesting, he tells us why these roles exist. “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Who are these saints that are spoken of here? It is all of you. The Christians were understood to be holy and separate from those in the rest of society. They were considered holy because Christ our Lord is holy but they were also considered holy because they did not do the things that the outside world did. When their neighbors would run to pagan feasts and worship idols and fall into drunkenness and debauchery, those who were in the Church, kept themselves away from such things. They followed the will of the Lord.

When we are together, we are being equipped for the work of ministry. That tells us that each and every Christian within the Church is a minister of God. Each person has a ministry, a calling, a way that God can use their gifts and talents to build up the body of Christ (which is the Church). In our society, we are often taught to focus on what my gifts and talents can do for me as an individual. We begin to ask children from a very young age, what they would like to do when they grow up. We ask college students what they study. We almost never ask “How will you use your gifts for God and the profit of His Church?” It’s a pretty important question that we might want to begin asking our children, and that we might want to begin asking ourselves if we have never done it before.

St. Paul goes on and he tells us what it looks like as we build up the Church. He says that we build up the body of Christ “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” So this tells us that even though we are all here, we are not all in the same place regarding our faith and our knowledge of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. So each of us has a calling to assist our brothers and sisters towards this goal. Each of us should have a personal goal of deeper knowledge of Our Lord and savior and we can deeply affect others by our struggle for deeper faith in Christ. There is no limit to the ways that God can use us to help others through our genuine struggles to know Him. St. Paul tells us that the goal for the Church is “unity of the faith and of knowledge of the Son of God.” We are meant to believe as one mind, to worship as one body, to love with one heart.

He goes on further with his description of our life within the Church. He tells us that the goal is “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” What does that actually mean? Let’s ask the holy fathers of the Church. St. John Chrysostom says “By maturity he means here the perfecting of conscience. For a grown man stands firm while young boys’ wits are tossed about. So it is with the faithful. We mature until we attain the unity of the faith, that is, until we are all found to share a single faith. For this is unity of faith when we are all one, when we all alike acknowledge our common bond. Until then we must labor.”

We see from this epistle that everything that God has given us is for our benefit. Each of us is planted here in this place to fulfill His purposes, to put on the mind of Christ, to become mature human beings who reflect Jesus Christ, not just a little bit. Instead we are seen to be mature with the fullness of Christ, as saints who radiate Christ in every word, deed and even our very thoughts. This is why God has created us, this is why God has redeemed us, this is why God has given us gifts and this is why he has brought us all together as one body. Glory be to God Forever AMEN.



Source: Sermons