Spiritual Housekeeping

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (16:13-24) 

As you may know, St. Paul would go physically to various towns and cities and in each city he would spend some time and start small churches, perhaps what we might even call missions. He did this in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who commanded the apostles to go into every region and tto every corner and preach the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ to all people. In the course of founding these young churches, St. Paul would often hear news of their trials and troubles as well as their successes and he would write letters to these churches when he could not himself be physically present. Sometimes he used these letters to put things in order, or to offer swift correction or to encourage and strengthen the faithful. In today’s epistle we hear the words of the Holy Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians. 

“Brethren, be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, and be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 

What does St. Paul mean when he says “Be watchful”? We can often study other parts of Holy Scripture in order to illumine the meaning of hard to grasp phrases. In particular we should hear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the gospel according to Matthew the Lord Jesus says “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44)”and again He says “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:13)

Yet again we hear the same teaching from Our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel according to St. Luke where He says “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:37-40)

The Lord reminds us that we are to remain watchful and vigilant over our souls and our spiritual life because what, rather, who we are carrying in our souls is precious treasure. We are carrying the Holy Spirit. We have become temples of the Holy Spirit through our baptism into Christ. We are reminded that none of us knows when we will meet the Lord so we should prepare to meet the Lord on a daily basis. The fathers of the Church spent volumes writing about this subject of watchfulness. Here is just a taste of what they have taught,

St. Peter of Damascus writes “As St John of Damaskos says, without attentiveness and watchfulness of the intellect we cannot be saved and rescued from the devil, who walks about ‘like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet. 5:8). For this reason the Lord often said to His disciples, ‘Watch and pray; for you do not know at what hour your Lord is coming’ (Matt. 26:41, 24:42). Through them He was giving a warning to us all about the remembrance of death, so that we should be prepared to offer a defense, grounded in works and attentiveness, that will be acceptable to God. For the demons, as St Hilarion has said, are immaterial and sleepless, concerned only to fight against us and to destroy our souls through word, act and thought. We lack a similar persistence, and concern ourselves now with our comfort and with ephemeral opinion, now with worldly matters, now with a thousand and one other things. We are not in the least interested in examining our life, so that our intellect may develop the habit of so doing and may give attention to itself unremittingly.”

What he tells us is that we as Christians must not be distracted by this world in which we live. We are called to a life of prayer and watchfulness and that as we practice this lifestyle, we find that we will develop a habit that becomes part of our nature. So that is good news. It may not be easy at first, but with God’s help, we can grow and mature in our spiritual life.

After telling us to be watchful, St. Paul commands us to stand firm in our faith, to be courageous and strong. We are reminded that at the time that St. Paul was preaching and teaching, he was in the Roman empire and that this empire did not have freedom of religion or freedom of religious expression. He was reminding the people that part of being a Christian is refusing to give in to any pressures either internal or external. Refusing to compromise our Christian faith or way of life for anything, eventhe fear of punishment or death. Being a Christian means being prepared to die for your faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Being a Christian means holding your faith as sacred and precious and not compromising those beliefs for convenience or riches or comfort or popularity or political parties or ideologies. Nothing comes before Christ. If you put anything before Christ and His teachings you are like the Israelites who created a golden idol and worshipped it.But we are His children and He was crucified for our salvation, and in every generation there have been precious followers of Christ who have suffered and died for their faith. Even if we are told that we cannot buy food or drink water without denying Christ and accepting false gods, we should not do it! We should gladly die of hunger or thirst rather than be filled and nourished in the body while dead in the soul, which was bought at a price, through the suffering and life-giving death of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the witness of the martyrs of the Church and we are reminded of their heroic deeds on an almost daily basis.

After telling the Corinthian church to be watchful, courageous and strong, he gives them a reminder of one of the most important aspects of Christian life. He writes “let all that you do be done in love.” Those are powerful words to live by! What does love look like? First and foremost love looks like that man hanging on that wood, behind the altar. When I sit with couples and we do pre-marital counseling I ask them if they know what love looks like and then after a few moments I point to the icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified. That is THE picture of God’s love which means it is a perfect and complete picture, it is not lacking.

Love is suffering and sacrifice on behalf of others. In an age where everyone wants to compete and to win, love often looks like losing. For instance, when a husband and wife are fighting with one another, if one person always wins the arguments, they will actually lose in the end. They appear to win, but they lose because there was no love in the interaction, no humility, no understanding. It is the same with our interactions with others whether personal or virtual. Sometimes love compels us to be silent and to let things slide instead of causing strife through our insistence on winning arguments or being right. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God.” St. Ambrose writes about this in the life of the Church when he says “Where there is strife and dissension, there is no love.” It sounds like this could apply to our own country and our own time. It is up to us to rise above the earthly discourse of our power seeking culture and to live above the noise. We elevate society and culture by living godly, sanctified lives, not by arguing with others in person or online. Our Lord taught His disciples saying “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love for one another.”John 13:34-35

As we began with a quote from St. Peter of Damascus, I will also end with one. St. Peter writes “Such are the souls of the saints: they love their enemies more than themselves, and in this age and in the age to come they put their neighbor first in all things, even though because of his ill-will he may be their enemy. They do not seek recompense from those whom they love, but because they have themselves received they rejoice in giving to others all that they have, so that they may conform to their Benefactor and imitate His compassion to the best of their ability; ‘for He is bountiful to the thankless and to sinners’ (cf. Luke 6:35).” May we live firmly in our faith, inthis spirit of generosity and compassion as the children of the One who is the source of all good things, and mayGod give us grace to do so. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

What Is Keeping Us From Following Christ?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26) 

A young man came up to Our Lord Jesus Christ and he asked Him a very important question “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are often so used to hearing these gospel stories that we take them for granted and fail to recognize just how amazing they are. This is an example of one of the amazing interactions and conversations that were a regular part of the life of Jesus Christ. This is not a trivial question at all. It is really really critical. Of all the questions that one could possibly ask of the Son of God, this is definitely among the most important. Indeed, this is among the most important questions that one can ask period. But why? Because this questions reminds us that this current life is passing away and yet there is the possibility of more to come.

One of the stumbling blocks of our modern society is the way that we hide death away from general view. We would like to believe that death doesn’t exist. The world wants you to believe that death doesn’t exist. The world wants you to believe that only this life matters. The world wants you to believe that whatever you do in this life matters only here and now and does not affect us later in the afterlife, primarily because the world denies the afterlife. The world and the philosophies of the world tell us to do whatever is pleasing to us. They tell us to go after pleasure and be wild and free. However there is a problem. No one is really free when they are subject to the bondage of sin which leads to death. And if when we die, we have to stand before God and be in His presence, we are left wondering how that experience will be for us if we are not slaves of God but slaves of sin. Will it be an experience of eternal darkness or eternal light? An experience of eternal joy or eternal sorrow? It is our spiritual condition that will either help us or hinder us at that very moment when we face the Lord.

So this question by the young man is really quite fantastic. It is a question that could change the course of each of our lives. If I start every day in prayer and ask this question “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that means that I am a mature Christian and I see my own life in a healthy and developed way. I understand that I belong to Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We were baptized into the name and the identity of Jesus Christ. The Christian who wants to live a fruitful and joyful life lives his life oriented towards his master, towards the One who redeemed his life. He or she can no longer live like the rest of the world because we have already died and been reborn in baptism. We already live with our eyes facing heaven and with one foot in the kingdom. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the correct question to guide our lives. But asking the right questions is never enough. The teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ always force us to backup our desires with a heartfelt response. The young man claimed to desire one thing but the answer of the Lord proved that the young man’s desire was not serious. Christ replied to the young man “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” This first part of the answer is interesting because the Lord doesn’t say “if you would enter eternal life..” He simply says “if you would enter life..” This means that life itself is found in the keeping of the commandments of God, starting with the Ten Commandments. If you are confused about your purpose and direction in life, one place to start looking for answers is the ten commandments. They are a roadmap to a vibrant, peaceful and purpose filled life. More than that, some of the fathers tells us that obedience to the commandments helps us to grow in knowledge of God Himself.

However the Lord goes further when he is pressed to do so by the young man. The young man claims to have kept all of the commandments perfectly and so he asks “what do I still lack?” That is a frightening thing to ask the Son of God. It is frightening because He will respond and we may not like His response because His correction is like a life giving surgery that removes a tumor. Our tumor is sin. The Lord Jesus replies “if you would be perfect, go sell what you posses and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

Imagine that you are presented with an opportunity to become one of the disciples of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry? How much would we give for an opportunity like that? How much would be have given to have unfiltered access to the Lord, to watch His ways and His miracles, to hear the teachings of His blessed mouth? There is not treasure on earth that could possibly outweigh such an honor. This was the invitation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to this man, yet the man chose the things to which he was attached, the things to which he was enslaved. Whatever keeps us from growing closer to God, that is what is sinful in our lives. For this man, it was the thought of losing his things, his material wealth, that kept him from growing closer to Christ, from knowing Him intimately, from serving Him and being honored as one of His disciples. When the young man went away, the Lord responded “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich man enter into the kingdom.”

What keeps us from growing closer to Christ? What keeps us from knowing Him more intimately? Each one of us is invited to ask such difficult questions as we pray and seek the face of God. Only we have to also accept that the Lord will answer our difficult questions with difficult answers our of His great love for us and His desire to heal us and see us restored to full life. It will not be easy, but God knows our hearts and He who conquered death and destroyed the devil can make it a reality in our lives because He is compassionate and is abundant in mercy. 

St. John Chrysostom writes “ after Jesus had made eye contact with them (the disciples), he said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” So with a pleasant and gentle look, he soothed those whose hearts were terrorized and relieved their anguish (for this is what the Evangelist meant by “looking at him”). Then he uplifted them with his words as he focused on the power of God, and thus he gave them faith.

If you also want to learn the way and how the impossible becomes possible, listen. He did not make this statement that what is impossible for man is possible for God merely so you could relax and do nothing and leave it all to God. No, he said this so you could understand the importance of calling upon God to give you help in this rigorous contest and that you might more readily approach his grace.”

And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Making Things Right

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

Today we hear a beautiful reading, one of the parables of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. In each of these parables we are fortunate enough to receive a glimpse into the mind of God and His kingdom. In fact in this particular parable our Lord says “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and He continues from there. The point of this powerful parable today is regarding forgiveness. There is nothing quite so powerful in the life of a child of God as forgiveness. This year Great and Holy Lent was quite unique and it was interrupted in some ways by our focus on covid and the changes that each of our families had to make at the time. But right before all of that happened we did what we do as Orthodox Christians at the beginning of Lent. We came together on a Sunday night for forgiveness vespers. If you have never experienced forgiveness vespers, I am not sure what I can tell you to help you understand and appreciate this event. It is one of the single most important days in the life of an Orthodox Christian community. It helps us to solidify our love for one another and our utter need for mercy from one another and from God. It is our admission of failure before God and all men. It is difficult and yet it is necessary and liberating and truly special. 

There are good reasons why some cannot participate in any given year, but it is a tragedy when we are not all together for forgiveness vespers. Why is this the way that we start our lenten struggle every year? Because the Church is teaching her children that forgiveness is the key to the doorway of the kingdom of God. Without forgiveness, everything is lost. Without forgiveness we cannot even begin to make a start at repentance and the foundation that we are building upon is not solid ground. It will all crumble. So it really is very sad when people choose not to attend that amazing service. 

We talk a lot about forgiveness, but what does forgiveness actually look like? Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once wrote “The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness.” How much forgiveness? Endless forgiveness.

The safe way to deal with everyone is to quickly ask forgiveness when you have wronged others. It is even better to ask forgiveness when you have not really wronged others but they believe that you have. It is a greatform of humility when you ask forgiveness although you may not have done wrong, as long as you do it with the proper spirit and joy.

St. John of Kronstadt writes “Besides loving each other, we must bear with each other and pardon and ‘forgive them that trespass against us’ in order that our heavenly Father may ‘forgive us our trespasses’ (Mt. 6:14). Thus, with all your soul honor and love in every man the image of God, not regarding his sins, for God alone is Holy and without sin; and see how He loves us, how much He has created and still creates for us, punishing us mercifully and forgiving us bounteously and graciously. Honor the man also, in spite of his sins, for he can always amend.” 

In marriage this is often the case between a husband and a wife. Regardless of who is actually right or wrong, what is first necessary is to ask forgiveness and to actually forgive so that healing can begin. Instead of competing for justice or our personal rights, the husband and the wife should compete to outshine one another in mercy and forgiveness. We also live the life of the Church as a family and this practice helps to keep the whole church healthy and stable. You may have noticed that twice during the Divine Liturgy, the priest will turn around and bow low. Each time he is asking the Lord to forgive the people and asking the people to forgive him of all his sins, so that he can approach Christ at the holy table, with a pure conscience having fulfilled the requirements of the gospel to reconcile with all men first.

As I mentioned a moment ago, it is a great form of humility when you ask forgiveness although you may not have done wrong, as long as you do it with the proper spirit and joy. What we are saying in effect is this “I am sorry for whatever I have done, knowingly or unknowingly to hurt or wrong you. Please forgive me.” Conversely, it is the ultimate pride and delusion when someone comes to you to ask forgiveness and you attach conditions to your ability to forgive them, or you refuse to do so. Can you begin to imagine the sin that you have committed before God?Is God’slove conditional? Certainly not. He pours out His mercy on His creation and on mankind, the pinnacle of His creation. So we have to learn to do two things, approach others and ask forgiveness of them and also accept others with generositywhen they approach us. If we don’t learn those two things we are still a long way from the kingdom. But if we learn them, God will be near to our hearts and will make His home in our hearts.

Listen to the words of the holy elder Sampson of Russia “The drunkard, the fornicator, the proud – he will receive God’s mercy. But he who does not want to forgive, to excuse, to justify consciously, intentionally … that person closes himself to eternal life before God, and even more so in the present life. He is turned away and not heard.”

Siblings, forgive one another. Friends, forgive one another. Spouses, forgive one another. Children, forgive your parents and parents forgive your children. If you have been causing strife online or in social media, even there you should ask forgiveness. If people have offended you by their thoughts or opinions or way of life, forgive them also, because only then will you be open to receive God’s forgiveness. So it is not a laughing matter that we learn to forgive one another.  Let’s take this seriously and approach it with joy because the Lord Jesus is teaching us out of His love for us and He is giving us a roadmap to peace in our lives and to a swift entrance into His kingdom! Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Is In The Storm

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

In the past it may have been very difficult for us to sympathize with the story of the disciples sitting in their boat during the storm. We had for a long time, been under the impression that we were fully in charge, fully in control of our lives, our situations, everything. A few months ago that illusion was dispelled for many of us. We began to realize that there was really not too much in our lives that was within our control. Life has been in a constant state of flux and it has been rough on many. We really can sympathize with the plight of the disciples who are in a storm tossed sea. Each of us is battered by the waves and the winds of current events. Either way we have felt like we are at the mercy of these forces that are swirling around us and everything has been turned upside down. Businesses have closed, schools have changed their plans, our lives have been transformed in many ways. On top of that all, many are also afraid of the potential for infection and severe illness. It is enough to make one feel like their ship is going to sink and all will be lost. Enter the Lord Jesus Christ.

A powerful feature of this gospel reading is that the Lord does not calm the storms and then make His appearance. No! That would not be the gospel, but rather a sort of fantasy. Christ appear to the disciples in the midst of the storm! He goes even further than that. Our Lord appears in the storm in the most inexplicable and wondrous way that we can possibly imagine. After all, it might be noteworthy that He appeared to them in the storm, but He appears to them, calmly walking on the water. That is no small feat. If you have ever tried it you will find that it is utterly impossible, humanly speaking. Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t simply defy the laws of physics and nature. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the writer and creator of these laws. He does not submit to them, rather they submit to Him, to His lordship, to His divinity. It is not astounding that the Lord Jesus Christ should walk upon the waves of the sea because it was He who created the waves and the sea and all that is contained therein.

Yet the point remains. The Lord did not calm the storm and then appear, He appeared in the very middle of the storm. In our own lives it is easy to wish for better times when things begin to appear difficult. It is easy to daydream or reminisce. Sometimes we even make excuses for the fact that we are not serious about our prayer life and our relationship with God. We say that things are too hectic, that we are too tired, that we can’t focus. Yet we see in this reading that Christ doesn’t magically change the situation. That is not the point. The real lesson is that Christ is already present in the midst of our storms and challenges and the difficulties of our lives. What a comforting thought! The disciples however were not comforted by this thought. They were completely mortified at the sight of the Lord Jesus Christ walking towards them upon the water. It was completely outside of their understanding of the Lord’s identity. In their minds they had limited Jesus Christ and His ability to help them in their time of need. Perhaps we are doing similarly in our own ways. Have we limited the work of God in our lives during the present difficulties? Have we allowed the present difficulties to magnify and highlight the ways that God is powerfully present or have we allowed the difficulties to obscure our vision of God?

To all of our fears and concerns in the midst of the storms of life our Lord replies “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” We should be so comforted by these words. If we only took them seriously. If we only believed. So powerful and comforting was this word from the Lord that it gave Peter renewed courage and strength and he became bold. He cried out to Christ, “Lord. If it is you, allow me to come to you on the water.” This is how listening to Christ and focusing on Christ changes our whole life and even our personality. Peter was filled with peace at that moment and he asks that he might join the Lord and partake of this miracle of walking upon the waters in the midst of the storm. It is a beautiful symbol and reminder of the inheritance we have in Christ. Everything that He has, He desires to share with us. He replied to Peter “Come.”

Our life of prayer is encapsulated in this story. What is our response to the craziness of the world and all of the swirling issues of the day? Do we ask the Lord to allow us to come to Him and to know Him in the midst of our trials? Do we trust Him to be there for us when things are difficult? Peter caught sight of Christ and heard His voice and trusted Him. Let us also hear His voice through the reading of the Holy Scriptures and New Testament on a daily basis. Meditate on His words and allow these words to fill us with peace and to energize us. He will renew our strength not through magic or wishful thinking, but through His word. Hearing this word give us the strength to pursue Him with zeal and courage. Listen to this verse,

“Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.” Job 4:4

These are not just words but promises for each of us as His beloved children. He loves you and wants the best for you and your families and your lives.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov had this to say about the holy writings,“One should nourish the soul with the word of God: for the word of God, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, is angelic bread, by which are nourished souls who hunger for God. Most of all, one should occupy oneself with reading the New Testament and the Psalter…” 

Our hunger for God is most powerful in the midst of the storms, although we don’t always realize that. Now is not the time to doubt Him or to turn to false comforts, false security and false gods. It is the time to reach out to Him like Peter, to ask Him if we can come to Him. He will never ever deny us, but will continually reach out to us and say “Come.” And even if we feel that all is lost and we are about to drown, we can cry out “Lord, save me!” Then we will know that Christ is present even in the midst of the storms of our life.

He is present and what’s more, He is able to make us to stand with Him and to find true and lasting peace regardless of the circumstances that surround us. May the Lord strengthen our faith and help us to focus not on the waves and the wind but on the One who alone can calm the storms of life, to Christ alone is due all glory and honor together with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Healed Them

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

By God’s grace we have received a very timely and powerful message today from the holy evangelist St. Matthew. He tells us that as Our Lord Jesus Christ was going ashore he saw a great throng of people. How many people were there exactly? We do not know. We are only told that there were 5,000 men and that the women and children were also present. So it was quite likely that there were anywhere from 15,000 to possibly more than 30,000 people present in that great crowd. All of them waiting to see the Messiah. All of them there to hear a word, or to receive healing for their illnesses or the illnesses of their loved ones.

St. Matthew, who was a direct eyewitness to the events that are being described, tells us that Our Lord saw that great multitude and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. We live in a world that often seems cold and full of brutal realities. Depending on how we look at the world, that is a legitimate point of view. Yet, I’m comforted to hear these words, that the Lord of creation, our master and savior had compassion on those people. And in His great compassion for them, He healed their sicknesses and alleviated their suffering. We are awestruck by the mercy of the Son of God and His care for all of these people, and these people are symbolic of all people who wait on Christ. These multitudes who are sick and suffering are symbols and reminders of our current state both spiritually, physically and emotionally.

We may not want to admit it but many of us are suffering and hurting, perhaps not physically but emotionally, and spiritually, we feel drained. We feel hunger and thirst for relief from all the perceived problems of our day. For weeks, it has been clear to me that we as a people need to fast from the news and current affairs of this world, at least for a time. We are wounding our souls with the wounds of hopelessness, fear and despair. Guard your minds and hearts from the things that lead to you to sin. Sin is whatever cuts us off from a thriving relationship with the Lord. Sometimes the sin that we must guard against is hopelessness, anxiety and fear. But this becomes impossible to avoid if we continually feed them. A monster must be starved and our passions are like baby monsters that need to be starved so that they will grow weak and finally die or at least they will become so insignificant that we can merely brush them aside like little pesky flies, by God’s grace.

Here we are, multitudes of people all around. Some suffering loneliness, others fatigue, others are actually physically sick with various illnesses. But where are we going for healing? I cannot tell you the answer, because I don’t know what you do or what you turn to in your times of need. So you have to be honest about that question and answer it for yourself. Perhaps we turn to social media, or video games, perhaps we chat with our friends or read more news, perhaps we turn to food or strong drink, perhaps we turn to harmful websites and pornography. Perhaps we turn to buying things in the hopes that these things will give us some relief. Perhaps we try to control other aspects of our lives because we feel that things around us are out of control. Whatever the case may be, we need to ask ourselves honestly “where do I turn for relief?” If our answer is anything but the Lord Jesus Christ, we will need to refocus our hearts and minds. Our life can be filled with inexhaustible hope and relief through a renewed focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. But how do we do that?

Here are a few practical methods. First, be determined to live above all, by the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the fathers tell us that the beginning of knowing God is unflinching, unwavering obedience to the commandments of the Lord, as far as it is humanly possible.

Here is another practical method for refocusing on the Lord: Keep a daily rule of prayer, both morning and evening at the very least. These don’t need to be long prayers but they need to be disciplined and they need to become a routine for us. This rule of prayer will become seed for a garden of prayer in your life. No one can expect fruit unless he first plants something, right? If you do not have a regular, established routine for morning and evening prayer, or if you have a rule of prayer but don’t keep it very well, please come and speak with me or call me and we can work together to find something that will be a starting point or a launchpad.

Don’t we want to know Christ? Don’t we want to experience that healing and that peace and hope? Sometimes we feel that God is absent from our lives, but we should honestly ask if it is not that God is absent from us, but that we are absent from God, perhaps simply going through the motions. Our depth in any relationship in life is limited only by our desire and our effort to understand the other and to communicate as well as listen to the other. Our love is demonstrated through our efforts to know the other. Modern Christians have lost much of this ability to hear God. His voice is drowned out by the busyness of our lives and our lack of attention to the most important things. But I promise you that this is a worthwhile pursuit. It is not only for monks and nuns and hermits to know God intimately. The Lord says “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Likewise He says “Be still and know that I am God.” This stillness is found through the hard work of heartfelt prayer and this begins with small steps that build a foundation.

One of the next and best ways to refocus our spiritual lives is to energize our life in Christ through the sacrament of confession. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will heard from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So we begin by seeking His face. How will we find Him unless we seek Him with intensity, even with tears? But next we are reminded that God also looks for us to repent and turn from things that are not well pleasing in His sight. He desires repentance not only for individuals but for families, communities and nations.

There is very little that is as powerful in the life of a Christian who desires to make spiritual progress as the sacrament of confession. St. Isaac the Syrian writes “The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health. Many are the pains of the hard heart; and when the sick one resists the physician, his torments will be made greater.” But St. Isaac also had this to say “There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance.” It is of vital importance for your psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being that you come and confess your sins. We need to unburden ourselves and when we confess in humility, it is as if we tie our sins to the Holy Spirit and He takes them and flies away with them. We are left feeling new energy, new life, and a sense of peace as we continue this Christian struggle to live as children of God.

In the gospel today, we are told that the disciples wanted to send the people away to get food, but the Lord corrected them. He told them that they would give them something to eat. There is no doubt that this is also a reference to the apostles as the leaders of the Holy Church. I cannot send you away when everything that you need for real and lasting health and joy ishere. Christ Himself is the bread that will feed you. The Holy Spirit is the living water that will quench your thirst. So stop looking elsewhere and follow Him as those multitudes did 2000 years ago. Seek His healing touch daily.As St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19 “and my God shall supply every need of yours according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”He loves us and He will never send us away empty handed, but rather refreshed and restored. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Spiritual Sight and Unity in The Spirit

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. (3:23-4:5) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35) 

Today we have the privilege to hear a beautiful story from the Holy Gospel. I wonder if we approach reading the gospels as a privilege? I wonder if we approach them with joy and anticipation such as the way we approach a good novel or a show on Netflix? To hear the gospels is to be given a great gift and a privilege, one that not all people around the world have. Some do not have access to Bibles, some are forbidden from reading them. But by God’s grace, we have access to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ and His teachings and works found within the gospels. It is so valuable to us as the Church that we wrap the gospels in a gold cover and place them on the Holy Altar. Every single time we dig into the gospels, we are digging for light and life. I hope that this is something we take seriously in our daily lives because what we learn within the gospels is of much greater value than what the world has to offer us.

Today’s beautiful story is that of the two blind men found in the gospel according St. Matthew. Blindness is understood as a physical ailment in this story but some of the fathers of the Church tell us that this is also symbolic of another kind of blindness, a kind of spiritual blindness that represent unbelief. This blindness is often a result of our past sins. Our sins keep us from seeing God and His work around us. St. Hilary of Poitiers writes of the blind men that “They could not see Christ but were told about him. The Lord showed them that faith should not be expected as a result of health but health should be expected because of faith.” That is an important saying during our times… “faith should not be expected as a result of health but health should be expected because of faith.” 

What kind of health is St. Hilary writing about? Certainly physical health but also and more importantly, spiritual health. I heard the statistic yesterday that prescriptions for depression rose more than 20% in the last couple of months. Health is more than just avoiding sickness, health is holistic and it involves the whole person and their soul. We would do well not to neglect our spiritual health out of an unbalanced fear for our physical health. I fear that this is beginning to happen in churches all over our country and perhaps the world. It terrifies and saddens me.St. Hilary continues saying “The blind men saw because they believed; they did not believe because they saw. From this we understand that what is requested must be predicated on faith and that faith must not be exercised because of what has been obtained.”

As Christians, everything begins with deep faith. From a point of deep faith, we then enter into a relationship where we see the hand of God and know His presence in our lives. If today we feel that we don’t know God and we don’t feel His presence, it is possible that we still need to embrace the difficult task of repentance and confession. We may also need to fix the order of things. Instead of searching for clues to the presence of God, we have to give our hearts over to Him in faith as a first step. The existence of God becomes our first principle, the thing we believe above all else. We have to desire the good, the true and the beautiful above all else. This brings us to a desire for God, who is absolute and infinite goodness, truth and beauty, as well as love.

Sometimes people believe in God but they don’t necessarily believe in God, correctly. St. Paul says of these people, they have zeal but not according to knowledge. St. Paul knew this very well because he was one of those zealous people who went about hunting down and creating trouble for those who didn’t believe in God in the way that he was convinced was correct. It turns out that St. Paul had a great blindness. He persecuted the Christians because he was completely blind to the true identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was blinded to the amazing work that the Holy Spirit was doing in the lives of the Christians and the early Church community.

We also have to be careful about our attitudes and our misplaced zeal regarding all manner of subjects from religious and spiritual to the political, the local and current events. Sometimes our own sins and spiritual blindness cause us to make enemies of those who think differently than us. As Christians, we should beware of this tendency within ourselves and within society. The goal of Satan is to divide us and there are political powers at work in the hopes of dividing society against itself. We begin to think of ourselves in divisive terms “white” or “black”, rich or poor, conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat, mask enthusiasts and those who are skeptical of masks. All of these are man made divisions. They should not divide people who have a living faith in Christ, because aliving faith in Christ givesus the abilityto love. 

Let me prove it to you. St. Paul was out hunting Christians down and punishing them for their belief in Christ. He hunted down his own people, the Jews who had come to faith in Christ. In his mind there was only God, His people, the Jews and the law of Moses. Everything and everyone else was somehow alien to this. He was divided in his understanding, and blinded by his own zeal and pride.

He was struck blind after his encounter with Jesus Christ. This physical blindness was real but it was also symbolic of his deeper spiritual blindness, and he remained blind until his baptism in Christ. After this, he began to see clearly through renewed, spiritual eyes. Listen to what he writes in today’s epistle reading “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amazing! The man who hunted down his own people like dogs, and would never so much as sit with a gentile for supper, gave us these lovely words through the work of thegrace andlove of God in his life. So we see that Christ centered people see the world differently, through eyes of love for their fellow Christians and even for the outsider as one created in the image and likeness of God. 

Todayhe might have said “there is neither male nor female, white nor black, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican but all are one in Christ.” That is the difference between unity in love and division through hatred. That is the difference between spiritual blindness and sight. That is the difference between Christian thought and the secular God-denying world. We can disagree with others,while respecting and loving them. But those who do not know God ultimately cannot respect and love others because they don’t see others in relation tothe Creator. They don’t see the inherent value in others that comes directly from God. 

So my brothers and sisters, beware that you may not also fall into thetrapsof the godless world around you,where you divide people and put them into groups and then legitimize the way that you treat those groups based on your misguided and man made divisions, assumptions and goals. You will know them by their fruit. If the fruit is not demonstrated through acts of love and compassion, the fruit is not from God, it is simply rotten.

We all need to have our spiritual blindness healed through deep repentance and confession of our sins and we need to thirst for Christ and run to Christ and call out to Him in faith. Then we will be like the blind men and like St. Paul who also received his sight through faith. The Lord said “according to your faith be it done to you.” May God remove any spiritual blindness that is within us and restore our sight. What is the limit or the measure of our vision of God? Let it be according to your faith. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Hagia Sophia, Prince Vladimir and the Light of the World

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19) 

The great cathedral of Constantinople, known as the Hagia Sophia or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was first built in 360 a.d. It was burned to the ground twice and then built again a third time under the order of the Emperor Justinian, who is considered a saint of the Church. This final structure was completed in 537 a.d. and remains standing today. We heard during the past week that the Turkish government has decided to convert the great Orthodox Christian cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, from it’s current status as a museum and cultural site, to allow it once again to serve as a mosque, a place for Islamic prayers to a god that is certainly not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of us do not know that the Byzantine empire, which was centered in Constantinople, existed well into the 15thcentury. The two most dramatic events that led to the downfall of the empire were the fourth crusade in 1204, which was led and supported by the Roman Catholic church and specifically by Pope Innocent III. During this so-called crusade, the city was sacked, it’s treasures and wealth stolen, it’s holy sites and churches desecrated and it’s holy relics were taken. The soldiers from Rome and Europe behaved worse than barbarians but for the sake of the young and the innocent ears, I will not say much more. Byzantium never completely recovered and the attack by the Ottoman empire led to it’s downfall in 1453. 

This week we also celebrated the memory of Holy Prince Vladimir. Price Vladimir lived in the 10thcentury, and he was looking for the true faith, for the true God. He sent out emissaries who travelled all around the globe in search of the truth. Upon reaching Constantinople, they saw the magnificent Hagia Sophia and entered into the great church to find that the Divine Liturgy was being celebrated. Who can imagine the glory of the vision that they saw? It is very likely that they saw a hierarchical liturgy with multiple bishops, dozens if not hundreds of priests and deacons and thousands of people together praising the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. They were blown away by what they saw and when they returned to Prince Vladimir they exclaimed “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Wow. The witness of the faithful Orthodox Christian people in Constantinople was so bright and so powerful that Prince Vladimir became a devout Orthodox Christian and compelled his people to accept the Orthodox Christian faith, this forever changed the trajectory of Slavic and European history. 

In today’s gospel reading we hear those familiar words of Our Lord Jesus Christ “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.” The course of history was forever altered by the light that shined out of the great Christian city of Constantinople, her great cathedral and those holy men and women who filled that cathedral with their voices and their prayers. Each and every person was a light and allowed their light to shine before men. 

We are like these people who lived in Constantinople during all of those centuries. We believe in the same God, the All holy Trinity. We pray the same exact liturgy, we worship in the same exact way as they did. We have received the very same adoption as sons and daughters of God, as children of light. But are we becoming light to the darkened world around us? 

When was the last time that we invited someone to come and pray with us at the church? When was the last time that we introduced someone in our lives to our Lord and savior Jesus Christ? When was the last time that we encouraged someone and prayed for them about the things with which they were struggling? When was the last time we gave the people who were struggling around us, a glimpse of our hope in Christ?

We can go further still: We are similar to those Christians of Constantinople on Sunday mornings, but are we like them during the other 6 days of the week? One of the risks of our modern life is that we have more time at our disposal, this is both a gift and yet it can also be a curse. How we spend our time and where we focus our attention, is quite literally, the stuff that makes up our lives. What is our focus, and where is our time being spent?

Today we have the great joy of welcoming new members into the Orthodox Christian faith. What a beautiful and joyous occasion that we are able to celebrate together with you and for you.The true and living Christianfaith passed down from the Holy apostles and disciples, is now yours. The faith of the valiant saints and martyrs is now yours. The faith of the Holy Prince Vladimir, that his emissaries travelled around the world to discover, is now yours. The faith in the One who tellsus that we are the lightof the world, is now yours. The faith that allows us to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ is now yours. The faith that allows us to know Him and to commune with Him to our fullest potential, is now yours. All of this is now yours, butwhat will you do with such wonderful gifts? How will you use this grace? What will you do with this beautiful treasure that has been handed on to you? Will you grab hold of it with all of your heart and mind and strength, or will you allow the world and it’s cares and desires and temptations, to grab hold of you and lure you away?

This question does not apply only to our newly illumined members, but to the whole of the Orthodox Christian Church, to all of the faithful in Christ. Are Christ, and the things of Christ and His Church going to be our focus in this immoral, lost, andconfused age, or will we focus only on the things that the world tells us are worthy of our focus? Are we consumed by the love of God or are we consumed by material things, by consumerism? I pray that we are consumed by the love of God.

The proof is whether or not we live the teachings of Christ our Lord. The proof that we are consumed by God is that His light will invade our being and we will reflect His love and His mercy and His peace outward to communities, and individuals and to a world that is in desperate need of the love of God and His presence. May we be energized through the grace of the Holy Spirit and rise to the occasion of this present darkness. May we “let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Anxiety and Our Lack of Focus

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:5-13) 

We are living through a time of great worry and anxiety. We have almost worried ourselves sick. How did this happen? Is it because there is a nasty virus going around? Yes, in part. But there are bigger issues. We don’t trust that God is watching over us. We believe that we can control circumstances in our lives. What is far worse than sickness or disease or negative news is that we have allowed ourselves to focus on these things. We make a conscious decision to focus on things that cause us anxiety and even depression, by watching and reading the news far more often than in necessary. How many times a day should we watch and interact with the news? Even on social media, I noticed that half of it is people posting more bad news. Do you think that you can be exposed to such negativity and not be affected or infected? It is an impossibility. Some of you have news apps that ding on your phone every few minutes, with “breaking news.” Little do we know that the only thing that is breaking in the process is our spirit and our hope.

It is tempting to obsess over our physical health, to obsess over the news. As we look around it is tempting to think that this broken and fallen world is all that we will ever have. That our physical health and even our life is all that we will ever have. But all of these thoughts are great lies. As Christians our lives and our worldviews are not to dictated and formed by the news around us. If they are dictated and formed by the news, then we do not belong primarily, to Christ. A human is not just a body, like an ape or a gorilla. Our health needs to be more than physical, it is also mental and spiritual health. My brothers and sister, don’t allow your lives to be formed by negativity or by the unending cycle of news. Our lives are to formed by the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the difference between us and the world…our focus. The central points of the gospels are these: God exists, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead to prove His love for us is real and to share this promise and hope of resurrection with each of us. My brothers and sisters in Christ: This is not our home. This is a temporary place for each of us. One way or another, we all must leave this place and be resurrected to meet the Lord face to face.

We need to take this message to heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Neither violence nor riots, nor joblessness, nor disease, nor a crashing economy, nor death. He holds each of us in His hands. We have been really preoccupied with sickness lately, but that preoccupation is a sign that we lack faith. Yes, sickness is real. Yes, death is real. But sickness and death are not the end of the story for us. They are our entrance into new life in Christ. We are challenged to take just a fraction of the care and precaution for our souls and our spiritual health as we have taken concerning our physical health. Christ is our protection. Christ is our healing. Christ is our life.

Today we hear the miraculous story of Our Lord Jesus Christ healing the servant of the centurion (a centurion was a high ranking soldier in the Roman army). Our Lord Jesus Christ did not have to visit him. He did not have to touch him. He did not even have to see him. He simply said the words and it became reality. “Go; be it done for you, as you have believed.” It is an amazing miracle. I want to remind you that we have a treasury of unbelievable miracles from the life of our holy Orthodox Church. Search for them, read some of these stories, and take heart. In the midst of all this talk of sickness, I want to remind you that God is greater and His works are greater than all of the bad things in this world. This is our reality.  Glory be to God forever AMEN.

(Portion of Sermon from July 5th, 2020)

Source: Sermons

A Catch That Doesn’t Spoil

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

Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Last week we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The Church showed us what the Holy Spirit can do in the lives of people just like you and me, when we are pliable and flexible and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We see the culmination and the fulfillment of all the savings works of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of His powerful work was done on our behalf, so that we might become holy, become saintly.

This week, it feels as if we are taking a time machine backwards to the beginning of the gospels. We see our Lord Jesus Christ walking along the shore at the sea of Galilee, and then we hear His wonderful words to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

When I begin my intro to Orthodoxy classes I always start by saying that there is a battle that is raging for your hearts and minds. It is swirling all around you. Advertisements, movies, news, social media, religions, philosophical systems, political ideologies, they are all trying to do more than inform or entertain, they are trying to capture your hearts and minds. They are trying to convince you to follow their system, to see the world through their lens. To do things “their way.”

To all of these I remind you that when you were baptized and brought into the Church, you or your sponsors in baptism, turned to the West and renounced Satan and all his works and you spit upon him. We turn to the west to reject Satan and we turn again to the east to proclaim the sacred Creed that has been handed down to us. Practically speaking, I think it is time to remind you that we have no creeds, no slogans, no way, no truth and no life that is not centered on Jesus Christ and His Church. Be careful what and who you support because you were bought at a price my dear friends, and no ideology or system bought you, you do not owe anything to anyone, but Christ your master! It was Christ himself who redeemed you!

As the Church takes us backwards to the calling of the first disciples, we are reminded that every day we are met by Christ who walks along the shores of our hearts and calls us “follow Me!” How are we responding to His call? How are we replying to His invitation? I can’t answer that question for you. I can only answer for myself. I can do better.

As Christians, our life is a constant reply to the Lord’s call to follow Him. What does our way of life say about us? How are we replying with the actions of our lives? How are we replying with our thoughts? How are we following Christ with our words? Do we love these words? Do we take them seriously?

When someone chooses to follow the call of Jesus Christ, he is asking Christ to invade his heart and his mind, and in return, Christ overwhelms our hearts with His love. This love overflows and spreads to others as we seek to share our love for Jesus Christ and our love towards our neighbor. Love is more than words. Love is sacrificial action, and we begin to comprehend this through our daily decision to follow the way of the crucified Lord, the suffering servant. The one who overcomes not through violence of force, but through silent suffering. That is our way, the way of witnessing to Christ, the way of martyrdom. It is not the easy way, but this is our way, a way that is blessed by God and given to us as our inheritance in the saints. When we open our arms to Christ and really follow His way, we attract others to our Master and Lord. When our love for Christ is abundant, others see this and they follow us like fish in a great school, one follows after the other.

St. Theophan the Recluse writes,

“The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.

Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear.

Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them.

Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil.

But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” 

When we follow the Lord Jesus Christ in love, we are kept close to Him. We are fed and nourished as His sheep. No shepherd ever ignores his sheep, even the weakest or the sick ones. In fact, he dedicates more time and attention to these because they need this extra attention and love. We are also protected because He is our shepherd. The shepherd is our frame of reference. With a shepherd, we have a purpose, and we are part of a community. Without a shepherd, we are lost in our lives. We wander from place to place and replace one cause with another, one possession with another, but none of them fulfills us or gives us true purpose. Imagine what would have happened to the first disciples if they had ignored the Lord! They would have spent their lives toiling away for a catch that spoils and starts to stink quickly, but through immediate obedience, they found their purpose in Him and have caught souls for the kingdom of God, as well as saved their own!

May we also be like the disciples and work to catch souls and to grab hold of that which doesn’t spoil or pass away, the kingdom of God. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

The Flames of Injustice and The Fire of Pentecost

June 7, 2020 Feast of Pentecost,

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. John (7:37-52; 8:12) 

The last week or so has been a difficult one for our nation. We heard of the terrible slaying of a helpless man at the hands of law enforcement authorities, who were actually sworn to do the opposite. We saw a brutal display of the abuse of power as these misguided men were sworn to uphold the law and protect citizens, not prey on them. The world saw this evil action and people have responded in many different ways. Some of those responses have been good and productive. People have protested peacefully for common sense reforms. Others have responded in ways that are truly awful, rioting, looting, hurting others, destroying businesses, attacking good police officers and innocent citizens.

The world looks on in shock as it sees the United States in the midst of civil unrest and turmoil. For many years we have been in the midst of an ideological civil war. This has only been made worse because of our participation in social media. But my brothers and sisters, this should not shock us. Satan is called the father of lies. Everywhere he sows his seed there is confusion, hatred and division. If we are honest, we can say that a growing segment of American society is lost, in the Christian sense. People are confused and thrown into chaos.

What was the cause of all this? Was it economic policies or the lack of social justice or political legislation? Perhaps each of these is partly to blame, but there is something more. People operate without a properly rooted moral law and moral compass. Put another way, they operate with a morality that is skewed towards self gratification and the fulfillment of desires, rather than being rooted in something much deeper and more real. All of the statistics and polls taken in the last 20 years point to a general decline in Christian belief and practice as well as in general religious belief. Contrary to popular belief, when one doesn’t believe in God, he is not free. He actually becomes a slave to other lesser gods and their value systems. He is the slave of ideologies, and a slave to his sinful passions and desires, he is anything but free. He becomes a puppet that is used by others to further their agendas and especially the agenda of the evil one. This is true whether he is a corrupt policeman, a crooked politician or a crazed protestor. As Bob Dylan once wrote “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Now it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” We will know who we serve as the Lord says “by their fruits.”

Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost. Listen to the words of this hymn (KONTAKION)OF PENTECOST: “When the High One descended, confusing tongues, He divided the nations. And when He distributed the fiery tongues He called all to one unity. Wherefore, in unison we glorify the most Holy Spirit.”

What is the source of our unity as people, as Christians? It is our unity of faith in the Holy Spirit. At one point in history, men and women had to go to a sacred temple to worship God. Now because of the work of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord, the Holy Spirit, we have become the temples and the dwelling place of God! Do we understand the treasurethat we have been given? Christians are united by this great and powerful gift. It was not a gift that humanity earned. We did not deserve such an honor. Yet the Lord poured out His grace upon us.

Today, we hear the story from the book of Acts. How the men of various and diverse nations could hear one the words of the disciples in their own languages. St. Luke is telling us something very important. He is saying that this is the key to the unity and the peace of the whole world. It is the preaching of the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What is the gospel? It means “the good news.” And what is this good news? It is this, that God loves each of us, and that He has proved this love for us by allowing His Son to become incarnate in the flesh, and suffer and die upon the cross for us, so that He might allow us to have the forgiveness of sins and walk in newness of life and share in the resurrection of His Son! 

I have often been asked if we are evangelical in nature. My answer has always been the same “if what you mean by evangelical is passing out tracts and going door to door to save people, my answer is “no”. But if you are asking if the Orthodox Church believes in sharing the gospel with all people, in loving all peoples regardless of their race, ethnicity, or any other man made category, our answer is a resounding “yes”! St. Paul writes that (God)…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) Do you hear that? All men. So much did God insist on saving all men that He grafted the gentiles into His people, although they were not His initial chosen people. The plan was always a grandplan for thereconciliation of all mankind to God, and to one another. 

People are lost now precisely because they have lost what united our countrymen for so long. Many have lost the Christian faith. Since we are not united in our belief in Christ and His teachings, we are not united in the guiding principles that were a direct result of the Christian faith upon which this country was founded. Among those guiding principles was the idea that one should love his neighbor and respect life. Today our culture is one of extreme disrespect to life. Do I need to remind you that nearly 1000 babies are aborted every day in our country? Do I need to remind you that the abortions disproportionately hurt the black community?  We also have a culture of extreme disrespect for our brothers and sisters when they don’t fit within our class or our tribe, when they think differently or look different. This happens from all sides. People are confused about the meaning of life, about their role towards their neighbor, and about the nature of justice.

Yet, through all this there is good news. When the darkness is thick in the air, it makes the presence of light all the more radiant. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today, that youhave receiving in your Chrismation,you are given the great giftto become a light. Do you suppose that the Roman Empire became Christian overnight while the Christian peoples hid in their houses and posted memes and binge watched Netflix? NO! The Empire became Christian through the love and the care demonstrated by Christian men, women and children for their neighbors, in serving them and teaching the truth. And as they demonstrated this love, people became curious and began to ask the question, “What is the source of this behavior, this love?” And then the Christians could evangelize and give an answer for the hope and the love that was in them. Today more than yesterday, now more than ever, we are called to deepen our spiritual lives. If you will not help to redeem your country and your community by fanning the flame of the love of Christ,then you are part of the darkness, and no social activism will be enough to help.Cast off the darkness and start by shining the light of Christ on your own life and your own heart and then allow this light to radiate outwards to cover everything and everyonein your life with the love of Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel reading the Lord Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” 

The country is hungry and thirsty. They believe that they are hungry for justice and equality. But our deeper need is not for justice, what people are thirsting for is LOVE, and the only source of an unending and profound love is the life of the Holy Trinity that existed in love before the creation of the universe. Our Lord says “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Let us take these words seriously and direct our lives accordingly. Love Christ by following His words. Love all people. Pray for all people. Pray fervently for healing. Pray that you might have a chance to share the love of God with someone who needs this message. Pray that people will find the Church and true healing within her walls. The Lord tells us that when we believe in Him, rivers of living water shall flow from us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we can quench the thirst and feed the hunger of our nation. We do this one person at a time, one soul at a time. In this we demonstrate our likeness to Christ, in our love for one another. May the Lord, the Holy Spirit, energize our hearts and minds and sanctify our lives so that we might unite in our worship of the living God and unite ourselves to all men through serving them in the name of Christ. Glory be to God Forever, AMEN. 

Source: Sermons