Are We Healers or Destroyers?

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to St. Timothy. (2:1-7) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (4:16-22) 

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Church new year. Now at the start of the new year, we are given an opportunity to reflect and make some resolutions. We have a chance to aim higher and desire higher things for ourselves and for those around us. In today’s epistle, St. Paul writing to his spiritual son, St. Timothy says “Timothy, my son, first of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”  St. Paul does not ask us to pray only for those of our particular political leanings, he asks us to pray for everyone, every leader. And He does this because that is part of what it is to live a quiet and peaceful life Christian life. You may not have noticed this but the world seems less quiet and less peaceful. Even this country which has received great riches and blessings is starting to show manysigns of disturbance. The fathers and teachers of the Church tell us that every division starts with sin and Satan seizes upon division and multiplies it whenever and wherever he can. As the one who is responsible for your souls before the Lord, it is important that I warn and implore and try to steer you away from things that are harmful to you and to our unity.

What we do as Christians matters and sets the tone for dialogue and conversations in the society around us. When we spend time either online or in public, sharing political articles and political opinions, we unknowingly push away many members of the body of Christ. As I mentioned in a previous sermon, about 2 months ago, I don’t want people to see me as a Republican or Democrat or a capitalist or a socialist. Those things should not identify me. What should identify me to others is my attitude of love and humility, and in this people can see the only thing that matters about us, they can see whether or not we belong to Christ. Our Lord says “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is not forcing political opinions on others. Love is not demonizing the leaders or the politicians on either side. Love is not dismissing large portions of people as dumb or stupid or evil. Love is to be quiet and to pray that each and every human on earth would come to know the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ our savior. In fact, St. Paul says as much when he continues this epistle and writes, 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,” He continues saying “Who (God) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all”

What is the purpose of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ if it is buried beneath your political leanings and your opinions. You were not called to be ambassadors of certain politicians or parties. You were called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and if you won’t do it…who will?

The country feels fractured. People are fractured. People are hurting. They are blaming one another but we should know better. Every fracture, every division starts with me. It starts by asking myself “what is in my heart? What do I love? What am I living for?”

In today’s gospel reading, given to us for the Feast of the new year, we hear the words of the Lord as He quotes from the prophet Isaiah and says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor and to heal the broken hearted. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

We are the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed of whom the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking! We arein need of healing from the damage of our sins. We are captives toour wrong thoughts and misdirected ways. We are in need of sight, to look to God as our only help and only comfort in life, to walk in the right direction.We are in need of liberty from our sinful passions and crooked ways. 

We should not help destroy our culture by entering into this toxic environment with human ideas and human arguments. The most powerful healing that has ever taken place in the history of creation did not happen through treaties or deals or new laws or charismatic leaders. It happened by the death of one innocent man upon a cross in Jerusalem. This is the God-man whom we praise and worship and claim to follow. Crowds and multitudes wanted to make Him a king! Yet He refused out of His love for us. He could only give us temporary comfort if He was an earthly king, but He desired to die in order to ensure that we could reign with Him forever, as members of the royal family. He gave Himself up for the life of the world. Healing requires love and love requires sacrifice, not force.

Healing does not come from arguing with others.It comes from genuine repentance and the healing that only our Lord can provide. Healing proceeds from Christ and moves through the human heart when we cooperate with Him. 

As we begin this new year, I am encouraging you to be ambassadors of Christ with your words and your attitudes and your actions. Let us try to love all people with a powerful love, through heartfelt prayer, and sacrificial actions that bring healing instead of multiplying divisions. Then and only then, will they begin to know that we are the disciples of the One who is love. Glory be to God AMEN.

Source: Sermons

With Faith Like A Mustard Seed

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:14-23) 

In today’s gospel reading we see a picture of faith, but it is not yet perfect faith. We see a picture of incomplete faith in the actions of the man on behalf of his son, who is possessed of a demon. At the outset we are quite impressed by this man’s demonstration of reverence and piety. He comes before Our Lord Jesus Christ and kneels like a beggar without any regard for the crowds or how he might be perceived. He cries out “Lord, have mercy on my son,” In this he showed great faith. Would that we would all have this kind of love for others and this kind of boldness before the Lord! He fell on his knees and called upon the Lord, out of love, not for himself, but for his son. However there was an issue, his faith was only a small faith and it was also not pure. 

According to St. John Chrysostom, there were problems with his request. Hesays that this is the same man whose story is also told in Mark chapter 9, and in that chapter the father says “Help my unbelief.” He also goes on to say to the Lord please heal my son “if you can.” This phrase “if you can” is a sign of his unbelief. So we see that this man, if it is indeed the same man, showed many signs of unbelief, yet he comes to the Lord and asks him to help but he doesn’t ask with purity of faith. He says“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.” And then he continues “And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not heal him.” So he adds a publiccomplaint against the disciples of the Lord and blames them when things don’t go according to his plan. 

He is not looking for something selfish, he has come out of love for his son. In this he has done well, yet he mingles impurity in his request by pointing the blame at others. In fact St. John says that the disciples could often cure the sick, even though no one brought them with faith. He saysthe faith of the one bringing in the sick was often sufficient for receiving a cure even from lesser ministers, (and)so the virtue of the minister was also sufficient to achieve a miracle even without the faith of those bringing them in. Both of these are demonstrated in the Scriptures.”

Sadly we are sometimes like this father. We blame others and are quick to judge and point when things don’t go our way. We say things like “this is all your fault!” That is not good. It is a sin. Each and every Christian must be accountable for their own actions as well as their shortcomings. We should not judge or blame others when things don’t go our way or when we feel hurt. To do so is to invite the Lord to be harsh in His judgment of us since the Lord says “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2). 

Sowe see the man blaming the disciples since his son was not healed by them, yet the Lord turns the tables and putsthe blame in the rightful place,on the father and his lack of faith.The Lord says “O faithless and perverted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” This was said not only to the man, but to the crowd in general. The Lord is reminding us that our issues and problems are often problems that we ourselves have caused or allowed. While it might be convenient to point the blame at others, it does us no good from a spiritual perspective. That is why we see thatthe saints are quick to ask forgiveness of others, even when they have not done wrong. This act of humility is enough to free us and cause God’s face to shine upon us. Husbands and wives, even when you are having a disagreement or a misunderstanding, this principle can be applied. Be quick to take the blame upon yourself, and slow to place the blame on the other.

Now after the boy was healed by our merciful Lord, He is approached by His disciples who came privately and asked “Why could we not cast it out?” And the Lord toldthem, the same thing that He said to the crowd “Because you have no faith.” So we see that it was a combination. A perfect storm of faithlessness. Yet our Lord goes on to give the disciples hope and this hope became a promise that was fulfilled in the lives of the disciples. The Lord said “For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” What the Lord has said seems quite unbelievable. Can we imagine a mountain moving from one location to another? Yet, we have to keep in mind that He is not telling them that they can do it by their own strength or power, but according to His strength and His power. This is the same power that created the Sun, the moon and the stars. It is the power that created all things, including the mountains. In addition, some writers such as Origen tell us that the mountains are an allegory that refers to the evil that resides within some people. Yet with faith even this can be healed, meaning the mountain can be removed.

Chrysostom also commenting about this verse says But if you say “Where did they move a mountain?” I will say that they did things much greater than that in raising up innumerable dead. For moving a mountain and moving death from a body are not at all comparable. After them other saints, far inferior to the disciples, are said to have moved mountains when necessity demanded. It is clear that the disciples also would have done so had necessity demanded.”

So we see that the promise of the Lord was fulfilled in the disciples. They became men of truly great faith. They who could not help a struggling boy, later were filled with the Holy Spirit and did indeed raise men from the dead and heal the sick with their very shadows. This promise is given to all of the children of God. Only take your faith, however small it may be, and work to multiply this faith actively. And how do we do that? We take steps to exercise and increase our faith. We start by drawing near to the One in whom we have faith, we draw near to God in fervent prayer. Faith begets prayers and prayer begets faith and both of these together beget life in Christ. May the Lord accept our faith, no matter how frail it may be and may He multiply it and say to us “O faithful and uncorrupted generation!” And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

On the Dormition of the Mother of God

Sermon on the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos by St. John of Kronstadt 

Let us be happy, beloved brothers and sisters that we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, worthily and rightly glorifying the Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos on this eminent day out of all the days of the year with special solemnity. There exists on earth many societies and entire governments that do not consider the need nor the obligation to call upon and glorify the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and other saints and angels; to submissively serve Her lovingly, as the true Mother of God. Sadly in Russia nowadays we have heretics (among us) who actively dishonor the Mother of God, the saints, their icons, their relics and their festivals. O, if only they also unanimously with us glorified the worthy Queen of heaven and earth!

Today the Holy Church solemnly glorifies the honorable Dormition or translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven. A wonderful translation – she died without serious illness, peacefully. Her soul is taken up in the divine hands of Her Son and carried up into the heavenly abode, accompanied by the sweet singing of angels. And then, her most pure body is transferred by the apostles to Gethsemane where it is honorably buried, and on the third day it is resurrected and taken up to heaven. You see this on the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. On it is represented the life-bearing body of the Theotokos laying on a bier, surrounded by the apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the most pure soul of the Theotokos. The translation of the Mother of God is a paradigm of the translation in general of the souls of Christians to the other world.

We say that our dead have “fallen asleep” or “passed away.” What does this mean? This means that for the true Christian there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the cross. But there is a translation, i.e, a rearrangement of his condition, i.e. his soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, that is what is meant by “falling asleep”. It is as if it were a temporary dream after which, by the voice of the Lord and the fearful yet wonderful trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). This is what the Christian means by translation. We should be ready for this translation, for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this indescribable world event, recorded in the Holy Scriptures.

This preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person’s preparation throughout the whole of his life. This preparation means a change in all his thoughts, and the moral change of all his being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that he is adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.

Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consist of these things. The heavenly King desires souls adorned with immutable virtue, souls prepared so that the Very Lord Himself could abide in them. Do not marvel that the Very Lord wants to live in us. In fact the human soul is more spacious than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in it and will fill it with Himself.“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23), says the Lord about the souls who love Him. And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen.

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Source: Sermons

Earthly Logic and Heavenly Solutions

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

How often we take for granted the mercy and kindness of God towards all people. How often do we get wrapped up in our own lives and our own trials and difficulties and forget that many years ago, God sent His only begotten Son to dwell with us, to experience our pains, to enter into our humanity.

Into this very world, God sent His Son Jesus Christ. And when He grew, He went out and preached the good news of God’s love, and the need for repentance to all people. As He preached and taught, He healed them, not only with His words, but also by laying hands on the sick and suffering. It is possible that we never imagined the types of crowds that would be drawn to a man who could offer the people so much. They came by the thousands and followed Him. And He showed His compassion on them by speaking to them, teaching them, laying hands on them, healing them, and forgiving their sins. During one of these encounters with the very large multitude, the disciples came to Our Lord and said “This is a deserted place and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” What the disciples were asking was a reasonable human request. On it’s face, it makes sense and is quite logical. The people are hungry and they have almost no food here, so they need to go away and find food to eat.

What was the problem with their thinking? It eliminated God from the equation. According to human wisdom it was a good idea, but according to the wisdom of God, it was completely unnecessary, in fact, if we really understand the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, it was just plain wrong. But the disciples did not yet understand fully. They understood that Jesus was special. They thought that He might be the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. But they did not fully understand did they? What did they not understand?

They failed to recognize Jesus as the only Son of God. They failed to recognize Jesus as equal to God the Father. They failed to recognize Him as the creator of the whole universe. When we have a problem in our life, it is important to put it within the proper context. It is important that the context includes God and that with God as part of our context, we understand that the whole situation has the potential to be completely transformed. The disciples were looking for an earthly solution because they did not see the Heavenly standing right before their eyes. They contemplated what was humanly possible because they could not fathom that the One in their midst could do the impossible.

Each of us has situations in our life that are like this one. We find ourselves hungry or tired and lacking the things that we think are necessary for life. But the Lord reminds us that when He is present, hunger and want are absent. And this is not strictly a physical matter of hunger and want, but even more importantly it is a spiritual matter. We feel that we lack peace, we lack fulfillment and we may be tempted to seek out distractions or to seek out something to numb the pain, or we may even seek to follow false gods that would tempt us by offering “peace” or “happiness” or “contentment”. For instance this is one of the alluring temptations put forward by those who encourage meditation.

Through all of this, we should remember that our human problems require more than mere human solutions. They require Divine intervention. This by the way, is why we should take politicians and politics with a grain of salt. On that day when the Lord was teaching and healing the sick, the disciples had only 5 loaves of bread and 2 meager fish. There is no way that they could have possibly fed ten or twenty thousand people with such a small amount of food. And even today, we look at our problems and our limitations and we allow these limitations to define us and our situation. Yet God is not defined by our limitations. When we have faithful obedience, He reminds us that He is beyond limitations. He is the one who creates “out of nothing.”

Again, this can apply to our physical circumstances but it is even more appropriate to our spiritual condition. We are hungry for the grace of God. We are hungry for spiritual gifts. We are hungry and thirsty for righteousness (or at least we should be). Yet, we look at ourselves and we feel that there is nothing good within us. We fail continually. But let’s look at what happened to the large crowd. The Lord ordered them to sit, and those who obeyed were treated to a royal meal with the King of kings. I imagine that there were some who did not sit and did not obey the Lord. They may have said to themselves “While I would like to sit down, it is getting late and we’ve been here all day and we have a long way to travel. I better get on the road and find some food and lodging.” Yet those who obeyed, saw and partook of a great miracle.

Regardless of what difficulties we face. Regardless of our own shortcomings. One this is certain, when we obey the Lord Jesus Christ, He will allow us to see wonders in our life. He alone has the power to give us good things, things that we truly desire in our hearts. He alone can multiply grace and spiritual blessings and the peace and joy that come with them. And what is asked of us in return? Simply that we obey and sit in His presence.

This imagery is so powerful and it reminds me of another miraculous meal….our Sunday Liturgy. All over the world, millions of Orthodox Christians are coming together in obedience to the teaching of the Lord, and they will receive the body of Christ. All of us are mystically and spiritually connected. We are not partaking of separate loaves, but of the One loaf and the One cup! We are united through these in the One Lord and then just as we hear in today’s gospel passage, the Lord dismisses us and allows us to leave filled, nourished and satisfied. This is another spiritual law; No one who comes to Christ hungry or thirsty is turned away empty handed. The Lord provides because He loves His children. There is no good father who doesn’t offer the very best to his children. Only bring your small offering and obey His voice, sit at His feet and be patient. As the psalmist writes “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry.” May He also hear our cries and multiply whatever we may have to the glory of His name. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

How to Find Encouragement and Hope

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (15:1-7) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35) 

One of my great fears for each of us in our day to day modern lives is that it is very easy for us to live a distracted life. We have become very comfortable and very distracted as a society. Not too long ago I was out having dinner and I saw a scene that broke my heart to pieces. I saw a mother having dinner with her two young children probably about 7 and 5 years old. A son and a daughter. The mother was sitting in front of her laptop, probably working. The 7 year old boy was playing games on his kindle, and the young girl was watching a cartoon on her own tablet. Three people, three screens, one table, zero relationship, zero shared experience. It disturbed me greatly. If this behavior was normal for this family, it was a tragedy. The mother would not know her own children and the children would not know their own mother, at least not in a deep and meaningful way.

My fear is that we are sometimes like this with God. The difference is that He does not sit at the table distracted. He patiently waits for us to look up from our distractions and speak to Him and to hear His voice. In today’s epistle we are reminded that we need to hear the voice of the Lord through the writing of the Old Testament scriptures and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”

St. Paul is reminding the Christians of Rome that it is not enough to believe in Jesus and even to come to the gathering of the Christians for the liturgy and prayers. More is required of us if we want to become patient and hopeful Christians, if we want to have a joyous faith. He tells us that we have to turn to what was written in the former days. He reminds us that the holy writings of the Bible were given to each of us for our instruction. He tells us that we need to study these texts to be taught in the ways of God. And that through this teaching we will also grow in endurance and we will be encouraged in our life.

St. John Chrysostom writes “These things were written so that we might not fall away, for we have many battles to fight, both inward and outward. But being comforted by the Scriptures we can exhibit patience, so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another—hope brings forth patience, and patience, hope.” 

Our lives can be very difficult. They are full of trials, failures, sickness, injury, frailty, and on top of all that, we are increasingly finding ourselves living in a world that does not acknowledge God or the Christian worldview. We will increasingly be seen as outsiders and irrelevant, if not hostile to the ways of the world. In all of this, we will need to be rooted and grounded in something other than social media, fantasy novels, video games and Netflix. None of these things can offer us stability. None of them can offer us joy. None of them can offer us comfort or hope. Only the things of God can offer hope because He alone is the source of true hope.

We are in dire need of a return to the study of the Bible. With the Bible we can build a foundation for our lives, without the study of the Bible we are lost as people, as families and as a society. We hear the psalmist say “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Imagine how we would feel if we were forced to walk in the middle of the wilderness with no light whatsoever…in complete darkness or wearing a blindfold. It would be terrifying and extremely dangerous. Yet that is what we are like when we don’t know the word of God. We are like people walking through a spiritual wilderness, like those who are blind, and when we are blind we are in great danger. In today’s gospel passage, we see Our Lord Jesus Christ heal the blindness of the two men. But we are also in constant need of the healing of the eyes of our heart. The word is one powerful medicine for our healing.

Like many other practices, we need to make small changes to incorporate what is beneficial for us. I’ve often told those who come to confession that they should first pray in the morning and read scripture even before having breakfast, and certainly before turning on any of the devices and distractions. The Lord Jesus, when he became hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread replied to Satan “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” If a man is starving, he must eat food. If a man wants to be nourished spiritually, he must likewise be fed by the word. If a man wants to know the Lord, studying the Bible daily is a great step in the right direction. 

Remember that we don’t want to be like the family sitting at the table staring at their screens. We want to acknowledge the Lord who is in our midst. He is eagerly desiring to teach us, to share His wisdom, to share His love. As Christians, our purpose and goal in life is to know God intimately. Do our actions line up with our stated goals and objectives? Do we have enough faith in God to change our behaviors and give Him some priority from day to day? 

There is a story from the desert fathers about monks in Egypt who received an important letter from the Emperor himself. The monks were so excited to hear the words, and yet they noticed one of the monks was not excited at all but was sitting by himself reading the scriptures. When they asked him the meaning of this he replied “you are eager to hear the word of the Emperor, a mere man, yet I am receiving the letter that was given by God.” May we take this to heart and make it a focus in our daily spiritual regimen and may the Lord enlighten us and grant us encouragement and hope that can never be taken away. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Paralysis in Sin, Freedom in Christ

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

Today we hear the gospel passage about a paralyzed man and those who loved him. We are told that Our Lord Jesus Christ saw the faith of those who came bringing the paralytic and upon seeing their faith He said to the paralyzed “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 

I hope that we do not quickly gloss over that beautiful sentence. I have found it to be one of the most powerful in all of the gospels. These words offered to this man in his time of sorrow and tribulation are not only for him. They are words that the Lord offers to each of us. After all, the Lord Jesus came to redeem all of us. He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all. He came to offer each and every one of us forgiveness by blotting out our sins upon the holy wood of the cross.

One of the aspects of sin that we don’t often realize or understand is that the life of sin is a life of paralysis. Sin troubles us in such a way that it can make it very hard for us to move in the right direction, to love Go and to serve Him and to serve others. Sin has a crippling effect in our lives. We want to do good, yet the sinful inclinations within us, make it seem impossible. And yet, we hear the words of the Lord as words of power and comfort for all believers. These words “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” are not simply a promise, they are a reality for the one who has faith.

How do we enter into this reality? We do it first through humility. We pray humbly, we repent and ask Christ to remove our sins, daily…sometimes with tears! St. Nikolai Velimirovich said,

“Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.”

We ask the Lord, the Holy Spirit to renew our souls and raise us up again. We make friends with the Jesus prayer and say it as often as we can; “Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on Me, the sinner.” 

Next we come with this disposition to the Church. The Church, the mystical body of Christ, offers this reality of Christ’s forgiveness because it was given to her by Him. The bride owns and takes part of everything that belongs to the Bridegroom. She cannot offer what is not hers, but she can certainly offer what has been shared with her. So the Church continually offers us the forgiveness of our sins. How? First through the sacrament of confession. St. Issac the Syrian once said “The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health.” We come and we humble ourselves and confess our sins. This is doesn’t apply only to lay people but to everyone including the clergy. We all need confession. We need to feel the pain and self-emptying that comes from opening our hearts and humbling ourselves before the Lord. We need to feel the touch of Christ through the priest, laying his hand upon our heads and praying the prayers of absolution, offering the forgiveness of the Lord Himself. We know this to be the case because the Lord gave this as a gift when He breathed upon His disciples after the resurrection and said “receive the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.”

In addition to these marvelous gifts, we also receive healing of our sins through the frequent reception of Holy Communion. InMatthew 26 when the Lord sits down for the mystical supper He says “Take, eat; this is my body” and “Drinkof this blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” So we have amazing treasures here within the Church. People wait in long lines to see movies and shows. I remember seeing people who waited and camped for 3 weeks before the release of the new Star Wars movies. How sad! They focused their entire energy and their life on a silly movie. When the movie was over, they were still in their sins! The movie didn’t have anything to offer them other than a distraction for 2 short hours. Yet, here in the Church, God offers each of you a treasury of spiritual gifts. The Lord offers you the gift of life through the sacraments of the Church. 

It is so easy for us to get down on ourselves. To feel that we can never overcome our deeply rooted sinful desires. In truth, Satan and his army would like you to feel hopeless. The goal is to make you feel completely and utterly paralyzed by your past sins and your sinful inclinations. Yet the Lord’s words can be a comfort to us “Take heart.” The Lord offers each of us a way forward. Only believe in this gift and run with your whole heart towards our merciful Savior and you will receive it because it is God’s good pleasure to share life with you. “Ask and it will be give to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened for you!” 

This is the way to a living relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. A way that we see modeled for us in the lives of the saints. It is God’s good pleasure to raise you up and free you from your sins. May we turn from what is false in our lives so that we might hear these beautiful words “Take heart, my child, your sins are forgiven!” And Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Living Faith or Mere Words?

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (10:1-10) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:28-9:1) 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not complicated. It is a very simple way. St. Paul sums this way up quite well in today’s epistle reading when he says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So that is the heart of the good news that we have in Jesus Christ. We were all dead in sin, but through the grace of God, the Lord Jesus Christ became a man and taught us and He ultimately showed His deep for love for us by dying for us in order to share His life with us, His creation. We are saved through acknowledging the work of God in our lives, through our confession of faith and our belief of heart. 

There are some groups and denominations who reduce this word “belief” to mean that our works have nothing to do with our salvation. That we simply need to believe in an intellectual or inner manner. But the teaching of the Church is quite clear. Belief is not an intellectual practice, it is a firm and life changing conviction. What we believe in the heart is believed so strongly and so intensely that it affects our every thought, movement, and our words. 

If a wealthy man walks up to you on the street and writes you a check for one million dollars and hands it to you, does that make you a millionaire? No. In order to become a millionaire we must first believe that what we were given is genuine and true. If we are convicted in our heart that this check is good, then we still have to walk the check to the bank. Our firm conviction, our belief, is proved through our walk to deposit the check in the bank. So the gift was free, you can call it grace. But the faith that we demonstrate as a result of this grace is manifested as belief through our actions which bring faith to life.

That is the faith and belief in Christ that we are after. An intense and genuine belief in the Master of our lives who taught us and sacrificed Himself for us out of His intense love and His knowledge that we could become much more through Him. That we could be redeemed, healed and transformed through life in communion with the Trinity.

So powerful is this salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ that St. Paul who was raised as a Jew and a Pharisee of the Pharisees says “For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified.” In this St. Paul is referring to the law of Moses that was followed by all the Jewish people. The adherence to this law which was made up of hundreds of rules was understood to be the only way for the Jews to be saved. What then was the problem? The problem was that there was no one who could keep the law perfectly. As it is written in Romans 3:23 “for  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And besides that, the law itself could not give eternal life. It could only guide and point out sins. 

Christ is the end of the law. That is a liberating statement. It frees us from dry legalism in order to deepen our relationship with the living God without fear. This is our salvation. The Lord wants to know us, He wants to put His hand on our lives and bless us. Don’t run away from Him in fear. Run to Him in faith and love. Run to prayer, which is His presence, every day, as often as you can think of it. Run to the Church, which is His body. Run to the sacraments which are His healing touch. Run also to serve others. For in serving them, we serve Him.

In today’s gospel we see the people running out to meet Christ but they do so for the wrong reasons, because they are wordly and attached to materialism. They run towards Christ only to run Him out of the city. They are more concerned for the pigs that they lost than for their own God given souls! We don’t want to be like them but our focus on worldly things can become such a predominant focus of our hearts that we lose track of what is most important. 

It happens in subtle ways and creeps up in our life. We buy things that we can’t really afford, we live outside of our means or just barely scraping by, and then we have to work harder and longer hours to try to prop up this life that we have purchased for ourselves. By doing this we often ignore family, friends, our physical health and most of all, the health of our souls.All of our focus and energy can easily be turned away or distracted from life in Christ. Our faith would then be mere words or theory, a dead faith.

St. Bede writes “They alone know how to believe in God who love God, who are Christians not only in name but also in action and [way of] life, because without love faith is empty. With love, it is the faith of a Christian —without love, the faith of a demon.”

Let us not be like these poor impoverished people, chasing the Lord Jesus out of the city of our heart. But let us run to open the door of our hearts in dynamic faith. This is the faith that brings us to Christ and Christ to us and He alone is our salvation, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

How We Become Excellent And Profitable Christians

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to St. Titus. (3:8-15) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19) 

In today’s epistle we hear some strong words of the Apostle Paul to his spiritual son Titus. Listen to what he says, “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”

According to the great apostle, what makes us excellent and profitable as believers is that we believe in God but we do not stop at believing in God, we are also taught to carefully apply ourselves to good deeds. This is echoed in today’s gospel reading as our Lord Jesus teaches,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.”

In both the epistle and the gospel, we are directed to look at our own works and deeds. Ultimately, this is the way that we manifest Jesus Christ to others and give them a small vision of the heavenly kingdom. Think about it this way: If the kingdom of God does not dwell richly within us, how can we manifest it to others? And the kingdom of God is meant to dwell richly in each of us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. This is why the Lord says “the kingdom of God is within you.” As I told someone recently. It is up to us to cultivate the kingdom within us. Either we will cultivate the kingdom of God or we will cultivate hell within us. When we cultivate the kingdom through humility then the Holy Spirit comes to water us and nourish our souls. He give us divine life! When we cultivate hell, through our pride, our love of sins and our neglect of God, we produce death within ourselves and this spiritual death is spread to those around us.

St. Paul gives us some of the characteristics of those who cultivate such death. He tells Titus to “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, (meaning one who causes factions or division) after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

Sadly this was not only the case at the time of this epistle 2000 years ago, but still to this day. I have warned our own people many times to avoid Orthodox internet forums and facebook groups and the above description is exactly why. When someone desires to learn, they should learn from primary sources such as the writings of Scripture, the fathers and the saints of the Church, and as Orthodox Christians we should do this with guidance from our spiritual father within the life of the Church and not as lone rogue theologians and pseudo-scholars. Our personal opinions regarding the faith are just that: opinions. But the Orthodox faith has been richly revealed to us and doesn’t need to be cheapened and degraded through useless internet chatter. That is not to say that the internet doesn’t serve some great uses, it does and many have come to the Church through this medium, but the fact remains that much more harm than good comes from these forums because it rewards the exact behavior that St. Paul is warning against. It is primarily an exercise in pride and ego, and without the real powerful elements of human relationship. I am not saying this to you to make you feel bad, but out of love for you, because I want you to have a genuine faith and spiritual life and not to be poisoned by fruit that looks good but offers death. If your interest is genuinely in God and in salvation, then leave aside these forums and online groups and take up genuine sources of Christian knowledge.

We should note that these “stupid controversies and dissensions and quarrels over the law” are not limited to the internet. They happen even at the local level. They happen in regards to aspectsof church life, some of which are not fundamental to our faith, but are lifted up to the level of “law.” That is what we call legalism. One subject of such legalism is usually focused on how people dress or their outward appearance, but there are others. We would do well to pay attention not to what our brother or sister are wearing, but to the condition of the garments of our souls.

We should also follow St. Pauls words to “avoid stupid controversies and dissensions” when we entangle ourselves in political talk, conspiracy theories and the like. All of these subjects cause division in the church. People should not look at you and see a Republican or a Democrat, a capitalist or a communist, a conservative or a liberal. They should look at you and see the image and likeness of Christ. I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see my Lord and savior. Christ died for your brother and your sister of the other tribe, the other political party. The Lord desires to save all people, don’t be an obstacle to others growing closer to the life of Christ in the Church. You are responsible for your brother and sister, so take responsibility for your words and your actions. Be a source of healing and unity by reflecting the love of the Lord who brought each of us true healing and fellowship through His death and resurrection. Put aside earthly things and human thoughts that divide and be united to one another in the Lord, because “all are one in Christ.”

Let’s take heed to the words of the Lord Jesus, the words of life! “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” Good works, works of love, acts of mercy and charity, acts of service. This is the activity of the saints. This is what marks us as excellent and profitable in the eyes of God and even among our fellow brothers and sisters. May we shine through our good works and may each of our lives give glory to our heavenly Father. AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Is Christ The Master of My Life?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:22-33)

In today’s reading we hear Our Lord Jesus Christ say “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Often this verse is reduced or simplified to refer to sexual sins involving the eyes such as lust, but in fact the Lord is going much further than that. By the eye, He is referring to our desiring faculty. He is referring to the eye as to that which sees and desires. In fact, it can even apply if our physical eyes don’t work. We can desire things within our heart and mind, regardless of whether or not we’ve ever seen them. They have a very real image within our imagination and they can be the motivating factor of our life. For some, the motivating factor is the idea of power. For others it is sex, or food, or prestige or money or comfort or stability. Certainly there are some other motivating factors that we could mention. The Lord tells us that whatever our “eye” is focused on, becomes the focus of our whole life. If our focus in life is wealth, then we quite literally become servants of wealth. We can become servants of anything that takes our attention and captures our heart. The Lord says “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Our Lord Jesus in His mercy and love towards mankind, desires much more for us, than we desire for ourselves. We sometimes desire power, He desires to give us a place as sons and daughters of God. We sometimes desire wealth, He desires to give us the wealth and inheritance of the saints, which is righteousness and holiness. We desire prestige, and He desires to have fellowship with us. We desire security and He desires to give us stability that cannot be shaken. We desire comfort, yet He desires to give us joy and peace. We desire love, but He desires to give us unending, inextinguishable love. Whatever we think we desire….when we try to find it outside of Him, we actually don’t find it, we find the opposite. That is an absolute law of the spiritual life.

At this point some of us might be thinking “the Lord is insensitive to my needs! He doesn’t know how I worry and work so hard just to make a living.” Yet in our reading the Lord Jesus makes it clear that he knows, and He knows far better than us! He tells us not to be anxious about our life. Could anything be more freeing? This week we celebrated the independence of this nation, yet according to the teachings of Christ, most of us are slaves and not free. We are slaves to anxiety. We are slaves to fear. We are slaves to the things of this life, what we wear, what we eat, what we save. And our Lord acknowledges that we need these things, but He differs on how we should approach them. We approach them by fixating on them, focusing on them and setting our minds and heart on them. Yet the way of the Lord is better.

Our Lord Jesus tells us that He is the way! He is the way to everything that we think we desire and instead of chasing after illusions and shadows, we will find that He give us much more than we ever thought was possible, such is His generosity and His mercy towards us. So instead of seeking after wealth and security and food and clothing what is it that we should seek? The Lord says “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” What does this mean? St. Augustine writes “When he said that the one is to be sought first, Jesus clearly intimates that the other is to be sought later—not that it is to be sought at a later time but that it is to be sought as a thing of secondary importance. He showed that the one is to be sought as our good, that the other is to be sought as something needful for us, but that the needful is to be sought for the sake of the good.”

But what is it that we should seek first? The kingdom of God. And how should we seek it? We seek it by making God, His commandments, and His ways, the focus of our whole life. When we rise in the morning, the Lord should be the first thought and first objective. The psalmist writes “early will I seek Thee, My soul thirsts after thee, my flesh longs for thee in a dry and waterless land.” You see, as we focus our gaze on Christ, we begin to seek Him more. As we seek Him more, we find ourselves thirsty and hungry for His presence in our lives. We find ourselves asking “how does this activity bring me closer to you O Lord?” “How can I better serve you and know you my God?”

So we start with this as our mind-frame and our focus from the start of the day. That is why we encourage you to start every day with morning prayers. A Christian who doesn’t start His day with prayers doesn’t have his life properly oriented and doesn’t gain the energy and blessing needed to pass the day in a way that is pleasing to God. But one who begins with God, invites God into every aspect of His life without fear. He invites Him with hopeful expectation and joy. 

St. Porphyrios once said “Those who desire and crave to belong to Christ and who abandon themselves to the will of God become worthy. It’s a great thing, all-important, to have no will. The slave has no will of his own. And it is possible for us to have no will of our own in a very simple manner: through love for Christ and the keeping of His commandments.” 

And the Lord’s promise will not go unfulfilled. He will indeed give usa treasure of spiritual food, clothing, stability and riches together with all of the saints who have been well-pleasing to Him throughout all generations. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

What Separates Us From the Scattered Sheep?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:36-10:8)

In today’s gospel reading we hear that Our Lord Jesus Christ saw the crowds and He had compassion on them because they were tired and scattered, like sheep without a Shepherd.  What an amazing Lord we serve! He doesn’t look down on His people, He looks to them with eyes of compassion. He feels for every one of them. Indeed, so gracious is the Lord that He feels for each and every one of us that has ever lived or will ever lived.  He desires to enter into a relationship with us.  

There is no doubt that when the Lord sees the crowd as sheep without a shepherd, He sees them in need of the true shepherd, their Master and the source of their blessings and joy.  The Shepherd is Christ. Yet, in today’s gospel we see another aspect of this verse since the verse which follows tells us that the Lord spoke to His disciples as said “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  From this we understand that the Lord sees the whole of the earth as a plentiful field full of harvest. This harvest is none other than the souls of mankind.  

It is so interesting that the while the Lord is the true shepherd, He tells the disciples to pray for more laborers to receive the harvest.  Even before His crucifixion and resurrection, even before His ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Lord was trying to raise the understanding of the disciples.  He wanted them to know the richness of the task that they would be given. He also wanted them to think like shepherds, and to have compassion on the tired and lost people of humanity.  Until now, we see the image of the shepherd clearly in the image of the bishop who holds a shepherd’s staff. The bishop guides and protects by teaching the word of God correctly and safeguarding the people from what is most destructive, that is, heresy.

What the Lord saw with the crowds during His earthly ministry is still quite true today; there are many who are lost and tired, hungry and thirsty, because they lack direction from a living relationship with the Lord Jesus and His Church.  But my brothers and sisters, it is not only those on the outside who are lost. Yes, they are indeed lost. And, yes, they need us to accept the calling to go out and to bring them back into the fold. But often we who are within the walls of the church are also like the crowds of the lost.  What separates us from the lost sheep? It is our obedience to the teachings of Christ and our continual turning to Him in repentance.  

Every time we hear the word of God, whether in a sermon or the words of a saint or the reading of the Scriptures, we should allow ourselves to be measured and tested and tried by the word.  We should allow the word to teach us and to bring us to repentance.  

St. Nikolai Velimirovic writes “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.” 

So it is not enough for us to feel badly for those on the outside, and to try to evangelize the outsiders.  We who are Christians need to be re-evangelized! We need to start again, we need to renew our love affair with Christ, our life.  The Lord is waiting for you. He sees you and He has compassion upon you. He desires only your return. Repent! Leave the crooked paths and the deserted places of sin, and turn with your heart towards His ever present voice.  It is not the one who hears his voice, but the one who follows it, that is blessed.  

St. Nikolai also writing about repentance said, “No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and rewashed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort, i.e., He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, by repentance to constrain it by the pangs of the conscience to press it, to clothe it with good deeds and in the end of ends, He calls us to Him: “Come now,” says the Lord, “and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). That is, I will look at you and I will see if there is Me in you and you will look upon Me as in a mirror and you will see what kind of person you are.”  

May the Lord have compassion on us and allow us to be molded and transformed according to His image and likeness.  AMEN.  

Source: Sermons