Abiding in God’s Love

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. John. (4:12-19)

Today we celebrate the memory of St. John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason we hear from St. John’s first epistle and we are given a glimpse into wonderful things.

First St. John opens the epistle with these words “Brethren, no one has ever seen God.” It is a straightforward statement but we should take it to heart. We live in a world that increasingly denies the existence of God. If you speak of God you are looked at like you are crazy. Yet the Theologian is direct with us and tells us that “No one has ever seen God.” By this he means that no one has seen God, the Father. However the same one who tells us that no one ever saw God the Father tells us something even more remarkable “We have seen and do testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” It is truly a stunning verse!

St. John tells us that although no one has ever seen God the Father, he and the others with him were living witnesses to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. They experienced life with Christ. They touched Him. They witnessed His betrayal and death. They rejoiced in His resurrection on the third day. The lives of the disciples would never be the same after all that they had seen and experienced. Everything changed because of the truth of what they had seen and experienced and it was confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. John confirms this when he writes “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

St. John tells us that we can also experience what he and the other disciples experienced. We have our own personal Pentecost when we receive the Holy Spirit. Of course we receive the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism (and or chrismation) and yet we as believers are called to try to stir up the grace of the Holy Spirit and be renewed through our daily life of faith and repentance. Without repentance and fasting and spiritual disciplines we become stagnant and our heart grows cold and hard and we don’t sense the work of the Holy Spirit.

Once at a clergy retreat we had the privilege of spending time with His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos who wrote an amazing book about the prayer life called “A night on the desert of the Holy Mountain.” When one of the priests asked him how we could take a shortcut to deeper prayer and to growing closer to Christ he replied “prayer with tears.” When our heart is softened then we will sense the grace of the Holy Spirit working within us. That is where we know God. Not with our eyes, but in our hearts. King David writing in Psalm 51 said “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.” When our hearts are broken, preferably daily in prayerful repentance, then our hearts are open to experiencing God more fully. Because He is humble, He reveals Himself to those who are humble of heart.

St. John tells us that “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” We are encouraged to confess the true nature of Jesus Christ within our hearts and minds and also to others. Are we ashamed to mention Christ and His Church? Are we afraid that others might think that we are “weird”? These are small indications that our heart might still need some tuning. We can confess that Jesus is the Son of God with our whole lives. How do we live? What decisions do we make? Do we dedicate time from our busy lives to acknowledge that our lives are a gift from this loving God? Do we think about the Lord in the middle of the day? Do we pray to Jesus in quiet moments of the day or even unceasingly? These are just a few of the ways that we confess Christ in our lives and we experience His life as our own. And this is the life that the Church itself tries to give to the people who live by faith.

St. John continues this passage with a beautiful verse “God is love.” He tells us that “he who abides in love abides in God.” What does it mean to abide in love? Does it mean to do whatever you want? Does it mean to love whomever you want, and in whatever way you want, as we are encouraged to do in our broken world? No. On this point St. Basil the great wrote “If God is love, as John says, then it must be that the devil is hatred. As he who has love has God, so he who has hatred has the devil dwelling in him.” Likewise we can say that those who claim to love but do so outside of the commandments or in opposition to the commandments of God, are not loving but full of hatred because they build their lives upon a foundation of rebellion and hatred for the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave His life to bring us to life.

You don’t get to make the rules, since you are not the master of your own life. And we wouldn’t want our own rules anyways because we are the cause of most of the problems in our life. Christ is the divine law-giver and we have to accept life according to His rules if we want to inherit His life. The one who abides in love is the one who lives within the commandments and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ as his only way of life. When we live within the love of His commandments, especially the commandment to love our neighbors, we begin to know God more deeply. We are purified and enlightened by the light of God’s commandments through pursuing them and being obedient to them. And since the commandments come from God, we truly begin to know Him through them. It is like a door that is only unlocked from the inside of our hearts. Christ stands at the door of our hearts to knock, but we must daily choose to open the door by serving and loving others and obeying His divine teachings. For His divine teachings are life and love and joy and when we live in them, we are promised to know Him in truth. To Christ alone be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Of Snakes And Men

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (3:13-17)

In today’s gospel reading Our Lord Jesus Christ refers to an amazing story in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the book of Numbers chapter 21. Starting at verse 4 we read:

4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.5And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronzec serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” Num 21: 4-9

The people complained against God and we see that according to Scripture it is considered dangerous and sinful to complain, to speak against God and against those whom God has placed over us in our lives. Certainly this applies directly to the clergy but also can be understood as applying to others whom God has placed over us such as parents and teachers, coaches, instructors etc.

When the people spoke against God and His servant Moses we are told that God sends fiery serpents among the people as a form of correction. It can also be understood that God simply removed His protection from the people in order to teach them not to blaspheme and grumble against Him. When we speak about God or address God directly, we are reminded that we must do so carefully, even within our hearts and minds. God is due reverence, thanksgiving, awe and holy fear. God is not your maid or your genie to grant all of your wishes. God is also not Burger King and you can’t have it your way!

However God did not abandon the people who repented and turned back to Him. Those who confessed their sins and humbled themselves before God’s servant Moses were given mercy. God allowed the serpents to come and He also heard the cries of the people for help. He had an answer and it defied logic, reason, science or anything that one might expect. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten by the serpents running through the camp, the person who was bit was to look to the bronze serpent and they would not die but live.

The Lord tells us that He Himself became as the bronze serpent. We can say that the bronze serpent was a prefigurement and foreshadowing of Christ Himself. What the bronze serpent was able to do for the physical health of the people in the wilderness, Christ would do for the spiritual health and salvation of the whole world, especially for those who looked to Him with faith, as the crucified Lord. In today’s gospel reading we are reminded by our Lord Jesus Christ that God has loved, does love and will continue to love the world and His people who are in the world. Those who seek Him, and love Him and serve Him in faith.

We are like the people in the wilderness. Sometimes we grumble and complain. Sometimes we lack gratitude to God for all of His generous blessings. Sometimes we fall into sins. At times our falling into sin can bring us to the point of despair. We think that we can’t recover, that everything will be lost, that we can never become holy, that we can never draw closer to Christ. Yet we are reminded that we already have the antidote, we already have the vaccine. This vaccine is greater than any that has ever been made in the history of the world. When you take any vaccine it cannot prevent death. Yet Christ offers us exactly that. He offers us the ability to transcend death because He has died for us. If we have faith in Christ and are faithful to Christ, we will be saved and restored to life in, through and with Jesus Christ. Yes we can be bitten by the spiritual snakes. Yes we can be struck by the demons and feel that we are mortally wounded due to our sins and failings, but Christ reminds us that the antidote is close at hand and this is offered freely to every man, woman and child. He offers His life for our life. St. John Chrysostom says “These two things, more than anything else, declare his unspeakable love: that he both suffered for his enemies and, having died for his enemies, he freely gave them by baptism the entire forgiveness of all of their sins.”

St. Gregory the Theologian writes “Let us praise the Son first of all, venerating the blood that expiated (wiped away) our sins. He lost nothing of his divinity when he saved me, when like a good physician he stooped to my festering wounds. He was a mortal man, but he was also God. He was of the race of David but Adam’s creator. He who has no body clothed himself with flesh. He had a mother who, nonetheless, was a virgin. He who is without bounds bound himself with the cords of our humanity. He was victim and high priest—yet he was God. He offered up his blood and cleansed the whole world. He was lifted up on the cross, but it was sin that was nailed to it. He became as one among the dead, but he rose from the dead, raising to life also many who had died before him.”

As we prepare to celebrate the feast of the cross tomorrow evening, let us never forget that God is love and that this love was proven for us, poured out for us upon the cross. God sees our condition. He knows our state. And He has provided the medicine for our healing. May we be like those Israelites in the wilderness who quickly looked to the image of the bronze serpent to save their lives. Let us also look to the image of our Lord crucified, that we might find health, joy and life even unto everlasting. AMEN

Source: Sermons

A Taste Of The Kingdom

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35) 

Often when we speak to children they ask us about the nature of heaven. “What is heaven like?” Even adults often wish to catch a glimpse into this mysterious reality. Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry, often gave His disciples and the people who came to hear Him, a sneak peek into the nature of these mysteries such as the kingdom of heaven. He does this in today’s reading. He tells us something about the nature of things in the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord who loves mankind, tells us that the kingdom is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. He found that his servants could not pay their debts which they owed and so he generously forgave them and wiped away their debts to him. However in the parable we find that there is a wrinkle. All is not well. One of the servants who was forgiven all of his outstanding debts that were owed to the king, went out from his meeting where the king had just forgiven him and he in turn found one of his servants who owed him a very small amount. He grabbed him and began to choke that lesser servant and said to him “pay what you owe!” So the servant pleaded with him and said, “have patience with me and I will pay you.” But the first servant refused and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” 

Upon seeing this, the other servants who were standing nearby went and reported what had happened to the king. And then the king summoned that servant and said to him “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And we are told that in anger the king delivered him up to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. And then we get the moral of the story: “So my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

We are reminded by the Lord Jesus that forgiveness is not a matter of opinion or feelings. It’s not really about what we want to do. It is about what we need to do for our own health and well being, as well as the well being of others. Forgiveness is a life or death conscious decision. Of course we are speaking about spiritual life or spiritual death. 

Forgiveness is a foundational aspect of the life of a Christian. It was forgiveness that the Lord demonstrated when He hung on the cross for us. It was forgiveness that was given to us as a gift at the time of our baptism into Christ. It is forgiveness that is offered to us daily when we repent and pray to God and when we come and receive the sacrament of confession. We have received so much by the grace of God. No matter what others have done to you in your life, they have not done anything compared to what we have done against God. Not even close. According to St. John Chrysostom, this is precisely why the debt owed to the king is much greater than the debt owed to the servant. People may sin against us but it is rather infrequent, yet according to St. John, we openly sin against God who is watching all the time and knows all things! 

My brothers and sisters, if we search our hearts we might find that we are angry with others, hurt by them. We can see that our society is more angry as a whole. It is also the case that this wretched pandemic has further divided people. God is giving us plenty of opportunities to learn this blessed work of forgiveness. Perhaps it is because people do not forgive one another that they are so angry. Perhaps it is because we don’t forgive one another and we don’t reflect the reality of God’s radical forgiveness. But how can we reflect this reality unless we first embrace it and accept that God has indeed forgiven us? We have to acknowledge the work of God in our lives. How He has wiped away our sins and refashioned us in the image of His Son.

It is very hard to live a perfect life, to live without offending or being offended by others. Yet through forgiveness, every door to godliness is open to us. 

Who should we forgive? We should start by forgiving those who are closest to us. Typically they are the ones that we feel the most resentment towards. It is sad to see husbands and wives at enmity with one another. It does not please God. God designed them to be one in Christ. To be welded together through His love. Yet often it’s the case that they are angry with one another and harbor resentments and bad feelings, sometimes for many years or decades. What a pitiful condition! It is also sometimes the case between parents and their children, between friends and between members within the body of Christ, the Church. 

Each year I am struck by the beauty of Forgiveness Vespers that we celebrate right before we plunge into Great and Holy Lent. It’s such wonderful moment in the life of the church because each person humbles themselves before every other person and forgives them and embraces them from the depths of their heart. We do this without asking questions or explaining ourselves or figuring things out or deciding who should forgive whom. We all join in expressing our mutual brokenness and mutual need for mercy. 

We don’t have to wait until forgiveness vespers to reconcile with those around us. Sometimes the best reconciliation happens when we humble ourselves and go and ask forgiveness of others. We may feel that others owe us or should ask our forgiveness but still we can start down the path. We may not even know what we have done to others but asking them to forgive us goes a long way towards opening the pathways of grace to work in the heart. Instead of being enclosed in a prison of resentment and scorekeeping, the heart is opened to receive and give mercy and forgiveness. 

Often I’m asked, “Father, how do you deal with someone when they hurt you?” My first answer is to pray for them. Remember them by name and bring them to God. In that way we become like the saints and intercede on behalf of others. We also become like God Himself. Today’s parable is an invitation to choose. Either be like God and dwell with Him forever or choose to be unlike God, to be refused by God, and thrown into a prison of your own making, built upon all of your resentments and pain and all of your personal injustices. A place where we can not be reached by God. At the same time, we force people to stay locked in the prison that we have created by choosing not to forgive them. We hold them captive and make them victims instead of liberating them with love, as God has liberated us. Choose wisely my brothers and sisters.

I pray that we will choose to cultivate a merciful disposition beginning with our own faithful repentance, convinced that God is merciful and full of forgiveness. As St. Gregory of Sinai writes,”God immediately forgives everything to those who ask forgiveness in a spirit of humility and contrition and who ceaselessly invoke His holy name. As the Psalmist says, ‘Confess to the Lord and call upon His holy name’ (cf. Ps. 105:1).”

May this be for us a taste of His mercy, the true nature of the kingdom of God. And having tasted of this kingdom, may we choose to dwell within it and invite others to do so. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Stands In The Storm

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (14:22-34) 

In today’s gospel reading we hear the story of the disciples who are in truth, in a bad situation.  They were stranded on the sea in the midst of a violent storm.  In all likelihood, they were in a boat that was quite small, meant for fishing, and they were really tossed about by the powerful winds and the surging waves all around them.  They feared for their very lives.  There was no coastguard to call, no life jackets, and no hope.  But all at once, hope appeared.  As if out of nowhere, and in the most unexpected way, hope was present.  What was this hope?  Their hope at that very moment was not a “what”, but a “who”.  Their hope at that very moment was Jesus Christ.

There is so much for us to learn and to hear within this gospel message.  We notice how the Lord did not wait for their situation to resolve itself in order to make an appearance.  Far from it!  We sometimes think that we need to do everything possible to order and control our lives as if we can help God. Yet, the Lord did not wait, He came to them in the most unbelievable of ways, He came to them in the midst of their trial and difficulty, in the midst of their trial.  He did not require a boat, He came to them walking upon the water.  He did not require a clear path or a resolution to the storm.  He entered into the heart of the storm.  Why?  Because His people, His sheep, were there, in the midst of the storm, and they needed Him at that moment. He came because they needed Him.  

We see some storms happening in the world around us.  Sickness, disease, lawlessness, tyrannical governments, and much more. In our own lives we struggle with the trial of our own fallenness and we deal with our brokenness and the resulting broken relationships with others. All of these are parts of the storm of life.  It can make you wonder if you can ever escape from the middle of the storms.  We go from one day to the next and we wonder how we can take anymore. We wonder what is coming next?  But there is something important to remember.  We were not meant to be helpless victims to our situation in life.  

Since we are the sheep and Christ is our shepherd, we are not helpless, we are known by God, seen by Him.  He hears our voices and our cries.  He will never leave us abandoned no matter how difficult our life might seem at any given moment.  That is good news.  The Lord says that He cares and provides for the sparrow, and He reminds us that we are of infinitely greater value than a tiny bird.  Yet there is more.  Because we are His children and He wants to share His glory with us, He will not merely be with us in the midst of trials and storms, He will cause us to be able to stand even in the midst of the storm, even upon the waters of the sea. In fact this is exactly what happened to Peter when he saw Christ. He regained his courage and called to the Lord. When we see Christ in our lives, we are given new strength and courage to face whatever we must face.

In the midst of our difficulties in life, no matter what they might be, we should not be overly concerned with the winds and the waves, we have to have faith. We have to look through the storm for Christ. This is no doubt a symbol and a reminder for us to pray through all of our difficult times in life and to seek His face. Don’t run to instagram and facebook, pinterest and netflix. The answers to the storms of life are not to be found there. Neither are they found in drugs and websites and games and the various things we focus on to ignore our pain. Christ is the only answer of God the Father, His very Word. As we seek Him diligently, faithfully, with a pure and ever repentant heart, in a moment, in an instant, we will see Him coming to us in the middle of our difficulties and we will hear these words spoken directly to each of us “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 

Even now, even if it is your most difficult time of life, it is no time to despair and lose faith. It is time to seek Him with greater resolve as did Peter at that moment that seems to us to be a moment of pure insanity. But what seems insane in our worldly thinking is often truly sane when seen with the eyes of faith. Who would dare to ask to walk on the water in the midst of a storm? No one, but the one who understands that His master is the only one who can conquer the storm. All of a sudden, what seemed impossible, becomes our reality. And even if we begin to falter and lose hope, lose focus, even momentarily lose faith, we can continue to follow the example of Peter who cried out as he began to sink “Lord, save me!” And Jesus immediately stretched out His hand and grabbed hold of His creation. He was of great value in the eyes of his Master and maker. You also are of great value in the eyes of your Master and maker. So even as you feel that you are like Peter and you are beginning to sink in the storms of life, and the waters are beginning to surround you and to creep up above your neck, the Lord encourages us to continue to have faith. As He said to Peter “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” Let us also be full of courage and faith. The One who is able to stand in the midst of the sea and calm the storms is able to handle whatever storms you are facing or will face, and He alone can raise you up to stand by His side through everything that life throws at us, even death itself. Because He is the lover of mankind. Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

The Feast of Dormition and Our Focus In Life

 The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:38-42; 11:27-28)

Today in the Holy Orthodox Church we celebrate the last of the twelve great feasts of the Church year, the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Virgin Mary. As you may remember, today’s gospel reading is the same exact gospel reading that the Church appoints for us on nearly every feast of the Mother of God. It seems that there is a powerful message that the Church is trying to drill into hearts and minds. There is something about this gospel text that tells us something special about Mary, the Mother of God. Let us contemplate this reading together for a few moments.

In the Church it seems that we have two kinds of people, those who are like Martha and those who are like Mary. Both of these groups love Christ, but they relate to Him in different ways, with different levels of priority. Those who are busy working, serving and looking after many things and those who tend to leave some of those things in the background in order to focus on what Our Lord Jesus calls the one needful thing.

On the surface we find it easy to relate to Martha. She is like us. She wants to serve others. She sees plenty of work to be done and doesn’t see enough people doing the work. She is frustrated and at her wits end. She must have been because that is the only way to explain her behavior and the way that she addressed the Lord. And her frustration would have been valid and justified except for one small problem. She was frustrated with her sister because her sister was sitting attentively, in the presence of Christ, listening to and absorbing the teaching of our Lord and forgetting everything else in the world. I wish that we would all be found guilty of the same.

Sometimes we are also like Martha. We love God but we want to make sure that everything is just so before we can rest and focus on Christ. We want to get our lives in order. So we organize and clean and plan and help and do everything that we can with the idea that we are building a foundation through our service to God. Yet the Lord often turns our understanding on it’s head. He says to Martha and in turn, to each of us “I am the proper foundation of life, focus on me first.” How many distractions and matters do we allow ourselves to put before God and His teaching and His presence in our life? In essence the Lord says to Martha, “your life will be well ordered when it starts with Me.”

I have often shared with our people that the very first thing that should happen every morning is that we fall on our knees in prayer and that we read the words of the gospel. This should happen before we check our phones or get on our computers or talk to others or eat breakfast. First be filled with Christ’s presence and His words and then you will have a foundation for serving others and dealing with the anxieties and business of life. 

The Mother of God was busy in her life, after all she was a mother, not just any mother, but the mother of the long awaited Messiah, the savior of the world.  And it is precisely for this reason that we see that she is focused on God.  That is the message from the Church today in the reading.  If you want to be blessed like the Holy Mother, if you want to live a worthwhile life, you will only be able to do that in so much as your life is a reflection of your love for God and your focus on God.  And we hear exactly that sentiment from our Lord when the woman cries out to Him “blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast which nursed you.”  And the Lord replies “Rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  

What ultimately makes the Mother of God so precious to us and to all of humanity is that she was willing not only to make God her focus and to hear the word of God, she took it one step further and kept the life giving word of God.  In a very literal sense, she allowed the word of God a place to dwell within her and to be nurtured and developed and grown.  We have each in a very real sense been blessed by her extreme faithfulness to nurturing the word of God.  For this reason shall all generations call her blessed!  What was possible for her is also a possibility for us.  What prevents you from sitting at the feet of God and making Him your focus?  What prevents you from hearing the word of God and keeping the word faithfully in your life?  What prevents you from bearing the life giving fruit of such faithful obedience, and sharing this fruit with the world around you?  To do so is to honor and to be honored by God.  No one fulfills this better than the Holy Virgin. Yet this path is one that is open to each of us because of the saving and redemptive work of her only Son.

We can barely fathom the holiness and the beauty of this woman that we lovingly call the Mother of God.  We can barely comprehend the way that she was loved and reverenced by the disciples and apostles of the Lord.  She was held in extreme honor and her departure from this life was a moment of great sadness for the apostles.  It was as if each one of them had lost their very own mother!  Yet, holy tradition tells us that the disciples were given great consolation on the third day, when they found the tomb empty and she appeared to them later that evening with these words of comfort “Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives!”

My prayer is that we will also come to this realization that she is with us, even now.  Reach out to her my brothers and sisters and she will strengthen us and help us and pray for us to her Son. Let us follow her example of love and faithfulness and make the Lord the very center and the heart of our lives. For this alone is wisdom and life.  Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Turning Trials Into Hope

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (12:6-14) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:1-8) 

St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. He wrote into the very center of the empire that so many had understood to be evil. We do not have to look far and we see evil all around us. Some believe that the United States is the modern equivalent to the Roman empire. And we as Christians are here, now. One of the powerful aspects of our faith is the belief that Holy Scripture and the New Testament are alive and rich with meaning for all generations and all peoples. What St. Paul spoke to the Romans is now very important for us to study. We might be questioning what is going on all around us, we may be anxious, fearful, maybe even falling into despair. Allow the words of the great Apostle to guide and comfort you during this time.Let us hear again these words given to us in today’s epistle, 

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,f with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,g serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

What St. Paul is telling us is that each one of us has a part to play within this story of life. Each one of us has been placed here by God in order to serve and to love and to help one another. In whatever we do to use the gifts that God has given each of us, St. Paul exhorts us not tobe lazy but fervent and energetic in our service to God and the body of Christ, which is the members of the Church. God has given us amazing strength and gifts and talents in various ways. As things may get more difficult for us, it is necessary for us to use these gifts wisely and bear fruit for the Lord. What is this fruit? It is the fruit of holiness. The fruit of lives that are sanctified and offered to God, to the doing of His will, to the keeping of His commands. 

St. Paul not only reminds us to love one another and serve one another, he goes further to encourage the Christians in Rome. He tells them to “rejoice in hope.” How can he dare to say this? He saw the way that Christians were treated. He understood that they were persecuted unjustly. Was he insensitive to their predicament? No, he understood it quite well, yet he had a hope that remained in his heart because he met with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His hope was found in the resurrection of Christ. His hope was in the Lord’s defeat of death. St. John Chrysostom speaks about tribulation and hope when he says “All these things are fuel for the fire of the Spirit.… There is nothing which makes the soul so courageous and (adventurous)for anything as a good hope.”

Where is our hope my brothers and sisters? Where was the hope of the Roman Christians? Did it matter if the authorities were unjust to the Christians? They were also unjust with the Lord Jesus. What did it matter if the Christians were persecuted and killed, if the authorities could not break their spirits and kill their souls? Everything in life is turned on it’s head by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything in the life of a Christian is turned on it’s head and given new meaning by entering into and living within the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. Your life is not your own, it belongs to Jesus Christ. You have nothing to fear if Christ is with you. But without Christ in your life, you will fear everything, even your own shadow.

As Christians we are not guaranteed peaceful and comfortable lives. We have mostly lived in comfort but we should always be ready for trials and difficulties. Perhaps that is one of the lessons the Church teaches us through the ascetic disciplines. Yet St. Paul has a word for us in case we do run into trials and difficult circumstances. He says we should be “patient in tribulation.” But how can we possibly do this? How can we go on when we feel great difficulties in our lives? How do we manage when we feel that we are under a cloud and unable to lift our heads? St. Paul tells us the answer and it is so simple that I think we often take it for granted, “continue steadfastly in prayer.” 

Prayer is our bridge to God and God is our only source of strength and hope. St. Joseph of Optina writes “Prayer is food for the soul. Do not starve the soul, it is better to let the body go hungry.”

Similarly St. Gregory Palamas writes “Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.”

When we are most hungry, most thirsty, most weak, that is when it is easiest to give up. This is often when we turn to the smartphones and the televisions and others turn to drugs or alcohol. But these are all thieves and robbers. They steal your attention, your lives and your hearts while they offer you very little in return. And that is precisely the wrong solution to our situation. This is precisely when we should be most diligent and eager to do the work and run to Christ in prayer. We call God our Father, but do we live this reality and understand just how much God loves us and wants to support us? He wants to give us everything that He has because we are His children. Let us trust Him and have hope that we will be victorious with Him. Be courageous in hunting for pure prayer with Christ. Turn your life upside down and be disciplined in the small things in order to find the pearl of great price and the treasure of prayer. Everything else will pass away but what we have cultivated between us and God will remain forever. This is our hope and in this hope we will be conquerers with Christ, the victorious King, to Him be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Unbalanced Fears

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

In our world it is quite normal for people to act as if there is no spiritual world or spiritual reality. Even now, we find that the whole world is completely and totally overcome with fear and concern but it is an unbalanced fear and concern. Why? It is a fear for physical health with an almost complete disregard of spiritual health. We focus on the health of the body and we have no thought for the health of the soul. This fear of death becomes a cause for great sin in the whole world. These are not my original thoughts, they are the thoughts of the great Apostle St. Paul who wrote “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14-15)

Fear of death causes us to be enslaved to sin. Fear of death causes us to sin greatly against God and our fellow men. How do we sin against God? We can take the example of our own times. People fear to come to the church because of a fear of catching sickness and dying. This might be a reasonable response for one week or one month but how can we justify this after one year or more? How can we call this place the house of God and then think that we are somehow safer by being away from this holy place where God’s grace is richly present? When we behave this way we lack faith in God and that is a great sin. We also sin when we divide and put ourselves into various camps. We are masked or unmasked, vaxxed or unvaxxed and so forth. No, my brothers and sisters. We are called to be different than the world around us. We will be known by how we love one another and serve one another. When you see someone who is behaving differently or believing differently than you, try to approach that person with humility and gentleness, not judgement and self-righteousness. Otherwise we are no better than the world around us. Without love we have no hope. 

Today we see two men who were far from God. In their distancing themselves from God they were unwittingly drawing nearer to the demons and spiritual paralysis and ultimately spiritual death. You cannot remain unaffiliated. Either your life serves God or false gods. In modern times many writers including so-called biblical scholars have understood that the people who are afflicted in the gospel stories do not have demons but some easily explainable medical conditions such as epilepsy or schizophrenia. However this is not true. It is patently false according to the text of the gospels themselves. Either the Lord interacts with demons or he is play acting for the benefit of the observers, simply putting on a show. Of course we know that is not the case.

As we hear in today’s text, the demons are real and powerful. We find two men who are possessed of demons and living in the country of the Gergesenes. The evangelist St. Matthew wants you to know that it is possible not only to be influenced by demons but in fact to be overcome by them. It is possible to lose one’s right might and succumb to the demons. We hear of horrible events in the world and sometimes we wonder how such events are humanly possible, but we remember that there is a hidden and powerful spiritual world. People are influenced and assisted by demons, and not simply by demons but by angels and even the saints of God.

As an Orthodox Christian our health is understood holistically. We should do our best to nurture the physical health while also focusing on our mental health and even more importantly, our spiritual health. St. Paul writes to Timothy “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim 4:7-10

This is why the Church exists, to be a spiritual hospital. To bind our wounds and offer us medicines for the benefitting of our souls and bodies. And to strengthen us and give us armor to take up the battle against the demonic and evil forces swirling around us. That is our battle and we are at war every day of our lives until God takes us to Himself. And how can we be successful against such fierce and terrible adversaries? Listen to the words of St. Theophan the Recluse,

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

This is our battle and the worst thing that we can do if we are serious about the battle is to fear death because it will lead us to neglect God. The Lord reminds us of this when He says “He who seeks to save His life will lose it.” Rather we are encouraged by many of the fathers to fear the judgement of God. Everyone must die, it cannot be avoided, but everyone must also stand before the Lord. How will we stand after this great spiritual battle? Will we stand victorious through Christ or defeated through our self-love and self-reliance? 

The answer will depend greatly on whether we trust and love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. If we are present with Christ, Christ will be present with us. If we neglect to open a door in our minds and hearts and lives for the Lord Jesus and His teachings, the door to life will closed by us. The demons who spoke through the demoniacs believed in Jesus. But they were not faithful to Him. They served themselves rather than serving Him. Take some time each day and try to discern whether you have faith in Christ or are faithful to Christ. There is a big difference between these two. One leads us to life and the other, far from life. 

St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes, “He who shall preserve the life bestowed upon him, and give thanks to Him Who imparted it, shall receive also length of days forever and ever. But he who shall reject it, and prove himself ungrateful to his Maker, inasmuch as he has been created, and has not recognized Him Who bestowed the gift upon him, deprives himself of the privilege of continuance forever and ever. And, for this reason, the Lord declared to those who showed themselves ungrateful towards Him: ‘If you have not been faithful in that which is little, who will give you that which is great?’ (cf. Lk. 16:11) indicating that those who, in this brief temporal life, have shown themselves ungrateful to Him Who bestowed it, shall justly not receive from Him length of days forever and ever.”

– St. Irenaeus, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 1

May we show ourselves to be grateful to God and faithful to following His Son so that we might not be slaves of sin but might live forever as Sons of God in Christ. Amen.

Source: Sermons

The True Meaning of Independence

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

Today we celebrate the feast of independence day on our civil calendar. However in the life of the Church we are consistently asked to think differently about the meaning of things, especially things that we might otherwise take for granted. The world gives us one definition, but the Church which reflects the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, gives us another meaning entirely. Today that term that requires us to think differently according to the wisdom of God is this word “independence”. 

We know why we celebrate independence day as Americans. But what is true independence according to Christ and His Church? Independence according to the world is to be “free”, to exercise our free will in fulfillment of our own desires. We celebrate our independence and our ability to pursue our happiness. We celebrate the ability to follow our desires and inclinations and do whatever we think will give us pleasure. Independence is our ability to govern our own lives and choose how we will live. Every teenager knows this desire. They look forward to the days when they no longer need to live under their parents roof and when they can do “whatever they want.” 

In fact the Christian understanding of independence has nothing to do with chasing our desires or governing our own lives. Because our true freedom isn’t understood as freedom to do certain things. Our true freedom is the freedom to become someone. Not just anyone. Not who your parents want you to be. Not who your friends want you to be. Not who Hollywood wants you to be. Not even who you want to be. No. True freedom in Christ is freedom to become the man or woman that Christ desires you to be.

We see an image of this choice in today’s gospel reading. It is a very well known passage as we see the Lord walking near the Sea of Galilee and He sees two brothers, Peter and Andrew who were busy fishing. He cries out to them “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And we see that the brothers are given a choice. The Lord does not force them to go. He invites them. They ultimately choose what to do with their lives. They could have said, “you know what Jesus, I’ve got plans today, maybe I will follow you tomorrow.” They didn’t stop to think about all of the things that they would lose or sacrifice by following Christ. They did not think about how this would fall in line with their 5 and 10 year plans. We are told that they IMMEDIATELY left the nets and followed Him. We can even see in this a foreshadowing. They leave their fishing nets but in their obedience to Christ’s call, they also begin to lay aside the nets of the sins and passions that have ensnared them all their lives.

If we cling to our own wants and our own vision of what we could be, we will miss out on who God wants to make you. God in His extreme love for us has died and risen again to offer us a chance to become transformed into something, someone much more substantial than we could ever imagine. A chance to become a son of God by grace. Not simply to be called a son of God, but to be transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit and truly become holy vessels. 

Yet there is another aspect to God’s extreme love for us. He loves us so much that He gives us freedom to choose our path in life. He asks us to choose our way. Will we choose the way of obedience or follow our own will? Will we follow the path to life or the path to death? Will we choose the way of personal freedom, which leads to slavery in our sins, or will we choose the path of slavery to Christ, knowing that this is in fact the path to true freedom? This is the language of St. Paul, who calls himself “slave of God.” We choose one of these two ways each and every day of our lives. There is not a third way. Listen to the words of St. Philaret of Moscow:

“Some people by the word freedom understand the ability to do whatever one wants … People who have the more allowed themselves to come into slavery to sins, passions, and defilements more often than others appear as zealots of external freedom, wanting to broaden the laws as much as possible. But such a man uses external freedom only to more severely burden himself with inner slavery. True freedom is the active ability of a man who is not enslaved to sin, who is not pricked by a condemning conscience, to choose the better in the light of God’s truth, and to bring it into actuality with the help of the gracious power of God.”

What a great idea St. Philaret puts forward here: We bring what is good and holy into actuality, into existence with the help of God’s gracious power. It can’t be any other way, because God doesn’t want to give us what is second best or the leftovers of His grace. He desires to generously give us what is best. Do you want to be a slave or a free human being? You cannot be both. Once we have tasted of freedom, we never ever desire to go back to bondage and slavery. So we yoke ourselves to Christ and become His servants, His slaves by cutting off our will and living to serve and to please the One who gave His life to purchase us and redeem our lives. 

How do we grow in true freedom? We learn to struggle against our sins. We take up the battle daily and humbly say “Lord help me to be victorious, work within me because without you I am powerless over my sins and bad habits.” So to use a modern phrase: “we work smart, not hard.” We can’t be victorious through our own power, but through Christ, we can be victorious over anything and everything, because Christ Himself defeated Satan and death itself. So we reach out to Christ and He reaches into our hearts and minds to make things right. We don’t become free by trying to find more freedom. We become free by further allowing ourselves to be in service and submission to Christ. By the way this is seen evenin our holy tradition of having a spiritual father and being under obedience to that spiritual father who is charged with looking after you with the love of Jesus Christ. Through our submission out of love, we are granted great spiritual freedom as a gift.

How else can we grow in true freedom? Listen to these words from St. Theophan the Recluse:

“In order that you may move your will more easily to this one desire, in everything—to please (God and to work for His glory alone—remind yourself often, that He has granted you many favors in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image, and has made all other creatures your servants; He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of the angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favor and love for you; a favor so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favors to our nothingness and worthlessness.”

As we remember this day of independence let us also recall all of the amazing works that God has done on our behalf to grant us true independence and let us rededicate ourselves to love and serve the One who transformed us from lowly slaves to royalty and made us heirs of His kingdom by His abundant love, to Christ alone be glory honor and worship together with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Transformed And Transfigured

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

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints according to the Orthodox calendar and the epistle reading reflects this well as it mentions saints and all of their amazing accomplishments which were done through faith in the living God. Here are a few of the amazing works that the saints did through faith: They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became mighty in war and turned away the armies of the invading enemies. Women received their dead by resurrection and some were mocked, tortured and thrown into prison. And St. Paul concludes his long list of the accomplishments of the saints, which I have abbreviated, with these words “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.”

On this day in the life of the Church we are reminded that our faith is not theoretical or merely an intellectual idea. We are reminded that our faith is real, living, transformative. What is the proof of the transformative nature of our faith? The lives of normal men and women just like you and me, who were transformed and were used by God to do wondrous things and to become wondrous human beings. As St. Irenaeus once said “the glory of God is man fully alive.” That is God’s goal for our life, that we should truly come alive. God wants for us, what we often do not truly want for ourselves: to become who we are meant to be in Christ.

God desires for us to be fully alive. He desires that we should have true communion with Him, to acknowledge His presence everywhere. In fact, God is going to use the many trials and difficulties in our world to mold a new generation of holy men and women. He desires that you and I should become saints. But how do we do that? 

Let me begin by saying that in today’s gospel reading we have something of a litmus test from the Lord Jesus. He begins the reading with these words “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” This is a starting point:Do we acknowledge or deny Jesus Christ publicly before others? Do we acknowledge the teachings of Jesus Christ publicly or do we keep quiet out of fear and shame that we might be judged or seen as different? Do we honor His teachings in our lives or turn our backs tothe Lord when it is convenient to do so? Let me challenge you and say that if you are not willing to live for Christ with a measure ofboldness, you will never be ready to die for Christ like the martyrs and saints. There is no magical switch that makes us courageous. There is a deep inner conviction that has been cultivated in our lives. We have a deep relationship with Christ through prayer, studyand the life of worship and holy communion and this life gives us strength of character and unshakeable faith and boldness. 

If you are ashamed of Christ in your day to day life, that is likely a sign that you are on the wrong path. It may mean that you live to serve yourself and not God.How are we ashamed of Christ? We are ashamed of Christ when others speak of immoral behaviors as if they are good and we keep our mouths shut. We are ashamed of Christ when we don’t pray before we eat for fear that others might be watching. We are ashamed of Christ when others use the name of the Lord in vain and we do not ask them to refrain from doing so. We are ashamed of Christ when we choose acceptance and approval from others instead of honoring Him by living His teachings and offering the sacrifice of holy lives. In short, we are not yet saints because we have not yet made Christ the center and nucleus of our lives. 

Look to the saints as our examples. We become saints by refusing to compromise with the world. We become saints by refusing to compromise even with ourselves, with our sinful passions and selfish desires. We take up the battle in earnest and as St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle “we lay aside every weight and sin which so easily besets us and we run with patience the race that is set before us.” What kind of a race is it? A short sprint? Possibly. But it is more likely to be a longer race, perhaps something like a marathon. 

To become a saint requires us to be strenghtened for the long haul. Not to make decisions based only on what is good for me in the present, but with a thought towards the future, towards eternity. How does my activity or life choice glorify God? Does it fulfill the purpose that God intended for my life? Does it honor the sacrifice that Christ has made to give me new love? Does my way of life demonstrate the love that I have for the one that I call Lord and Master? 

In the life of the Church we are truly blessed because the saints are our examples. Listen to the words of St. John of Kronstadt,

“The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their careon our behalf before God.”

So we thank God for the saints and their presence and prayersin our lives and we struggle to grow in Christ while we look to the saints, knowing that the same God who worked in them, is working to transform and perfect us. St. Justin Popovich writes, “In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quiet, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints.”

May Christ be the center of our lives and may we look to the saints for encouragement and help as we press on seeking the prize of life with God. Glory be to Him who is glorified in His saints. AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Love Does Win

The Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. (20:16-18, 28-36) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (17:1-13) 

Both of the readings today are given to us on this Sunday after the Feast of Ascension, in which we commemorate the Holy Fathers who met at the first great and holy council of bishops in the city of Nicaea. As you may know, this council was convened by the emperor St. Constantine in order to address the theological and dogmatic crisis of the Arian heresy. 

As we heard in today’s epistle reading from the book of Acts, St. Paul has a message for the priests of the church of Ephesus. I want each of you to pay attention to this. He says to the priests “Take heed to yourselves and to your flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops (often used synonymously with the word priest in the early writings), to shepherd the church of the Lord and God, which He purchased with His own blood. For I know that after my departure ravenous wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore remain watchful…”

In the life of our church, we are blessed with a great and holy tradition that has come down to us from ancient times. Our faith does not change. Yet we see the world around us and there is almost daily instability. As Bob Dylan writes “the times they are a’changing.” While the times are indeed changing, I want you to know that the faith that was delivered once and for all through the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the apostles after His ascension, has not changed. It has been clarified and expounded. It has been fleshed out in the councils, but it has not changed because truth does not change and our faith is firmly established on the truth revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now as I quote St. Paul I am reminded by those words that I have a responsibility towards you before Christ. I am accountable for what I teach or don’t teach. I try not to take that lightly. I’m called to speak the truth and it is our goal to “speak the truth in love” as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians. However St. Paul’s words today warn us of ravenous wolves that enter into the flock and speak and teach perverse things. He calls them wolves because they are hungry and looking to devour. What are they hungry for? For the souls of believers and their very lives. 

What are these ravenous wolves? Could they be specific people? Perhaps. But it is what they teach that is more important than who they are. These ravenous wolves are false teachings and ideologies. Nothing in the Church is worse than false teaching about the fundamentals of our faith. What are the fundamentals of our faith? Our belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God, and the nature of the Church. However there is another ravenous wolf, a deadly teaching that has come into the church through the media, through the universities, through the arts and now through culture and even through society itself. This particular ideology and teaching is about the fundamentals of Christian living, or the life of faith. What we believe is important and how we live and what we do is equally important. One cannot be separated from the other in the life of the Christian. What we believe and how we live are connected intimately. The ravenous wolf that I am going to spend a few minutes speaking about is the modern teaching on sexuality and especially homosexuality. It seemed like a fitting time to do so since the world around us has not ceased to try and promote this lifestyle or more properly termed “deathstyle” all month.

I happened to be grabbing coffee this week with one of our members, which is one of my favorite things to do, and when I went to order I noticed the shirt that the cashier was wearing said “Love Wins.” I like that statement. I believe it is a true statement. I believe it with my whole heart. Love does win. We know this to be true because we just finished celebrating the season of Pascha, of resurrection, of victory! But I’m pretty sure that what she meant with her t-shirt is not quite what I was thinking. What gave me the idea that we were on two different pages? The words “love wins” were surrounded by rainbow colors. Perhaps it was simply a design feature of the shirt but then I noticed rainbows on her hat as well. This was not a statement on the sovereignty of God or His conquering of sin and death through the cross and the resurrection. No, this was something different. This was one of those ideologies or teachings that I would describe as a “ravenous wolf.” It comes in subtly and convinces through the use of emotions, passions and confusion while seducing people especially the young into the lifestyle. A wolf in the wilderness doesn’t go after the strongest prey. He stalks and waits until he finds prey that is either young, weak or alone. Little do we realize that the wolves rarely allow their prey to escape afterwards. On the surface everything looks good, but the reality is something warped, unhealthy and unnatural. That is true for all sin, not just for certain sins.

The Church following the Lord and the Holy Scriptures teachesof all sin as a departure from the way of God and from life and communion with Him. Out of love for humanity, we are given words of correction and a way of life that will reconcile us to God which is possible through the love that Christ showed us on the cross. St. Paul writing to the Corinthian church did not pick on one particular sin. He addressed a whole bunch including various forms of sexualsin. Listen to what he writes “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

The teaching of the Church fathers is that healthy sexuality is part of the human experience. You were born in a body and that body is an important part of you. You are saved through the actions of the body and you are judged by what you do with your body, both good or bad. It means that you cannot do whatever you like or whatever you “feel” because the body is somehow detached from the rest of you. No, you are an integral whole. The Church teaches that sexual pleasure is good. Sex should bring joy between couples and unite them further in their bond of love. Sex also has the possibility of bringing forth life, which is one of the divine commands given to Adam and Eve in paradise. 

I think that it is also the clear teaching of the Church that one does not need to exercise their sexuality in order to survive. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes we speak to people who try to convince us that if they do not practice their sexuality in the way that they see fit, when the urge hits them, they will die or explode or have a less human experience or suffer great harm. That is categorically false. Our great tradition of monastics, monks and nuns who live in chastity witness to a greater reality of what it means to be truly human. What makes us really human has little to do with gratifying our bodies and much to do with loving, honoring, serving and worshipping Christ with our bodies in our daily lives. 

In the Church we learn what the Lord Himself taught us through His life. We learn that everything we do is meant to be an offering to God. “Father, not my will, but Thy will be done.” We must make choices and some of those choices are difficult including what we choose to do with our bodies. This applies to all people, all sexualities. There is only one practice of sexuality that is blessed by the Church and the teaching of Christ and the apostles, and that is the sexual union between a husband and his wife within the context of a sacred marriage. Everything else falls short. Everything else makes us part of a consumer society. We use people for what they can provide us, be it comfort or acceptance. Instead of building up, we become partakers of our own destruction and the destruction of others who may not know better. Sometimes we even think that we are gaining love. And this is also where the problem lies. Can any action or activity that claims to be done in the name of love yet does not honor Jesus Christ and His teachings truly be called loving or good? It is an impossibility since God is love.

So what should we do if we are struggling with our bodies and our sexual urges? Here are some steps and this list is by no means comprehensive. 

1) Pray often. Every struggle is more fruitful when we feel that God is present and we have invited Him into our lives to help carry the burden.

2) Speak to a priest or deacon who might be able to help you. If you are struggling, please know that we love you and are here for you.

3) Speak with any solid Christian that you trust.

4) Speak with a therapist or licensed counselor to help you process your emotions. I can recommend a few if you would are interested.

5) Fast and undertake more seriously the ascetical life and disciplines of the Church. These are offered to us as part of the necessary therapy for the souls of every Orthodox Christian.

6) Come to confession and Holy communion more frequently. These are offered to us as the necessary and life giving medicines of the Church.

7) Never forget that God loves you and will continue to love you and desire the best for you and your life. 

And I’m sure that there are other steps that I have missed, but these are a start.

Honoring God often means doing the difficult things, the things that don’t seem to come naturally to us. It often means taking up your cross and struggling to follow after Christ. And our Lord affirms this saying “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Following after Christ is not easy, it definitely requires sacrifice, but we learned from Christ who hung upon the tree, and from the many martyrs who gave up their lives to honor Christ, that this is what it looks like to truly love courageously and we know without a shadow of a doubt that Love wins. AMEN.

Source: Sermons