The Law Came Through Moses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

The Conversation That Leads To Conversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

The Church As House Of Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

Homily on the Feast of Palm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

Can God Break A Promise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to his words, 

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

Easter For Some, But For Us The Cross

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1) 

Today many of the Christians around the world are celebrating Easter, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In fact we are also celebrating this today as we do every single Sunday morning during the liturgy. Christians come together to pray and worship the living God and receive His holy body and precious blood on Sunday, the Lord’s day, because this is precisely the day of the resurrection. Every Sunday in the Church is a mini-Pascha, a small Easter celebration, and we sense this joy together each week. 

You might be wondering why half of the world celebrates Easter today while often the Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on a different day, this year being Sunday May 2nd. In fact the dating of Easter was a bit of a controversy in the early life of the Church. The dating of Easter or Pascha was finally resolved by the great council of bishops at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea. Here is the formula that was followed and remains in effect until today:

“(1) Pascha was always after the vernal equinox, (2) it was to follow, but not coincide with, the first full moon of spring, and (3) it was always to be on a Sunday. A fourth principle – and one enunciated following Nicea I – is implicit in the first three: namely, (4) the date of Pascha was not to depend on the Jewish dates for Passover in any way.”

While this is the prescribed method, there are someissues since the calendar being used in the fourth century was not asmathematicallyaccurate as modern calendars. Nevertheless, we honor the decisions of the ecumenical council and do not change these decisions without another great council and full agreement with the Orthodox churches. That is part of the life of an Orthodox Christian, submission to the decisions of the Church that have been passed down to us.

However as part of the world is celebrating Easter, we in the Orthodox world are right in the thick of it, in the dead center of Great and Holy Lent. We are in the middle of the spiritual battle. Have you been fighting? Have you been struggling? Have you raised your level of prayer and spiritual reading during the last 3 weeks? Have you focused more on the poor and their needs? Have you dedicated yourself to more of the services of the Church? Have you examined your own heart and found that it is much worse than you had imagined?Have you taken your repentance to new depths?These are all necessary aspects of Lent. Part of our work to cleanse our hearts and our souls is to discover our blemishes and to see our weaknesses so that we will understand our deep need for a savior. Our calling is to die to ourselves, to give up our lives for Christ. That is your calling. If someone asked us “what is the purpose of your life?” A proper answer might be “To learn how to die to ourselves and live to Christ.” As St. Paul once put it “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me!”Lent is a time not only to die to ourselves and to sin, but a time for our great physician and healer Jesus Christ, to perform heart surgery and while He is doing so, He will also heal the rest of us, mind, body, heart and soul.

Our life is made up of seconds and minutes, hours and days, weeks and months and years and decades, and sometimes even centuries. Each and every second that we are here is a gift from God that is given to us for our salvation. Is Lent just something we suffer through or are we taking hold of this valuable time and trying to cling to Christ? Hopefully we aren’t squandering this time while we dream about Pascha. There is no Pascha, no Easter, without first the cross. The Church is open and the people are physically healthy by the grace of God. Let us thank God for all of His mercy towards us during the past yearand draw near to His Church to that we might be made spiritually healthy as well.

Today in the middle of Lent we celebrate the procession of the cross. As we are weak and our struggle has been difficult these past few weeks, the Church brings out her most prized weapon and possession to inspire us and strengthen us for the remainder of the fight. We have failed to live the life of Christians. We fail daily in our quest to be perfect children of God. We are beaten and defeated by the demons and our own disordered passions and desires.Yet, we look to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ as ourhope and joy in the midst of our spiritual struggle. In our reading for the day during matins we heard these words,

“Having arrived with God’s grace at the middle of the Fast, our compassionate Mother—the Holy Orthodox Church—thought fit to reveal to us the Holy Cross as the joy of the world and power of the faithful to help us carry on the struggles of the divine Fast.By its power, O Christ God, preserve us from the crafty designs of the evil one and account us worthy to worship Thy divine Passion and life-giving Resurrection, as we achieve the course of the Forty Days with ease, and have mercy on us, as Thou alone art good and the Lover of mankind.”

The cross of Christ is a gift to all of humanity because it is no mere cross. Many thousands of people were crucified during the time of the Roman empire, but most of those crosses were crosses of punishment and instruments of torture. However the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ was something much greater. Through His holy passion and death, the cross became our liberation, our freedom and the gateway to new life. Through this cross, Christ trampled down death and all things demonic. He did this so that those who were baptized into His death and raised up, would put on Christ and would also trample down death and live a life free from the demons as well as their activities and influences.

The Church cries out to her children saying “Freedom is yours, joy is yours, victory is yours, life and resurrection are yours!” but she continues with these words “if you will carry your cross with patient endurance, like your Lord and Master.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is with us during this Lenten season and struggle. Are you determined to stay with Christ no matter the cost? Are you prepared to follow Him even to death, even the death of the cross? Because that is what Christ requires of us, each in our own unique ways. And through your own unique struggle to be obedient to the Lord and to carry your cross, God will not allow you to lose your life, but will restore it and heal it and actualize it and make it a real life, a life in Christ. There is no other way for us. No way around our suffering. Christianity without suffering is a perversion of our faith. It is Christianity without Christ. There is no way around the cross, or under the cross or over the cross. Only through the cross is joy come into all the world. 

May the Lord bless your struggle and give you courage to carry your cross and follow His footsteps not only to Golgotha but to even to the empty tomb and life eternal. AMEN

Source: Sermons

Christ The True Healer

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (2:1-12) 

As I read this passage earlier in the week, I was struck by something interesting. I was amazed by the way that Our Lord Jesus Christ dealt with the paralytic that was brought before Him on a stretcher. What amazed me was that there was no hesitation from the Lord. He gave the paralytic exactly what He needed immediately upon seeing him. But the way that the Lord does this defies all human logic and reasoning. If any one of us looked at the man on the stretcher and was asked to diagnose his biggest problem, there is no doubt that we would all come up with the same answer, “he can’t walk, he is paralyzed.” And that would be correct according to our eyes and his plain physical condition. However Our Lord Jesus Christ has eyes which see much deeper. He is the true physician who sees to the depths of our being. In His opinion, this was not the most important issue that required healing. There was something much more important.

We often approach God with a list of preconceived notions about what we need. We want God to fix the glaring problems in our lives, unruly children, inattentive or controlling spouses, impossible supervisors and co-workers. We also have a preconceived list of our own issues that we want God to help fix. Typically this list begins with physical ailments and physical needs. Sometimes the list includes financial needs. We also struggle with emotional issues. We are often in apathy or anxious, impatient, angry, depressed or even in despair. We even come to the church with the expectation that the Lord will fix all of these things that are at the top of our lists. The 4 men who carried their friend to Jesus Christ also had a preconceived notion about what was needed. They knew how Jesus could help their friend. They had heard of and probably had seen His other miracles, but little did they know that the Lord had much more planned for this paralytic than simply walking.

My brothers and sisters the Lord has much more planned for each of us than simply healing our physical issues. He looks at each of us and He sees our deepest needs. He sees our lives and everything that we have ever done, both the good and the bad. Both the things of which we are proud and the things that bring us shame. He looks at each of us and sees our deepest needs, even the need to have our sins forgiven and to hear these words “Son (or daugher), your sins are forgiven.” Our God is the God of mercy who does not want us to be buried alive in our sins. He does not desire the death of a sinner but rather that they should return to Him and live abundantly. The Lord Jesus Christ sees our fallen nature and the way that sin has paralyzed each of us, but He has compassion on us. He loves us more than we can imagine. “Son your sins are forgiven.” This is among my very favorite verses in all of the gospels. It is a word of joy and promise given not only to this bed-ridden man, but to each and every one of us who is brought to Jesus Christ through our baptism.

In the beginning we are brought by others, someone preached the word to us or we were literally carried by our parents and godparents and brought to Christ at our baptism. But does this process end at our baptism? No! We are called to continue making our way to Christ by all possible means throughout our lives. As Orthodox Christians that is not merely a nice sounding sentiment. It becomes our reality through the life of the Church and her sacraments.

How do we continue to move towards Christ and abide in His presence? Here are some practical steps: Through study of the gospels and obedience to His teachings. That is the first step. Many of the saints tell us that we cannot know God unless we first try to live according to His teachings. How do we hear this word of the Lord “Son, your sins are forgiven” on a regular basis? We hear those words when we come to confession and the priest prays the prayers of absolution, asking the Lord Himself to forgive all the sins that were confessed. And this is the teaching of the Lord Himself as we find in the gospel according to St. John. After the resurrection the Lord breathes on His disciples and says to them “receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, but whose sins you retain, they are retained.”

What is another way that we receive spiritual (and often physical) healing on a regular basis from Christ? Through partaking regularly and frequently of His holy life-giving body and precious blood in communion. This is one of the foundational teachings of the Church.

Listen to the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria who writes

“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.”

So we learn that we must not abstain from the bread and the wine which are transformed into the mystical body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. An Orthodox Christian receives the body and blood of Christ as often as possible, with no fear of disease, sickness or anything else.They are not mere symbols as some denominations and groups believed. If they were mere symbols they would have no power to help and to aid us in our spiritual struggle. Yet consistently we see the earliest writings of the Church fathers proclaiming the truth of the power of the sacraments. Especially the Eucharist. To receive holy communion is to receive life. To neglect holy communion for long periods of time is to separate oneself from Christ and spiritually to become betrothed to death. However we are called to much more as Christ’s holy ones. We are called not only to regain life but to put on the truelife of Christ and His immortality. As St. Peter says, we are called to become “partakers of the divine nature.” 

And who are the four friends in today’s reading? They are those who push us and motivate us to come to the church and to take our relationship with the Lord seriously. Those who preach the gospel to us and encourage us. Those who pray for us and bring our names to Christ when perhaps we don’t have the power or the motivation to pray on our own. Finally, we can also understand the friends who carried the man as symbolic of the clergy, the bishops, priests and deacons of the Church, who administer the sacraments and literally bring the people to Christ, and also bring Christ to the people.

Let us partake of these great blessings that are offered to us and run to Christ for complete and profound healing of both our bodies and our souls. AMEN

Source: Sermons

Lent As An Invitation To “Come And See”

Sunday of Orthodoxy 

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (1:43-51) 

One day as I finished the liturgy a man approached me with a rather odd question: “Is all of this necessary?” By “all of this” he meant, the liturgy, the priestly vestments, the icons in the church and so forth and so on. He was a charismatic evangelical and there is no doubt that for him this was all over the top. At the time I looked at him and paused for a moment and said “This is precisely what has been handed down to us and for us this is sacred. We have no reason to change it.”

I’ve thought about that question quite often, “Is all of this necessary.” In fact the short answer is “Yes”. The life of the Orthodox Church is not random or according to the whims of a couple of leaders. It is built upon layers of theology and meaning and history that present themselves during and through our life of worship. Our life of worship must be beautiful and the place that we come to pray must also be beautiful. Why? Because God is the creator of beauty and order and He expects us to treat His whole creation and the space we are given in an orderly and beautiful way. This is not only true for the church sanctuary, it is also true with our lives. The life of a Christian should be well ordered and not full of chaos. Regarding the beauty of the Church, God has given us our senses in order that we might admire beauty and be filled with awe and reverence for Him. The senses were given to us in order to help us draw nearer to God. But the things we do in the church are no mere decorations. No. They have meaning and purpose and that purpose must not contradict the teachings given by the Lord Himself. God gave instructions to Moses for the setting up of the tabernacle and the altar and the priestly vestments. He is a God of order and beauty. If God did not deeply care about these matters He would not have instructed such things. Yet, there is something more to “all of this” especially when it comes to holy iconography.

On the first Sunday of Great Lent, in every Eastern Orthodox church around the world, this day is celebrated as the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”. It commemorates a very specific event, namely the return of the holy icons to the all of the churches. The victory of the icons was won at the seventh ecumenical council held in the city of Nicaea in 787ad. It was convened because a great controversy had taken place regarding the role of icons in the churches.

There were some Christians who believed that making and veneration of icons was forbidden by God in the Old Testament and even in the ten commandments. There were yet others who were influenced by Islam to say that icons were a form of blasphemy against God. The Church heard all of these things and these teachings spread far and wide. However the holy fathers of the 7thecumenical council came together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to pray, to reason from the Scriptures and to expound on the apostolic faith that was delivered to the Church once and for all.

What was their verdict? That icons must be restored in all of the churches. Why? Because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became a man. He really existed. People saw Him and in seeing Him they actually saw God! Where do we get such a revolutionary idea? We get it from Jesus Himself when He says “He who has seen me, has seen the Father who sent Me.” Our Lord also says “I and the Father are one.” St. Paul also affirms the teaching of the seventh council when he writes “Christ is the image of the invisible God.” In fact in Greek the great apostle to the gentiles actually says “Christ is the IKON of the invisible God.” It is a bold statement! We are affirming that the Lord Jesus Christ actually took flesh and became man and dwelt with His people and because He was seen, touched and heard, we are able to depict Him because God has in fact been seen in the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

While we depict Him and His Holy Mother and all of the saints in icons, we do not worship the icons. They are aides to our prayer. Our love and veneration passes from the image to the ones who are depicted in the image. Many of you have photographs of your loved ones and children, but you don’t worship those photos. You love the people who are in the photos and the photos remind you of them and bring to your heart a powerful feeling of being connected. They are an aid to loving them.

The Church tells us that in fact icons are necessary and good. They help us to pray and anything that helps us to pray deeply and genuinely is good. It must be so, because prayer brings us to God and this is the goal and purpose of our lives as Christians, to know God intimately, not as an abstraction. God cannot be an abstraction for us because He lived among us and became one of us. He has taken on our nature in order to share His divine nature with each of us. God became man, in order to make each of us His true sons and daughters. But you shouldn’t merely take my word or the word of your parents or others. We have to be like Nathaniel who took the words of Philip seriously. And what were these words? “Come and see.” Lent is for us a reminder that you will never know God intimately unless you take seriously these words “come and see”. Let us not go through the motions but honor the God who was seen and heard and touched. Let us live as if He exists and let us chase Him down.

How can we chase Him down? How can we live as if He exists? By helping the poor and the needy and sick. By honoring His body (which is the Church) and attending the prayers, making them a priority in our lives. By making the holy sacraments an important part of our lives. Not just holy communion but also confession. These things are given to you by God, to help you and comfort you and heal you. We can also chase God down through other activities. They are not surprises at this point, you have heard them mentioned quite often. We chase God by studying the gospels and the Scriptures as if they are the most important writings in the history of the world (they are). We chase God by finding quality quiet time for God, at least every morning and every evening for some time. We chase God by offering kindness to others, and striving to live like saints.

This is our holy task as Orthodox Christians, to be like the saints and to chase God. What all of the saints realize when they earnestly apply themselves to this task is that in fact, God has been chasing them all along. The proof is that the Son of God became a man, precisely for this reason. To capture our minds and hearts with His love. The icons in the churches help us to remember all of this and they invite us on a daily basis to “come and see.” May our lenten journey be a serious effort to follow in the footsteps of the disciple Nathaniel and “come and see.” And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Hunting For The Treasures Of The Holy Spirit

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21) 

Imagine that you are a treasure hunter. Your only goal in life is to accumulate treasure. You dedicate your life searching for gold, silver, diamonds and precious stones and jewels. One day as you are traveling and searching for all of these treasures, which are rare and hard to find, you come across a trail. And every few feet along this trail you find scattered treasure. The further you walk, the more of this treasure that you find. In fact, if you walk all the way to the end of the trail you find that there is a giant heap of treasure that is so large that you do not even have a way to collect it all or carry it all. There is only one problem. A giant wall surrounds the treasure. It is 50 feet thick and 50 feet high and there is absolutely no way to go under it, over it, around it or through it. In fact it seems that it is actually two walls that are back to back, two layers of barriers. You are alone with no tools at your disposal.

My brothers and sisters, the treasure that we are trying to accumulate as Christians is the grace of the Holy Spirit and the corresponding virtues, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The path that we are going to travel to find this treasure is Great and Holy Lent, all of it’s practices, fasting, services, readings and prayers. Yet as we prepare to go on this journey we should be convinced that there is a huge pile of treasure at the end of the journey and that there is a great wall that separates us from the treasure. What is this great wall? It is our sins against others and their sins against us. All of our resentment, all of our hatred, all of our animosity, all of our keeping score, all of our petty differences, all of our hurt and all of our pain, they are the stones used to build this wall. Often times we are even worse with those that we love and are close to, such as our families. We are polite with outsiders but we let our guard down and treat our own families and friends poorly at times. This is true for husbands and wives, parents and children, and between siblings, between friends.

So here we are, all of us are part of this fallen human condition. Each one of us unknowingly building a brick wall that keeps us and others from reaching the mountain of treasures that God would like to share with us. How can we break down this wall? Do we even care to try? If the answer is “NO, I do not care to break down this wall.” Or “No, I do not need to change, only others need to change.” Then why do we bother to come and to go through the motions of prayer or the motions of lent? God does not need us to go through the motions. He doesn’t need us at all, but He desires us. He wants to know us and commune with us.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Christian religion. Something that can be found in no other religion if we are honest, is the idea of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. God has forgiven us. God has removed the first layer of the wall that separates us from Him. The way is open, but the second layer of the wall, the wall that we spoke of earlier is still there. How can we bring this wall down? We have no tools to knock down this wall. What is the correct method? The correct method for breaking down the final wall is through our sincere forgiveness of others. That is much harder than in may seem. We are really good at pretending that we have forgiven others but as we search our hearts we find that perhaps we harbor lots of bad feelings towards others that are just below the surface. We harbor resentment and pain. We also harbor a sense of shame for our own sins and ill dealing with others. All of this can only be healed by starting the process of forgiving others and also allowing others to forgive you.

This means that not only should we be receptive to forgiving others, but we must also be open to asking forgiveness of others. To refuse to apologize to others, to refuse to ask forgiveness of others is to assume quite a lot. The first thing it assumes is a haughty and prideful disposition. It also assumes a lack of love and tenderness in your heart. When someone asks you to forgive them you should respond to them with love and acceptance, understanding that in fact you are no better than them, and at various times in your life, you might actually be worse! But the act of forgiving and asking for forgiveness is the start to the process of healing. It begins the process of demolishing the walls that are between us and the final layer of the wall that separates us from the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact the Lord Himself tells us in today’s gospel that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This should cause us dread and shock us into a correct disposition. It should also comfort us. God is ready to accept us and He stands on the others side of the wall but since the wall is part of our heart, He respects it and will not knock it down. It is our property, and we must choose to knock it down through unconditional forgiveness and love towards our brothers and sisters.

So important is this aspect of our spiritual journey of Great Lent that tonight we will all return to the church for “Forgiveness Vespers.” This is our time to pray together and to come to each member of the community and open our hearts to them, both asking them to forgive us and offering them our forgiveness and reminding them that God forgives all things. This is an especially important year to offer this to one another because the last year was full of so much pain, judgement, distrust and anxiety and all of this made us much more likely to be angry, resentful, impatient and unloving. Let us come together tonight and offer healing to one another and open up our hearts to receive all of God’s healing grace.

Let me leave you with a quote from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk who writes, “Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.”

I pray that this Lent will be powerful and profitable and that we will follow the lead of the Church by starting this Lent asking for the forgiveness of our sins and generously forgiving others, remembering that the treasure is waiting for us. Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Instructions to Inherit The Kingdom

The Gospel According to Matthew 25:31-46

When Our Lord Jesus Christ is tested and asked “what is the greatest of the commandments?”  He replies that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”  And then He says “and the second one is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, upon these two hang all the law and the prophets.”  We learn from this that these two commandments are truly connected and inseparable.  

In today’s gospel the Lord Jesus Christ is like a good teacher who is giving us the answers to the final exam so that we might prepare properly for the exam.  In effect, He tells us to pay attention because everything that He is telling us will be on the exam.  We learn that there will indeed be an exam.  We learn that there are important life and death issues according to which we will each be judged.  Yes, it is true.  In our culture to speak of judgment seems harsh and yet this is the reality of Scripture.  There will be a judgement because God is a judge.  No amount of theological innovation can remove God from His place as the judge.  God alone judges and declares the righteous.  His judgements are true and sound.    

As we prepare for the great and holy fast we are reminded that at the end we will not be judged by how well we fast, or how well we do prostrations or even how often we come to the church for prayers.  We were reminded a few weeks ago that the pharisee in the parable of the publican and the pharisee did all of those things.  In fact he excelled at them!  Yet his offering was not accepted by God.  Our Lord says to us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees, we will not be saved.  How does one’s righteousness exceed that of the pharisees?  He must do more than believe in God and practice empty rituals.  His heart must be transformed, he must become humble, he must be broken and refashioned in the likeness of Christ.  

Today Our Lord tells us what is expected of the children of God.  Out of love and mercy for each of us, He tells us the truth.   What is the truth?  How will we each be judged?  Will we be judged according to our feelings and strong opinions? No.  Will we be judged according to our words about God?  No.  We will be judged according to our actions which are a response to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  St. James speaks about this tension in the Epistle of James ch.2 when he writes, 

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”

St. James tells us that it is not enough to simply believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ.  After all, even the demons believe and they tremble.  However the demons do not worship God and serve Him.  They do not offer up their lives as a living sacrifice to God.  Yet we are called to be different.  Faith in Christ means living a life in Christ.  That is Orthodox Christianity.  It is not merely words about Christ, it is life changing conviction that leads to a changed view of the world and ourselves and our neighbors.  

You were baptized into Christ and have put on Christ!  Having been called to put on Chist, we are called to offer up our lives as a sacrifice out of love for God and on behalf of others.  When we live to serve others and to see Christ in others it means that we are truly being transformed into the image and likeness of God.  If we are sons and daughters of God, we are called to serve others joyfully as the Lord has descended and taken flesh to serve us.  The Lord poured out His life for us, out of love.  We are also called to pour out our lives for others, to become love and this is natural because God is love.  And the reward is much greater than anything we can imagine.  God tells us that in loving and serving others, the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the naked, we are actually doing something even greater, we are serving the Lord Himself.  Do we need any more motivation than this?!

St. Nikolai Velimirovich once told this story,

 “Similar things happen in almsgiving and in Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we receive the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of bread and wine; in almsgiving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy. A certain man in Constantinople was unusually merciful. Walking along the streets of the city, he would press his gift into the hands of the poor and hurry onward, so that he would not hear their gratitude or be recognized. When a friend of his asked how he had become so merciful, he replied: “Once in church I heard a priest say that whoever gives to the poor, gives into the hands of Christ Himself. I didn’t believe it, for I thought, ‘How can this be, when Christ is in heaven?’ However, I was on my way home one day and I saw a poor man begging, and the face of Christ shone above his head! Just then a passerby gave the beggar a piece of bread, and I saw the Lord extend His hand, take the bread, and bless the donor. From then on, I have always seen Christ’s face shining above the beggars. Therefore, with great fear I perform as much charity as I can.’

Let us also be convinced that our charity towards others will likewise be accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ and will allow us to hear these beautiful words  ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  and Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons