What Is The Good News Of The Gospel?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39) 

We encounter a powerful story of the love and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ for mankind in today’s gospel reading. The word gospel means “good news.” But if someone came to us and asked us about this, if they posed the question to us “What is the good news?” How would we answer them? It is important that each of us has an answer and can give an answer. In the first epistle of St. Peter, he writes “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” What is the good news of which the gospel speaks? This particular reading helpsgives us a glimpseof the good news that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Luke the evangelist tells us that Our Lord travelled across the sea of Galilee. This was not a short trip, likely taking at least 2 hours by sailboat and possibly twice as long depending on the winds etc.Why did our Lord Jesus travel to this land? Was He going to visit one of the cities of the Jews and preach the news of the kingdom of God to them? The answer is no. We know that the place were He went, the country of the Gadarenes was not a habitation of the Jews. This is clear from the fact that there are swine or pig farmers in that area.We recallthat pigs were considered unclean and forbidden by the Mosaic law. Jews did not eat swine and did not want to be anywhere near those animals. 

So it becomes clear to us that our Lord Jesus Christ had travelled to this region for one very specific reason: to help this poor tormented soul, who was possessed by demons. That is a glimpseof the good news, that Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much, that He is willing to go out of His way in order to heal us, even when we are far, far away from us. He is always looking to help us.This was true of the demon possessed man who lived verynear the gentiles, and it is true for each of us. The Lord goes out of His way in order to encounter each of usin our lives and evenon a daily basis.

One of the dirty little secrets of many religions is that there is typically a preferred group that believes that they are favored by God, His chosen and elect. This manifests itself in Hinduism with the caste system. You are born into a class and there is nothing that can be done to change your class. It is set for life. Likewise, the Jews believed that they were God’s chosen people (which is of course true, but not completely true). The good news of Jesus Christ is that God’s love is revealed to us in further detail. Things that were hidden are now made clear to us. His love is not limited to one group of people, one ethnicity or race or one specific time. God’s love is for all of humanity, the pinnacle of His creation. He created us in His image and likeness and He is focused on repairing and restoring this perfect image within us. St. Paul writes “He desires that all men be saved, and come unto a knowledge of the truth.” That is the character of God and we believe this with all our hearts as Christians.

The demon possessed man is an image of the old man, similar to Adam afterhisfall in the garden. We are told that this man was naked and out of his mind. Instead of living in a house, he lived among the tombs. From this we get the sense that he was close to being dead. Spiritually he was defeated, corrupted, overthrown by the enemy. His soul was dying. The passions had become so energized and prominent within him that he was quite beast like and literally crazy.He was alsonaked, his body was not warmed and protected by clothing, but exposed to the elements, the heat of the sun, the chill of the night, the biting of bugs, the filth of the ground. He is a symbol of our spiritual state before our baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is it that we sing when we baptize someone into the church? “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia!” We put on a white garment when we are baptized, that is in fact why the priests undergarment (sticharion) is white or light in color. It is to be a reminder of the baptismal garment of purity and holiness. When we are baptized, we put on Christ and His righteousness and holiness. Our soul is no longer naked, but clothed with the very best garment, the wedding garment that we will wear to the great banquet in the Kingdom. 

When we are baptized we no longer live among the tombs and associate with the dead in soul. We once again live in a house. Yet this is not like any ordinary house. It is a mansion that belong to our heavenly Father. The Lord spoke of this when He said “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” Through our baptism, we cast off the old and dying man and we are renewed by the new Adam, who is Christ. Since we are clothed and cleansed we are also invited to come and live in the shelter of the house of God. We are protected from the spiritual elements and embraced by the loving protection of God our Father. Finally, through our baptism we are seated at the feet of Christ attentively and in our right minds. The Word of God rescues our lives from insanity. He grants us sanity, He makes our lives whole. These are just some aspects of the good news that we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are desired by Christ, forgiven by Christ, purified and healed by Christ, clothed by Christ and invited to live together with Christ. Can anything be better than this?

Yet another aspect of the gospel and it’s good news is that all news is a double edged sword. The coming of the Lord to the Gadarenes was good news for the demoniac, but it was bad news for the villagers and townspeople. They were afraid of Jesus and His great miracle of sending the demons into the pigs. Do you understand why? Because it was unlike anything they had ever seen, but there is something else…they were afraid that they would lose their food and their income if the other pigs in the areabehaved similarly. Let us not be like them my brothers and sisters. Instead of thinking and worrying about everything we might lose by inviting Jesus into our hearts and our lives, we should think about everything that He desires to offer us.Let us cling to Christ and sit at His feet regardless of what we might have to sacrifice in return. After all, is any sacrifice too much for us in comparison with what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and given to us by His grace? As St. Paul writes,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”(Phil 3:7-11)

This is the good news. A God who loved us so much that He gladly took our weakness and our death and abundantly gave us His strength and His life…and glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Will Our Names Be Written In Heaven?

The Reading according to the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 10:16-21

Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 2020

In today’s gospel we see the 70 apostles and disciples come back to the Lord after going out and ministering among the people. They are thrilled that the demons are subject to them in the name of Jesus Christ, yet the Lord answers them with these words “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you.” My beloved, if these words hold true for the apostles and disciples even before the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, even before their receiving of the Holy Spirit in baptism, how much more is this statement true for each of us who have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit and put on Christ? 

The spirits are subject to us because we are the children of the King and Master of the universe. It may be difficult for us to perceive that and to think this way, but as baptized Christians it is important for us to realize that we have put on Christ and become sons and daughters of the Father. The spirits have no real power over us, except for the power that we allow them to have. We invite them and let them into our hearts and we accept their influence in our minds. But if we cling to Christ, they have nothing to grab hold of, we become like fire and they would be burned by us. 

But we need not think too highly of the fact that we have been given such power in Christ because as the Lord says “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Meaning, it was his pride that caused him to fall in an instant. So what is required of us is Christ-like humility so that we will not stumble as Satan did when he fell. And yet there is more. He reminds them saying “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It’s such a simple statement and yet it is so profound. Our great joy is that each of us has a name that is written in the Lord’s book in the kingdom. We are His. We belong to Him. You know in the business world they say that if you don’t appear on the first page of Google, you don’t exist. Well if this is true of a search engine, imagine how much more it must be true with the Lord. If we don’t appear in the book of life, do we even exist? But on the other hand, if we are found in the book, we exist, we have life and this can never be taken away from us. This is our inheritance and our birthright as children of the King. 

As we think about these words and ask the Lord to guide us and to bless our lives so that our names might be found in the book, we remember a saint who was likely present that day and heard the Lord’s words in person. Today celebrate the memory of St. Luke the Apostle and Evangelist. This is an extra special celebration for our community because 2 years ago we received a small portion of his holy relics.

We have many details from the life of St. Luke but for the sake of time we will only briefly touch on it. We know that he was born in Antioch, Syria and that he was a convert to the Jewish faith. He was a brilliant man who took his studies seriously and excelled especially in medicine and became known as a physician. Frequently we see this type of work ethic and diligence applied by the saints. They aren’t one dimensional. They are men and women who often excelled in their crafts and duties. This was a reflection of their gratitude to God for the talents and gifts they had been given. To do you best at the tasks that are given to you, is to honor God who has put those things before you and given you the ability to do them well.

We are told that St. Luke was one of the 70 apostles of the Lord Jesus and very likely was present at the crucifixion of the Lord. Tradition also tells us that Luke was one of the two men who spoke as they walked along the road to Emmaus when the risen Lord Jesus came and walked beside them and taught them. 

After the resurrection and Pentecost, Luke went out to preach the gospel and travelled to Sebaste, Antioch, Greece and Phillipi in Macedonia. He also travelled with the Apostle Paul and documented much of the history of the early Church in his work “the Acts of the Apostles.” Of course we cannot neglect to mention that his most important work was the writing of his gospel, one of the four most important books of the whole Bible aroundthe year60 a.d. As well as his chronicle of the early life of the church in the Acts of the Apostles.

Holy tradition also tells us that Luke probably saw the martyrdom of St. Paul in Rome and that he later went to Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, Macedonia and Egypt to labor on behalf of Christ and His Church. During all of these travels he ordained priests and deacons and healed those who came to him. Ancient tradition also tells us that Luke was the first iconographer of the Church and that his first icon was the image of the Mother of God with the infant Jesus.At the age of 84 he was martyred in Thebes, Greece by being crucified on an olive tree. 

The location of his relics werewell known during the fourth century because of the many miraculous healings that occurred there. At that time they were transferred to Constantinople. In 1204 they were stolen by Roman crusaders who plundered Constantinople and the relic ended up in Padua, Italy. In 1992 the Metropolitan of Thebes requested a significant portion of the relics to be returned and this prompted a scientific investigation of the relics in Padua which confirmed that the relics indeed belonged to an individual of Syrian descent from between 72-416 a.d. A large portion of the relic was returned and since then has worked many miracles. On December 22, 1997 the marble tomb of St. Luke began to stream myrrh.

We should never be surprised when we hear of all the amazing feats and accomplishments of the saints. God is faithful to those who love Him and He gives us much more than we can ever begin to imagine because He is the life and the light of the faithful and there is no other life or light outside of that which He alone can give us. May our lives also shine with the love of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Source: Sermons

Icons Remind Us That God Became Man

Remembering the Fathers of the Seventh Council

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that assembled in the city of Nicaea in the year 787 ad to resolve the issues and controversies around the veneration of icons and those who had tried to outlaw and ban them from the churches. 

On Tuesday we will begin our Introduction to Orthodoxy classes and one of the aspects of the faith that we talk about are the sources of authority within the life of the Church. Is the only source of authority the Bible or do other sources exist? It becomes clear to anyone who studies just bit of church history that the Bible is not the only source of authority. Other sources exist to clarify and to expound upon the words of Holy Scripture and the New Testament. One source of authority within the Church is the bishops themselves as they gathered together in prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these ecumenical councils, in order to lead and guide the Church through difficulties especially those of a doctrinal nature. When anyone picks up and reads from the Old Testament Scripture or the New Testament, he can very easily misinterpret or misunderstand the text. He or she can even twist the text and convince themselves and others of this novel or incorrect reading. Yet the Church reminds us that it has certain safeguards in place in order to avoid such issues. Even the Apostle Peter tells us that no Scripture is of private interpretation, but is subject to the greater community. Likewise the bishops of the church are not islands unto themselves, they are responsible to one another and to the whole of the Christian community. Each is accountable to the other and all of them as members of the body of Christ become keepers of the sacred traditions and teachings of the Church as they have been passed down to us. I am not quite sure how I can awaken you to the amazing gift that you have been given through the Church and through her faithful “passing down” or traditioning of our sacred faith, but I will share some of the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann to emphasize the point. He says,

““Orthodoxy,” “the true faith”; if for one moment we try to understand what it means: the true, the full Christianity, as it has been proclaimed by Christ and His disciples; if our Church has preserved for all ages the message of the apostles and of the fathers and of the saints in its purest form, then, my dear friends, here is the answer to the questions and to the problems and to the sufferings of our world. You know that our world today is so complex. It is changing all the time. And the more it changes, the more people fear, the more they are frightened by the future, the more they are preoccupied by what will happen to them. And this is where Orthodoxy must answer their problem; this is where Orthodoxy must accept the challenge of modern civilization and reveal to men of all nations, to all men in the whole world, that it has remained the force of God left in history for the transformation, for the deification, for the transfiguration of human life.”

The Church commemorates the fathers of the ecumenical councils because they have upheld andprotected the life giving faith for us and that is the greatest victory that we can have as Christians. St. John the Theologian writes, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4)

According to Christian faith, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in the entire history of the universe. Yet, in order for them to be understood as more than myth or legend, something must anchor them to reality. What the Church has understood as the anchor of our faith is the eye witness accounts of the apostles. They gave up their lives, they went to their deaths preaching and teaching that they had indeed seen and touched and heard and known the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. 

Icons, according to the fathers of the 7thcouncil, are a necessary part of all Christian worship. In our Church, we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. The Orthodox faithful underwent many years of hardship and persecution at the hands of those who believed that the use of icons was forbidden and was wrong according to their understanding of Scripture (an understanding that incidentally was heavily influenced by the rise of Islam). These Christians read Scripture with a narrow understanding that denied the living experienceof the universal Christian churchof the early centuries.Nevertheless, truth won the day.

The 7thecumenical council, a universal council of the east and the west, tells us that icons are not only good, but absolutely necessary. They are a continual reminder that God is no longer understood as simply an invisible spirit. God is understood as having a Son, who Himself took real human flesh, real human existence. Who was born on an actual day in history, in an actual place, with an actual human mother from whom He received His actual human DNA. St. Peter writes “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter1:16

In the Old Testament, God forbid the making of images for worship because the people did not have a proper understanding of Him. No one had ever seen God, for God is spirit. For the people to attempt to depict or worse yet, to pray to what they had not seen or understood, would be a great blasphemy because they were bound to depict God incorrectly.They were bound to worship something false. But, the Lord Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the day is coming when the true worshippers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This indeed has happened with the coming of the savior into the world. The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). His actual word from the Greek is not image but icon. It is this revelation of the Son of God in the flesh, that makes iconography not only proper, but necessary. Since mankind looked on the face of the Son of God and dwelt with Him and witnessed all of the events of His life, we know that He is real. To forbid iconography is to deny the incarnation, to deny the taking of flesh by the Son of God. The Church reminds us that what we believe is not myth, but truth, and truth has consequences.

God became man and dwelt among us. That is our Christian faith. It is not philosophical theory but experience that includes our senses. We don’t know God through books. We know God by experience. In the Orthodox faith we have a sensory experience every time that we enter the church. We taste the Lord’s body and blood, we smell the incense, we see and kiss the icons, we hear the hymns. It must be so! Because our redemption and healing happens not only on some far-away cosmic level, but it happens even within the individual person and within his very cells. Sanctification through the life of the Holy Spirit, transforms us at every level. As a person participates in worship,through the body, through their senses, they are healed. The Lord Jesus Christ in His abundant mercy and love for mankind, has made this healing possible by truly taking our human flesh and lifting it up to His level. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Everything is healed. Everything is transformed. Everything is made new in the light of the incarnation andbodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

This is why we remember the return of the icons into the Church. Because we can’t get to the resurrection without the incarnation. We can’t get to the life-saving faith unless the apostles had first witnessed the Word made flesh, and been so convinced of this fact that they were willing to die to proclaim this truth in Jesus Christ. It is a powerful testimony of the truth of our faith and it is this faith that gives us new life. It is this faith that we cling to and embrace as we live a life of repentance and prayer and ask the Lord to open our hearts and minds and make these truths a part of our being. 

Each and every week at Matins we sing “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us.” Truly God is the Lord and has revealed Himself tous! Let us embrace the divine gift that has been shared with us through God’s grace and the witness of the Holy Fathers of the 7thcouncil, and glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons

The Difficult Path To Peace

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (6:31-36) 

Today’s gospel reading is a reminder that the values and behaviors of a Christian, a son or daughter of God, must be drastically different from the values and behaviors of the world around us. We are called to be  strangers compared to the world around us. We are called to be like aliens in a strange land. Perhaps nowhere in the entirety of the gospels is this more on display than in today’s reading as Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us these life creating words, “Love your enemies.” So often we see the Lord acting and speaking in ways that turn the world upside down, and this is no exception! Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t tell us to do the things that are easy or come naturally, He tells us to do what is quite difficult and will take work for us in our current state.  Have you ever known someone who loved their enemies? Or does that seem like a foreign concept to us? When we are angry with someone or feel that someone has hurt us or done us wrong, how do we react? How do we respond?

A little more than a week ago we celebrated the memory of a great modern saint, Silouan of Mt. Athos, who reposed in the year 1938. This wonderful and holy man, taught with amazing words of eloquence although he had never had any formal schooling in his life. We learn that he had a very deep, intense and profound prayer life in which he entered into a living relationship with God. One of the most beautiful of his teachings is something that he repeated quite often, about loving our enemies. Listen to his teaching, this is a lengthy quote but it’s so good,

“The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned from God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us. The Lord taught me to love my enemies. Without the grace of God we cannot love our enemies. Only the Holy Spirit teaches love, and then even devils arouse our pity because they have fallen from good, and lost humility in God. I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: “O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,” and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God. 

If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts – or good thoughts. The good man thinks to himself in this way: Everyone who has strayed from the truth brings destruction on himself and is therefore to be pitied. But of course the man who has not learned the love of the Holy Spirit will not pray for his enemies. The man who has learned love from the Holy Spirit sorrows all his life over those who are not saved, and sheds abundant tears for the people, and the grace of God gives him strength to love his enemies.”

In our world it is the most difficult thing in the world to imagine that we can love our enemies. We are taught to hate everyone who stands in our way. In fact the world that so often claims to preach tolerance, quickly shows it’s true colors, it’s contempt and hatred for anyone who so much as has an opinion that is not popular or favorable by the majority. Do we react similarly, like the world around us, or do we react in the way of St. Silouan? Do we really, actually, love our enemies? I believe this is a really fundamental question for a Christian to answer. 

St. Silouan’s rule is like a powerful litmus test of our knowledge of God and relationship with Him. If I truly know and love God, I feel His mercy and love in my life. I see His generosity towards me although I am a sinner who does not deserve anything. This living relationship informs and illumines my heart and it impresses upon my being and dramatically changes how I relate to others, not just those whom it is easy to love, like our friends and family, but those whom it is humanly impossible to love. Instead of seeing people around me as enemies, I begin to see them as my brothers and sisters. Instead of condemning them and hoping that God judges them, I begin to pray on their behalf and ask God to show mercy to them and reveal Himself to them. 

The answer for St. Silouan isn’t that you try to understand the concept with your mind and earthly wisdom, the answer is that you grow in your prayer life, in your relationship with the Holy Spirit, who comforts us as we struggle to learn to pray. Prayer is our way to accept God’s invitation to enter into this love and open ourselves up to Him and to be healed through repeated encounters with His powerful love. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love because He is love, God is love.  And we might ask, “How much love does God have for His enemies?”  Let’s conclude with the words of St. Paul who tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” May we also grab hold of this great love that has been offered to us! AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Do We Have A Reaction To The Gospel?

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

My dear brothers and sisters, to preach is a joyous but also a grave endeavor. The gospel teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is not something boring or mundane. It is something powerful and life giving. Since it is dynamic and spirit filled and powerful, we should have a reaction to the words of the gospel. Our reaction should be negative towards ourselves and positive towards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why should it be negative towards ourselves? That seems like a strange thing to say. We live in a society that coddles every individual and emphasizes self-esteem as the focus of development. The problem is that this leads us to become prideful and self-sufficient, and if we are prideful and self-sufficient, we are under the delusion that we have no need for God in our lives. We fall under the impression that we have nothing to learn and certainly don’t need to waste our time developing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His saints. We begin to have faith in ourselves and we trust our opinions as good or trustworthy or important. So this is why I tell you that you should have a negative reaction to yourselves, which will lead you to repentance and to have a humble spirit that can learn at the feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

But today’s society is a direct result of what I have just mentioned. It is a society that has been bred on self-esteem and pride. This has infected nearly every aspect of life. Actions and works that ought to cause shame, are a point of pride and society has even gone so far as to condone and celebrate those awful and shameful things. I will not speak of them because there are children present and they don’t need to be exposed to and corrupted by such things.

But the opposite has also happened in our society, the greatest wisdom ever given to the world, the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ has become taboo. We are ashamed of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are afraid to stand up for our faith and our beliefs. So the world is upside down. What should bring us confidence and joy, instead brings us shame and we are silent in the midst of those who hate our God and our way of life. Yet we are not ashamed of the things of this world, it’s corruption and false teachings and the ways that will lead to spiritual death. Our Lord Jesus says “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” 

I started by telling you that preaching is a joyous and yet a grave endeavor and this is precisely why: I will be judged on whether I have taught you and warned you. I am responsible. The task of preaching is also joyous and yet a grave endeavor because the gospel forces us to pick a side and to change our very way of life. It never allows one to remain static in life. Either they are living faithfully or faithlessly, although there is a spectrum of faithfulness. That is why I tell you that we should have a negative view of ourselves and a positive view of Christ and His words of life. So if you hear something that you do not like, understand that one of the goals of a homily or sermon is to bring the gospel to life and to activate it in your heart. But understand that it cannot be activated unless our heart and mind are pricked and we begin to realize that we have to change our way of life. So the sermon is never meant to pick on anyone. It is not meant to attack. It is meant to expose our darkness (yours and mine) to the light of Christian truth. 

When we’ve been in the dark for a long time and someone shines a light at our face, we will squint and draw away from the light. We will have the perception that the light is awful and terrible and painful. Yet this is not really the case, but only our perception because we’ve been in the darkness for so long. We’ve grown accustomed to it and have not been regularly exposed to the light. That is how it is when we read and study the Scriptures and hear the gospels and the homilies that are based on the gospels. When we become accustomed to the word of God, we are changed and transformed by exposure to the light. 

Today, we live fairly comfortable lives. We have what we need and then some. We are entertained and informed nearly 24 hours a day. On this note let me say that we need to be vigilant with our own senses and with our children and the media and screen time they consume. It not only affects their psychology and development, but it also creates an imprint on their souls. Balance and moderation are necessary. I know that you love your children, take the task seriously and do not trust the television or computer to do the job.

We live comfortable, wealthy lives. We have so much and yet according to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we don’t have His teaching in our lives, we are really empty. More than this, we are already dead. As Christians we are called to live radical lives and that will not look anything like the radicals you see on the news. The radical way of the Christian is the way of obedience to the teachings of Christ and the radical way of love. When we live this radical love, we will probably be attacked and misunderstood. But that is precisely our cross in this world. Listen the words of the Lord “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”

What are we willing to compromise in order to be comfortable or safe in this world? On the other hand, what are we willing to sacrifice in this world in order to be comfortable in the presence of God and His angels and saints? Because we can’t escape that reality. One day, we have to meet God. We will be in His presence. What are you willing to deny yourself for the hope of knowing God more intimately? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend on social media or Netflix? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend socializing and playing games? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend working on our projects and taking on additional work? The time and attention we have are finite. What might happen to us if we dedicated some of these finite resources to the infinite God? Time and energy is given to you as great and precious gifts? How will you answer for these gifts and how you redeemed them? 

In today’s reading The Lord said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” I want to leave you with a quote from St. Nicholai of Zicha, he writes, “What does it mean to take up your cross? I means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, that is offered, bitter though it may be. Do great catastrophies fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.”

If we do this we will have great joy because we will be following the Lord truly. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Why We Celebrate The Feast of The Cross and How We Can Live it

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Joy of the Feast, Happy Feast Day! Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the exaltation of the precious and life giving cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is this feast and why do we celebrate it?

There are actually two reasons that we celebrate a feast on this day, regarding the main reason, The reading for the day tells us that, “The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulcherof the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulcherof the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire.

In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped…. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.”

Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6).

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius of Jerusalem to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326.” (oca.org)

In this feast we are reminded that as Orthodox Christians believe that matter itself can be sanctified because Jesus Christ the Son of God took human flesh and became a man and dwelt in the material world. He sanctified this material world by His presence and of course this extends most powerfully to the wood of the cross upon which Our Lord was crucified. It is a reminder that the crucifixion really happened and really matters for us. Through the Cross is joy given to the world. Through the cross is life given to us through our baptism.

St. Theophan the Recluse wrote: “The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross: on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He reconciled us with our God and Father; and through the Cross He brought down upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.” But he continues by saying something rather striking, he writes,“But this is the Lord’s Cross itself. Each of us becomes a partaker of its salvific power in no other way than through our personal cross. When the personal cross of each of us is united with Christ’s Cross, the power and effect of the latter is transferred to us and becomes, as it were, a conduit through which every good gift and every perfect gift (James 1:17) is poured forth upon us from the Cross of Christ. From this it is evident that the personal cross of each of us is as essential to the work of salvation as the Cross of Christ.”

St. Theophan is telling us that it is not enough to pay attention and venerate the cross of the Lord. He tells us that we also have to respect, almost revere the crosses and struggles that God has given to each of us, because we are sons and daughters of God through our baptism and whenever a son or daughter of God faithfully carries their crosses, multitudes of people are sanctified and saved through such heroic acts. In this way, each and every one of us is given an opportunity to live the life of Christ, to choose the hard way, to deny ourselves and to make our only desire, the will of the Father. St. John Chrysostom writes, “Through the Cross we learn the power of love and we are taught to die for others.” So take stock and inventory of the difficulties and the hardships that have been allowed by God for you and be thankful and trust that through perseverance and faithfulness, God can transform what is difficult and painful in your life into something truly majestic, wonderful and holy. 

What are the difficult and painful things in your life? God knows. For some it is struggling through addictions or physical and mental illness. For others it is a struggle with a difficult husband or wife or a marriage that is less than satisfying. For some it is difficult co-workers. For all of us it is the struggle against our disordered passions and our inclinations to sin. God sees your struggle and knows your crosses. Sometimes we are at wits end and we look up to the heavens and say “Lord I cannot do it any longer, I cannot bear this cross!” At this very moment, we are encouraged not to deny our crosses and run away from them, but to have faith and focus our gaze on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross is a reminder of God’s powerful sign of love and we can ask the Lord for strength to carry our crosses with joy and strength, trusting that even these present difficulties can be used for our salvation and our good.

I want to leave you with another lovely quite from St. John Chrysostom who writes, 

“What is more precious than the Cross and what is more saving for the soul? The Cross is the triumph over demons, the armor against sin and the sword with which the Lord has struck the snake. The Cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Only-begotten, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the ornament of angels, the protection of the Church, the praise of St. Paul, the protection of the Saints, the lamp of all the world.” Joy of the Feast! 

Source: Sermons

Spiritual Housekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

What Is Keeping Us From Following Christ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Making Things Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons

He Is In The Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Sermons