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


Laying Aside and Carrying

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

Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. In many ways this is one of my very favorite feasts in the life of the Church. “Why?” You might ask. Because this feast is about possibilities, mainly, our possibilities in this life, in Christ. A few weeks ago, I gave a lesson and had a discussion with some of our teens and we talked about finding our purpose in life. I summed this purpose up with the words of St. Theophan the recluseThe chief end of our life is to live in communion with God.” We were created to live in communion with God, an everlasting communion, a communion of love. Not only is this our purpose in life, it is the very definition of a saint.

Today we celebrate all the saints of the holy Church, both those whom we recognize officially and the many many multitudes of holy and righteous men, women and children whom we never even notice. If we don’t have this as our purpose in life, to emulate the saints of the Lord, to become saints, then we are not yet thinking clearly. We are then, a people without a purpose. St. Mark the Ascetic once said, “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” What he is saying is that each and every action and thought should be directed to a purpose in Christ. A purpose that is directed towards the Lord.

How do we fulfill this purpose? What are the steps that we must take to grow in the image and likeness of God and live in eternal communion with God and His saints? The apostle Paul in today’s epistle writes “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”

He comforts us by reminding us that what we are chasing is nothing new. It has already been observed. It has already been accomplished successfully because of the Lord Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. It has become a reality in the saints whom St. Paul calls “a cloud of witnesses”. But how? He says that it happens by “laying aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” On this verse,One of the ancient father says thatWeight” is a sin of the enjoyment of the flesh, a form in which the “sin which clings so closely” is born. It clings closely to us as it surrounds us with pleasure and subdues us to its own will. St. Paul’s work agrees when it reminds us that the flesh wars against the spirit.

For a saint, or those who desire to be saints, each and every day we are forced to choose between the flesh and the spirit. We either choose a life of comfort and pleasure, or a life that may be difficult but comes with the consolation of God. To become a saint, we lay aside our sins.  Even the ones that feel like they have become a part of us because of our stubborn ways or our habitual failings.  St. Paul reminds us that we can lay these sins aside, just as the saints did, through the grace of God.

Becoming a saint, becoming who you were meant to be, becoming who you were created to become, is not only a matter of laying things aside.  It is also a matter of learning to carry something. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the one who seeks to follow Him must learn to forget about his life and carry his cross.  The cross was a painful instrument of death and yet the Lord Jesus used this way of the cross in order to give us life. I have no doubt that we have crosses in our lives…some of them are quite difficult.  Whatever you do, don’t lay aside your cross. Don’t quit. While sins appear harmless, they bring us death. Yet the cross which looks painful, brings us life!

When we learn to carry the cross we learn to be like our beloved Master.  We learn to emulate the One whom we claim to love with all of our hearts and minds.  In a way, we prove to God that we are His because we know the way of suffering, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of denial.  In short, through the cross we come to know the way of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We are so faithful to this way that we do not consider our lives as our own, but we offer them up to our heavenly Father, because without His blessing, it cannot even be called a life.  Each cross is a trial that tests our faith and our belief in the living God. It is also a real chance to display the life of the resurrection that has been given to us!

For one person, the cross is a difficult marriage, yet he stays married because this honors God and gives life to his children and to his community.  He (or she) may even find that struggle produces more love and the growth and flourishing of that relationship. For another, the cross is a difficult workplace with ungodly people.  One of the crosses that we must each face is an increasingly hostile, godless, secular culture. None of us will escape from it. Either we will succumb to it or we will carry the cross of faith in Christ as our banner.  And so, we can’t throw off our cross, or abandon the culture or it will be lost. We must carry these crosses because they lead to our union with the Lord and they offer life to the world around us. After all, this is what we are celebrating today…the lives of those who learned to live and die according to Christ, and who, by doing so, became life to the Church and their own societies through their faithful witness.  These are the men and women that we ask to pray for us and support us as we seek to follow their path to the One who is the path, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Him is due all glory, honor and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.   

Source: Sermons


It Is Possible Through Him

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….AMEN.

Your Grace Bishop Nicholas, Reverend brother clergy, Brothers and Sisters in Christ….Christ Has Ascended!

The theme of our conference this year is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This is really a powerful verse. A verse full of hope. This is a verse that can bring us great joy in the midst of our struggles. It can be our fuel when we think that we have nothing left in our tank. When we hear this verse, we are corrected from ourfaulty ways of thinking and we begin to see reality in a truthful way. It is not I who do this or that activity. It is not I who succeed by my own talents and strengths and abilities. All of these attributes that we carry are meaningless and worthless if they do not invite the Lord Jesus Christ to work through us. Indeed, the Lord says exactly that in the gospel according to St. John chapter 15 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

This is all that matters in life, to abide in Christ and to have Christ our Lord abiding in us. When we hear the words of St. Paul that, we “can do all things through Christ” we should desire what is most important. We should desire the greatest things that can be accomplished through Our Lord Jesus Christ working in us. Instead of aiming for the bare minimum, we should reach for the stars.

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.” What is it that you and I can do through Christ? What is most important for us to do in Christ? It is to have communion with the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Do you know what it means to have communion with the Holy Trinity? It means that you live according to the purpose for which you were created. In short, you become a saint.

Do we desire to become saints? Do we desire to live a life of unbroken communion with the Lord? If so, we are forced to ask “How can I do this?” and we hear the words of the Lord “with man, this is impossible.” After all, we are reminded that we are of the flesh of Adam, who fell into sin and invited corruption and death upon the whole family of the human race. And no schemes devised since the time of the fall until now, have been able to reverse the inevitability of this death. It was inescapable. Yet the Lord does not conclude saying “with man, this is impossible”….He continues saying “but with God, all things are possible.” It is God, through His Son, that has opened for us the gates of paradise and given usthe chance to do the impossible with Christ, to be resurrected, to be saved, to live again in glory with the saints. Ihope that this inspires us and even excites us!

In fact, we can say that the theme of the conference, this verse Philippians 4:13 is not simply encouragement but a promise and a road map. St. Paul is correcting our short-sighted, narrow-minded, faithless and self-centered approach. Stop looking in the mirror and start looking to Christ. You may have heard this saying “Don’t tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is.” There are many obstacles to our goal of communion with God. We deal with our passions. We deal with distractions. We go to battle against the demonic forces. Yet in every moment of the day and at all times, find a way to turn to Christ. There is no other way forward because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the roadmap, He is the guide, He is our security detail, He is our food or provision along the journey and He is also our destination, our goal.

But “How can we do this?” We lean on the life of the Church. After all, it is the Apostle Paul who tells us that the Church is not just an organization, not just a group of believers. The Church is the very body of Christ. It is the healing hands of Christ through the sacraments. It is the voice of Christ, proclaiming His teachings in the gospels. It is the presence of Christ through her clergy. It is the very life giving, flesh and blood of Christ through the Eucharist. It is even a taste of the kingdom of Christ through the rich liturgical life and our fellowship with the saints. In short, when we cling to the life of the Church, we are abiding in Christ and we are strengthened through Him. 

St. Mark the Ascetic tell us to “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” May our efforts not be wasted. May they be blessed and transformed and multiplied through our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who strengthens us. To Him be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Guarding the Truth in the Church

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

On this day, we celebrate the Holy Fathers of the first ecumenical council which was assembled in Nicaea in the year 325ad. Why was this council convened? What did it mean? Why was it so important? What would cause the Emperor St. Constantine the Great to call this meeting and to fund the travel expenses and the gatherings of these 318 bishops from around the world? We can look at today’s readings for a glimpse into the problem. In today’s reading from the book of acts we hear these words from the Apostle Paul,

“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” 

St. Paul taught this to the priests and bishops in the city of Ephesus. We know this because we are told that he called to him the “elders” of the church, which translates as “presbyteros” or presbyters, and that he addressed them as “overseers” which is a term that was synonymous with bishop. We also note that in the early life of the Church, while the apostles were still active, these terms of elder and overseer were often used interchangeably.

St. Paul, as their teacher, was preparing them for life in the Church. Especially life, after the apostles. Even from the earliest days of the Church there was confusion about certain aspects of the faith. There were also men that St. Paul called “fierce wolves” who were in fact, teachers who taught the faith incorrectly. And if there is one thing that we know is important as Orthodox Christians it is this: Faith that is not true is not from God and it cannot offer healing and salvation, because it does not offer us a real path to God and to His Church.

It should really be striking to us that St. Paul gives this warning regarding not the outsiders, but regarding those who come into the church. Who has more influence, an outsider and stranger or one who you come to know and trust in the church? Certainly, the one who is within the flock. For this reason, we take seriously the message of St. Paul to these clergy, to be alert and on guard against false teaching that comes up in the church. Of primary importance is the teaching of theology or doctrine. Nothing is as destructive to the human person as bad theology, and false doctrine. 

In our society today, we are nearly overrun by pluralism. People say that there is no such thing as objective truth. They say that one thing might be true for you while another is true for me. They say that whatever you may believe, it is your truth and not the truth. As Christians we beg to differ. 2000 years ago we received the clear divine revelation directly from the mouth of the God who took flesh and dwelt among us. The disciples and apostles bore witness to this truth with their very lives. The saints and martyrs throughout each and every generation, have continued to bear witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is how they demonstrated their love for God and for their neighbor. 

Are any of us brave enough to speak up for our beliefs in this culture and at this time? Are we interested in showing love to those around us? If so, we are required to speak the truth in love. We should not be afraid to do so. Because we are not interested in pleasing men, but in pleasing the God who has redeemed us and gives us life. And good theology gives life, because it expresses or “gives” God truthfully.

The emperor St. Constantine convened the council at Nicaea because he saw a new teaching coming into the church and this teaching threatened to destroy the church and then the empire. A charismatic priest named Arius had gained quite a following through his teaching and preaching. What was it that he preached? He preached that Jesus was not equal to God the Father, that Jesus was created by God the Father. “Where did he get this idea?”you might ask. Well, he got it by reading the Bible. “Well, now, wait a minute, I thought that the Bible was reliable and true?” But this is exactly the issue. Arius would quote passages such as when the Lord Jesus says “The Father is greater than I.” He would also quote from the OldTestament such passages as Proverbs 8:22 which reads according to some translations “The LORD made me at the beginning of His creation, before His works of long ago.” So it might be easy to be confused if one only looks at the biblical texts. We see this in the phenomenon of many Christian denominations. If the Bible is clear and sufficient, why do we have so many different interpretations? 

The church understood this and for this reason the teaching has always been that no Scripture is of private interpretation, but requires prayer and council especially with regards to difficult passages. How do we make sense of difficult passages? We test them against the living tradition that has been handed down to us from the apostles, against the apostolic preaching. We also test them against the rest of Scripture and the New Testament. If something is true, it should be true throughout the text and not only in a few isolated instances, when taken out of context.

In all of this, the holy ecumenical council served as a court of last resort and final authority, through the authority vested in the bishops by the laying on of hands from the Apostles, which they in turn received from the Lord Jesus Himself. The ecumenical council is theplace where the leaders of the Church could come together to pray and discern and ask the Holy Spirit to guide them to the truth of the faith that was handed down and remains unchanged. What a love these men had for preserving the Church! Ipraythat we would take time tounderstand just what kind of a treasure we have in this faith and in the Church, the living body of Christ. I thank God for what He has generously offered us. May we become worthy of these gifts through our love for Him. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Why We Reject Christ

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

In
our world, and perhaps since the foundation of the world, Satan has
sought to divide and confuse people. He does this in subtle and not
so subtle ways. He finds reasons for us to be divided and not at
peace with one another. He will use any and everything at his
disposal in order to achieve his objectives. He divides Christians
along denominational lines, so that they will not enter into the One,
Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and be healed. He divides
citizens along political lines. He makes us believe that there is
such a gap between republicans and democrats that they cannot be
civil with one another, or love one another. He wants to divide us
along any possible line. He seeks to divide by race, gender, class,
ideology. He seeks to divide by any means because he is the one who
divides. His very name means adversary.

Yet,
in today’s gospel we are given a glimpse into truth. The Lord
Jesus, the Word of God, teaches us that there is one thing that
properly separates us and creates two distinct groups; blindness and
sight. We begin with a focus on the physical blindness of the man who
was born blind. Some of the Church fathers tell us that this man was
likely born with no eyes, but only with empty sockets. He is
physically blind, but that is not the problem. The problem as we we
listen and read further is not his blindness but the spiritual
blindness of the Pharisees. We see then that the world can properly
be divided into two groups. Those with spiritual sight and those with
spiritual blindness. Our Lord says to His disciples “I am the light
of the world.” What divides us or unites us is our acceptance of
Jesus Christ as the light of the world. Either we are truly blind or
we can really see.

When
Christ is not the light of your world, everything is darkness. But
when Jesus Christ is the light of your world, you begin to see
clearly. Everything takes on a new look, everything is exposed and
healed by the light of Christ. As Christians, it is very important
that we take this seriously. Our guiding principle in life and in our
interaction with the world around us is not our political leanings or
our “personal opinions” or feelings. If you are guided by your
personal feelings, you might as well create an image of yourself,
pray before it and offer it sacrifices. Be honest with yourself and
choose whom you will follow, yourself or the Lord Jesus Christ, His
life and His teachings.

You
may be thinking “I would like to follow Jesus, but how can I be
sure that I am following Him and not my own opinions?” The answer
is to take seriously the work of studying the Bible and especially
the four gospels. Our serious study of the gospels requires a small
sacrifice of our time, and a big sacrifices of our own thoughts and
opinions. If you study the words of the Lord, His light will expose
your deficiencies and your inner darkness. Sometimes this is painful,
it is like laser surgery. But sometimes surgery is necessary for
healing to begin.

Although
their  physical eyes worked quite well, the Pharisees struggled
to see the spiritual light. They were quite confident in their ways
and according to the Lord, this way of rejection of the light was in
actuality, darkness. Why? did Because of their pride. St. Tikhon of
Zadonsk once said“When pride retreats from a man, humility begins
to dwell in him, and the more pride is diminished, so much more does
humility grow. The one gives way to the other as to its opposite.
Darkness departs and light appears. Pride is darkness, but humility
is light.”

Lest
we seem to only be picking on the Pharisees, we should recognize that
within each of us there are aspects of the pride of the Pharisees. We
each have hidden, secret pride that we carry and treasure deep within
us.

+
St. Justin Popovic writes “It can be said: pride is the ultimate
sin. Every sin, through its life force, comes from it and holds to
it: “the pride of life”–woven from countless
multifarious(various) prides, both great and small, both short-term
and long term. Let us remember the primary things: the pride of glory
(scientific, government, in any rank or position in general), pride
of beauty, pride of wealth, pride of benevolence, pride of humility
(yes! of humility), pride of charity, pride of success…There is not
a virtue that pride cannot convert into a vice. The pride of prayer
converts the person praying into a Pharisee, and the ascetic into a
self-murderer. So, every sin, in reality is a sin through pride,
because Satan is in reality Satan through pride. If it were not for
pride, sin would not exist, neither in the angelic or the human
world….”

It
is this pride that Christ searches out and exposes to the light
through our honest and authentic Christian life. A life that we
choose to fill with the word of God and with prayer. A
life that we fill with the sacraments and with worship. This allows
us to enter into a dialogue with the Holy Trinity. It
won’t happen by merely repeating words with vain repetitions, but
when we actually pray with pain of heart. This type of prayer exposes
our darkness to His divine light and opens
us up
to receive His
healing. That is why we believe and why we love Him, because He first
loved us. He
offered and continues to offer us His healing and His life of
resurrection.

This
light was offered to the Pharisees but they rejected it. They were
full of pride in themselves and in their knowledge and they lacked
love. Like recognizes like. Only the one who struggles for love and
humility can recognize the humble and loving hand of the Savior in
their lives. Without love for God, we won’t recognize His light but
will reject it as darkness. So let us not be confident in ourselves,
but in the One who alone has the power to give sight to the blind and
life to those who are in the tombs, to Christ our immortal Lord, be
the glory now and ever and unto ages of ages AMEN.

Source: Sermons


We Thirst For Living Water

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

Today, on the fifth Sunday of Pascha, we hear the familiar and powerful story of the Samaritan woman. This is one of the Lord’s longest one on one interactions in all of the gospel texts. In dealing with this Samaritan woman patiently, the Lord is giving us a foretaste of the way that He would unite the Jews and the gentiles through His work and would reconcile the gentiles back to a living relationship with the living God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to sit near Jacob’s well and we are told that He was tired from His journey. As He saw the Samaritan woman at the well He did something completely unexpected. He broke the social conventions and the ritual laws of purity by speaking to her. He asks her for a cup of water. What a simple act! Yet, in demonstrating some need, He was actually opening her up and reeling her in for the conversation and the encounter that would change her life.

Since Our Lord is our model for life we might do well to learn from this example. Sometimes we have to appear vulnerable and needy in order for others to get closer to us and through this we may be able to help them come to a living knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. It is a sign of humility and in humbling Himself to ask for her help, the Lord actually draws her in. He doesn’t really need her help, He can certainly handle the bucket and the well without her assistance, and yet, He chooses to humble Himself in order to give her an opportunity to be truly blessed. 

The woman at the well, whom we later know to be St. Photeini, did not understand what the Lord was doing but only looked at the social conventions and the laws of the day. She replied to Him “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And Jesus answered her with these lovely words “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The Samaritan woman is still clearly confused. She is thinking about physical, material water, yet the Lord is offering Her something that is divine, and spiritual in nature. So after she questions the Lord again, He replies “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst forever; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

What is this water of which the Lord Jesus is speaking? What is this water that will allow us to never thirst again, and will become in each of us a spring that leads to eternal life? It is the Holy Spirit.

St.Cyril of Alexandria writes “Jesus calls the quickening gift of the Spirit “living water” because mere human nature is parched to its very roots, now rendered dry and barren of all virtue by the crimes of the devil. But now human nature runs back to its pristine beauty, and drinking in that which is life-giving, it is made beautiful with a variety of good things and, budding into a virtuous life, it sends out healthy shoots of love toward God.”

It becomes clear to us that the Lord has come specifically to heal this woman and give her life. He can see and has known her thirst for God. In fact he saw in her failed marriages and divorces, a woman who ultimately was searching desperately for love. Often our sins can be traced directly to an inner sense that we feel unloved. When a man falls into drug addiction or alcohol abuse it is often because he is trying to self-soothe, he doesn’t sense love and so he turns to something that numbs that pain or that emptiness. When a young woman doesn’t feel attention or love, especially from her father, she looks left and right and tries to find a man who will give her attention. She is so thirsty for such a deep love that sadly, she will almost throw herself at anyone to try to quench that thirst, no matter how destructive the situation, no matter how toxic the individual she meets. Men likewise struggle through such issues when dealing with pornography…and the list goes on. 

Yet, we see good news in all of this…We are loved. We were created for more than empty addictions. We were created for more than endless hunger and endless thirst. Christ has created us and given us tremendous, deephunger so that nothing created could ever fill this void. So that we would desireto be filled with the infinite love of God, our maker. St. John Chrysostom says that the Lord calls the Holy Spirit“water” “in order to highlight the cleansing it does and the great refreshment it provides those minds that receive it. For it makes the willing soul like a kind of garden, thick with all kinds of fruitful and productive trees, allowing it neither to feel despondency nor the plots of Satan. It quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.”

He offered her something precious. Something which she did not deserve. The Fathers understand that the Samaritan woman is a symbol of the Church. She symbolizes each of us. Christ comes to her, and He comes to each of us and offers us what He offered to her many years ago. His promise remains. We know that she was thirsty for the Spirit of God, we can see this from her actions after this encounter, from the life she lived. What about you? Does your life demonstrate thirst for the Holy Spirit? Does it demonstrate hunger in doing the will of God? Let me tell you a secret: God will not force Himself on us. He gives us according to our desires, but the deeper you go, the more He will share of Himself and His Holy Spirit.

In about 3 weeks we will celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost, and I don’t want you to think of the feast as an event of the past…NO. It is an event in the present. The Holy Spirit desires to fill you by His grace and recharge you and give you power to walk and to live according to the image and likeness of the Lord. Whatis needed from us, is to direct our thirst to the right place. If we keep chasing empty, abandoned wells, we should not be surprised that we are left in worse shape than before we found them. Let us, the faithful, run to the well of our salvation, to the Lord Jesus who alone can bring us into fulfillment and love in the Holy Trinity. Cast aside the other bitter waters that have stolen away yourjoy, and attention and turn to the One who gives sweet and living water. To Christ be the glory, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, AMEN. Christ is Risen! 

Source: Sermons