Guarding the Truth in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

Why We Reject Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

We Thirst For Living Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

He Give Us New Life

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

Today we hear the familiar story of the paralytic who had been ill for 38 years. We are not told how long he had been laying beside the miraculous pool, but we are told that Our Lord Jesus Christ knew that he had been there for a long time. The Lord likewise knows each of our situations, our trials, our difficulties, very intimately. He knows them better than we know them!

Our Lord comes up to this paralyzed man directly. This in and of itself should cause our hearts great joy. The king of heaven and earth, the maker of all things, descended to our level and then He goes directly to the man who is poor, sick and in great need, and He does something that most kings and leaders never do. He speaks with a man who is in great need. Who is this man, that the Lord of glory should come to him? Who are we that the Lord should come to us? But such is the grace of God and His mercy towards mankind.

What does Our Lord say to the man? Only a simply question: “Do you want to be healed?” There is a way in which what the Lord Jesus says to this man, is the same thing that the Lord speaks quietly into our hearts. He whispers to each of us gently “Do you want to be healed?” But it is not always easy for us to respond properly to this question. Take the paralytic for example. How did he answer the Lord? He said “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” So the man wanted healing but he understood that the problem was that he couldn’t get into the pool fast enough. In his mind, he thought to himself, “If only I had someone to help me get into the water quickly, I would be healed.” He lacks understanding. He doesn’t understand his powerlessness, and he doesn’t know the true source of this healing. He has been putting his trust in men, and as is usually the case, men have let this man down for a very long time. But the Scriptures tell us it is better to put trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men.

We,like the paralytic,are often quite similar in our day to day lack of understanding. Some think to themselves, if only I had more money, everything in my lifewould be better. If only we had a different president, everything would be better. When a woman comes to complain about her husband, she says “if only he would change, everything would be better.” The men often say the exact same thing “if only she would change, everything would be better.” We sometimes say to ourselves “I would be a better person if I didn’t have to deal with so much stress at work or at home.” We say “if only I could lose those extra pounds, I would feel much better about life.” If only I had a different job, I would be a better person. If only I was more strict, if only I fasted more, if only I worked harder, I would be a better Christian. In all of these things we can be easily distracted from the source of our healing. All of these things might be good for us, but they are tools. The simple fact remains, according to the words of the Lord “Without Me you can do nothing.” Christ asks each of us if we want to be healed, let’s not fall into the trap of looking for healing in all the wrong places.

We sometimes believe that our life will be better if external circumstances change. The Lord Jesus Christ proved to the paralytic that it was not the outside situation that had to change but a change from within, through the work of the physician of oursouls and the lover of mankind. What I am trying to say to you is this: Don’t lose your focus or look to false saviors. It is the Lord Jesus Christ alonewho can restore and heal you. We have an advantage that the paralytic did not have, we know the identity of Jesus Christ. We know Him by name, but have we given Him the time to know our hearts? Have we opened our hearts to Him and given Him a place to dwell? Do we really trust our lives and our situations and our difficulties to Him? Do we really spend time standing or kneeling and speaking with Him, asking Him to put His hand on our lives and heal us? Do we ask Him to bless our family members, friends and co-workers? Do we ask Him to bless our classmates, both the nice and the not-so-nice?

I don’t want us to be confused or distracted from reality. Jesus Christ is our reality. He is our salvation. He is our hope. He is our joy. He is our healing. He is our peace. He took a man who was basically dead, and gave him a resurrection, a new life. He has the power to give us new life as well.

The paralytic was confused regarding the source of healing. But after his healing, we see that it was the Jews who were confused. What was it that confused them? They saw the man who had been paralyzed, carrying his pallet and walking. It scandalized them. Why was this the case? Because they perceived that the law of God was being broken, the man was working, by carrying his bed on the Sabbath day of rest. Little did they know that the One who had commanded the man to rise, take up his pallet and walk, was the same One who made the Sun itself to rise and fall, the same One who caused the tides to come in and to go out. The One who in fact had made the law of the Sabbath out of love for His people. Yet the Jews did not understand but turned the letter of the lawinto a weapon. 

They ignored the fact that the man was healed and restored after being ill for 38 years, andinstead they focused on what they saw as his shortcoming and sin. I hopethat we have changed for the better but in some places these judgmental and legalistic attitudes still exist. Their are placeswhere people focus on all of the externalities and appearances, but I thank God that He has protected your hearts from this. I pray that we never be like these judgmental ones but rather let us be like the Lord who provides healing and mercy wherever He goes. God doesn’t need us to judge others, He needs us to love them.

In both situations, that of the paralytic and that of the Jews, we see that both parties put their trust in the wrong things. One in the men who might help him and in the miraculous pool. The others put their trust in the letter of the law. Yet God had something better planned, because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. The prophet Jeremiah speaking the word of God once said of His people“I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.”(Jer 33:6) May we not forget the source of that healing, may we cling to Him and may He shower us with abundant peace and truth in the light of His resurrection. Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons

Small Ways to Imitate the Love of Joseph, Nicodemus and the Myrrh Bearing Women

The Reading from the Acts of the Saintly and Pure Apostles. (6:1-7) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8) 

Since the start of the paschal season you might have noticed that the epistle reading each week has actually been from the book of Acts, (The Acts of the Apostles). This is a detailed chronicle of the life of the early Church and the way that the Holy Spirit moved the disciples of Jesus Christ and guided them to preach the gospel across the Roman Empire.

In today’s passage from Acts 6 we see that the disciples are beginning to deal with practical matters within the life of the church and trying to balance the material and physical needs of the people with their spiritual needs and the necessity to continue the God-given task of preaching the gospel to all nations. We notice that the disciples are overwhelmed by the number of people and particularly by the daily distribution to the poor and needy. This leads the disciples to come together and to say “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 

With this directive, they chose 7 men and prayed over them and laidtheir apostolic hands upon them (not much has changed in the Orthodox practice), and they ordained these men as servants, also known as deacons. At this time the role of the deacon was strictly the role of helping the poor and taking care of the table service. It was also to visit the sick and infirm. We know that historically there were even female deacons who had this role. As time progressed, the deacons also began to take on the liturgical role and to assist with the table service of the Holy Altar. We do not have any evidence that this liturgical role was ever given to women in the early church.

In all of this we see that the disciples could not do it all alone. We should know that the bishop cannot do the work of building up the Church, alone. The priest cannot do the work, alone. The work of God requires a concerted prayerful effort of each member. The deacon faithfullyassists the priest. The altar servers assist the priest and the deacon. The parish council plays a very important role as it is advises and manages day to day practical matters within the life of the church so that the clergy can be freed up to focus on the ministries of prayer, teaching, sacraments, counselingand visiting the sick.

Our womens group likewise, plays an important role in the day to day life of the church. Each group plays an important role, and each individual plays an even more important role in the life of the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead, to redeem each of us from corruption, sin and death. He died and rose again in order to give us life. Does our life reflect the reality of His resurrection? Do our works and deeds demonstrate that we are living the life of resurrection, that we are living the life of the risen Lord Jesus?

What does this work look like? Well I want to be honest and tell you that sometimes, it ain’t glamorous. In today’s gospel reading we see some amazing examples of the service and dedication that is rendered to our Lord Jesus Christ as He passed away and hung upon the holy wood of the cross on that first Holy Friday. 

Joseph of Arimathaea, took courage and went to Pontius Pilate and asked for the body of the Lord. This might not seem like much, but I assure you that most of us would not have been so bold. Jesus had just been crucified and it was at the order of Pontius Pilate. To go and ask for His body might have been seen by Pontius Pilate as a reason to imprison or even crucify Joseph since it would reveal him to be a follower of Christ. In addition, we can imagine that since this Joseph was a member of the council of the Sanhedrin, his devotion to Jesus could also be seen by the rest of the council, who could remove him from the council, excommunicate him from the temple and synagogues and even try to have him punished or killed as well.

It was no small thing, this act of devotion that Joseph of Arimathaea demonstrated. One can only imagine the condition of the Lord’s body when Joseph received it. It would not have looked like the crucifixion icons, but would have been much more gruesome to our eyes, because the act of being flogged and crucified was among the most gruesome acts that has ever been devised in history.

It wasn’t glamorous, but often, love is far fromglamorous. This same love and dedication that Joseph of Arimathaeaand Nicodemus showed to the lifeless body of the Lord Jesus, is the same love and devotion that the myrrh bearing women showed to the Lord, when they decided to visit his tomb. It this love and devotionthatwe should all aspire to within the Church. Do you know why? Because the Church IS the body of Christ. When you serve the Church, you serve Christ Himself.

There are so many ways to serve the body of Christ and obtain the blessings of this service. And many of you serve faithfully. You chant and sing. You move partition walls and set up tables and chairs. You bake bread and teach the children. But we are always challenged to do more and increase our love and devotion.

Sometimes it means picking up the extra books that are lying around at the end of the services. It might mean cleaning up the church school rooms that have been left in complete disarray.At times it may mean plunging a toilet or taking out a garbage bag that is full. It might mean cleaning up empty paper plates and cups that are leftlying around inside or outside under the picnic shelter.

It can mean calling those whom you haven’t seen for a couple of weeks or even sending them a friendly text. It might mean making a meal for someone or visiting them at their home. Or it can be something as simple as looking after the little ones to give their parents a short rest.Every one of these actions is practical and powerful in allowing us to do the work of the Church, and when we do these things with love, we allow this place to bea place of healing for everyone who enters. We receive the healing of the Lord by hearingHis word, by loving one another, by praying together and partaking of the sacramental life of the Church. And we work together so that others may receive this same grace.

May we take courage and do what we can to serve the Lord faithfully, through the prayers of Joseph, Nicodemus, the myrrh bearing women and all of the saints. Christ is risen! 

Source: Sermons

Why Do We Call It Pascha?

Christ is risen! Indeed He is Risen!

My beloved, we are now in the joyous season of Pascha. It occurred to me that perhaps some of you do not know why we call what is known in the west as Easter by this term Pascha. What does it mean? Where did it come from? How can we celebrate it properly during these holy days that culminate in the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost?

Pascha, is a word that is Greek but originally derived from Hebrew and that word meant “passover”. We know that passover is a feast celebrated by the Jewish people. This feast celebrates the miraculous events that led to the release of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. We read about this in the biblical account called Exodus, which is the second book of the Bible. The actual event that is called the passover is the event that broke Egypt’s back and made Pharaoh submit to the demands of Moses the prophet and release the people of God. What was this event? It was the coming of the angel to kill and wipeout the first-born of every living creature, both man and beast. Both Jews and Egyptians. 

But God had a plan for those who loved Him and had faith. He instituted the passover celebration where the people would gather around a table and eat a lamb cooked with bitter herbs. When this lamb was slaughtered, God instructed that it’s blood was to be put across the door posts of each house. The blood would form a shape that you would see across the top rail of the door and across the two side posts on the left and the right. It would look very much like the Greek letter Pi. However in the modern Hebrew language the shape of the letter would be recognized as Tav which makes the sound “t”. So, if a modern Jew were to look at the mark of the blood on the doors they would immediately think of the letter Tav. Why is this so interesting? Because during the time of the exodus and in the early Jewish history, the letter underwent development and changes. Tav didn’t always look like the Greek letter for Pi, but looked like something much more recognizable to each of us. It looked almost exactly like a cross or a lower case “t”.

What does this have to do with Pascha? Pascha takes it’s name from this feast of the Jews, where they took the blood of a spotless lamb and put it on the doors of the house in obedience to the Lord. This was the sign by which the Angel would pass over the house and would not kill anyone within the house. In this way, it was understood as a passover and that is exactly what we celebrate during this beautiful season of Pascha. Only we have much more to celebrate then did the Jews in Egypt.

The Jews were in bondage and slavery in Egypt, but we were in the bondage and slavery of sin. The Jews worked for Pharaoh and the empire of Egypt, but we worked for Satan and his kingdom. The jews picked a lamb without blemish and killed it in order to eat it and to place it’s blood on the door posts. God chose His only Son to be the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. And He did this upon the wood of the cross, in the shape of a “t”. They ate of this lamb with bitter spices, yet in Holy communion, we eat the lamb of God with joy for what He has done for us and in us.

They spread the blood upon the door so that the angel might pass over the house and everyone in it. Yet we were baptized into the death of Christ so that by the death that He died, He could offer us freedom from spiritual death and life immortal. Through the death of the Lord we are offered fullness of life. It is to live life in communion with the Holy Trinity, forever. Nothing in the world can separate us from God because of the blood of the Lamb of God. This sacrifice has made death powerless over us. Even more that that, it has rejuvenated us and energized us with new life, the divine life of Christ through the Holy Spirit. 

Pascha is a fulfillment of the feast of passover celebrated long ago. It is our passover celebration. It was celebrated with great symbolism in the past, but we celebrate it through fulfillment and in reality. Because of God’s mercy and love, we now have the ability to live freely in Christ, in true life, and to grow in depth and knowledge of the Lord and to serve Him faithfully.

We see this glorious time in the Church as a foretaste and an entrance into the kingdom. Everything shines with the light of Christ. Everything takes on the joy of the resurrection. Everything becomes new again. We fasted for many weeks in order to be prepared and to be purified for this time in the presence of the renewed grace of God. We don’t celebrate Pascha for merely a day. Not even for 40 days. Pascha is the eternal celebration of life in Christ. 

Around the year 1815, we hear that St. Seraphim of Sarov had repented and prayed for nearly 1000 days while upon a rock, he descended from that rock and began to greet all of the people with a familiar phrase that God had given to Him… “Christ is risen!” This is not just a hope. Christ is risen! This is my belief, this is my faith, this is my creed, this is my life. Christ is risen from the dead. And we who were in the tombs of spiritual and physical death are now given life. May this life not be wasted. May this life be lived as the saints themselves have lived it. Life is not about them or about the world. Everything is an offering to the living God. 

St. John Maximovitch of San Francisco said “the Son of God came to earth and became man that He might lead man into heaven and make him once again a citizen of Paradise, returning to him his original state of sinlessness and wholeness and uniting him unto Himself.” If this is our way, He will be our joy. Because He lives, we shall also live with Him. This is the precious gift that has been given to us. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!

Source: Sermons

How Not To Lose the Blessings of Holy Week

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

As we move into Holy Week, we will quickly see that the cries of the people who came to greet the Lord Jesus on Palm Sunday, have changed. They came out by the hundreds and possibly thousands to say “Hosanna! Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” They greeted the Lord as a victorious king, but what a great difference just a few days can make. In less than 5 days, He will be betrayed. In less than a week, the same crowd that came to greet Him and to call Him “king”, will deny Him and cry out with one voice “Crucify Him!”

We are reminded that our feelings are not to be trusted. The people were not watchful, but passionate. They were easily swayed and not firm in their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. We are amazed at their quick change of attitude and we are left much more amazed by the humility of the Lord Jesus. How much patience and mercy He has towards us. His own creation, the very works of His very hands, had completed it’s rebellion and turned against Him. Yet, He did not respond with anger. He responded with humility, in order to turn his curse into our blessing. It is the picture of unimaginable love. Love without limits. Love without preconditions. Love without wavering or faltering. Pure love from the Pure One.

And none of this came as a surprise to Our Lord. He foretold and foreknew the whole situation. He understood what kind of suffering He would face as He entered into Jerusalem. While they cheered and sang “Hosanna!” He already knew how they would change their cheers into jeers, how they would gnash their teeth while they begged for the criminal Barabbas to be freed and for Christ to be crucified in his place.

We probably think to ourselves, “thank God that I am not like those stupid people who betrayed Christ.” But in fact we are the same people! We betray Christ every time we ignore His teachings and do our own will. We betray Christ when we sin. We betray Christ when we do not love our neighbor. We betray Christ when we dishonor and neglect the life that He gives us in His Church, which is in truth, His mystical body. My brothers and sisters, we are not so different from those who came to greet the Lord that day in Jerusalem. We celebrate God when things are going well for us. But we might turn against Him if our life became uncomfortable or if we were sick or if people attacked us or punished us because of our belief in Him.

Why were the people fickle and moody in their attitude changes? Because their faith was based on outward signs and not on the person of Christ. The Mother God knew her Son very well, and she didn’t betray Him. She stood by and watched and agonized over the treatment that Her beloved Son was receiving. Her faith was constant, because it was faith in Christ and not only in His miracles. Faith in the person of Christ can sustain us, because it is a solid foundation upon which to build our lives.

I would like to switch pace just a bit as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. This is the one week of the year when we spend the most time in the church and I want to take a few moments to talk about what we can do to make the most of this time, to gain great benefits. I also want to speak about what we do that steals away the grace of God and the joy of this somber but beautiful week.

Here are a few things that steal our joy and diminish our sense of God’s grace: Extra talking and joking after the services. I’ve noticed that after each of our services, we are happy to see each other, happy to be together. But let us try to hold in some of that enthusiasm and joy. This should be a week full of quiet reflection and a time for us to let the prayers find a place deep in the heart. If we talk as soon as we leave the somber holy week services, we lose some of that grace, we chase it away with idle chatter or boisterous laughter. Instead, try to hold back and safe guard it like a treasure that will gain interest over time. It’s much more difficult than you think, if it has not become a habit.

Next, be extra careful about how you spend your free time. This is not the time for loud music and games and television. But it is a great time for an electronics and media fast. It is an even better time to finish those books you’ve started at the beginning of Lent and even to study the holy week book that we use daily during this week. It is full of amazing hymns, scripture readings, and prayers.

Last, don’t focus on Pascha prematurely. Don’t focus on your meal plans or celebrations too early. This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t lose the blessings of each day of Holy Week by daydreaming about the future. On Saturday after the morning service, you will have plenty of time to think about and prepare for Saturday evening. Only remember that Pascha is NOT about food and drink but about light, joy and life! It is the most special service of the whole year, where we enter more deeply into the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The last thing that I would like to mention that steals our joy and robs us of the grace of Holy Week: Willfully skipping the services. Lent was a time to begin reorienting our lives around Christ and His Church. If Lent was the start, Holy Week is the culmination. It is the time when every Christian is called to put aside the things of the world and hit the pause button on their outside lives. The world is passing away. Only the Lord’s kingdom will remain! Here is a simple rule for the week: If it can be postponed or put off until later so that you can come and pray, then by all means, do it. Or what will a man give in return for his soul?

Holy Week was not instituted in order to make you feel guilty as you skip all of the services. It was instituted by the Church in order to help you enter into the profound beauty of all that the Lord Jesus has done for us. In order to give you a deep experience of the redemption that was won for us by our Lord, through His life giving sufferings and passion. And all of this helps us to fully enter into the joy of life in the risen Christ.

May the Lord give you strength for this holy marathon and make you worthy to celebrate at the footsteps of the empty tomb! AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

It Is Not Too Late!

On this final Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we remember and celebrate the life of the great St. Mary of Egypt. 

Most of us know the story of St. Mary of Egypt but perhaps we can dig a little deeper into the Church’s true purpose for remembering her now at the end of the great fast.

We are told that Mary left home at a young age, about 12 years old. She was wild and undisciplined and she was a sex addict. She had little control over her desires or impulses. She allowed these feelings and urges to drag her from place to place. In many ways she embodies the definition of womanhood that is offered to us in the Western world. Her life was like something out of “Sex and the City.” She would be celebrated by many for her unrestrained lifestyle. Today many women celebrate this so-called freedom. They think that being sexually chaste or modest is some sort of weakness or even slavery. They fight for the freedom of the body and they can’t conceive of the ways in which the body and soul are connected. They fight for sexual liberation and can’t conceive of the ways in which they are hurrying towards their own slavery.

Mary was like many people today. She was governed and ruled by her sexual desires. These desires led her further and further into darkness. It is possible that for most of her life she had never heard the word “NO”. She made herself available to many of the young men she met. She gave her love to one man after another. And this is where she falls right into the biblical story of salvation. Mary of Egypt is a great symbol of God’s people, when they are unfaithful. She is a woman with many lovers.

If you spend some time in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books, you will find a recurring theme. This theme is the marriage of God to His bride Israel. This Israel is not the nation state that we see on the news, it is understood by the Fathers of the Church as the people of God. The problem with the people of biblical Israel is that they are always giving their love to other gods. God wants them to be faithful, but they continue to seek out false gods, day after day and year after year. Israel is the unfaithful wife. According to the Scriptures, she is worse than a harlot.

Are we faithful to God or do we behave like Mary of Egypt. Do we live to serve the true and living God or are we living for other gods such as wealth, beauty, power, security and luxury? When these strange gods come to seduce us, how do we respond? Do we push them away or do we quickly accept them?

Mary had gone her whole life and never been denied because men were looking at her strictly on her visible beauty. But what would happen when she approached the One who could see the inner state of her soul? As she sought to enter the church in Jerusalem she felt a force push against her. The woman who had never been rejected was now being rejected by God Himself. It was a turning point in her life.

It turns out that Mary was not happy in the state she was in, she was miserable. She had been chasing these sins because she was hungry for something deeper. She wanted love. We all want love. The problem is that usually the things we love don’t return love to us. They use us and throw us away once we are no longer useful. They leave us feeling lonely, abandoned and empty.

Mary found the love of Jesus Christ. She was baptized and received communion and for the next 47 years she lived in the wilderness in complete solitude. She repented and prayed and thanked God that He had not rejected her, but had shown her true love and mercy in ways she could never expect. Her transformation began with her heartfelt repentance, but it continued long afterwards. She did not merely accept Christ into her heart and go about living any way she liked. That is not Christianity, that is fantasy land. Mary of Egypt gained amazing spiritual gifts and insights, the likes of which are rarely attained even by those living in the monasteries under spiritual guidance for many years. God was faithful and true in His promises. As Mary continued her struggle, Christ continued to pour out His abundant grace. Once Mary knew who loved her, she gave Him everything she had and everything she was. She poured out her body, her heart, her mind and her strength. She completely embodied the first and greatest commandment to give God everything of ourselves.

Mary becomes a sign of what can happen to the people of God when they turn from their wickedness and actually let God affect them. It’s not a matter of “if” God can change you, It’s a matter of “how”. St. Mary of Egypt shows us that it is God’s good pleasure to transform each of us into His image and likeness. He makes warriors to become peacemakers. He makes brutes to become physicians. He makes the foolish to become wise. He makes harlots to become virgins. He makes strangers to become His sons and daughters.

As we near the finish line of the fast, Mary of Egypt gives us courage to complete our journey. Not one of our sacrifices or our prayers will be ignored. Not one of our struggles will be forgotten by God. Perhaps it is time that we turn to Him and trust Him completely as did this wonderful saint. God loves you just as He loved St. Mary. He doesn’t desire your death but your purification, sanctification and illumination. He desires to have communion with you, to know you intimately. No matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter what sins are in your past, God is ready to redeem you. Even now, at the last hour of Great and Holy Lent, God can transform each of us and bring us true healing. It is not yet too late. What is impossible with men, is still possible with Christ our God!

Glory be to the God Forever. AMEN.

(Adapted from a sermon given on 4-5-2014 )

Source: Sermons

Instructions For The Laity From St. John Climacus

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31)

Today’s reading is given to us on this, the fourth Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. This day we commemorate the memory of our father among the saint John Climacus. He is most well known for the spiritual classic which he wrote called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”. In this powerful book, he outlines steps of the spiritual life as rungs of a ladder that lead up to heaven. As we climb and gain new virtues through God’s help, we ascend further towards the Kingdom. This book is so highly regarded that it is often the main lenten reading in monasteries around the world. This of course makes great sense when you realize that this book was written for monastics and from a monastic mindset. Nevertheless, it has many wonderful treasures for the average layperson who eagerly studies it with some guidance from their priest and spiritual father.

At the beginning of the book, St. John has some important words of advice for those living in the world, especially those who are single and might consider monasticism. We will get to that in a moment. But I think it is important to remember that not everyone needs to get married. Some are not called to marriage. But if we desire to be single then we must be single in the way that is pleasing to God, and not in the way of the world. If we desire to be single, we should also desire to be celibate or chaste. You can’t stay in the world and live anyway that you like and claim to believe in God and serve Him while living in any way that you please. 

The Church teaching (which is the teaching of Jesus Christ), does not allow for the gratification of sexual urges and desires outside of the sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman. We are certainly free to live that lifestyle but it is to our own harm and death, and not to life. So even those who live together and pretend to be married are living in grave sin, that does untold spiritual damage because they have chosen to live without the blessing of God. One of the modern fathers likened this to a man putting on a priests vestments and trying to serve the liturgy. Just wearing the vestments isn’t enough to make someone a priest. He has to be ordained with the laying on of hands, from an authentic bishop, that bestows the grace of the priesthood. And he will have to sweat and struggle to become worthy of the grace that he was given. In similar fashion, the ones who desire to live lawfully and in a godly manner, must wait for the Holy Spirit to bless the union and make the couple, one flesh. Then they must work diligently to confirm the gift they received. So each of us must decide and be firm in our conviction. Nevertheless, right at the beginning of his epic work, St. John has some words of advice especially for those who are unmarried and perhaps feel the pull to the monastic life. He writes, 

“In the world, when an emperor summons us to obedience, we leave everything aside and answer the call at once without delays or hanging back or excuses. We had better be careful then not to refuse through laziness or inertia, the call of the heavenly life in the service of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God of gods. He continues… “Someone caught up in the world can make progress, if he is determined. But it is not easy. Those bearing chains can still walk. But they often stumble and are thereby injured. The man who is unmarried and in the world, for all that he may be burdened, can nevertheless make haste toward the monastic life.” 

In this he encourages those who have contemplated leaving the world to do so without delay and to enter the heavenly ranks. As you may know, our very own Mother Angelina and Father Gabriel did just that, and what joy we take in their offering of their lives to the Lord.

Next, St. John gives some words of advice to those who are married and must live in the world. What he says is short, sweet and to the point, and within it the whole Christian life is present. St. John writes,

“Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?” I answered: “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies (Liturgy). Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.” 

In a brief paragraph that is dripping with spirit-filled wisdom, St. John all but hands us the keys to the kingdom. He shows us what is required if we want to live in communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

Now some of you may be thinking to yourselves “Father, there is a problem. I want to do all of these things that St. John has mentioned but I cannot seem to do them. I speak ill of others, I judge others, I tell small lies, I carry hatred in my heart, I skip the liturgy at times, I desire and covet what belongs to my neighbor and am not content with what God has given me. What can I do now?”

In a way, the gospel reading is meant to address this. We hear of a boy who is brought to Jesus by his father who asks for the Lords help. The boy exhibits symptoms of being an epileptic. He often falls down and convulses. He has moments where he is no longer in control of himself and in fact, it goes beyond mere epilepsy since his father tells us that often the spirit which possessed the boy, tried to throw him into fire or water and destroy him. To all of this our merciful Lord Jesus responds “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Yet the father, overwhelmed by this trial and the way it has affected his son can only cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” So it is quite similar to where we might be. We want Christ, we want the kingdom of God, we want to do all of the things that St. John mentioned above, but perhaps we feel powerless to get there. 

The gospel tells us that the disciples, who had been given power by Jesus, had earlier tried to help the boy but could not do the job and they wondered why. The Lord replied “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” It is the word that the Lord gives us today. We are reminded that we are in the middle of Lent precisely to increase our prayers and fasting. Why? Because it is in heartfelt prayer and humble fasting, that the greatest changes can happen to our spiritual state. Prayer when coupled with fasting, becomes a powerful catalyst in our transformation as sons and daughters of God. Fasting helps us to overcome obstacles and temptations as well as habitual sins that seem like they can never be defeated in our lives. Yet, we notice that it is the Lord Himself who has blessed the act of fasting. It is the Lord who began His own earthly ministry with 40 days of preparation through fasting and prayer. 

Fasting allows us to shed our sinful inclinations like a snake sheds its skin. So we fast in order that the transformational power of God might be magnified to it’s fullest potential. And we are amazed that as we are healed and transformed we sense that Christ is doing to us what He did to the boy in the gospel reading. He takes us by the hand and lifts us up. What a beautiful image! The Lord looks each of us in the eyes and He desires to reach out His hand to us and lift us up with His healing touch. We are in the difficult final weeks. Now is not the time to despair. It is the time to cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And Glory be to God forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

The Way That Leads to Life

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

One of the worst things that can happen to us is to begin thinking that if we love God or have true faith, that somehow our life will be easier, or less painful or have less suffering. When all of a sudden we are faced with difficulties or tribulation, we then question our faith, we question God, we question everything. Why? Because in fact, we had made an idol of pleasure or ease of life.

Even now during the Great and Holy Fast we are sometimes surprised at the level of discomfort we have. We might say to ourselves “Didn’t Father tell us that if we fast and pray faithfully, we will have an experience of the Lord, we will grow in communion with Him?” But let us put our struggles into perspective. Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. It is officially the mid-way point of the fast. Three weeks down, three weeks to go. At the end of the next three weeks, we will enter into Holy Week, the holiest and most solemn time in the life of the Church.

We have struggled a bit. We have prayed a bit, fasted a bit, done a bit of prostrations, done a bit of repenting, done a bit of weeping. At this point we might find ourselves tired. We may begin to question the logic of all this hard work, all of this struggle. Yet what does the Church to to offer us encouragement? She doesn’t bring out the icon of the resurrection of the Lord. She brings out the cross. She reminds us of the love of God for each and every man, woman and child that has ever lived. She reminds us that the Lord Jesus, suffered for us and died for us on the precious wood of the cross in order to give us true life.

My brothers and sisters, now is the time to struggle. Later it will be time to rest. When I say that now is the time to struggle, I am speaking of this holy fast, but I am also speaking of our life in general. There is no one who can avoid suffering. No one can avoid trials. No one can avoid difficult people in their lives. My friends, there is no life for us unless we take up our crosses and carry them all the way to the end.

The Lord taught us what He would also demonstrate for us. He had courage and carried His cross with strength. He knew it was unjust. He knew it was painful. He knew that He did not deserve such treatment. They spit in the Lord’s face and they slapped Him. They beat Him and whipped Him. This was the reward that He received for the many thousands of people that He had fed and healed and taught. They rewarded His love with their hatred. They nailed Him to the tree of death. Yet the Lord took all of this patiently. What a Lord we have! He took this suffering because it was the only way to offer us true life! He took our death and gave us His divine life.

As we each enter into our particular struggles of life, we must enter into them by asking the Lord for strength. Mothers need strength to keep up with their duties and the raising of their children. Fathers need strength to continue working difficult jobs with difficult people. Husbands and wives need strength and patience to deal with one another and to accept one another and support one another. Children need strength to fight peer-pressure and courage to act differently than the world around them.

We enter into our sufferings with determination and a focus on the love of God and of the example of the Lord Jesus. If there was another way, God would have surely shown it to us.

We are called to suffer in life and to carry our crosses so that we might live the life of Christ within our bodies. Instead of seeking pleasure, we seek to please God. Instead of temporary rest, we seek eternal rest when the Lord chooses to give us this rest.

Every decision we make creates a ripple effect. And every day we are faced with the decision that once faced the Lord after He had fasted for 40 days and was hungry. He was faced with a choice of who He should serve. We are faced with that same decision every day. Do we follow after pleasure, after ease of life, after Satan? Or do we follow after the commandments of God, after the way of Christ, no matter where it might lead? The Lord tells us that there is nothing so special as the soul of a man. Don’t forfeit your soul or the souls of those around you for fleeting pleasures.

It is so sad when someone is overcome by serious temptations and their lapse in judgement doesn’t just affect them. It affects everyone in their social circle in a negative way. In fact, it affects the whole Church. Instead of offering life through their struggles, in the model of Christ, they try to throw off their crosses and run after whatever it is that they feel they are lacking.

The cross is brought out to us today not only to give us strength but to remind us of the way to life. It is time to rededicate ourselves in these final weeks of Lent, and to rededicate the days of your whole life to the Master who can redeem your life and offer you something that transcends your every concept of life and joy. Now we are climbing up the mountain of prayer and making progress through the grace of God. Soon we will rejoice with the angels and with the whole universe as we celebrate the One who took up His cross for our sake and in return, gave us to eat of the fruit of eternal life! 

Source: Sermons