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

The Law Came Through Moses

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

In today’s gospel reading from St. John we have a truly miraculous story about a man born completely blind who gains his sight because of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We begin with an important question of the disciples to the Lord Jesus.  They ask the Master, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  This is such an interesting question because it points to something quite human about us.  When bad things happen in our lives or in the lives of others, we are often very quick to place blame and to feel that the bad things might indeed be punishment from God.  In this way we are similar to those who believe in the idea of karma.  But the living God is not like us.  God is love and He desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of Him and communion with Him.  

Perhaps one of the first elementary steps in a spiritual journey should be to cast aside this juvenile tendency to see every bad thing as punishment from God.  The Lord Himself says as much when he answers the disciples saying “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.  But that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  Instead of seeing bad things in our lives as divine retribution, we are encouraged by the possibility offered by Our Lord that these things might in fact be a chance for the work of God to become clear and powerfully present for us.  After all, how often do we acknowledge God when we have small problems that are easily solved by our own efforts?  Yet how often do we acknowledge and pray when a situation seems hopeless? One points us towards ourselves and the other points us directly towards our Creator.  

Now into this hopeless situation with the blind man we see the Lord Jesus Christ become present and act powerfully.  Throughout this story we are reminded that there is not one type of blindness but two.  There is physical blindness such as that of the blind man and then there is something that is far far worse, that is spiritual blindness.  There is a clear juxtaposition between the man who has gained his sight and the Pharisees who are spiritually blind to the work of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God in their midst.

This theme of blindness and sight points to the ideas of faith and belief versus unbelief.  For the Pharisees it was easy to see that Jesus had broken the sabbath in their narrow human terms, but it was not easy for them to see the miracle that He had performed with the eyes of the hearts.  They questioned the man.  They questioned his parents.  Then they questioned this man again.  None of the answers that were given to them were good enough.  They refused to accept any idea or thought that was out of line with their preconceived notions and expectations.  Sometimes we call this “cognitive dissonance.” It is a blind spot in our understanding regardless of what evidence is presented to us. 

The Pharisees began to turn hostile towards the man who had been blind and as they questioned him, he in turn began to question them saying “Do you also want to become His disciples?”  To this the Pharisees answer in a rather telling way.  They reply “You are His disciple, but we are the disciples of Moses.”  That is a sad statement.  It’s not that Moses was bad.  Moses is a great prophet and saint of the Holy Church, but one cannot compare the created with the Creator.

This statement by the Pharisees also reminds us of the gospel reading that we read on the Holy night of Pascha.  The Easter reading that day is John Chapter 1 and the passage ends with these words “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.”  What a verse!  The law came first but it was meant to prepare us for the Lawgiver Himself!   

That is the crux of the matter.  For the Pharisees, the law was their god and their salvation.  It was understood in the narrowest of terms and always used as an opportunity to point fingers and accuse and blame others, while excusing and justifying themselves.  Satan himself would be proud because he is also an accuser.  He accuses each of us in our daily spiritual struggles.  He whispers in our ears and tells us that God could never love us.  He tells us that we are wretched sinners and terrible people who have no hope whatsoever.  But that is not reality.  It is true that we are sinners, but there is more to the story through the One who poured out His grace upon us.  St. Caesarius of Arles writes “What does the law do without grace, except make people still more guilty? Why? Because the law knows how to obey but not how to help; the law can point out sin, but it cannot take sin away from people.”   

What can take away sin and abolish it completely from our lives and our existence? What can get rid of the darkness? Light. And if that is true in a dark room that receives a candle, how much more is that true when the whole universe receives the light of Jesus Christ? Faith in Christ welcomes this light into our hearts and sweeps away the darkness and the blindness. But let me remind you that faith or belief is not simply a mental exercise. It is a way of life. Belief is according to the New Testament Greek, a life changing conviction. It is even here in the text of the gospel. First the blind man believed in Christ and then we are told that “he worshipped Him.”Being an Orthodox Christian is a way of life and this life is one of worship.I’ve had the joy of bringing a fewpeople into the Church and I want to tell you that the thing that saddens me most is to see those who are brought into the Church living their old way of life. Sometimes it appears that nothing has changed except for the fact that they come to the church on Sunday morning. But exercising our faith in Christ as an Orthodox Christian requires a daily effort. This daily effort is sprinkled with God’s grace and prepares us to become spiritually vibrant. We not only receive His light but radiate this light wherever we are.

Christ offers each of us these gifts. He freely shares them with us. Our natural response is to believe and offer our hearts to Him in unceasing prayer and worship. Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons

The Conversation That Leads To Conversion

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

Christ is risen! Today we are given the tremendous privilege of hearing this profound conversation between Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well. This is the longest single discussion that is recorded between Our Lord Jesus and anyone in all of the gospels.

We are told that the Lord Jesus was wearied by His journey and decided to stop in the region of Samaria at Jacob’s well. We often think of the Lord like we think of a superhero character, someone who is aloof and unable to understand and sympathize with our own frailty and weaknesses and yet even here at the beginning of this passage, our thinking is corrected. St. John tells us that Christ was “wearied”. It means that He was tired, exhausted from the physical labor of traveling a long journey that day. We constantly refer to the Lord as having condescended to dwell with us as a man, but I wonder if that ever truly resonates with us. We have the supreme being, the creator of everything that has ever existed in the whole universe and He chooses to empty Himself of all of this and to dwell not only with humanity but in humanity. He takes on all of our human limitations. He becomes truly man! He feels hunger and thirst. He feels exhaustion. He knows what it is to be tempted, although He did not fall to temptation but instead showed His true righteousness and holiness, demonstrating what it is to be a man, fully alive.

We are inspired and overcome with awe at the love that God has shown for us by lowering Himself to take on our form. St. Ambrose of Milan writes “Many things we read and believe, in the light of the sacrament of the incarnation. Even in the very affections of our human nature we behold the divine majesty. Jesus is wearied with his journey, that he may refresh the weary. He desires to drink when about to give spiritual drink to the thirsty; he was hungry, when about to supply the food of salvation to the hungry.” On the Christian Faith 5.4.53.

The Lord is tired and as He sits by the well, He calls to a woman who has come to draw water and he says to her, “give me a drink.” Andhere we begin to see the true nature of the Lord’s thirst. We find that Our Lord thirsts for this woman’s soul, and for her whole beingto come alive. He thirsts for her to know Him and to seek to do His will. He thirsts for her to thirst for Him. Whoever you are, whatever your past, Jesus Christ also thirsts for you. How does He thirst for us? He thirsts to know us and have communion with us. He wants to sit with us, to dine with us, to be with us.The Lord says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”Yet here we see that Christ takes the initiative as He always does in His dealings with mankind. The Samaritan woman was far from the Lord. She lived a life of confusion because of her own sins and unchecked desires. She hungered and thirsted for the love of men, and little did she know that all of her hunger and thirst was about to be fulfilled by thelove of the one who is Himself,love incarnate. He had come and asked for water, but He knew that in fact it was she who was truly thirsty. St. Cyril of Alexandria writes that “mere human nature is parched to its very roots, now rendered dry and barren of all virtues by the crimes of the devil.” We are like this woman, hungry and thirsty to our very depths. We are hungry for God, His presence, His grace, His blessings.

Our Lord says to the woman “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst forever; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” When we are thirsty for the things of this world, our thirst can never be quenched. This woman fell into the trap of believing that she could find the right manto take away her hunger and thirst but there was no mere man that could do it because in truth the problem was deep within her heart. No mere human can live up to our deepest needs and desires.Men are finite and created beings. When we expect the finite to give usthe infinite, when we expect the created to do the works of the uncreated, we fall into the ultimate idolatry. On his own, man isquite limited. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Our Lord promises the woman “living water” and what is this water? We are told that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord gives this as a promise, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”How did this woman drink of the water? She listened to the words of the Lord intently. She allowed herself to be taught by Him. She humbled herself and acknowledged her own faults and sins.  She repented and changed her life. She accepted the Lord and was later baptized and He poured out the Spirit upon her.

Church tradition tells us that the Lord fulfilled His promise to her. She left behind her old life and her addictions. She left behind the things that enslaved her and kept her bound and chained in this life. Christ gave her freedom through His mercy and love. More than this, He took what was only the shell of a life and replaced it with actual and abundant life! She took what was given to her from the Lord and it fueled the rest of her life as an evangelist. After her baptism, she worked diligently to bring others to the Lord. The Church has even bestowed one of its greatest honors upon her by giving her the title “equal to the apostles.” Such is the glory that our Lord shares with those who truly love Him and pour out their lives in dedication to their Master. Whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel’s will save it!

What are we thirsty for? What are we hungry for? To what or whom are we each dedicating our precious lives? If the Lord encountered one of us at the well, what conversation would He have with us, and how would we respond in return? Would we be offended? Would we argue? Would we run away as so many did? Or would we follow Him for the rest of our lives? In fact we don’t have to imagine this encounter. We can live this encounter through our time of quiet prayer and spiritual reading with Christ on a daily basis. A conversation is happening between our prayers and our reading of Scripture, especially the gospels. Christ engages us, and we engage with Him. Through our daily conversation, comes our daily conversion. Sometimes this comes to us easily, but usually it requires us to struggle a bit. God knows this and will bless our struggles to search Him out with a pure heart.

May we courageously take up the struggle with renewed faith and dedication that we might also be filled, overflowing with the living water of God that leads to eternal life. Christ is risen! 

Source: Sermons

The Church As House Of Mercy

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (5:1-15) 

On this the fourth Sunday of Pascha the Holy Church directs our attention to the healing of the paralytic which is found in the gospel of John. We are told that there was a man who was quite infirm, very sick, for 38 years. That is a very long time to be very, very sick, almost unable to move. We are also told that this man was laying near a miraculous healing pool called Bethesda. We are told by some historians that this was probably the largest reservoir within the city walls of Jerusalem. Bethesda is a lovely word because one of the ways we translate this word from Hebrew to English is “house of mercy.”

When I read that I was struck by it’s beauty and it immediately brought to my mind the image of the Church. Does any other place or institution convey that definition better than the Church? This is the place where we each come to receive God’s mercy and healing. In fact, if you come for other, ulterior reasons we can say that in some sense what you are doing is wrong, possibly even sinful. The Church is the place where we each acknowledge that we have deep and underlying illnesses, sicknesses that we have developed or even inherited, and that all of these are due to the corruption of sin. Which sin? Our own sins, the sins of others and the corruption of sin which permeates the whole world and all of creation. We don’t come to the Church to judge others or accuse them. We come to support one another and love one another so that we will not only be patients but ministers of light and mercy to one another. So we live together in harmony, both healing and being healed, asking God’s mercy and showing God’s mercy.

In the parable we see that the man is paralyzed. He has been that way for a long time. In the life of the Orthodox Church and in the writings of the fathers of the Church we get the picture that the ultimate paralysis which leads to death is a sinful life. Our sins freeze us in place spiritually speaking. Our sins make it hard for us to change, to move, to grow in our faith. Our sins make it hard for us to simply live, let alone live abundantly as our Lord Jesus Christ desires for our lives. So here we have a man who is really stuck in a bad situation with almost no hope at all. Yet into that hopelessness and pain comes Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Most would pass by the sufferings of others yet Our Lord constantly lowers Himself to be in the midst of those who suffer. This should comfort us.

As we listen to the gospel we are amazed that while the Lord is speaking directly to the sick man, the man is focused not on the Lord but on the miraculous healing pool. Even to this day we are often like this. Sure we believe in the Lord Jesus but our hearts and minds and attention are on other things. We are focused on all of the things that we humanly think will solve the problems of our lives. Doctors and medicines and vaccines and low interest loans and electric vehicles and whatever else we are told will cure us and cure the world around us. And in fact there may be some small kernels of truth to those claims but as children of God, everything should come second to our love and devotion to Christ our king.

Even in the Church, which is truly the house of mercy, it is easy to get sidetracked. We focus on rules and externalities and formalities but we can easily lose sight of the source of healing in the life of the Church. That source is Jesus Christ. The Church is indeed the house of mercy but it is also the body of Christ. What makes this place holy and makes it a place of healing is not that we do the right stuff. It is a holy place of healing because Christ Himself is present and He is holy and heals us. We are filled with His word, and we receive His body and blood unto healing and restoration and new life.

We are reminded that the Church is an extension and the fulfillment of the 3 year earthly ministry of Christ. It is now an eternal and everlasting ministry of God’s healing for each and every man, woman or child who comes to Christ humbly and receives Him with gladness.

We come to the Church and the Lord Jesus asks each of us the same question that He asked of the paralytic “do you want to be healed?” That is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves and God will honor our desire. And what is the first way that we receive Christ and His healing? It is in the sacrament of baptism. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the miracle of the healing at the waters, foreshadows Christian baptism. He writes,

“What kind of a cure is this? What mystery does it signify to us?… What is it that is shown in outline? A baptism was about to be given that possessed much power. It was the greatest of gifts, a baptism purging all sins and making people alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool.… And this miracle was done so that those [at the pool] who had learned over and over for such a long time how it is possible to heal the diseases of the body by water might more easily believe that water can also heal the diseases of the soul.” Homilies on the Gospel of John 36.1.

We receive healing through our baptism. We are not only cleansed from sin but raised from slavery to sin and the resulting death. We literally and spiritually receive life at our baptism. We continue to receive spiritual strength, growth and fortification through our faithful life in Christ, while partaking of the sacramental life of the Church, such as confession, and holy communion.We are resurrected from the dead! Our whole reality is transformed and renewed.Paraphrasing Our Lords words in the John 14:19, “Because He lives, we also willlive.”May our journey together in the Church be one that leads to us to receive from God and give to others. To receive and to give forgiveness, to receive and to give mercy, to receive and to give healing,to receive and to offer life and resurrection through Jesus Christ to whom alone is due all glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons

Homily on the Feast of Palm Sunday

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (12:1-18) 

The city of Jerusalem was all abuzz. Things were more lively than usual and that is really saying something in a city that often swelled with many thousands of visitors during the time of passover. What was the news that had the city all stirred up and in a frenzy? Perhaps it was the new iphone? Perhaps it was the new avengers movie? It was in fact none of these things. It was a certain miracle that had been done in the city of Bethany by a certain man from Nazareth. That man was Our Lord Jesus Christ and the miracle He had performed was the raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for 4 days. To this very day, there is nothing that would gain so much attention as this one miracle. Dead means dead. Yet again and again we are forced to change our way of thinking and our perspective, even our whole paradigm based on Jesus Christ. Dead is dead unless Jesus is present and in your midst. We know that Christ has the power to transform lives. But do we yet understand that He has the power to transform death, to overcome it, to destroy it? He performed a miracle that became the focus of attention for the whole city. The Jews, the Romans and everyone in between. No one could ignore this great miracle of our Lord.

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, the entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem. And as I have just painted a picture we can understand the fervor and the excitement and the enthusiasm of so many of the people as they beheld Jesus entering into the city. They had long awaited the coming of the messiah and for many the raising of Lazarus was the sign that He was indeed the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ! One can only imagine the scene that day as the Lord entered the city riding upon a donkey. The people hailed Him as their king. They gave Him a hero’s welcome. They even cried out to Him with these amazing words “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” Hosanna is itself a very interesting word. It basically means “We pray that you will save us!” So this was on the tips of the tongues of the people that day. However we should remember that they had no idea what they were actually asking. When they celebrated the coming of the messiah, they did not think of Him as we understand Him today. They thought of a messiah as an earthly ruler and king. They were ready to accept Jesus as long as He fulfilled their wishes and desires. They wanted to be free of Roman occupancy, they wanted to have their land to themselves. They believed that the Lord Jesus Christ would do these things. Our Lord had been trying to raise their expectations to the heavens for the last three years that He was preaching, yet they were determined to look only to what was on the ground. 

We are often the same in our relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. We want everything that the Lord offers us, but we want it on our terms. We want everything the Church claims to offer but we want it on our terms and our timeline. I want life without anydeath. I want glory and honor without anystruggle and dishonor. I want peace without first going to battle. I want healing without anysurgery. I want fruit of the spirit without working to cultivate anything. I want to live as the new man without first allowing the old man to die. I want resurrection without the cross. And just like this crowd, we all have moments were we turn away and deny the Lord because He does not give us what we want precisely when we want it. 

For me this is similar to the scene at Palm Sunday. We can be the first to cry “Hosanna!” “Save us Lord!” but are we prepared to follow Christ to be saved, no matter where that might lead? Most of the people that came out to meet Jesus that day were not committed to follow Him to their deaths. Even the disciples were not willing. Peter denied him three times in the early morning hours while the Lord stood at trial. Later he believed and understood. How long until we believe and understand? 

We don’t celebrate this feast every year in order to simply remember it. We celebrate it in order to acknowledge that it is part of our life and our story. This is the story of our spiritual heritage and our new life. Our God became man because He loves mankind, and He experienced all of these things on His way to His death upon the cross, which happened for us and for our salvation. So what happened two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, is ours today. The eternal God entered into time and space to sanctify all time and all space. He became man to redeem man. The events happened once but their significance is eternal and we are entering into this story when we follow Christ and make Him our Lord and savior. 

As He entered He received ahero’s welcome and heard their joy and their cries of “Hosanna” but as we progress through Holy Week in the life of the Church we will hear and see that the mood shifts quickly, in a matter of just a few days. By Friday (Thursday evening)we once again encounter the crowds but they have become more like a mob and they no longer are greeting Christ like a king or a hero. They are treating Him like a criminal and he hears their cries to “crucify Him!” Yet even here at this dark hour we are reminded of His mercy and His long sufferinglove for mankind. He will honor their wishes for “Hosanna” through their desire to “crucify Him!” He saves them using the unlikeliest way of all. God saves us by emptying Himself and losing His life. He grants us His life through His death upon the tree and through this death he reverses the curse of death that had fallen upon all of humanity. It had to be this way, and He is truly our king and worthy of all praise.

I want to share a quote from St. Augustine who writes,

“what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? How great was it for the King of eternity to become the King of humanity? Christ was not the King of Israel so that he could exact tribute, put swords in his soldiers’ hands and subdue his enemies by open warfare. He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their souls, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into his heavenly kingdom those whose faith, hope and love were centered in himself.” Tractates on the Gospel of John 51.4. [NPNF 1 7:284**; CCL 36:440-41.]

I pray that this week we will lay aside all earthly cares and allow things in our life to come to a brief pause. Allow the life of the Church to become the center of your lives as best you can. For this is actually our natural orientation as Christians. This is our week to remember and to once again enter into our living faith in Jesus Christ. It is our time to center ourselves in Him, to find our healing and forgiveness through Him and to understand all that He has accomplished through the power of His love. May we all have the abundant joy of the Feast!

Source: Sermons

Can God Break A Promise?

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (6:13-20) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31) 

Blessed 4thSunday of Great and Holy Lent. As we are now past the halfway point of this great spiritual struggle we hear these words of encouragement from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews: “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (NIV)

Through this message the Church is trying to nurture each of us and encourage us. What are we doing here? Why are we struggling and working and fasting and praying and doing the grimy and difficult work of repentance? What is the point of doing all of this? Couldn’t we simply live as the rest of the world is living, eating, drinking, “enjoying life”? The answer is certainly “Yes.” You can do that if you so choose. However we are reminded that we were each bought at a price with the blood of Jesus Christ. At our baptism we were betrothed to Christ and we also became His bond servants and slaves. Yet there is something more. There is a promise and a hope.

What we are doing together every day of our lives is struggling to live for Jesus Christ because we have a great hope that St. Paul calls “the anchor of our soul.” What is that hope? It is that we will one day rest in the kingdom of God with the saints. We will be in the presence of God eternally. We will be healed of our every spiritual and physical infirmity. We will lack nothing and in fact will be abundantly wealthy beyond our wildest imaginations. We will receive our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High. We will truly partake of God’s divine nature. We will have hope because we will be in the presence of hope Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is why St. Paul can confidently say that this hope is the anchor of our soul. It is a hope that is rooted in Christ who cannot be moved or defeated, since He has already defeated every enemy, even death through His own life-giving death upon the tree.

Our hope is not to get through lent, to survive the fast. Our hope is not to taste meat (even bacon) or to share chocolate and candies together. Our hope is not to light candles and process around the church. Our hope is not even to say “Christ is risen!” Our hope is to live the reality of what it means to say “Christ is risen!”

Our hope is only Christ Himself. And that should lead to a big shift in our thinking. Nothing else is required for our lives, if we have laid hold of Christ. We have received forgiveness of our sins. We have been purified and cleansed. We have been enlightened with the truth of His teachings. We receive His life giving body and precious blood on a weekly basis.And we will defeat death if we cling to the One who rose again from the dead. Truly we have this as a promise from God and if God has promised it, nothing is missing for us, except a bit of faith and acceptance of this new reality. We accept this new reality by living in communion with Christ and His Church and in obedience to His teachings and the life of the Church. This is the paradigm shift of those who come to life. This is the mindset of the saints and holy ones. 

Among these holy ones, this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. John Climacus or John of the Ladder. He is called this because of his famous spiritual work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” which is often called the most important and most read book in the Orthodox Church after the Bible itself. In fact it is typically read in it’s entirety during the period of Great Lent in the monasteries around the world. 

In this book, which was directed first towards monks, we are given a glimpse into the spiritual stages or levels of growth and St. John pictures them as rungs on a ladder. He mentions 30 different rungs or levels. 

St. John has many great and healing words in his spirit filled work, but the theme is important. The work of the spiritual life is not easy, in fact it is exceedingly difficult and painful especially at the beginning. It requires dilligence and patience, and great ascetical and physical labors, but God will help us if we are humble and will heal us through this daily struggle to be holy men and women.

Listen to his words, 

“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” + St. John Climicus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5.30

“With God all things are possible.” This is the message that we take from the St. John of the ladder as well astoday’s epistle. This is also the message that we take from the gospel where we see a man who is at the end of his rope and in desperate need of a cure for his beloved son. Our Lord turns to him and says “If you believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” And this broken man falls to his knees and cries out to the Lord Jesus saying “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” My brothers and sisters, this is the way to grow in Christ. Our own prayer life has to hit that level and that depth because it is the broken hearted that are heard by Christ and healed. Don’t be afraid now. We have a couple more weeks to struggle. Let us struggle with courage. He is with us and desires to save us.

We will surely find that His help comes swiftly, because He has promised this to us and God will not break His promises. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons