Gratitude and Maturity

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19) 

When things looks grim, that is exactly when God acts in our lives. When we lose hope and begin to feel that our world is turned upside down, that is precisely when God’s presence and work will be most clear in our lives. In today’s gospel we hear the story of ten lepers. These lepers travelled together, as a group. Why did they do this? Because they were not allowed to live near those who were healthy. They were considered impure and unclean. To be stricken with leprosy was to be given something of a death sentence. Even while you were alive you would feel the sting and pain of this sentence. You were no longer allowed to be near your loved ones, your family. You were not welcome in the markets or synagogues. You would become a complete outcast.

We find that ten lepers are together in this grim and difficult situation. Into their darkness, Christ appears as light. Their lives are impossibly difficult and Christ our Lord entered into the village and entered into their lives. They cried out to Him with loud voices “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” How would the Lord respond? He responded as the one who loves mankind and has mercy on us in our sufferings. He says to them “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Immediately they turned and went back towards the priests and as they did so, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of the pillars of the spiritual life is the reading and study of Holy Scripture. We often make excuses for why we don’t do it but we find that the average believer has plenty of time to dedicate just a fraction of it to the study of the word. Sometimes we think to ourselves, “what is the big deal? Will these words on the page make any difference in my life?” Yet we see from the story that one sentence from the Lord Jesus Christ can change your life. He told the lepers only one thing. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And through their obedience to this one “word” they received healing. Imagine how powerful the word of God could be if we also studied it and heard it and applied it in our lives! So this is really a powerful lesson. We should desire to hear the word of God and to fill our hearts with it.

Here is another lesson: gratitude allows the remembrance of God to grow in our hearts. After the 10 lepers were healed we find that one lone leper praised God with a loud voice. Just one! He turned back and came before Jesus and fell at His feet to give Him thanks for this incredible miracle in his life. What was the miracle? He didn’t simply cure his skin condition, the Lord gave him back his life. Our Lord expresses His pleasure at seeing the healed man return and give thanks. Parents of children understand that it is important to teach them manners and one of the first manners that we teach is the ability to always say “thank you”. God our heavenly Father also desires to see this attitude of thankfulness within us. It pleases Him. It is a sign that we understand that every good and perfect gift comes down from Him.

We can go even further in our own transformation as children of God because we can even see that difficulties, trials and painful experiences can also become a gift since they can bring us to deeper prayer and greater knowledge of God. As we began the year 2021 I kept hearing people say “thank God that 2020 is behind us, it was such an awful year.” My brothers and sisters, that is not how we demonstrate our gratitude to God for all of His generous mercies towards us. When we speak this way we are like the 9 who didn’t return to give thanks to God for all that they had received from Him.

It is not external circumstances that will bring us lasting happiness or peace or joy. It is having our happiness and peace built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken by anything or anyone. While we are discontent and looking for more, we are forgetful of all of the gifts that God has already provided for us right here and right now. Instead of a building abridge to God, through our gratitude,we build walls with our mentality that prevent us from growing closer to Him. So are there any ways to work on gratitude?

St. Gregory Palamas tells us that one way is through the diligent practice of prayer. As we persevere in prayer the prayer changesin quality and character. He writes 

“Prayer changes from entreaty (asking God) 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.”

Ultimately we as the children are meant to know and to come to a deep understanding that what we are most thankful for is the Lord Himself.We are thankful for His love for us, for His sacrifice in order to give us new life. We are thankful for His forgiveness of our sins. We are thankful that He has conquered death in order to give us resurrection. He is our hope and joy and the greatest blessing of our life. If we understand in our hearts that the Lord is with us and that He will never leave us, then there is simply no way to be anything but thankful. Through Him we are rich beyond measure, blessed beyond measure and we will have life without measure. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Crying Out For Mercy

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:35-43) 

I notice something interesting as I read through the gospels. There is never a time where someone asks the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy where the Lord does not show the individual great mercy. It might seem quite obvious but it is really a very fundamental point. We call Christ, “the merciful one” and the “lover of mankind” and indeed it is true that the Lord perfectly embodies and lives and pours out His mercy upon all who draw near to Him and cry out to Him for mercy.

Why do people ask Jesus Christ to have mercy on them? In the gospels we see this happen because people feel miserable and hopeless in their lives. They are often in desperation due to their sicknesses or disabilities or their sense of deep unworthiness and sinfulness. All of these are reasons that cause men and women to cry out for the Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on them. 

In our own lives, we are encouraged to find the same cry within our hearts. We are encouraged to go to the deep place where we are sick and tired and hungry and feel unworthy and once we are there we transform all of those feelings of weakness and defeat intoacry to the Lord, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” St. John Climacus says “Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.” Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28.5 It didn’t take much, just one phrase. We see the same thing here with the blind man in today’s gospel. The Lord didn’t hear him because he said many words, but because he said a few heartfelt words to Christ. So we have to find this deep cry within ourselves because the Lord is eager to hear this and to help us.

Sometimes it is easy for us to find this deep cry because things around us are difficult. When our circumstances are difficult or when we are sick and suffering, it is easy to cry out to God isn’t it? But often we are comfortable and or distracted and for these reasons we have to work harder to scratch below the surface of our hearts and go deeper to the place where we feel our real need for the Lord’s mercy and compassion. How do we do this in the Christian life? The Church gives us some tools for softening the heart and going deeper in our prayers. The ascetic disciplines are key stepping stones in this regard.

One of the tools in the ascetical tool kit is fasting. Another tool is to do prostrations. Both of these should be undertaken after speaking with your spiritual father for guidance. Yet another tool for softening the heart is prayers in the middle of the night. Sometimes we can’t sleep. This is a perfect reason to get out of bed and fall on your knees with a prayer rope and spend some time beseeching God, saying the Jesus prayer. You will be surprised at how effective and energetic your prayers can be when you have just a little bit of discomfort. And if all of these aren’t enough we can also go out of our way to give to the poor and do works of charity. These exercises help others physically but they benefit each of us spiritually. You can even come and ask if there are extra things that need to be done around church. I assure you that there is always work to be done. 

What is the goal? It is to be able to cry out to Christ with a real cry of need and desire for the mercy that He alone can provide. But how do we get to that point of crying out to God unless we allow ourselves to feel some brokenness? How do we get to that point if we are always distracted with phones and shows and games? The spiritual fathers of the Church have all recognized that our prayers won’t be very profitable unless we aim for stillness. Part of our fasting regimen should be fasting from social media, fasting from the news, and fasting from movie and games for a time. Sometimes we should do this for an hour or two before bed. Sometimes we need to extend our fasts to go for a day or two or a week or two, maybe even longer. If Prayer is the most profitable thing that we can do in life, why don’t we give it more time? No sacrifice is too great when God offers us Himself in return.

Each of these little steps will help us build an awareness of our sins and our need for healing. The worst kind of delusion, which is abundant within some Christian traditions is the sense that one is perfectly well and has no further need of Christ’s healing and forgiveness. So we have to actively engage in the battle and know that we will struggle and through our honest struggle, by God’s grace, we will grow and bear spiritual fruit. St. Theognostos writes “Pursue your goal forcefully, dedicating your whole life to God, in all your actions, words and intentions seeking by all possible means not to fall away from Him.” 

If we do this and pursue Christ faithfully, then there is no doubt that He will shower us with great mercy and He will speak to our hearts as He spoke to the blind man saying, “your faith has made you well.” Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Theophany, Repentance and Our Unlimited Potential

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

Today’s reading is given to us on the Sunday before we celebrate the Feast of Theophany which falls on January 6th. This feast is also called Epiphany in the Western Christian traditions. On this day we commemorate the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ and His manifestation with the rest of the Holy Trinity together at the river Jordan. We will come together on Tuesday evening to celebrate that feast with a Liturgy as well as the Great Blessing of Water. We will also have an outdoor blessing of water on Wednesday morning.

As we turn to the gospel reading we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote “prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” We are told that these words are a clear prophecy of the coming of John the baptist who went out and preached a baptism of repentance to all of the people of Judea and Jerusalem. He was preparing the people to meet God in the flesh! As we begin the new year, I want to tell you that every day of every year of your life is full of unlimited potential. It is true. Our potential is unlimited because our God has no limits. He is infinite and He desires to share of His gifts, to give them to us without measure, until they are overflowing in abundance. Don’t be surprised when I tell you that God desires to pour out His gifts upon us. Did this same God not pour out His own life for His children upon the Holy Cross? He has done this to offer us amazing potential not merely to be called children of God but to become sons and daughters who are refashioned in His image and likeness. Men and women who are truly alive, who see and understand the truth, who do the works of the Lord and share life and salvation with our brothers and sisters.

How do we unlock this potential in our lives? What is the way to grow and progress in the spiritual life? It is through repentance. For an Orthodox Christian repentance isn’t just the start of the spiritual life, it is at the heart of the spiritual life. We desire to make Jesus Christ the center and the heart of our lives, and repentance awakens this possibility. Repentance is a change of heart and mind. Repentance is also a change of life. We acknowledge our many faults and failings and we examine how we have fallen short of the teachings and commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we go deeper we allow the light of the Holy Spirit to shine a light on our hearts and to expose more of our sinfulness, so we go even deeper in our repentance. As we dig deeper we see more of our fallen reality and we see with clarity, our profound need for a Savior.

Repentance is not pleasant. True repentance is painful. It is a burning away of our sinfulness and passions through exposure to the light of Christ. As we repent and beseech God we encounter great pain and tribulation because our sins cling so closely to us. As we try to push them away, we feel that we can never separate ourselves from them, and that we will always be separated from our Lord Jesus Christ because of them. It begins in private, in our prayer closet on a daily basis, and it continues when we come to the church and confess our sins before the priest who stands on behalf of Christ and the people. Confession is not easy but it is worthwhile. It is not convenient but it is necessary for our spiritual growth, for the layman and the clergy alike. We must repent and confess because we are in the middle of a war for our souls. This war rages every day through the temptations and trials that are brought to us. Listen to the words of St. John Karpathos,

“God raises up all who are bowed down’ (Ps. 145:14) and produces grief and consternation among our enemies, as soon as we repent. When you are being tested by trials and temptations, you cannot avoid feeling dejected. But those who till the earth of hardship and tribulation in their hearts are afterwards filled with great joy, tears of consolation and holy thoughts.” 

So when we hear these words we are reminded that trials and temptations are normal and they can feel constant and never ending. What is our response? Steadfast and constant prayer and repentance. Many of the fathers speak of the Jesus prayer as the chief means of constant prayer and repentance. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There is power in the name of our Lord and through this name, we soften the hard rocky soil of our hearts and make it possible for God to refashion this clay and mold our souls into something beautiful and pleasing to Him, into a masterpiece. 

Repentance is a daily struggle against the passions and the temptations. But it is full of potential for the one who undertakes the struggle with faith. Listen again to the words of St. John Karpathos, he writes, 

“The demons try to undermine your inward resolution by buffeting your souls with an untold variety of

temptations. Yet out of these many tribulations a garland is woven for you; Christ’s power comes to its fullness in us in our weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9). It is usually when our situation is most gloomy that the grace of the Spirit flowers within us. ‘ Light has shone in darkness for the righteous’ (Ps. 11 2:4. LXX) – if, that is, ‘ we hold fast to our confidence and the rejoicing of our hope firmly to the end’ (Heb. 3: 6).”

So this is our task as we begin the new year and as we prepare for the feast of Theophany and the blessing of the waters. In this feast we remember the baptism of Christ and we recall our own baptism into Christ. It is through our repentance that we renew our baptism and that we are recharged with the grace of God! So don’t fear to take a look in the mirror of your soul. It is possible that what we may not be able to stand our own reflection and the reflection of our sins, but let us try and God will work a wonder in us and wipe away the disfigured image caused by our sins and replace it with His own image that is radiant, beautiful and wonderful in every way.

May we run this Christian race, deeply rooted in repentance, with joy as we consider the potential that God has given us and the hope that is ours through His grace and love for mankind AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Make Your Hearts Like Egypt

Today’s reading is from the gospel according to St. Matthew 2:13-23

In this gospel reading we are again invited to enter into the Christmas story. During the Christmas Liturgy we read about the birth of Our Lord and now we are witnesses to the events that surrounded his birth particularly the flight of the holy family into Egypt, the massacre of the innocents of Israel, and the return of the holy family from exile.

Joseph the man betrothed to the Virgin Mary was told by way of a dream to take the child and his mother and leave the land. He did not doubt the message because it was delivered by an angel, just like the original message telling him to take care of Mary and to call the name of her son Yeshua or Jesus. He trusted this messenger and obeyed. 

What faith this man St. Joseph must’ve had. If we were visited this night by an angel in a dream telling us to relocate to some place such asNew Yorkor California or even China, how many of us would be willing to obey that message? We would make up excuses and convince ourselves that we had not seen an angel and that it had not spoken to us. But not this man Joseph. He had no way of knowing where he would end up or what he would do to keep his family safe, fed and secure but he obeyed. It is in fact a wonderful lesson in faith. When things look bleak and when it seems that there are no safety nets that is exactly when the Lord wants to see what we are made of, whether or not we will be obedient, and likewise, that is exactly when we must be obedient!

The holy tradition delivered from Egypt tell us that the Holy family spent three years in the land of Egypt. So well attested is this tradition that most of the sites visited by the holy family have been dedicated as churches and make up part of a pilgrimage that can be undertaken by those willing to follow in their footsteps. The land of Egypt was quite blessed by the presence of the Holy Family. And what an amazing poetic turn of events it was. If we remember, the Israelites were under the bondage of Pharoah and begged for an escape from the land of Egypt. Now the King of the Israelites was coming back to Egypt looking for protection from his own people. The promised land that God had won by His own might did not even offer a place suitable for the birth of His Son. 

The land of Egypt that has often been cursed and chastised by the prophets of God for their idolatry and treatment of his people is now become the safe haven and refuge of the greatest of his people His Son and his precious mother. So special is this treatment and protectionin the land of Egypt that it was foretold that this land would be blessed hundreds of years earlier by the holy spirit speaking through the prophet Isaiah.

Is 19:19-22 & 25a “In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the LORD and perform it.And the LORD will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it;they will return to the LORD, and He will be entreated by them and heal them. Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed isEgypt My people!”

This is the wondrous mercy of God who does not want to curse any nation, any peoples or any individuals but is constantly seeking for a way to make those who are not yet His, a part of His great plan of salvation. God used the defeat of the mighty Pharaohand Egypt to show His strength and release His people in the story of the exodus, and He again uses Egypt hereas a refuge for His mighty son. 

I tell you that if God could save the Egypt that brought His people to their knees in bitter tears. And if God could save St. Paul who hunted down the first Christians, then certainly there is no one that God cannot save. Maybe this is the most amazing thing about the Christmas story……that God is always working out His plan for our salvation and for the salvation of the world around us. That God has already forgiven us and is givingus a chance to turn from shunning him or neglecting him in our daily lives as eventhe Israelites had done. This same God has become a simple babe that wants to grow and be nurtured in our hearts if we will only allow ourselves to also become like Egypt, a warm refuge for His beloved Son. If this is possible for the dreaded Egypt, imagine what is possible for us as Christians!

We can nurture Christ in our hearts by making a place for His word, His teaching in our lives. The Lord says “if you love me, obey my commands.” As we dedicate this safe place in our hearts for the teaching of the Lord, and we cultivate a deep relationship with Him through ourprayers and we remove all of the enemies of Christ from our hearts, we will then create a refuge or paradise in our hearts, a place where God can grow and flourish. What or who are the enemies of Christ within our hearts? These are the passions and inclinations and sinful desires as well as our false gods that we might serve or love. 

The Lord tells us that “no man can serve two masters.” If we nurture our sinful desires or our false idols such as power, comfort, money and control, we will be feeding and strengthening the enemies of Christ and they will chase Him out of our hearts and out of our lives. All of the life of an Orthodox Christian is to struggle to prepare the way of the Lord, to chase out the money changers of the temple of our heart and to dedicate the temples of our hearts to God the Lord. For this reason we keep vigils, and pray past the point of comfort, we fast and do prostrations, we read psalms, we confess our sins and we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. All of this is done to nourish Christ within our hearts while also doing battle against His enemies, laying siege to them and forcing them into submission or retreat.

Let us run to Christ and His Churchas our refuge and let us also make our hearts like Egypt, a refuge and a resting place for the Lord our God to grow and flourish. To Him alone be glory forever and ever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Where Do We Find God?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (1:1-25) 

We come to this day, the Sunday before the Feast of Nativity and we hear a very special gospel reading. Many lovingly call this reading “the one with all the names.” It is also called “the genealogy.” When we hear all these names we may wonder to ourselves “what is the point of all this?” Let me share a couple of significant points and I hope that you will meditate on them over the next few days as you prepare for this beautiful feast.

First, as we listen to these assorted names from the Old Testament we are confronted with a hard reality. The Lord Jesus Christ came from one messed up family tree. I know that may sound irreverent or silly, but it is true. If you study some of the names that are mentioned here and the lives that they lived as documented through Holy Scripture you will also be convinced that what I have said is not an exaggeration. But this also gives us comfort. How often do we hear that we are products of our upbringing? That we can’t escape our family tree? How often do we think that our lives are predetermined by the family that we are born into? Yet, here we see that the Lord enters into the world as part of a family that had a rich and colorful history that is full of the unfiltered, fallen human experience. In this way the Lord’s family tree is not so different than our own. We are born into families and we are part of a family tree and regardless of what happened to create that family tree, we remain part of it.

The tree is not perfect, it is in many ways broken. It is full of broken people who had fractured relationships with one another and yet the Lord entered into this brokenness, and into our brokenness. In the epistle to the Romans we hear these words from the Apostle Paul “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We believe the same can be said for the incarnation of Christ. We could also rightly say “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ was born for us and took flesh for us.” It is truly something magnificent to contemplate. You read these names and see this disordered family tree and then you realize that even through all of this brokenness, God has not abandoned His people. He will use each and every one of these imperfect people to fulfill His perfect will. That is good news for us because most of us are also imperfect and the Lord plans to use and is indeed already using each and every one of us. He also continues the process of healing and restoring us. If the Lord waited for us to be healed on our own, we would have no hope. But thank God that Christ is our hope!

The next point I would like us to meditate upon is this: Christ did not appear out of nowhere. He wasn’t imagined by others or “made-up”. He is part of a family and has descendants that can be traced. All of the people in this list really existed and really lived. We have records of them. They are actual historical figures. Mary really existed. Jesus really exists. In our day and age, people speak of God philosophically, in the abstract. They ask “Does God exist?” But it is really a rather silly question. For the Christian the answer is not found by looking for God in the sky, but in looking at the person of Jesus Christ as found in the gospels. Either Jesus existed or He didn’t, and if He did indeed exist, then we have to wrestle with His identity. This should become the matter that preoccupies our time until we are firmly convinced of the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”

The world wants us to think about God abstractly. As long as we think abstractly we will never actually know God. We will just think about God with our imagination. If we think about God that way then the devil will win. We will be confused and overwhelmed. We will be like the man who takes a trip to a far away place and does not have a map or a compass. He will remain lost. God does not want us to be lost. He wants us to know the way, the truth and the life. He wants us to His Son and to think about His Son concretely, physically.

He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit, He is flesh and blood. He had a family and family tree that is well documented. He became a man. He lived and grew in the womb of Mary for 9 months. He was born and breastfed and learned to crawl and walk and grew in wisdom and stature. He lived a holy life, fully perfect and pleasing to God His Father and He taught us the way of salvation and He showed us His love for us by pouring out His life upon the cross. At the feast of Nativity, we are celebrating God’s real love for humanity which He proved by allowing His Son to enter into our human existence. The genealogies of Matthew and Luke demonstrate that Jesus is real.

If in the very first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, he had documented something clearly false, no one would have taken the gospels seriously. They would’ve have laughed at him and moved on with their lives. But my brothers and sisters, they did take these gospels seriously. These gospels changed the world and they continue to change them as we speak. They are trustworthy and they spread even through antiquity without the help of facebook and twitter and google and television, because they were known to be accurate and true in most of their details. They were not works of fiction. They were works of truth that the writers were willing to defend with their lives, and they did! So don’t fall into the trap of looking for God in the sky or in your imagination. God doesn’t exist there. Look for Him in the word because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And by becoming flesh, He saved us and gave us a promise and an inheritance.

In the first epistle of St. John he writes “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 

I pray that as we draw near to the feast and the celebration of Christmas we will really take this time to draw near to the one who first drew near to us, so that our joy may truly be full.

Source: Sermons

Who Will Free Us?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (13:10-17) 

At times we are pulled down by the great weight of our own sins. They weigh on us. They are heavy. Perhaps when we are children we don’t experience this but as we grow and mature and gain understanding it becomes clear to us. Sometimes this manifests itself as a lack of peace or some anxiety, even depression. We go to counselors or therapists but things don’t necessarily get better. People try to find various ways to numb the pain of their sins and the weight that is placed on their souls. Some turn to alcohol or drugs as an escape. For others it is attention, affection, praise or physical comforts. Sometimes, sadly, Christians will even go in search of something elusive and study eastern mysticism or “new age” spirituality in the hopes that this will relieve the pain and will give them meaning in their lives. Others will go even further than this. They will claim that the ideas of guilt and shame and sin are just ingrained in us by a Christian upbringing and then they will pretend that none of these things are real. Instead of grasping with reality they try to escape through a life of rebellion, constantly drifting further from Christ and the truth. All of this because we refuse to acknowledge the disruptive and destructive power of sin in our own lives.

In today’s gospel reading we encounter a woman who had a spirit of infirmity for 18 years. She was hunched over and could not straighten her back. She walked and lived like this, as if a great weight had been placed on her neck and shoulders and she was powerless to lift herself up. St. Ambrose of Milan tells us that she had in actuality a sickness of soul. Her soul was bent over and dragged close to the ground. He tells us that there is symbolism here. The woman who is bent over with her eyes toward the ground is like one who has a soul that “inclined to earthly rewards and did not possess heavenly grace.” Meaning it is symbolic of our attachment to earthly pleasures. St. Ambrose says that “nothing burdens the mind more than concern for the world and lust for either wealth or power.”

This week during our introduction to Orthodoxy class we spoke about the sacrament of Holy Unction and how our spiritual and physical health are connected. The prayers of the service of Unction ask God for healing of soul and body. The two are connected because they are each an integral part of the human person. The one who looks after his physical health but neglects the health of his soul is in truly grave danger. He may not see it yet but the seeds of spiritual sickness are being planted deep within the man who neglects his life in Christ and the remedies that are offered by the Church. St. Augustine writes “The devil and his angels have bowed the souls of men and women down to the ground. He has bent them forward to be intent on temporary and earthly things and has stopped them from seeking the things that are above.”

In our weighed down state of sinfulness it is hard for us to even look up and search for Christ. This woman in the synagogue could not see the Lord Jesus. But we are refreshed with a message of hope, He sees her. What love the Son of God has for His people, the works of His hands! He sees her and although she is quite powerless to do anything, He knows her needs. But how was she healed if she could not see the Lord? She heard Him and obeyed His word. We are told that the Lord Jesus called her over to Himself. It is implied from the text that she obeyed and went to Him. She could not see Him, but she could hear His voice. She showed a small amount of faith and obedience and the Lord poured out His grace, healing and life on this poor woman who probably couldn’t remember the last time she was able to look up to the heavens.

We are not so different from this woman who was sick for 18 years. We are also sick and infirm. Sometimes with bodily sicknesses and sometimes with spiritual. We are likely to fall into despair as we try to climb out of the pit of our sins and addictions and habits and we find ourselves unable to do so and covered in filth. Yet this reading today should give us some hope. Regardless of where we are, God is watching. He sees us. He understands our needs far better than we could imagine or comprehend. To the one who simply takes a step to obey His words, to hear His voice, He declares “you are freed from your infirmity!” We should rejoice that this is offered to us and that God is generous towards us. In the life of the Church one of the ways that God is generous towards us is through the sacrament of confession. He knew that we would need this medicine. If you are weighed down by your sins, come and confess. Leave your sins at the feet of the Lord and receive healing. He will lift the weight off your shoulders and you will be able to move freely. Try to do this at least 4 times a year, because it is a form of medicine for our souls. You do your part and confess your sins without hiding anything, and the Holy Spirit will do His part and remove your sins and heal you and He will allow you to live in His presence.

Within the synagogue we see the perfection of humanity in Our Lord Jesus Christ but unfortunately we also see another side to humanity under the same roof. A side that is not so graceful and merciful, in the image of the leader of the synagogue. He is much worse than the woman with the infirmity for his sickness is hidden even to himself! As soon as he sees something that doesn’t jive with his limited, narrow understanding, he goes on the attack. He is by definition a legalist. His god is the law. His interest is in obedience to the letter of the law with absolutely zero regard for his neighbors. He is concerned with being perfect according to the letter of the law while he has no concerns for the woman who was created in the image of God. This is not a problem that is isolated to first century Judaism. This spiritual infirmity still exists today even among the Orthodox Christians. May this spirit of judgement not overtake us and may God protect us from being like this man. God calls us to go beyond merely literal meanings to a deeper spiritual reality. As St. Paul writes “the letter kills but the spirit gives life.”

We are reminded that whether we are physically healthy or sick, whether our sins are apparent or hidden, everything is open to God. We are not called to judge others and point our fingers when we don’t approve of someone else, we are called to keep our eyes towards Christ and not search out the faults of our neighbors. I have enough of my own faults, I am in need of Christ, why should I focus on the faults and shortcomings of my brother or sister in Christ? And even if I happen to see those faults, what is my proper response? It should be to pray for them and love them with an understanding that Our Lord has shown us similar mercy and with the hope that He will once again show us this mercy at the judgment.

May we live in this hope with the confidence that we will hear the Lord say to each of us “you are freed from your infirmity!” 

Source: Sermons

Peace Is Not A Slogan

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. (4:1-7) 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see the heart of a true pastor and shepherd of the people of God. He is begging the Christians in Ephesus to walk in a certain way, to live in a certain way. He has a very specific reason for doing so. He is concerned with the unity of the Church. This is not a subject that we speak about very often yet it comes up quite a bit in the New Testament and in the life of the early Church. In fact it is so important that our Lord Jesus Christ, when praying His high priestly prayer on the night in which He was betrayed, prays to God the Father “that they may be one, even as We are one.” There is a great desire for unity in the life of the Church, and the faithful. 

In the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century, we see this emphasis over and over again. Unity is part of our safety net as Christians. The physical unity of the Church is demonstrated by being in submission to the local bishop and those appointed by the bishop, namely the priests and deacons. What is the goal of this unity? It is to maintain the true faith, doctrine and practices of the apostles and to pass them down faithfully. Within the authentic faith, doctrine and practice as handed down by the apostles is also authentic life and joy in Christ.

These days that we live in are full of division. Families are often divided, this begins with spouses who are not on the same page, they don’t live to serve one another but to control one another. Citizens of countries are also divided, neighbors can be divided against one another and the list goes on. How do we reclaim unity and protect the church from the evils in the world around us?

What is required for unity in the Church? The first thing is a deep love for Christ and an understanding that the Church is the body of Christ. If each and every person in the church has a deep love for Jesus Christ, this love will unite us. Having a shared love means living with a shared goal.If each of us loves Christ andsees the Church as the body of Christ we will always act carefully in order to not harm or divide this body. We will always act with the goal of honoring Christ and loving Christ first and foremost. Practically speaking, we will guard our lips and our speech and avoid entering into discussions that will likely inflame and cause division. Listen to what St. James writes “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” So we are warned that what we say must be carefully weighed. St. Paul reminds us that we should avoid foolish controversies regardless of the subject matter.

We should also make sure that people know that the church is neither right nor left wing, neither democrat nor republican, neither a supporter of UNC or Duke, or even NC State (although it is an excellent school). God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, all of us. St. Paul tells us that “[God] desires ALL men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That “all” means everyone. Period. We should make sure that our speech and attitudes towards one another reflect that level of love and care. Christ our Lord died for us and for those who may have different political or economic or even pandemic beliefs than ours. We should live in a way that we will not carelessly push others away from Christ or His holy Church. The Lord Jesus died for all of those people, so don’t push them away by imposing your strong or divisive opinions on them.

In today’s epistle St. Paul give us a couple of important points regarding maintaining peace in the Church. He begs the people to lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called. That is a difficult saying. How does one begin to lead a life worthy of being called a son or daughter of God? How does one possibly begin to lead a life worthy of being Christ like and holy? St. Paul tells us that we begin with lowliness and meekness. The loftiness of our high calling is humbling and we should approach it that way…with a certain sense of fear and trembling. What an honor and a privilege that we should be called children of the most high God, although we are all sinners! We have been called to live with Christ and the saints. We have put on Christ. We should live as if we belong to Christ. As St. Paul writes “it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.” Really, this is the goal of the Christian life, to become activated in Christ through the Holy Spirit. To live in communion with the Holy Trinity. To live in communion with our brothers and sisters in love. When we are walking in humility and meekness we are aware of our own faults and shortcomings and we would never judge our brothers for whom the Lord gave His very life.

Next, St. Paul tells us that we have to be not only lowly and meek but patient with others. In our day to day lives it is really easy to become impatient with people. We are always in a hurry. We expect things to be done our way right away. Often we are impatient with those whom we deal with on a regular basis, our own families, our siblings, our spouses. Sometimes it is our co-workers. It can even happen in the life of the church especially in a close knit and active community such as this one. We have to pray for the gift of patience and peace in every situation. Rather than looking at a situation as a chance to have our voice heard, we should look at the situation as a chance for God’s love to be reflected. If we knew even a fraction of what was required to bring our fellow brothers and sisters into the Church, we would jealously guard them from harm like the shepherd does with his own sheep. That is part of what it means to put on the mind of Christ. And when we put on the mind of Christ and our life harmonizes with the teachings of the Lord, we will be filled with peace. 

St. Seraphim of Sarov writes,

“There is nothing better than peace in Christ, for it brings victory over all the evil spirits on earth and in the air. When peace dwells in a man’s heart it enables him to contemplate the grace of the Holy Spirit from within. He who dwells in peace collects spiritual gifts as it were with a scoop, and he sheds the light of knowledge on others. All our thoughts, all our desires, all our efforts, and all our actions should make us say constantly with the Church: “O Lord, give us peace!” When a man lives in peace, God reveals mysteries to him..”

May this peace in Christ also be ours. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

How To Save Responsibly

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (12:16-21) 

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much that He does not desire that we should live in delusion. He does not desire that God’s people should live under illusions. He tells us that it is only the truth that will set us free. The Lord loves His people with such fervor and depth that He grants them knowledge of the truth, even when it is painful, in order that He might correct their hearts and their eyes and give their lives meaning and purpose. This is one of the takeaway points of today’s gospel reading. We should order our lives in reality and with a vision towards our true purpose in life.

St. Mark the ascetic writes, “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” “On the Spiritual Law: Two Hundred Texts” No. 54, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

We encounter a man who is journeying without direction in today’s gospel. A man who is working hard but ultimately wasting his efforts. Like the man that plans to drive to one destination with his family but takes off in the opposite direction. He will never get there. He claims to desire one thing but his actions demonstrate something else. The man in today’s gospel reading is wealthy and he has worked hard and been fruitful and now he would like to have an even larger place to store all of his crops. He would like to say to himself “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” 

But something unexpected happened. God intervened and called him “Fool!” Take note that the Lord Jesus tells us that we should never ever call another man a fool, and we will be judged by our words, so only the Lord can declare someone a fool. But after God called this man a fool what did He say next? He corrected the man saying “This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” And here is the whole point of the matter. What was the purpose for which the man was trying to live? Was it for God or for himself? No doubt, he would say that it was for himself, yet even in this he would be wrong. Our Lord gives us a spiritual principle when He declares “he who desires to save his life will lose it, and he who desires to lose his life for the gospels sake and for my sake will save it.”

This man was hoping to save his own life, through working, and saving and working and saving even more. He had everything, humanly speaking, yet he lacked the one needful thing. It is not wealth or produce or savings or our comfort that will ultimately bring us eternal joy and life. All of these things that I’ve mentioned can be taken away. Indeed, they must be taken away because we will not be around to enjoy them forever. The Lord tells the man that all of his work is for nothing because it is not rooted in something eternal and everlasting. The work and the life were not rooted in God. They were rooted in self and pleasure and these distract us from the truth and purposes for which we are meant. This reading is not ultimately about the person who has riches or wealth stored up. Sometimes we are financially poor but have the same inner state as this man. We can be rich with pride, or talents or physical beauty or knowledge and intellect, or power and position. There are many ways to be rich, but none of these will help us unless we are rich towards God first. 

All of these things I’ve mentioned are rooted in self and pleasure and they distract us from the truth and purpose for which we are meant. What is that truth and purpose? 

St. Theophan the Recluse writes, “The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God. To this end the Son of God became incarnate, in order to return us to this divine communion, which was lost by the fall into sin. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we enter into communion with the Father and thus attain our purpose.”

Our chief end (or aim) of life is to live in communion with God. That’s it. The rich man’s aim in life was comfort and rest. So he lived his life by making this goal a reality. He saved crops and when he couldn’t possibly store any more, he wanted to tear down the barns and build even larger ones. 

If our aim of life is to live in communion with God, we have to be a bit like the rich man. We have to plan tolive our lives in such a way that this goal becomes our reality. This man planned and saved. You and I must also plan and save. Father, what are we saving and where are we saving it?

My dear friends, we are saving up the virtues and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We are saving within our hearts and souls and this savings is transferred into the heavenly kingdom on our behalf. Imagine that somebody came to you on the day that Apple stock first went public and they said to you, “here is a gift, one share of Apple stock.” What if they said to you, if you call me everyday, and say hello, I will add another share of stock to your account, but there is only one catch: I will not let you know when you can have access to what is in that account. It is completely yours but you may not touch what is saved there until a mystery date in the future. Would you agree to such a proposal? 

Our Lord makes a similar proposal with each of us. He says to us on the day of our baptism “My child, I am giving you a share of my inheritance. It is yours, and every day that you reach out to me and speak with me, I will put more into your account.” However, we will even have a foretaste of the riches and inheritance inthis life. The spiritual fruit is so abundant that it affects every aspect of our lives. Let us work diligently to save and to store spiritual riches. How can we do that? As we are now in one of the major fasting seasons in the life of the Church it is good to remember that our fasting is not simply to abstain from foods but to serve and help others in need. Let us help others while we have the ability to do it. St. Augustine quoting Proverbs 13:8 writes that “The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches.” He continues saying 

“Obviously he was not redeeming his soul by giving relief to the poor. He was hoarding perishable crops. I repeat, he was hoarding perishable crops, while he was on the point of perishing because he had handed out nothing to the Lord before whom he was due to appear. How will he know where to look, when at that trial he starts hearing the words “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat”? [Mat 25:42.] He was planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns. What he was stowing away in those barns was perhaps even then being stolen away by thieves. But if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely.

Let me conclude with a quote from St. Ambrose of Milan, he writes, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours either. Only virtue is the companion of the dead. Compassion alone follows us. It is the guide to the heavens and the first of the mansions. Through the use of worthless money, it acquires eternal dwellings for the dead.”

So be hopeful my friends, live with a purpose directed towards Christ and let every aspect of your lives fulfill that purpose so that you can stand on the day of judgement and hear the Lord’s words “Come you blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This is our inheritance. Amen.

Source: Sermons

The Question That We Should Ask Every Single Day

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37) 

There is a question that each of us should ask every day of our lives. We ask many questions as it is: “what shall I eat?” “What should I wear?” “What should I watch?” “What should I say?” “What will I ask for this Christmas?” But the question that we must ask every day of our lives is this: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that is asked by the lawyer who comes to put the Lord Jesus Christ to the test. You begin to experience freedom in your life and your thoughts when you are free from things that enslave you. You experience freedom when you focus on the things that will live on forever, specifically focusing on the state of your soul. But you experience slavery when you are attached to the material world and the things of the body and it’s pleasures.

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Do we begin each day and each activity with this thought in mind? If not, how will we remember that every part of life is meant for loving God and loving my neighbor? When the Lord is tested and asked this question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He answers by saying “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” And the lawyer answers Him saying

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

This is the next critical question that the lawyer asks: “And who is my neighbor?” Today we are confused about this. Social media has weaponized the news to divide people. It uses impersonal communication to further hamper real discussion and easily leads people into strife. We are not content seeing people as human. We are told that the only way to see people is through categories. That we should see people as Black or White as male or female as Democrat or Republican and the list goes on. According to ideologies, such as the Marxism that has taken hold in the universities and parts of corporate America today, there are no normal people. You either fit neatly into one category or another, either you are a part of the oppressed or part of the oppressor class. My dear brothers and sisters, reject Satan and his lies and his division no matter what form it takes. Each and every human being is created in the image of God our creator! Do not participate in anything that renders anyone as less than human.

The Lord Jesus saw past labels when He answered the lawyer’s question with a parable. In His parable, the hero of the story is a Samaritan! And Samaritans were considered as bad, ungodly, and less than human by the Jews of the day. Yet the Samaritan demonstrates his true knowledge and love of God through His merciful care of the one who was in need.

It is interesting to note that many of the Church fathers see in this parable, the gospel of Christ and the Samaritan as a symbol of our Lord Jesus himself. In fact when you see an icon of this parable, it will typically feature the Lord Jesus as the good Samaritan who tends to the needs of the man who fell among thieves. If this parable is an allegory than who is the man who fell among thieves? It is each of us, all of humanity. We fell prey to Satan and His demonic forces. We were tempted and provoked into sin and the demons stole our immortal inheritance and our virtues, while also wounding our souls. But Christ came to us and found us in that terrible state we were in and He had compassion on us.

Origen tells us that according to one interpreter, the inn where the man was taken is a symbol of the Church. St. Augustine tells us that the wine and oil are symbols of the powerful and life giving sacraments of the Church. He says “Robbers left you half-dead on the road, but you have been found lying there by the passing and kindly Samaritan. Wine and oil have been poured on you. You have received the sacrament of the only-begotten Son. You have been lifted onto his mule. You have believed that Christ became flesh. You have been brought to the inn, and you are being cured in the church. That is where and why I am speaking. This is what I too, what all of us are doing. We are performing the duties of the innkeeper.”

When we hear these words of the parable we are corrected and taught to see everyone as human and as our neighbor. We are challenged and expected to show mercy to others, even when it is not convenient to do so. When mercy is convenient and easy, it is not worth much in the eyes of God. But when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable and we are still merciful to others, that is noteworthy. I would like to add another aspect to this. Mercy is not simply to care for the physical needs of others, although that is very important. It is to care for their spiritual well-being.

If the fathers of the Church are correct and the inn is the Church, then it is an invitation or a mandate for each of us to act like the Samaritan (who is Christ) and to bring others, even if we have to carry them, to the Church of God. It is not enough to live a private religious/ spiritual life. Can I tell you something very important? Now the world needs us. Now we are called to be the light and the salt to the world around us. Now we are the Samaritans who are called to see everyone as our neighbors. We are called to carry others to Christ through our prayers. We are also called to invite others to life in Christ, within His Church.Can we do that? Can we challenge ourselves to invite others to Christ and to His Church? Who is brave enough to follow through with this challenge? Who is brave enough to do what the priest and the Levite would not do and bend down to serve our neighbors and invite them to Christ? Your neighbor is the person who lives next to you. Your neighbor is your classmate. Your neighbor is your co-worker. Your neighbor is your friend or family member. Your neighbor is the cashier or the waitress you see on a weekly basis. Perhaps one of these people in your life is waiting for a Samaritan to lift them and carry them to Christ. After all, this is what the Lord Jesus did for each of us.

Today we also begin the start of the Advent or Nativity fast. In 40 days we will celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we prepare our hearts to properly celebrate that feast with 40 days of fasting in the Orthodox tradition. That means that the next 40 days are to be days that we rededicate ourselves to prayer and reading and the things of God. The world would like us to lose the Christian perspective and simply celebrate like everyone else. But we are not the world. This is one of the great fasting periods in the life of the Church, don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow in your spiritual life. What can we do to make sure that we do not squander this opportunity from God?

Turn off the television 30 minutes earlier than usual in the evening, and use this time for extra reading and prayer. Perhaps choosing a good Christian book or story Bible to share with the family. We could add some prostrations or kneeling bows to our prayer routines, even 5 or 10 before prayer will be a positive. We could make a list of people that we would like to give gifts to, who are not our friends and from whom we expect nothing in return. We could dedicate an hour each week to caring for someone in need or even call people who might feel isolated and need our support. Perhaps we can spend a little less on gifts and give a little more to those in need. If we want this to be a special Christmas, let us consecrate this season of our life to Jesus Christ, and He will bless and transform the meaning of this feast for you and open up new realities within your souls. If we are faithful and we allow Him, He will become the reason for our joy. And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Becomes Our Hope

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:41-56) 

There is nothing worse than seeing your children sick, suffering or in pain. It pulls the heart in a thousand different directions at once. For a parent it is difficult. Yet there is something that is worse. I cannot begin to imagine the thought of losing a child. Imagine the pain and anguish of having to bury your own child. It is a tragedy that is beyond words or comprehension. Yet we meet with this scenario in the gospel reading today. Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue has come to Jesus for help. His beloved daughter has fallen ill and she is dying. So this man, this father, who loves his daughter dearly, and would easily give his own life for his daughters, does something that could cause scandal within the jewish community since he has a high position in the synagogue. He falls at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and begs Him to come to his house and help his daughter.

Each of us gets into a rut or a routine and sometimes we also do that with our relationship with the Lord. We go through the motions, we might do enough to check the boxes but oftenwe don’tpress further and go past our comfort zone. Sometimes we don’t seek God genuinely from the depths of our heart unless we are at a true point of despair. It might be that this is what happened to Jairus. He hit rock bottom as he saw the life fading from his precious daughter’s eyes. So he cried out to the Lord from the very depths of his being. 

We should know that if we humbly cry out to God from the depths of our being, if we pray like everything depends on that prayer, if we put our heart and our focus into our prayer, the Lord will be listening to us as He listened to Jairus. He will be present with us in the midst of whatever we are facing. Will God always answer our prayers? Absolutely. Will He always answer them in the way that we want? Absolutely not. One of the silent prayers that the priest prays during the divine liturgy is “Fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Your servants as may be most beneficial to them, granting us in the life the knowledge of Thy truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.”

God is interested in being present with us and helping us. He wants to answer our prayers, but there is an important point we cannot neglect to mention. Not everything that we pray for, not everything we desire is beneficial for our salvation. So if God doesn’t answer your particular prayer it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist or that He doesn’t care about you. He cares for you deeply. He loves you more than Jairus loved his own daughter! The Lord wants the very best for you. Sometimes that means that He doesn’t answer our prayers exactly as we hope for. Sometimes He doesn’t answer our prayers exactly when we expect them to be answered. Sometimes the answered prayer comes much later than we would have expected. But who can know the mind of God? Thank God that He answers our prayers in precisely the way that He chooses, because His way is better than anything we can imagine. 

Each of us has faced or will face dismal situations in our own lives. Situations that are terrifying, difficult, painful, nearly impossible to handle. Be comforted my brothers and sisters., be comforted. Christ our Lord will never ever leave us or abandon us. But don’t you leave and abandon Him either! And never doubt His power to change your difficulties or to redeem them and to restore us and help us in our struggles. That is what happened in the gospel. When the Lord came to the house where the young girl had died, people were gathered and followed the custom of wailing and lamenting the loss of this young child together. And when the Lord told them that she was not dead but sleeping, they laughed in the Lord’s face! Let us not be faithless like these mourners and wailers in the secret place of our hearts.God is in the business of healing what is broken and working what seems impossible in our lives. First and foremost, He aims to heal our spiritual brokenness and restore each of us to spiritual life and health. He aims to bring us back from the dead.

What the Lord did in the life of this little girl is the same thing that He does for those who desire to grow in Him. They come broken, but they leave healed. They come with sins, and they leave forgiven. They come to Him as dead men and He alone has the power to bring them back to life, for He is “the life and the resurrection.”

His love for us is much more than we could imagine. May we take hope in His love and care for each of us. Jairus came to Him, broken, and hopeless but he fell at the Lord’s feet. What the Lord said to Jairus, He also says to each of us, no matter what we are facing in this life: “Do not fear, only believe.” And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons