Sermons

Sermons

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Sept. 2

Happy New Year! September 1 is the beginning of a new year in the Church, a time to look forward, to plan, to make a firm resolve to greater spiritual effort, to determine to draw closer to God through the Body of Christ, the Church.
So, in the bulletin you will see a calendar listing the major feasts of the Church Year. Why? So you can be mindful, intentional, about making a firm resolve to become more involved in the Life of the Church. This is my request of you, for your salvation, focus more on the development of your soul this year. Spend more time on the Inner Life of the Church, its prayers, services and all that She provides for your salvation.
St. John of Kronstadt has something to say to us today: “Why did the Lord give me life? So that I would turn with my whole heart to God, for my purification and correction. Remember this and correct yourself.”
The past couple of Sundays the parables of Jesus have had a common theme. Don’t get lazy, don’t assume salvation, don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. You haven’t accomplished anything spiritually yet, don’t get cocky.
Today is the same. God is an inviting God. He is not a tyrant God. He wants those who love Him, freely; who realize how much they need Him. Those who don’t understand their need of Him He calls well in the parables. Those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick.
What Jesus is saying is, there are many who don’t realize they are sick, they think they are well, self-sufficient, can handle things on their own. They don’t need God, just as someone who is carrying a cancer doesn’t need a Dr. until he realizes he has a cancer.
So what are the parables trying to accomplish?
Jesus is seeking those who are lost, who know they are sick and need healing. The parables are intended to awaken in us the realization that we need God, desperately.
To help us to truly realize that without God we can do nothing.
There are two kinds of belief.
1. A belief that is an agreement with a statement-an assent to doctrine. I believe that God is. I believe there is a heaven and a hell. That is a belief statement. That is one kind of belief. This kind of belief does not save anyone. Even the demons believe this.
2. A belief that is faith. I trust God. Really, I trust Him in all things. This puts feet on the belief. This produces good works that are pleasing to God. This actually changes my life.
Too many have the first kind of belief and think they are fine with God, but do nothing about their own sin. They lack a need for God to change them. They do not repent.
Then we read Matthew 7 and we have a big problem.
Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in thy name, and in thy name cast out demons, and in thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.

This sends shivers down my spine when I read it.

This is what the parable of the sower is about, not all believers last and go to the Judgement Seat with a good answer at the dread day of judgement.

I want to confess something to you about myself. As your spiritual father, I am jealous for you. Because I love you and because I bear responsibility before God for you souls, I am jealous.
As God is a jealous God, not wanting us to follow after false gods; I am a jealous priest, not wanting you to appear before the judgement seat without a good defense.
I want what is best for your souls. What is best for you, what has always been the best for you, is a life of repentance, a constant awareness of your inability to save yourself, or to do anything good on your own. To have a good defense before God.
This is what I want for all of you. To know God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. This is what I lay down my life for. That you may be saved, and in the end to stand. That you enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, not into condemnation.
That also means I want you to want that too. If you don’t want that for yourself, you may not be a Christian and you should not receive Holy Communion until this is corrected.
Don’t fool yourself. If you are not living a life of trust and belief now, when will you start?
I have been an Orthodox priest now for 22 years. I have been at many death beds, I have seen many people approach the moment of their soul’s departure from this life.
It is not always an enjoyable experience. I have seen a few good deaths. I have seen many that were not so good.
People in this life are deluded by this deceitful age into thinking that everything is alright, that the next life; if there is one; is just all the good parts of this life, with none of the bad parts of this life.
Our culture has lost its moorings about death and the next life, being deceived by demons and those who don’t know, or hate, Orthodoxy.
Jesus uses parables to try to shake people up, to make them re-examine their lives- -Before they come to their deathbed.

Who knows if you will reach a deathbed in your right mind with a chance to repent?
Do not be deceived, Come to Jesus in repentance, admitting your need of Him to save you from yourself, from your fractured soul, your distracted mind.

Do you see how much the Lord cares for us? His love pushes Him to be real with us.
Looking closer at this parable: What is the wedding garment in the parable?
Obviously you could not bring this special garment with you to the wedding. It had to be given to you. If you did not have the proper garment, you were not allowed into the wedding. You were cast out in shame.
In the Ancient Middle East, special garments were awarded as gifts on special occasions to honor the guests. These were provided by the host. Part of the joy of the celebration was the removal of the dirty garments worn in everyday life, soiled from travel; and to put on a new, clean, special garment. It was a great joy.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Clearly the image of the wedding feast is a picture of the Kingdom of God. What is called in Revelations, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

My brothers and sisters, we have been given a wedding garment by the Master of the Wedding Supper in heaven; Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom. In baptism we receive it.
In life we make it dirty. How is it to be cleansed? How shall we prepare the garment of our souls for the Wedding Supper of the lamb, the wedding banquet of Christ and His Church?
1. A life of faithful repentance
2. A life of confession and healing

It is not enough to come to the Divine Liturgy.
If I go and stand in a garage, will I become a car?
Neither will you be a Christian by standing in a church.
The Life of an Orthodox Christian is one of active participation and commitment.
A daily struggle to follow Jesus and obey Him, no longer living for myself.
Are you in that struggle?

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Aug 29 Sermon

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (16:13-24)
Brethren, be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, and be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
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St. Paul has some advice for us today.
1. Be watchful
2. Stand firm
3. Be courageous/strong

  1. Be watchful
    I remember in elementary school, playing dodge ball. It was a tricky thing when I was young because I was not the biggest or the strongest in my class.
    Playing dodge ball, little guys had an advantage, being wirey. We were good dodgers of balls thrown at high speed.
    But one day I was looking the wrong way and just as I turned back a ball hit me square on the nose and I was on the floor in a flash with blood streaming down my face. (I did not go to the nurse’s office, a fate worse than death!)
    I turned away my attention and paid the price.
    Be watchful! But we are not talking about dodge ball anymore, we are talking about following Jesus.
    Why do we need to be watchful?
    You tell me, how easily are you distracted from Him by this world?
    How much thought and effort do you put into things above, the Heavenly Kingdom?

We need to be watchful for the Lord will come like a thief in the night, we need to be watchful because the devil roams around like a lion seeking whom he may devoir. We need to be watchful because we don’t recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd. We need to be watchful because we constantly excuse our own sin.

In Boy Scouts we went on many camping trips in the Adirondack Mountains in NY State. In those woods an essential tool was a flashlight.
You did not want to go to the latrine without a flashlight in those woods, lest you trip and fall or walk into a hole.
So the rule was. Bring batteries.
In deep darkness you can only see as far as the light goes. If the batteries get weak, you see less.
This is dangerous.
We Christians sometimes don’t take good care of our flashlights, how can we follow God?

  1. Stand firm-
    What is our foundation? What are we standing on?
    1Co_3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
    Eph_6:13 Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.
    Eph_6:14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

Stand, an interesting word. Stand firm, do not be moved. Secure in Christ, the devil cannot rock us.
Did you know there is not a single place in the Holy Scripture indicating a sitting position in worship or prayer?
In the 1980’s we were learning about the Orthodox Church, coming from a Christian tradition where you only stood to sing a hymn.
It was pretty shocking to learn that the Orthodox do so much standing.
No Orthodox Church ever had pews, until they were influenced by Protestants.
But there is a more important part of standing strong. Standing strong in the Orthodox Faith, the Orthodox Ethos.

So lets look at the interpretation of the parable of the vineyard.

Who is this parable talking about? Who is the Lord addressing? Who needs to change?
Maybe the Jews as a whole, maybe the Pharisees and Saducees. Bearing no fruit. Even with the Law, the Prophets, the Kings, no fruit of holiness, just rules. Then they reject and kill the Son who comes for the fruit.
Maybe the Lord is talking about the Church, on a second level. That the universal Church has not born the fruit of holiness.

SO when you read the Bible, how should you interpret it? How would you interpret this parable.
Lets say one day you are sitting around having coffee and talking about God and theology, or Church history. And if you never do, maybe your need so me new friends.
One of them wants to know, what does this parable mean?
How do I apply this to my life?
Understand, there are layers of meaning.
The first level is the historic level, in other words, the people to whom Jesus was actually speaking.
On the second level is other people, in history or in your life.
The third level is the most difficult.
This level is about you, personally.
How does one apply the vineyard to their own life? How is Jesus talking to me today as I read this?

The Lord has put us in a place with everything we need, like this vineyard. He tells us to care for it, that one day He will return to get the fruit that is due Him as the owner of the vineyard.
When He sends representatives we ignore them or turn them away. We are busy, no time to pray, to go to prayer services at the church. No time for the poor, the outcast. Only time for ourselves.

The Lord is looking for the fruits of repentance-holiness.
Our Lord comes to each one of us every day.
Sometimes He comes as a thought to pray.
Sometimes He comes in the person who is needy or sick.
Sometimes He comes to us in the word of the Scriptures and especially in the gospel.
Sometimes He comes to us as bread and wine.
Rev 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus stands at the door and knocks, how do we receive Him? Is He ignored?
Do we cast him aside and live our own lives as we see fit? Do we crucify Him again by falling back into sin and rebellion? Or do we receive Him with open arms? Do we show Him honor and gratitude by bearing the holy fruit of love?
Nothing is more important in our lives than overwhelming love for God and for His Son.
This love can be cultivated through intense prayer, and through the humble preparation for and participation in the holy mysteries as we do at every liturgy.
Our love is also cultivated through our love for others (but not just our friends and family).
St. Maximos the confessor says “He he who does not love his neighbor fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord.”
This is the foundation of all that we aim to do and this foundation of love is built upon the love of Jesus Christ for the whole world.
Let us exert ourselves to Love God more, to love our neighbor. This is the greatest commandment.

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Aug. 19

There are many questions people ask in life-
Should I invest in Microsoft or an apartment building?
How much do I need for retirement?
What is that spot on my face?

But some questions are more important than others.
The most important questions throughout history go something like this.
Why am I here?
How did I get here?
Is there a God?
What comes after death?
Today in the readings we have several questions that are very important.
Three questions that are difficult:
1. “Good Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
2. “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?”
3. “Who then can be saved?”
The rich young man asked perhaps the most important question in life.
There is nothing wrong with the question he asks, but he can’t handle the answer.
He asks the question of Jesus, Jesus does not give an answer but asks a return question. He does this repeatedly.
It puts you into a conversation rather than a lecture.
Here is a hint from the Lord—if you have difficult conversations with people about spiritual things; try asking questions rather than making statements.
You can just say, what do you mean by that? Or, tell me more about that. Or ask, what do you believe about Jesus Christ?
And just let them talk for a few minutes.
Jesus does this with this man. Jesus gets him talking, then pulls the rug out from under him. Getting to the core issue, your wealth is an idol.
This discussion with Jesus and the man leads to some questioning from the disciples, who then can be saved?
N.B. apart from the grace of God, no one can be saved, we all fall short of keeping the commandments, that’s why we need a savior, we are not capable, due to our fallen state, of keeping the commandments.
How to be saved.
1. Believe
2. Ask
3. Live

Believe-
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
There is no salvation without true belief.
Believe without faith, all is lost. When times are hard, believe.

Ask-
You have not because you ask not.
What do we ask for?
Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of Lights. We ask of Him what we cannot get ourselves.

Forgiveness, to know our sin, for healing of soul, for repentance, for a good defense at the dread judgment seat.
Ask for humility and all the virtues. Ask to become more like Jesus.
What is the most important thing you can ask God for? Hint, things eternal. We are good at asking for things in this life, think bigger picture.

Live-
Live the life of a Christian, obeying Christ, becoming like Christ, acquiring the Mind of Christ.
With these three things, faith/belief, a life of repentance, and pursuing a spiritual life, we will find eternal life in Christ, by Grace.

Churchianity!
The expression ‘churchianity’ that was coined by C.S. Lewis.
It reflects the parable of the fig tree condemned by Christ because it bore no fruit. It is aimed at individuals.
If the tree was doing some good, Christ could have revived it, brought it back to life. But the tree stood there with only leaves, telling everyone around, it is good enough to look pretty, don’t worry about fruit.
What can go wrong?
Brethren, I would remind you in what terms I preached to you the Gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.
We are given salvation as a gift. The fight is to work with God to Keep It.
This is why God wants our attention, to keep us in His Grace, to keep us on track for Heaven.

When God wants to get your attention, He knows how to do it.
I will tell you two stories of God wanting to get our attention,

A few years after Nancy and I got married it was discovered that I had a strange looking mole on my back. A Dr. insisted that I get it checked out, so I did.
He discovered that it was a melanoma. That got our attention. You realize very quickly that your life is in God’s hands.
The second story happened a number of years later in Alaska. We had three kids, healthy, growing. We were thinking that in just a few years we would be done raising kids.
Then Nancy becomes pregnant. That got our attention. We were gonna have four kids, not three.
You see, God doesn’t always get our attention with a difficulty or a tragedy. Sometimes its through a very wonderful and beautiful event. We thought we had enough kids, God had a better idea.

Why is God trying to get our attention?
Hear St. Agustine
“You love this life, where you work so much, run, are busy, pant. In this busy life the obligations can scarcely be counted: sowing, plowing, working new land, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving.
And after all this hard work your life comes to an end.
Look at what you suffer in this wretched life that you so love.
And do you think that you will always live and never die? Temples, rocks, marbles, all reinforced by iron and lead, still fall. And a person thinks that he will never die?
Learn therefore, brothers, to seek eternal life, when you will not endure these things but will reign with God forever.”

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Aug.  12

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35)
Parables are a way of teaching us about how God’s Kingdom works by telling stories about everyday things.
Jesus uses stories to prick the hearts of men and teach a lesson, usually upsetting the applecart at the same time and overthrowing our expectations.

But another way to look at parables is- they are stories about who God is, and therefore how we should be.
So often the expectations that are upset are those of the predominant culture.
This is exactly what we see in the reading today, God’s way is higher than the ways of the world.
It is quite popular in our culture to believe that forgiveness is unconditional. The reading of Our Lord’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel tell a different story. You will be forgiven, if you forgive.
You will receive grace with the same measure that you give it out to others.

Rather than the rich and famous being in favor, it is the outcast, the poor, those with no power. OR. OR
Those who are truly humble; truly repentant; truly preferring others ahead of themselves.

What the Kingdom of God is all about is Restoration, Reclaiming the Lost, Recovering the Image that was Fallen.
The Transfiguration is a parable without a story.

Jesus doesn’t tell a story so we can understand better the Kingdom, He SHOWS us a glimpse of the Kingdom.
This is consistent with His parables, Transformation. Transformation/Transfiguration – these are graphics of what God wants to do with all mankind.

So what we must take note of in the Transfiguration is 1. Normal people were able to see The Kingdom.
2. Normal people themselves were transformed by what they saw. Let us also remember that Not only Jesus was changed by being there and seeing Jesus Transfigured. 3. This is a preview of the Kingdom, and ourselves when we are in Christ.

The goal of the Liturgy, the goal of Christianity is transformation. A caterpillar coming out of a cocoon.
This is why we pray, to be changed by God. This is why we have weekday services, to invite Grace, to invite Saints and Angels to dwell among us.
What we are building here is a saint factory. Saints are made in church, being transformed by prayer and the Church.
When God interrupts the normal flow of life, change happens. When we invite Him to change us, it happens quicker. When we interrupt the normal flow of life and ask God to enter in, He very quickly goes into action.
What happened to Saul, God interrupted his life, and Saul became Paul.

Recently Chris Kourapis read what I have written about how I grew up, through high school and after, up to the point of my marriage.
She was amazed. She said, I can’t believe you used to be bad.
That is what happened when Jesus interrupted My Life.
I suddenly Saw.

After Saul became Paul, he was blind for a time, then he was prayed for and he says his eyes were opened, like scales falling off his eyes.
This was true of myself as well.
Suddenly the world went Full Color, 4K.
We read an amazing story last night in Vespers. Everyday we have a service, I read the lives of the Saints. Why? So we have heroes. So we know how to be ready.

This man’s story was about transformation. I want to close by reading it to you..
THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR ALEXANDER, BISHOP OF COMANA
As a simple charcoal-burner, Alexander lived in the town of Comana near Neo-Caesarea. When the bishop of Comana died, St. Gregory the miracle-worker and Bishop of Neo-Caesarea (November 17) was then called to preside at a council to elect a new bishop. Both clergy and laymen alike were present at the council. However, the electors were unable to agree on one person.
At the time of evaluating a candidate, they all primarily paid attention to the points of his externals: external dignity and behavior. St. Gregory then said that they need not look so much at the external characteristics as much as at the spirit and spiritual capabilities.
Then some jesters mocking cried out: then we should elect Alexander the charcoal-burner as our bishop! General laughter then ensued. St. Gregory asked: “Who is this Alexander?”
And, thinking that his name was not mentioned at this council without God’s Providence, Gregory ordered that Alexander be brought before the council.
As a charcoal-burner, he was completely soiled and in rags. His appearance again evoked laughter in the council. Gregory then took Alexander aside and made him take an oath to speak the truth concerning himself.
Alexander said that he was a Greek philosopher and that he enjoyed great honor and position but that he rejected all, humbled himself and made himself to be a “fool for the sake of Christ” from the time when he had read and understood Holy Scripture.
Gregory ordered Alexander bathed and clothed in new attire and, with him, entered the council and before all began to examine Alexander in Holy Scripture.
All were amazed at Alexander’s wisdom and words of grace and could hardly recognize in this wise man, the former quiet charcoal-burner.
Alexander was unanimously elected bishop. By his sanctity, wisdom and goodness, he gained the love of his flock.
Alexander died a martyr’s death for Christ during the reign of Diocletian.

This is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. It is available to all who Truly seek it.
Psa_119:2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, That seek him with the whole heart.
Heb_11:6 and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.
Be a true seeker.

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July 29

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
At that time, Jesus made the Disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.
When evening came, He was there alone, but the Disciples’ boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the Disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is Thee, bid me come to Thee on the water.” He said, “Come.”
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly, Thou art the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.
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With God there is no fear.
Today’s Gospel account takes place immediately after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand men.
The Lord made His disciples get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the lake.
They had heard the words of wisdom that came out of His mouth. They were fed spiritually. Then, the compassionate Lord satisfied even their physical needs.
He provided for them abundant food, as He did of old with the Israelites in the wilderness. The people were satisfied.
So the disciples left, and as they began to sail back the Lord went to pray.
While the Lord prayed alone, the disciples had their hands full. All of a sudden the small, tranquil and pacific lake Gennesaret turned into a raging tempest.
Who could imagine such a turn of events?
Some people imagine that bad things happen to bad people and only good things happen to good people.
I experience this when I travel. People see me in my priest wear, my cassock and cross, they breathe a sigh of relief and say, O good, how our plane won’t crash with you on it. And when there is more than one priest, they get really happy!
I said, You do realize that priests die too?!
Yes, but I feel better.
This is based on the mythology that bad things happen to bad people, so when something bad happens to a good person the question is always Why? To which I answer, Why not?

It is not only the life of the fisherman and mariner that is full of dangers and unexpected turns, but life in general. Life without tears and suffering is a utopia. “In the world you will face suffering” (John 16:33), the Lord warned His disciples.
Yes, don’t we all know. This is the “valley of tears.”
No one is immune. Even those who believe and trust in God.
Perhaps they more so than others. Read the lives of the saints and you will see.

Perhaps the pious and devout people have certain expectations, and perhaps others have certain expectations of them. That’s why the Psalmist says,
“My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:3).
In other words, You say you believe in the true God; why then doesn’t your God listen to your prayers and rescue you from tribulation and affliction? And again,
“O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Ps. 80:4-7).

Well, the disciples were handpicked by the Lord. So surely He would protect them. Especially when He Himself had constrained them to leave Him.
Yet, there they were, in the middle of the lake, wrestling with the high waves that threatened their boat and their lives.
How is it possible that the Lord would abandon them in their greatest need?
Jonah was involved in a great storm—but He was fleeing from God! Whereas the disciples were doing God’s will. Was God unfair to them? Obviously not. He was with them, as He is with us, even when everything seems pitch dark around us; when one calamity succeeds the other.
When one is sick, another dies, another’s business is not doing well, another has marital problems, and another’s children go astray: all this while our prayers remain unanswered.
What gives? Has God abandoned us? Why is He behaving as the false gods, the Baals, when their prophets prayed to them and did not reply? But our God, the true God, why does He remain silent to our pleas?

St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews quotes the following:
“Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?…For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share His holiness.” (Heb. 12:6-13).

We may consider ourselves God’s people, deserving special consideration. We may consider ourselves good and honest, doing our best not to violate God’s commandments.
It would never occur to us that God allows “bad” things to happen to us, precisely because He loves us, because He wants to draw us closer to Him, because He wants to strengthen our virtues through pain and suffering: our patience, our humility, our endurance, our steadfastness, our continued trust—virtues which lead us to holiness.

So the good Lord allowed the disciples to be tested. While the disciples were fighting for their lives, at the height of their despair, when all seemed lost, then the Lord appeared to them, out of nowhere, walking on the foamy waves as if they were a smooth dance floor.
What else could they think, upon seeing Him, but that He was a ghost? People don’t walk on the surface of water, especially when it is wavy. To the fear of the waves was added the fear of this strange apparition. Help!
Isn’t it strange? Help is right here, next to us. We’ve been praying for divine assistance, and when it arrives we don’t even recognize it. At times, all we have to do is to stretch out our hand to receive the helping hand we are seeking, yet fear, generated by incredulity, blinds us, paralyzes us.
Fear and trembling came upon them, when they were confronted by the unknown.
Fear and trembling comes upon us when we feel all alone, abandoned, desperate.

This is the story of the great prophet Elias, Elijah.

It is precisely then, as we begin to sink in the abyss, that we hear those magic words, full of confidence, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”
“It is I.” Sweet words, piercing the howling wind. “It is I.” Who? The I AM. God almighty. The One Who Is. “Fear not. It is I.” Words which still give courage to troubled souls.
At the sound of His words confidence returns; calm on the water and to their spirits.
The presence of the Lord strengthens us, brings us peace. Even Peter, after vacillating and losing the little confidence He acquired, upon hearing the words of the Lord, finally recovers.
“From the depths” he lets out a cry of desperation: Save me! He found the Savior. Was it possible that He would abandon His creation.
Is it possible, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that God’s love will diminish for us? This is all He wants to hear from us: Save me! And His omnipotent right hand is stretched to grab us and bring us to safety, to salvation.

When we lift up our heart to the Lord in prayer, something strange happens: fear goes away.
Full confidence returns. “With the Lord I can face any situation.”
That’s why the Lord did not command the wind to cease, as He did on another occasion.
Why? Responds St. John Chrysostom: Because when our faith is strong we can face winds and every other difficulty in life: because God strengthens us and protects us, and as St. Paul says: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
The Lord shows us the way to face every adversity and test in life with confidence and trust: through prayer.
1Jn_4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
Heb_13:6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
This is how we know that when we have fear of the future, our are worried about circumstances, that it is a feeling not from God.
May we turn to Him with this simple request, full of confidence and dependence, my dear Christians: “Lord, save me.” “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
If we do, we have nothing to fear, because we hear His reassuring words, “Take heart. It is I. Have no fear.”
Then we feel His hand grasping securely our hand. We are safe. Glory be to God.

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July 22-Nuturing the Holy Spirit

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
At that time, when Jesus went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to Him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.”
Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to Heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.
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Part of growing up on a farm is gardening. Preparing soil, digging, planting, removing weeds, harvesting, etc.
I noticed as a young boy how tenacious plants can be. How can a tree grow in the crack of a sidewalk? How can ferns grow on a brick wall?
In Alaska when I went to Kodiak and then to Spruce Island for the Pilgrimage of St. Herman, we would take fishing boats from the harbor in Kodiak, out onto the Pacific Ocean and into the harbor on Spruce Island called Monk’s Lagoon. The large boats would anchor and smaller boats would come out to take us to shore.
As we were coming to shore I often marveled at the sheer beauty of St. Herman’s wilderness. His desert. Black rock cliffs coming up out of the water, at the top of the cliffs, an inch or two of dirt. From the dirt grew Spruce trees. They seemed to be 100 ft. tall, growing in a couple of inches of dirt on the top of black rock. How?
One year growing up we went out in Autumn to dig up bulbs for the Winter. I was amazed again at what we sometimes found. Bulbs that had been accidently planted upside down had put out a stem, pointing into the earth, instead of pointing toward the sun. Did they grow? YES!
They would put out the shoot and it curved up toward the light. Wow. The draw of the sun was so strong that the plant turned itself and made a u-turn so it could live.
I have a lemon tree on my lanai and I have to turn it every week or two because it grows toward the light and I don’t want it to be lopsided. So I turn it so it grows evenly.
Growing toward the light. Phototropism.
We like plants were meant to grow toward the Light, the Light of Christ. Christo-phototropism.
The word for today is Nurture
Verb: Care for and encourage the growth or development of something
Noun: the process of caring and encouraging the growth or development of something

Today when I speak about nurturing, I am not talking about plants.

When you were baptized, if you were baptized as an infant, what happened?
N.B. you were not condemned to hell the moment you were born.
Baptism makes you born from above. Your nous is made alive so you can hear and talk to God, have fellowship with Him.
You are sealed, in Chrismation, with the Holy Spirit, to equip you for the life from above; to bring you to your eternal home.
When the baptism was over your parents, family and god-parents were then to help you along the path of repentance toward the Heavenly Kingdom. To salvation.

This is the process of spiritual nurturing. You were being taught how to live in Christ, what is supposed to happen is, you were to be taught how to nurture your love of God, your life of repentance. Your walk with the Holy Spirit.
Today I want to remind you and encourage you to see your Christian life as a life of nurturing the light within that you received at baptism. Finding the Kingdom within and nurturing it along to fullness.

Think about what a good mother does to nurture her infant.
Now think about what that can teach you about nurturing your soul.

In the Gospel today we see an image of this in how Christ dealt with people.

He was doing this that were needed to sustain growth. Sustain and grow a relationship. Provide healing and health.

This is what a good mother does, this is what Christ did and does, this is what we need to do.
Nurture our love of God, of Heaven, of Jesus, of repentance, of the Kingdom.
He had compassion of them and healed them. He fed them, He showed them mercy.
He took what was available, gave thanks for it, blessed it and distributed it, He used what He had.
He does this to show that He wants all that we have, and when we give it to Him, it becomes all we need and much, much more.
He didn’t say, if only I had more money. If only I had better people in my life. If only I wasn’t so tired. He didn’t say, these people aren’t worth my time. He took what He had, He will take what you have.
He will take it when it is offered in thanksgiving.
He won’t say, well, if you could pray better maybe I would listen. Maybe if you had more faith I could help you. Too bad you are not more attractive, then I could spend more time with you.

So, what are we to do. Bless, break and give.
1. Be thankful.
2. Offer what we have to God. We can’t offer what we don’t have, and what we have is enough with His help.
3. Ask God for help, for blessing. In everything you do, do it for, and in, and with God, and His blessing. Start every task with the Cross and prayer.
4. Use what you have and nurture it, give it away.
Understand that God wants to be close to you. He wants to be closer than your spouse, closer than you were to your mother. He is waiting for you to nurture your love for Him.
He is waiting for you to take seriously your baptism. He is longing for you to include Him in everything you do, say, or think.
Wil you work on this kind of nurture, in prayer, in silence before God, in almsgiving, in fasting, in coming to services; not just on Sunday.
The Christian life is not just on Sunday.
Maybe you feel like a bulb planted upside down sometimes. Nurture a love for the Light and you will grow into the Light.
Heb. 11:6 – But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

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July 15, 2018

You Have A Secret Identity

The Lord said to His Disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, you are an example, whether you like it or not.
Let your light shine, so God gets the glory.
How often do you feel like light, like you are an example to follow?
You see? That is exactly what we are working on, becoming Light. Becoming God like, God is light.
So today we will look at it from a different perspective.

Theosis and Superman

Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, its ……
Superman.
It always amazed me that no one recognized Superman as Clark Kent. Or Batman as Bruce Wayne. How could they not see the resemblance?
Well, the story was all superheroes had to have a secret identity.

You have a secret identity, maybe too secret.
Let’s take off the secret part and become who we are.

Why do people have such a hard time with identity? With basic questions like, Who am I?
Why is it that we have such insecurity around people, concerned about what others think of us?
Pride. A humble person just is.

The Lord Jesus Christ was humble, meek and good, and with the help of the Lord we too can be humble.
Jesus said, I am the light of the world, with His help we can be light.
How?

Fasting and prayer are the means by which God can change our hearts, but we must approach both with humility and purpose. Asking for help and making a firm resolve.

Saying our prayers quickly just to get through them is no prayer at all. Fasting, likewise, must be done as an offering to God and with a commitment to restore our soul. We must realize that we are soul-sick. This is how we see sinfulness, a disease of the soul.

True repentance is the beginning of life and leads to communion with God.

The restoration of our true self can only be done with God’s help, for without Him we can do nothing.
Our problem is that we don’t know who we are, who we were meant to be. We don’t realize how far we have fallen or how far we are from God.

The mystery of the Church is that she produces relics. Her canons are guidelines for the attainment of wisdom, True Wisdom, as long as their application directs the soul towards a proper relationship with God.

The freedom we have as persons within the life of the Church is that the “true self” is nurtured, and the “false self” is done away with.

In other words, we lose our false self in order to find the true self.
With love we are The Velveteen Rabbit who becomes real.

One of the desert fathers said, It is a greater miracle to truly know yourself than to raise the dead.

When the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. The paradox of our relationship with God is that in our obedience we are not enslaved, but sets free.

It is the same as the paradox of the Cross. Christ said of the Cross, “No man takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own self” (John 10:18).

It is the same for us, for no one can take our life from us, we must lay it down of our own self.

What does it take for us to be Real, to be authentic Christians?

Struggle. Like all significant things in life, they take struggle.

Equal of the Apostles Great Prince Vladimir, in Holy Baptism Basil, the Enlightener of the Russian Land
Today we remember the great prince Vladimir.

Prince Vladimir sought the proper worship of God for his people, and sent 10 emissaries throughout the known world to see how people worshipped.

After these visits (most specifically to the Bulgars and Germans), his emissaries arrived in Constantinople.
The Russian chronicle states: “Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here.”

It is difficult to fully state the impact Vladimir had on the world. From his throne in Kiev all the Russian lands became Christian. Churches replaced temples where idol worship had been taking place. Relics replaced idols. Kiev and Constantinople forged a great alliance of love in The Orthodox Church. The church he established, which is why he is called “equal to the Apostles” is the largest Orthodox Church in the world today, experiencing fantastic growth after surviving the great horrors of Communism.

This is what the Light of the World can do. It cannot be hidden.
We are a light in Venice. You are a light. You carry the Light.
If you really want to be a light-bearer you can be all aflame.

Let your light so shine before men that they may glorify God.

Not just here in this building, but in everything you do. Carry the Light of Christ. Allow it to shine in your good manner of living, your love for others.

The Darkness in the world cannot overcome the Light of Christ which is in us, if we keep hold of Jesus Christ.

This is your true identity. Don’t let it be a secret one.

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July 8, 2015

Rise Up

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven,' or to say,Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, take up your bed and go home.”

And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Welcome my fellow paralytics! Here we see in this story the very purpose of the Church, to heal the paralyzed of soul.

  1. The paralytic comes to Jesus, not on his own, for healing. This is how we got here. We are like him. None of us got to the Lord on our own. Someone was a servant of God and through them we came. We do not get here on our own, we will not be saved on our own, we will not be alone in heaven. This is why we have the commands in the epistle reading today. Commands of love for one another. Love for those who need help to come to Christ. I think we don’t talk about Jesus enough in our daily conversation.
  2. We need healing. We don’t come here is strength, in full spiritual health. We come to the Lord as needy people. Our souls sleep. We are unconcerned for our own salvation. We have soul paralysis.

St. John Chrysostom writing in the 4thcentury says “The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins.

This is a message we can take to our friends and loved ones.

God is not an angry judge looking for ways to condemn and punish us.

Rather, He is a sad Father who grieves over the mistakes of His children.

This is a very different story than most Americans have heard from Christians.

We don’t bring condemnation, but medicine.

Nothing is so joyous in our life as the thanksgiving that we experience in the Church. In the Church, the joyful sustain their joy. In the Church, those worried acquire merriment, and those saddened, joy.

In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest.

We have come to the hospital to be healed by the Great Physician of our souls and bodies. Our Creator Lord and King. So don’t be surprised when you find sick people in the hospital.

  1. Living as patients. As St. Macarius of Optina once said “The soul is greater than the body: the body becomes sick, and with that it is finished. But a spiritual sickness extends into eternity. Deliver us, O lord, from such illness, and grant us healing.”

We see ourselves as patients, for instance. This is what we see in the Mystery of Confession. We come to the Great Physician and we tell Him our symptoms. He prescribes medicine. We take the medicine, we get healed.

We come to the Chalice, forlorn, depressed, worried, distracted. We lay aside all earthly cares. For a few minutes each Liturgy we enter into eternity, we bathe in the Light, we warm ourselves in the peace. We get a glimpse of our future life with Him for all eternity. This is healing. The paralysis begins to lift. The soul begins to be resuscitated. Dead spiritual nerves are re-enlivened. Our spiritual eyes get cataract surgery and begin to see anew. We are filled with life.

A patient has to sometimes be patient with himself. Allow the medicine to work. Not all healing is instant. We have to count on each other to keep bring us back to the healer.

Conclusion.
We have two great commandments. Love the Lord your God with everything in you. And. Love your neighbor as yourself.
When we evaluate ourselves, be careful. There is mystery here.

Be Careful How You Evaluate Yourself!

As Christians we sometimes are like Tevya in The Fiddler On the Roof, we have one truth in this hand, and an equally valid truth in the other hand. On the one hand, we condemn ourselves and judge ourselves due to our sinfulness, sloth and addiction to pleasure.

On the other hand, we will be saved by Grace. We have been made the Children of God, we have been adopted into the family of God, we are part of the Body of Christ, as long as we continue to obey Him and take up our Cross. We have been declared worthy, now we strive to become worthy. We are created in the Image of God, we strive to be in the Likeness of God.

Don’t be overly harsh on yourself, only be harsh on your actions, and thoughts. Be harsher on your body, it needs to be brought into submission to the purposes of the soul. But see yourself, on the other hand, as God see you and says you are.

His child. His beloved. Love yourself because God loves you and made loves you. You are created in His image, you are an icon of Him.

Don’t let the condemnation of your own habits, sins and thoughts keep you from coming for healing from the One who made you and loves you so much that He gave His only Son so that we could have eternal life.

Be impatient with your falls, but never give up. Never forget the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Always get back up. Always believe that a paralytic can be healed, for with Christ all things are possible.

The Paralytic

When your car breaks down, you call a tow truck and go to a mechanic. When your toilet plugs you call a plumber. When you need a new water heater, you call someone. When your house needs a new kitchen, you call Jerry.

What happens if you are in a crisis? What happens when you break down?

Today in both readings of the holy scripture we read about some people in crisis. Can we learn from them? Aeneas is healed of paralysis. Tabbitha is raised from the dead. The paralytic is healed after 38 years.

Before we go there, I want to talk about Jehosaphat.

Jeh. is a good guy from the kings of Judah.

He had a long reign, destroyed idol worship and led the people well, dying at the age of 60.

One day he had a crisis.

A huge army was coming toward him to do battle and overthrow him.

A Huge Army. Way more than they could handle.

This is a crisis.

There are different levels of crisis.

There is the lower level crisis. I was in a car accident and this causes all kinds of problems, even if I am not injured. How do I get to work, I have an appointment to go to, how will I get there. I can’t afford the deductible right now, kind of mini-crisis.

We can figure those out, they are upsetting, but we know how to get through it.

Then there is the “I have a weird disease crisis.” They want to run a bunch of tests, I will be laid up for a while, I don’t know what will happen, kind of crisis. This ramps it up a level. But I can get through it, there is a procedure for dealing with this.

Then there is the higher kind of crisis, the kind where I have no idea what to do. It is totally out of my hands, I have no idea what to do, kind of crisis. This is the most troubling. We have done all we can do. It’s up to God.

This is where the people were in the readings today. We tried this, we tried that. No results.

This is the kind of crisis where you realize you really have no power. You really don’t control much of anything in your life.

This is the kind of crisis Jeh was having. And he was a king.

Don’t imagine that bad things only happen to little people like you and me. Kings have problems too.

2 Ch 20:1  It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. 

2 Ch 20:2  Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazazontamar, which is Engedi. 

How does Jeh respond to this national crisis? This is not just a personal crisis, a family crisis, this is national. This takes a national God, one who controls nations.

What does the next verse say?

2 Ch 20:3  And Jehoshaphat feared,

Jeh is scared.

Aren’t you glad to hear that? Kings, prophets, saints can be afraid? I love it. People get scared in a crisis. Its normal. Embrace it.

So then what?

So here we are. This highest level of crisis, now do you handle it?

Can he take matters into his own hands, can he go out and whoop up on this army? Can he defeat them? Call all your friends and ask them to help you?

Does he know what to do?

What do you do when there is nothing you can do?

2 Ch 20:3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the LORD: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. 

Handle a crisis

  1. recognize the situation. Assess where you are.
  2. evaluate your resources. Learn about options. Understand your inability.
  3. Rely on what is known and reliable and firm, God.
  4. Call on God for help.

So let’s see what Jeh did.

2 Ch 20:5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee? 

He remembers the God, the God that doeth wonders. The God of heaven, ruler over all the kingdoms of earth. The one who has all power, the one no one can defeat.

2 Ch 20:12 O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 

2Ch 20:13  And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation; and he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 

Tomorrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. 

Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you. 

And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD. 

And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice on high. 

2Ch 20:20 And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth forever. 

And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. 

God brings crisis. God allows crisis. God uses crisis.

Why?

Cause we think we are all that. We can handle it. We are self-sufficient.

Crisis reminds us of who we are and who God is.

The Potter and the Clay-Prophet Jeremiah

18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

God allows crisis to mold us like clay.

All three healings in today’s readings were above the ability of men to cure. We do what we can, we are always active. Like the pool, when the water was stirred, you had to do something to be healed.

We do what we can, trust God to do what only He can. This is how we handle a crisis.

We remind ourselves of Truth to fight off fear, to bolster our faith, we pray, we take action where it is possible, we trust God to do the rest.

The pool here teaches us about the Church.

All mankind is the paralytic. Needing healing.

The pool is the baptismal font.

There are lots of pools of water, only this one is a healing pool.

The Lord has given us the Church to bring us healing.

The pool, healed once in a while. The baptismal font, heals everytime.

The holy unction is always available. The chalice is always here for healing.

The pool was about physical healing. Baptism is about spiritual healing, even more important.

When you break down, go to Christ, come to the Church, find your pool of healing in the arms of the Great Physician of Souls and Bodies.

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Annunciation

In the sixth month the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the archangel came to her and said, “Rejoice, O favored one, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!”

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the archangel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.

And behold, thou wilt conceive in thy womb and bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the archangel, “How shall this be, since I have known no man?”

And the archangel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High will overshadow thee; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.

For with God nothing will be impossible.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the archangel departed from her.

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She said Yes!

  1. What might this have been like for Mary? Why did she react this way?
  2. What does this say to us today?
  1. Mary grew up in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. From about the age of 3 when her parents dedicated her to the Lord, she lived and prayed in the Temple.

Think about how she grew up. Prayer, fasting, handiwork. Silence.

The entire Old Covenant was leading up to this 1 minute interaction.

God’s plan for salvation hinged upon a teen aged girl.

Think about that.

She had favor with God, due to her purity. Unsullied by the world, sanctified to a life of dedication to God.

She is a female monastic. The first Nun.

She is the first Christian as the first one to say Yes! To Christ.

So perhaps angelic visitations were more frequent for her than for us.

But something was unusual, for she “was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.”

So something was up.

And the archangel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.

The Archangel Gabriel wants to comfort her, ease her fears. Nothing bad is happening.

In fact, here is why you are highly favored: And behold, thou wilt conceive in thy womb and bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

You are to be the mother of the One. The Messiah, the promised one.

You are the most special and unique woman in the history of the world. That is what you could call highly favored.

So, here is the problem. She has never been with a man. She is not married. She does not want to be married. Remember, she was the first nun.

So her question is not due to doubt, but concerns about biology. Who will this work, since I am a virgin?

And Mary said to the archangel, “How shall this be, since I have known no man?”

So, the archangel explains that this will be a miraculous childbearing, just as the Scripture has foretold.

And the archangel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High will overshadow thee; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And as if to bolster her faith, he adds:

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

She says Yes: And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the archangel departed from her.

This is so significant because the first woman said No to God and listened instead to the serpent, damaging all born of her.

The first woman, Eve breaks God’s command about fasting, plunges all mankind and all the cosmos into death and sin.

This young woman, becomes the Second Eve, the Mother of a new people, those who are reborn, who say yes to her Son.

The Second Eve said Yes and our salvation begins.

The second eve accepts the Plan of God. We are saved by her saying yes.

You see, our we have a choice of two kingdoms. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Self.

Eve chose and so did Mary.

Mary chose to deny herself and follow God’s plan, follow Christ.

A person cannot choose the Kingdom of God without first choosing to deny the Kingdom of Self.

In fact, to choose to deny the Kingdom of Self every day, every minute and to choose the Kingdom of God is the life of a Christian.

Again, we see that Mary is the first Christian. She is the Ark, the Ladder of Jacob. She is the burning bush which contains the uncontainable. Her womb is more spacious than the heavens.

So where does this leave us?

Let me put it this way.

So I am rushing to the grocery store to pick up a few things. I get them and head to the checkout, “allright, this is gonna be fast”

I hit the express lane, there is only 1 lady with three things. Yes.

I get behind her thinking this is a breeze.

Then her husband jumps in line and plops down 4 more items.

Groan.

Ok.

Not too bad, all rung up. Then, the dreaded cash comes out.

She wants to count out the exact change.

Are you kidding me? Doesn’t she know that I am trying to set a record here for fastest checkout? (Men are competitive) Doesn’t she know how rude she is to actually use cash? Who uses cash anymore?

My plans are being interrupted, I am frustrated.

You know what happens during Lent? Things get revealed that are usually hidden.

It’s kind of a therapeutic revelation.

God is working on things and we don’t really like it.

He reveals the hidden sins, the kingdom of self pops up.

I am in a hurry. I want this to got quickly. I have things to do. I! I! I!

And this is important. Self-awareness eludes many people.

What a blessing when God reveals to us our sins, our selfishness.

Then we can repent, confess, become holy.

This revelation is a gift from God to us for our salvation.

The lady at the checkout line was a gift from God for me.

I have to accept it.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.

If I see everything that comes to me as a gift of God, it is easier.

I can say to myself, she is here to teach me something

or I can focus on my kingdom, what I want, what she is keeping me from.

Mary did not desire to be a Mom. She told the temple priests that she was going to remain a virgin all her life, not knowing that she would become the most important mother in the history of the world.

God had a better plan for Mary.

She practiced acceptance.

Does it really matter how quickly I check out of a grocery store? No, who cares?

She is the mother of all Christians. She is an example of a pure life. Mary is an example to us of acceptance of the will of God.

She raised the son of God. She saw Him become a hero. She saw Him hanging on a cross, because He accepted the will of God.

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The Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

Today there is a lot presented to us to lift up our spirits, give us courage and strengthen our faith. Lets review.

The myrrh-bearing women went to Christ’s tomb on Holy Pascha to anoint His body, only to discover it empty. We know the names of only seven of these women:

Mary Magdalene;

Mary the Mother of James and Joses;

Joanna the wife of Chuza;

Salome the mother of the sons of Zebedee;

Susanna; and

Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.

Joseph was a rich and noble man, and a member of the Privy Council of Jerusalem. He dared to ask Pilate for the undefiled body of our Savior, which he took and buried in his own tomb.

Accompanying Joseph to the sepulcher was Nicodemus, a Jerusalemite who was one of the leaders of the Pharisees. Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to scent and embalm the body of Christ.

Today we also commemorate the Holy Great Martyr George, a great soldier in the Roman army who endured cruel and incredible torture in his martyrdom for Christ. A man not know for great exploits in behalf of the army of Rome, but for his exploits for the army of Christ. The army that took over the world without a sword or firing a gun.

All of these amazing people are brought before us today in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Why?

Courage, perseverance, faith.

Many battles are won by endurance. The devil will be defeated in your life if you don’t give up but always call on Christ. This takes courage and faith.

I want you to imagine that you are being interviewed. Pretend you are called to do an interview, someone is interested in your life. They want to know more about you. Who are you? They are going to ask you questions, you give answers. On camera.

They want to know, what makes you tick? What gives you hope? How do you do what you do?

Maybe they would ask you about your faith journey. What would you be able to tell them about how faith impacts your life?

If you went to a therapist and tried to describe your life with God as you would a marriage. Would you say, well, we have had our ups and downs.

Could you say, after all these years there is still a spark? We still like each other. He is my best friend.?

Faithful endurance is our hope.

It would have been so much easier for all these heroic saints to be more comfortable, to have an easier life, to not be is such danger.

This is the great temptation, go along to get along. St. George was ordered to destroy Christians. He did not obey that order. He lost his life by laying it down to save others.

The women did not abandon Christ when He died and was buried. They stuck around. They were faithful. They did what had to be done. They continued in the Tradition.

How wonderful that the ones who remained faithful to Christ, during His ministry years, during His arrest, trial and crucifixion; they did not run away, they endured. They persevered. They had great courage, determination and faith.

What was there reward? They were the first to see The Risen One. They brought the news to the apostles. The servants were exalted. The last became first.

Nicodemus came forward when there was a need. He had spoken privately with Jesus, now he risked his career and family when he was willing to bring myrrh and aloes to anoint (embalm) the body of Jesus. How would the guards not arrest him, a member of the Pharisees who went after Jesus, the condemned?

Joseph who bravely asked for the body of Jesus, so that it might be properly buried, in a timely manner, according to the Tradition of that time.

All of these could have chosen an easier, more comfortable, more socially acceptable path.

This is the faith and courage we honor today, that in being reminded of it, we might emulate it.

The days are coming to America where this kind of faith and courage will be needed. It is needed now.

Who do you stand with? Who do you stand for?

We may not have such a dramatic situation as these for faith and action. But we do have opportunities to build up our courage, to live by faith. To be faithful Christians, to not just go along to get along. To stand up for faith in our daily lives, even in private. In normal situations of everyday.

Our faith needs our courage to express itself. To be Christ-like, every day. With people we see every day.

You may never lay down your life like St. George, but he can help you lay down your own selfishness to be more Jesus like today. Doing the things required without grumbling, with thankfulness. Being kind, especially when you don’t want to be.

Letting some go ahead of you. Having a kind word, rather than muttering a curse.

Giving when I want to keep. Helping when I want to not. Blessing when I want to curse.

Praying when I want to condemn. This too is a form of martyrdom.

People don’t know when you are using self-control, they only know when you don’t.

So how? How do we do this?

A soldier does well in combat when he has had good training, practice, teamwork.

A Christian responds well under pressure when there have been years of a good relationship with Jesus, before the pressure comes.

When we learn to be close to Him in the good times, the bad times get easier.

Developing a close, steady walk with Christ is essential in building a foundation for future storms.

That is one of the reasons we come here week after week.

Being in God’s House.

  1. standing and sitting- mostly standing, some sitting-unless physical impairments hinder you.

If you have to sit-during litanies, it is custom to sit during the epistle reading, not sure why.

Never sit-when a liturgical event is taking place, entrance, censing, reading the Gospel.

  1. Touching and kissing- never touch the chalice, lipstick causes problems
  2. Receiving communion- fold arms across chest. Napkin is to go under chin. Don’t ignore icons.
  3. Holy water- St. Luke the Surgeon-always drink holy water, it is the first medicine.
  4. Say prayers following communion, not a time to sit. Pg.62

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Palm Sunday Sermon-2018

The Beginning of the Cross: Saturday of Lazarus

“Having fulfilled Forty Days… we ask to see the Holy Week of Thy Passion.” With these words sung at Vespers of Friday, Lent comes to its end and we enter into the annual commemoration of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection.

It begins on the Saturday of Lazarus. The double feast of Lazarus’ resurrection and the Entrance of the Lord to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) is described in liturgical texts as the “beginning of the Cross” and is to be understood therefore, within the context of the Holy Week.

The common Troparion of these days explicitly affirms that by raising Lazarus from the dead, Christ confirmed the truth of general resurrection.

It is highly significant that we are led into the darkness of the Cross by one of the twelve major feasts of the Church. Light and joy shine not only at the end of Holy Week but also at its beginning; they illumine darkness itself, reveal its ultimate meaning.

Holy Week is framed on each end with Resurrection.

All those familiar with Orthodox worship know the peculiar, almost paradoxical character of Lazarus Saturday services. It is a Sunday, i.e., a Resurrection, service on a Saturday, a day usually devoted to the liturgical commemoration of the dead. And the joy which permeates these services stresses one central theme: the forthcoming victory of Christ over Hades.

Hades is the Biblical term for Death in its universal power, for that unescapable darkness and destruction that swallows all life and poisons with its shadow the whole world.

But now—with Lazarus’ resurrection—”death begins to tremble.” For there the decisive duel between Life and Death begins, and it gives us the key to the entire liturgical mystery of Pascha.

In the early church Lazarus Saturday was called “announcement of Pascha”, it announces and anticipates, indeed, the wonderful light and peace of the next Saturday—the Great and Holy Saturday, the day of the Life-giving Tomb.

The Gospel of John verse 11:35 is one of the shortest verses in the Bible. It consists of two words: Jesus wept. The verse is brief, but it should be read slowly. Just two words, but each one is precious.

Jesus wept, and that means that truly the Son of God became the Son of Man, like us in everything except sin. This includes the ability to weep.

Jesus wept. These two words show that God arranged the salvation of people not coldly and indifferently, not because he had to, was forced to, but because he desired this fervently.

Christ’s tears reveal the Lord’s inner world: He loves His creation, He grieves that death deforms people, separates them from one another, brings anguish and melancholy into the world, and deprives people of happiness.

Jesus’s tears remind us that God is not a stranger to the world, that He is not an indifferent Absolute, as the Greeks once thought. Their monotheistic philosophy described God as a totally passionless Being. Rightly supposing that God is completely perfect, they came to the conclusion that He could not change in any way. After all, any change would mean a departure from the Ideal. The philosophers considered feelings to be a kind of change. A feeling God is a God Who suffers from feelings—which, as the Greeks thought, means He is not God.

So, Jesus’s tears show that God does not fit into the framework of human deductive reasoning. He after all loves us, co-suffers with us, and worries about us with a deeply personal, fatherly interest, while remaining perfect God—all powerful and almighty.

Never say to your crying little sons that men never cry. This is not true. The best of men have wept. The Best of the best also wept.

Jesus’s tears teach us not to be ashamed to weep. If Christ was not ashamed, even less so should we be ashamed. If only our tears would always be as pure, noble, and compassionate. Such weeping is pleasant to God. But there are tears of envy, hatred, unforgiven offenses, dark depression, or drunken declarations. Such tears have nothing in common with Jesus’s tears. We have no need for them.

Christ’s tears tell us that God wants to co-suffer with us to the full extent.

It was not enough for Him to weep from the heavens over our disaster. No, He came down to us, entered the crowd of weepers and wept with them, providing an example, establishing the commandment that the apostle Paul would later clothe in words.

We can also suppose that having seen the funereal setting, seeing the human grief, He was transported to the future with His divine mind to when His most pure body, killed by Jewish malice, would also be laid in the grave, and His disciples both men and women would be crushed with grief. Perhaps His tears were over this as well.

The Lord Christ’s actions reach through the ages. Weeping with Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus, He weeps also with us at the burials of our family and friends. We are not alone, no matter how the devil tries to suggest otherwise.

And so after raising Lazarus, today, we proclaim Him King, carrying our palms in celebration. We hold them high as symbols of Victory, for today is a great celebration. He has just raised from the dead a man who already stank after four days in the grave. But the Author of Life, gave him new life. A foreshadowing of our resurrection and His.

Hades has begun to groan with fear that more might be lost from his clutches.

And this evening, we head into the suffering of our Lord in Holy Week.

His identification with us takes Him through the greatest humiliation, torture, pain and death. He again weeps for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He carries our sorrows in His own body to the Cross, for our sake, to save us from eternal death.

Jesus wept and brought life to Lazarus.

Jesus now calls us to go with Him through Holy Week, to recall His suffering for us, telling us, I love you.

Then we will see that because He became like us, we also will experience His resurrection with our own.

Today we proclaim Him King, and rightly so. By the end of the week He was hanging, cursed on a tree, lifeless.

Do not think that all of life is a celebration. That would get dull too. Suffering comes, then the celebration.

This is the greatest week in the life of the Church, leading us to the greatest day of the Christian calendar.

Don’t miss it.

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Believing Thomas

John’s account of Christ’s raising of Lazarus, when the Lord said that Lazarus had died and that He was going to enter the cauldron of dangerous Judea to “go to him” (John 11:15), the disciples assumed that He meant following Lazarus by dying too in His attempt to visit the grieving family.

John describes Thomas just prior to the raising of Lazarus. The Lord had just learned that Lazarus had died. Jesus said that He was going to go to Lazarus. This meant entering back into the place that was so dangerous for Jesus. The other disciples were properly horrified, and reluctant to follow Him on such a doomed mission.

But, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (v. 16).

In other words, Thomas could not bear the thought of letting his Lord die alone, but was prepared to accompany Him even if it meant his death as well.

Thomas was willing to lay down his life for Jesus.

This is not the utterance of a doubter, or of someone who is of two minds. Thomas had wrapped his whole life around Jesus, and that life would have no meaning without Him. Thomas had not uttered any grand promises to never leave Him, as some others had.

Thomas then sees the amazing miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. A truly astonishing thing to see.

Surely, this must be Messiah!

Obviously, I have made the right choice in following after this one.!

The next thing is the entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is treated like a king, like Messiah. Titles are used of Him that can only be used for Messiah. He is greeted in a way similar to Caesar.

Another amazing thing to experience. This long desired One is really here, and I am His friend. One of His chosen ones.

Wow.

Surely, this must be Messiah!

Obviously, I have made the right choice in following after this one.!

Then the horror begins.

First the news at the table that He was going to be betrayed. And why does Jesus keep talking about His death?

Then the arrest. The Mighty One allows Himself to be arrested.

This is not what we were taught about Messiah. Messiah will defeat the Romans. He will be King.

Then, it gets worse. All hope is completely dashed as Thomas sees Jesus dying on a Roman cross.

Messiah does not die, cannot die.

How can I have been so wrong?

The roller coaster of emotion has gone from the highest high to the depths of despair, the lowest low.

Jesus is buried. Lazarus had Jesus to raise Him from the dead. But who was around who could raise Jesus?

It was not only a depressing time, it was a confusing time. Doubt was everywhere because up until His arrest Jesus had fulfilled all the tradition regarding Messiah. But now? How can Messiah die?

So, on Sunday morning when the others tell Thomas, we have seen the Lord, Thomas is struggling. I cannot bear another crushing disappointment.

I dare not get my hopes up, just because you say so.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other Disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

Wanting so desperately to believe it, how could it be true? How could He be raised? By whom?

Doubt maybe, also so willingness to believe.

He did not say I cannot believe. He said, I will not believe. He made a choice, a choice to withhold his affection, his heart; until confirmation comes.

Eight days later, His Disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”

Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

 

There is something about the presence of Christ. His face. His eyes. He projects a spiritual reality that changes people.

An uncreated energy that comes from Jesus. It changes people. Do you know this?

Have you experienced it? Do you know it?

Jesus is still changing people today. Reach out for Him yourself. Call on Him. Trust Him. Get to know Him. Be His friend. Do not be faithless, but believing.

What else can we learn from this account?

Take your doubts to Church. Do not abandon your Christian family, or retreat from the apostolic company. Stay in Church, praying privately and attending the Church’s services.

And ask Christ to give you the answers, and reveal Himself, and bring you the truth.

If you really want to know the truth, Christ will give it to you.

But remember: you really have to want to find the truth; like a starving man wants to find food, like a man dying of thirst in the desert wants to find a watery oasis.

If you merely wouldn’t mind knowing the truth, there is no reason to think you will hear from Christ, for you are trifling with God. God Himself promised: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

He did not come and reveal Himself to Pilate or Herod, or the Pharisees. He revealed Himself to believers. If Thomas was such a doubter, why was he still in church?

If you really want the truth, Christ will reveal it to you, for everyone who seeks finds. St. Thomas is not just the saint for Christian doubters. He is the saint for all souls who really want to know the truth. And he reveals where that truth can be found: in the apostolic Church of the living God.

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March 18, St. John Climacus

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

And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

When I read this Gospel section I think of one thing.

Suffering. Pain. Parental Anguish.

Wordly suffering is not able to be cured with worldly methods.

This is only cured with prayer and fasting.

St. John Climacus (The Ladder) teaches us again about the true Christian life.

The true Christian life is an ascetic struggle to attain holiness.

When you think of holiness, maybe that is a hard word to grasp.

What is holiness?

We have many ideas floating around in our head, but maybe this will help.

Think of holiness as wholeness.

Wholeness. Become whole, healed. Healthy. Cured from the sickness of sin.

That is holiness.

Healing, wholeness, holiness is a long process. We are not always real good with long term work and waiting.

Waiting for the work that God is doing in us to change us.

But we do a lot of waiting.

We all hate waiting in line. It seems like a waste of time.

I hate waiting for a table at a restaurant, maybe 10-15 minutes, max.

I remember waiting on the birth of 4 children. If it was a long wait for me, how long was it for my wife?

Anticipation. What is taking so long? Why??

  1. Some things are worth waiting for and some really aren’t.

The wait is easier if the expected reward is great.

This is how we decide how long we are willing to wait.

Well, we can wait 20 minutes at this restaurant, the food is always good. And by the time we go somewhere else, we will have to wait there too. Let’s stay.

We have determined the reward is worth the wait.

  1. The attitude we have is also dependent upon whether or not we have a choice to wait or not.

In choosing a restaurant, I can choose to not wait or to wait.

Other things are harder to wait on because we have no choice and we don’t know how long the wait will be.

If I am waiting for a tax refund, that is one thing.

I remember waiting for a letter from the Metropolitan telling me whether or not I would be ordained a priest. When the letter finally came, my heart was pounding, I couldn’t wait to open it. Other people can bear to open it.

But the wait is over. Now we have to deal with the consequences.

It is not a life or death scenario. Life changing, yes, life threatening? No.

  1. The third kind of waiting is very different. We aren’t talking about 15 minutes or a few weeks, but decades.

This kind of waiting is a different kind. It is not passive. We are not “just waiting”, but working, striving, struggling; as we wait and hope.

So waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing, it means we don’t have what we want yet.

This is the story of Abraham in the epistle reading.

And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.

It seems that the Lord was a waiting too in the Gospel message, O Faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?

This brings us back to John Climacus.

His book called the ladder is a classic about the spiritual struggle of the Christian life.

Climbing the ladder of the virtues.

And this brings us back to the key to the Christian life.

Asceticism, summed up here by Jesus as prayer and fasting.

While we are waiting for the Lord to return, or for us to go to Him, we are not passively sitting around just enjoying life to the fullest like a tv commercial for retirement planning.

We are working on ourselves to find wholeness, holiness.

This is what the Lord meant when He said, Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.

The path of the Christian life calls us to heroic action. Asceticism is the life of discipline and self-denial needed in order to obtain something better.

Prayer is not to get things for this life. Fasting is not to impress God.

They are both forms of self-denial that make us more holy.

They teach us dependence upon God, reveal to us our weaknesses.

One thing that confuses many people. Many faithful Orthodox think there are two sets of rules, two ways to salvation.

The first is for monastics, priests and bishops.

The second is for lay people.

The Lord never taught this.  He made to distinction between them.

All believers are called to fasting, prayer, confession, the holy chalice.

Its not like clergy are tough and laymen are slackers. NO.

Monastics teach us how to live.

Married Faithful: ‘We are married and are beset with social cares, how can we possibly lead the monastic way of life?’

St. John Climacus: “Do all the good you can, do not speak evil of anyone, do not steal from anyone, do not lie to anyone, do not be arrogant towards anyone, do not hate anyone, do not be absent from the divine services, be compassionate to the needy, do not offend anyone, do not wreck another person’s domestic happiness, and be content with what your own spouse can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.”

But what we see in this is asceticism. Self denial. This is the way of the Lord.

Let us not get tired of this.

Working while waiting.

Ps. 37:9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

Is. 30:18 And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.

Is. 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The root word used here is the word for bind together, to twist, to adhere to. Long, tarry, wait. Our lives are bound up in Christ. We wait for His return, but we strive for holiness while we wait.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

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March 4-Sunday of Gregory Palamas

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

Every story of healing in the New Testament comes to us with a message on two levels, one physical and the other spiritual.

They are connected: there is a peculiar form of blindness that is spiritual and the healing of physical blindness takes that into consideration. So it is also with paralysis.

The paralytic is a person who cannot move. Mobility is a major part of our lives. When our bodies no longer move and the breath no longer moves through them, we are dead.

Every physical therapist or trainer will tell you that, as you age, it is particularly important to keep moving and flexible.

Any inability to move affects both body and soul. Without mobility we are trapped.

We can become inflexible in spirit as well as in body.

In Christ, we are free to move forward once again.

The fathers teach us that we find out who we truly are in times of temptation and adversity, such as being ill.

We are pushed by circumstances, challenged, and this can reveal to us who we are.

In the case of the paralytic, we might suppose that he realized his condition, and asked to be brought to the Lord for His help.

If we are wise, we will do the same whenever we find ourselves in difficult circumstances.

The church remains a place of healing, in fact that is its primary characteristic. We are a therapeutic community and, if not, we are not living up to the high calling to which we have been called.

Notice, our Lord does not immediately heal the man; but rather, forgives his sins.

Notice, no one even asks for healing. No words are recorded as being spoken, no request made.

Jesus SEES their faith and forgives sins. It does not say Jesus say their faith and healed him.

Jesus saw their faith and He said, Your sins are forgiven.

When the sin was forgiven, physical healing took place.

We don’t usually like to consider this, but there is usually a connection between our physical state and our spiritual condition; and when we are ill spiritually, we may find this causing physical illness as well.

The Lord in this passage shows us that there is a connection between physical illness and spiritual illness or sin.

Now before we go further we should note that this does not mean that people get sick or die because they are bad people. No.

In fact, many of our saints, including modern saints, were quite sick people. Some had cancer, others suffered migraines or stomach ailments etc.

When the man sick of the palsy is healed in his body, our Lord tells him to take up his bed and walk.

By doing so, the man shows that he has truly been healed; and, we are meant to know, that his sins were, indeed, forgiven. So it is with us.

When we have examined our lives, and repented, and confessed our sins, the promise of God is that our sins, also, are forgiven.

Trusting in the mercy of God, we, also, should take up our beds and walk – that is to say, we should also show, in deeds as well as in words, that we have been changed, that our souls have been healed.

There should be something different in who we are, and in what we say and do, after we have repented and confessed.

If there is nothing different, we need to ask ourselves whether we truly have repented, whether we have confessed everything – and again, if we find anything, repent, and confess – and be different.

What is demonstrated in this passage is that the Lord has an interest in seeing us made completely whole. When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, Our Lord did not simply heal the physical issues.

We don’t know what kind of sins were in this man’s life, but what we do know is quite valuable for all of us.

Sin starts as casual, then it enslaves a man, it progresses to paralyze a man and finally to kill him.

We don’t know what sins were in the life of the paralyzed man, but we know the heart of the Son of God. He didn’t want this man to suffer with his sickness any longer.

He didn’t want the man to be sick and the priority for Our Lord Jesus is not that the man can’t move, it is that the man was estranged from God.

The true humanity of this man was unknown because his soul had been disfigured by sin.

Every one of us is like this man. We are fallen and our biggest issue isn’t some sickness or physical pain.

We choose to believe that those are our biggest issues but they are not.

To be completely absorbed by your physical issues is to still be carnally minded and fleshly.

Our biggest issue must always be the spiritual pain of being separated from God, no matter the degree of that separation.

As we journey through this time of Great Lent, this season of preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s Pascha, His triumph over death on our behalf, let us ask God for His grace to see our illnesses and our weaknesses and our wickedness; let us ask for grace to repent and confess; let us ask Him to forgive and heal us; and let us then take up the labor of living the life of Christ for all to see, to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

It is no coincidence that St. Gregory Palamas is also celebrated today.

St. Gregory was God’s man at a crucial hour in the Church.

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos succinctly lays out the issue at the heart of the controversy:

Barlaam maintained that one could reach God through philosophy and conjecture, while St. Gregory Palamas, having experienced the actual road that leads to the knowledge of God, upheld the Orthodox view that it is only through purity that one can see God. (St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, p. 46)

He made the bold claim that those who practiced stillness in their prayers were in fact able to experience God in a direct, firsthand, personal encounter. There can be no doubt that he in fact, had this experience, as did many of the saints throughout the ages.

It is an amazing claim that is upheld by the Orthodox Church and is barely ever mentioned or hinted at anywhere else.

He instructed us that the Light of Tabor, the Light of the Transfiguration, was not natural, or created light, but truly uncreated light.

He was one of the great teachers of the way that the physical body must work together with the soul and the mind in order to produce good spiritual fruit.

But he went further than this. In his boldness, St. Gregory taught that it was in fact possible to actually, really, truly encounter God if one struggles to obtain pure prayer.

So this Second Sunday of Great Lent teaches us so much. We learn that the work of the body is important work. We learn that we are saved together as an integral whole, body, mind and soul.

We learn that when we harness our hearts, minds and souls to agree on working together towards knowledge of our Creator, we are then able to truly share in the life of God.

We come to know God directly through the energies that He shares with us in the Holy Spirit.

We come to behold the truth of Christ and to witness the light of Christ in the same way that the disciples experienced this during the Holy Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.

Our path to this knowledge of the risen and glorified Christ is through asceticism, through the struggle to subject the body to our will, as we do when we fast and do prostrations and stand to pray but that is not enough.

So this is the connection with the paralytic. The spiritual world is real, God is more real than we imagine. The glories of the Kingdom are available to all of us, if we are willing to really live the life of Christ. He knows our sin, He knows our healing as well. When we come to Him, we take up our bed and walk to the Cross, we fall down and learn to rely upon Him. We receive true healing and peace for our souls…

We are called to a heroic life in Christ, we can do amazing things in Christ. We don’t have to be paralyzed.

My brothers and sisters, let us struggle together to die to ourselves, to our will, to our way, to our wisdom, that we might have the chance to be raised in glory with the resurrected Christ.

For He is the resurrection and the life!

Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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Orthodoxy Sunday-2018

The first week of Lent is over.

Not what I had hoped.

I went in with high hopes. Goals, I had ‘em.

I failed.

I felt depressed about myself.

What is wrong with me?

How does one respond to this situation? Maybe you have had a similar experience.

If you try too hard, you will fail.

Met. Anthony of Sourouzh once told an interesting story. He was a dr. and was treating a very poor family, for free. They had saved up to buy a chicken and have him over for dinner to thank him. During lent.

He was so pleased with himself for his strict fasting, he was doing so well.

He decided he had to eat some chicken, so as to not offend the family.

He went to confession and confessed what he had done.

“I went to my spiritual father and told him about the misfortune that had happened to me. I told him that I was fasting almost perfectly during Lent, but then I ate a piece of chicken during the Holy Week.

Fr. Athanasios looked at me and said:

  • You know what? If God looked at you and saw that you have no sins and that a small piece of chicken could defile you, He would protect you from that.

But God looked at you and saw that there was so much sinfulness in you that no chicken can defile you more than that.”

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, wrote that “everything that exists in this world is God’s love. Even the food we eat is the Divine love in edible form.”

After reading these things, I was refreshed.

So, I am saying to myself: “Who do you think you are to have such high expectations of yourself?”

I wasn’t saying: “With God’s help I will do such and such.” It was all me.

I was humbled by my own weakness and depressed by my own sinfulness.

So what do I do about this? Remain depressed? No.

In baseball there is an interesting concept. Try easier.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

On my own, I can do nothing.

With Christ, all things are possible. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Why can’t I remember that?

Today is a day of rejoicing. The Triumph of Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent.

What is this all about? What is to celebrate?

This is about high heresy that had infected the Church of Jesus Christ for hundreds of years.

The iconoclast heresy. Icon breakers.

Today we celebrate the triumph of correct theology over heresy.

What was the heresy? That icons violate the second commandment and should be banned, destroyed. God is unknown, so how can images be ok? Make no graven image, to worship it. You are worshipping images.

How did the holy fathers respond?

  1. we do not worship, we venerate

Two words translated worship, one is worship for God alone, the other means venerate, pay honor, such as a judge being called “your honor”, a king called, “your worship”

  1. we make images because God became visible

The second commandment does not mean, don’t make any images, God commanded images to be put in the Tabernacle. When He became visible, He became an image, therefore can be an icon

  1. the honor paid to the icon is transferred to the one depicted

We do not venerate wood, paint, or gold. We honor the one depicted. As when you might kiss a picture of a departed relative or your loved one when you are separated.

The Council of 787 in Nicea decreed, this is what we have always believed.

This is the faith of the Apostles…

Icons were restored to churches and homes and instruction was given on how to properly use icons

Icons and the triumph of Orthodoxy over heresy is about Truth, capital T truth.

And this is the answer to my depression about my own failings. Truth.

I got a dose of truth about myself and I used Truth to help me through.

Faith is so important.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6

Faith is believing in what I cannot see, touch or measure. It is trusting in another. Faith is confidence that someone is saving me.

How do I grow and keep this faith?

Knowledge, reminding myself of what I believe. Remembering the promises of God, what has He said, what has He done.?

What we believe is handed down to us, it’s called Tradition. Icons are part of that tradition. The belief that undergirds the proper use of icons is part of that tradition.

When I look at my icons, I am reminded of The Icon. Jesus is the icon of the Father, if you have seen me you have seen the Father.

Icons depict to me a reality beyond understanding. They renew my faith. They remind me of truth. Jesus really did become a man. He really did come to save me. He really does love me.

This is what we will proclaim today in our procession with the icons: This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.

Do not let your failure, your weakness, your sin keep you in bondage. Refresh your faith in the Son of God who loves you. Learn and remember His promises, what He has done, what He is doing.

He knows our weakness, we are the prodigal. Yet He loves us, when we are wallowing with the pigs, He is ready to call us back.

He longs to bring us healing and refreshment. Salvation from ourselves.

Glory to God. Halleluia.

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The Sunday of the Last Judgment

On this day, focus is placed on the future judgment of all persons who will stand

before the throne of God when Christ returns in His glory.

Life is an open book exam.

In school, sometimes we had open book exams.

That’s our life.

We know how we will be graded, our life is the test, and its open book.

In Matthew 25, Christ speaks about what will happen at this specific point in time when

He will “come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him” (v. 31).

The first time He came, it was in abject humility.

The Second Coming, He is coming in Glory.

At His coming, “He will sit on the throne of His glory,” and all of the nations will be gathered before Him.

He will separate them “as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (v. 32). The sheep will be placed on His right hand, and the goats on the left.

To the sheep, He will say “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (vv. 33-34)

This kingdom is offered to the sheep because of their compassion and service

to those in need. The sheep, who are the righteous chosen for the kingdom, will ask how

this could be so. They will ask Jesus when was He hungry or thirsty, a stranger,

naked, and in prison. Why? Because they acted like God.

He will answer them by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the

least of these My brethren, you did it to me” (vv. 35-40).

Christ the King, seated on His throne of judgment, will then turn to the

goats on His left and say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting

fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41).

He will condemn them because they did not feed Him when He was hungry, give Him

drink when He was thirsty, take Him in when He was a stranger, clothe Him when He

was naked, visit Him when He was sick or in prison. Why? They did not imitate God.

Jesus concludes His words on the Last Judgment by stating that those on the

left “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal

life” (v. 46).

  1. He is coming back
  2. There is a judgement
  3. Two possible outcomes

On the past two Sundays of this pre-Lenten period, we talked about God’s patience and

limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept every sinner who returns to Him.

On this Sunday, we are powerfully reminded of this truth: the God of love is also a

God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our

Judge.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a group at the Unitarian Universalists.

Not into judgement, all will be saved even if there is one.

Not our message.  turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes.

This Sunday sets before us the eschatological dimension of Lent:

the Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior

Another theme of this Sunday is that of love. When Christ comes to judge us,

what will be the criterion of His judgment?

The parable of the Last Judgment answers: love—not a mere humanitarian concern for

abstract justice and the anonymous “poor,” but concrete and personal love for the

human person—the specific persons that we encounter each day in our lives.

Why love? God is love. HE wills that we who receive His love not hoard it for ourselves,

as if it were limited. We have been loved and receive love, so we do the same, we give it

away.

This is how we are judged. Do we value the love of God enough to imitate it? Do we truly

want to be like God? Or are we twisted by self and a shallow and pale imitation of that

love?

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another

person, whoever he or she is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan,

has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an

occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning

of an eternal companionship in God Himself.

The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are

called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the

grace of Christ’s love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal

love—the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the

whole creation is reflected in a unique way.

In the Kontakion we sang today it speaks of a river of fire.

What is this river of fire? The Love of God.

the books shall be opened, and the hidden things disclosed;

our thoughts, actions will be judged as compared to the Love of God

On Saturday, February 24 we will celebrate Memorial Saturday, or Souls Saturday.

This is a special commemoration when the Church offers a Divine Liturgy and Memorial

Service for the departed faithful. This is considered a universal commemoration of the

dead. It is closely related to the theme of the Sunday of the Last Judgment since the

services focus on the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Through the memorial services, the Church is commending to God all who have

departed and who are now awaiting the Last Judgment.

This is an act of love for all those gone before us. Death cannot stop love.

We have been told in advance what is coming. Each of us is steadily moving toward the

day of judgement.

Let us use this season of repentance to examine ourselves and endeavor, with all our

effort, to make some changes to put us or keep us on a trajectory of being one of the

sheep.

Kontakion of The Last Judgement

When Thou, O God, shalt come to earth with glory, all things shall tremble, and the

river of fire shall flow before Thy judgment seat; the books shall be opened, and the

hidden things disclosed; then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and make me

worthy to stand at Thy right hand, O Righteous Judge!

  1. What is God doing in your life, now? Evaluate.
  2. Are satisfied with your current spiritual life, state? Ready for growth?
  3. Does God have space to work in your life? Are you allowing Him in, asking Him in?

This parable helps us with these questions

The Prodigal Son

  1. God loves mankind

In the parable of the prodigal son one thing that our Lord illustrates for us is the love of God the Father for mankind.

The father, while only seeing his son approaching from afar, runs out to meet him, and he receives his prodigal son with love and joy. This gives us a glimpse of how much God loves us and also of the value He places upon us.

The one word, the name, “father” says it all. God is our Father and we are His children.

God Who is the “Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, both visible and invisible, Who sittest upon the throne of glory and beholdest the depths; without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, changeless.” (Service Books of the Orthodox Church, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, p. 139)

This is He Who is “our Father and we are His children.”

The Lord created man from dust but He loves us as a father loves his children, and waits with longing for us to come to Him.

The Lord so loved us that for our sakes He was made flesh, and shed His Blood for us and gave us to drink thereof, and gave us His most holy Body; and thus we become His children, of His Body and Blood, and are in the likeness of the Lord in the flesh, as children are like their fathers,

The Lord never ceases calling us to Himself: ‘Come unto me, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt. 11:28)

He nourishes us with His most holy Body and Blood.

In His mercy He schools us by His Word and the Holy Spirit.

He has revealed His mysteries to us.

He lives in us and in the sacraments of the Church….

(St. Silouan the Athonite, St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, p. 386)

All of God’s activity in the world is focused on the salvation of humanity. The God who is love is the God who has sent His only begotten Son for us. This God has one great focus…each of us and our souls. Today’s parable is a glimpse into the mind of God and the way that He desires our fellowship and union with Him.

  1. Come to God to learn who you really are.

The text says, he came to himself.

It is like he was so intent on doing his own will, he was becoming more and more inauthentic. Less and less human. This is the general direction of those who wander from God. To be more human is to become more like God. Apart God we become less human, more beast like, less able to thrive.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well. If we are not constantly connecting with the Father, we are going away from Him. We will grow less like Him. We will lose ourselves.

One of the things I love about this is the idea in Holy Scripture that I have a secret identity, so to speak. We learn in the Revelation of St. John that Jesus will give us a white stone with our name written on it.

To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it. Rev. 2:17

This fascinates me. I want to become a real human. I want to be whom I was created to be. The Prodigal, like Jonah, went the wrong way and lost himself.

But there is good news.

Everyone has the ability to return to the Heavenly Father, just as the prodigal son returned. What is needed for this?

In the parable it is said that the prodigal son came to himself, that is, that he understood his fall.

He understood the terrible condition he was in; he understood that this condition was not yet everything, that a greater and worse end awaited him: eternal torment after death.

In order to escape these torments, every person must come to himself; he must examine his life: not only his deeds and words, but all his thoughts and desires, every movement of his soul, from great to small.

He must judge himself, understand his disastrous moral condition, turn his face towards the Lord, and begin to implore the Lord to forgive his offenses, that He might come out to meet them, as He came out to meet the prodigal son; that He might help him to see and feel the burden of his sins, granting him true, sincere, and heartfelt repentance; and that He might put a ring on his finger as a sign of the return of his dignity, making him His child.

Indeed, of this we are unworthy. We must implore the Lord: “Lord, we are unworthy of being called Thy children, but number us at least among the hired servants of the eleventh hour!”

Now the Holy Church assures us, in the words of the Lord Himself, that if man will recognize his sins and weeps before the Lord for his perdition, and if he will implore the Lord, as did the publican while beating his chest: God be merciful to me a sinner, that the Heavenly Father will never reject him.

He will come out to meet him, embrace him, clothe him in the radiant robe of purity, call him His own son rather than a hired servant, and give a feast, an eternal feast in His Kingdom.

This is the reason we are all here. We have been, nay, are the prodigal.

As we move into Great Lent, this must be in our hearts. The awareness of our fallenness, our need for a savior.

  1. We are the prodigal, we all want to come home, we are all the older brother.

We do the same in our day to day lives. We use our bodies and minds and lips and our energy, all of these things that are gifts from God, in ways that are not always pleasing to God.

Why do you exist? Do you exist to serve yourself? Do you exist to pass your time until you grow old and die?

NO! You exist because God has breathed His life into you and because of that we know that God has a purpose for your life. Each of you is important, each of you is a son or a daughter like this young man.

And each of us is lost when we think that we can live on our own, independent of the Father.

What was it that began the process of the turning of the heart? It was his hunger.

Why do we fast to prepare for the Great Feast of Pascha (Easter)? Because it is the hunger that brings us to our right mind and turns us back to God our Father, and to His house, which is the Church.

The young man fasted unwillingly, due to his own foolishness. We as Christians fast willingly due to the wisdom of the Church. We want to hunger and thirst and desire after God and the shortcut to ardent desire and longing for God is to grow hungry

Great and Holy Lent is our time to repent and turn back to our Father. To understand that all of our desires are not filled by various things and material goods, not even with food!

Our deepest desires are met by God our Father who loves us and freely gives us all things that belong to Him.

The father celebrated his sons return as if he had come back from the dead. Let us also come back from the dead by the grace of God.

Let us turn from the death of our sins and our earthly desires to the resurrection of life in communion with God our Father.

It is truly God’s pleasure to give you everything that is His and He has proven this by giving us the very life of His Son, Jesus Christ so that He might give us His divine life.

May we repent and come to our right minds, and may we run towards the Father.

With God, it is never too late, until our last breath.

We will be surprised to see Him waiting for us and ready to embrace us, to love us and to bring us back into His own house to enjoy a great feast together with Him. To Him be the glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit AMEN.

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The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:10-14)

The Lord spoke this parable: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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  1. What is God doing in your life, now? Evaluate.
  2. Are satisfied with your current spiritual life, state? Ready for growth?
  3. Does God have space to work in your life? Are you allowing Him in, asking Him in?

Remember

  1. publican=tax collector, in that time, evil.
  2. pharisee=good guy, law keeper

God justifies the one not the other. This parable turns the expectations of the people upside down. Jesus usually does.

It’s not about who you are, it’s about attitude of the heart.

The inner man of the heart.

How marvelous that God heard such a short prayer.

Maybe we talk too much to God and don’t listen enough. Or maybe we think that more words is better in prayer.

This prayer, Lord have mercy on me a sinner, is the foundation of our spiritual life, our repentance.

Without humility there is no spiritual growth. No life.

The first man prays without needing God. Basically he is praying within and to himself.

The second man, aware of his brokenness, is desperate for God, knowing he cannot save himself, this is the basis of salvation, of humility, of happiness, of gratitude.

This is really a parable about ourselves. The Pharisee, studying other people instead of himself, doesn’t hear the will of God. His focus is all wrong.

Too often, we are caught up in the circus of thoughts that constantly bombard our minds. Thoughts that plague us with distraction, judgement and scorn.

Often we don’t hear God speaking in hearts because we’re tuned in to this airport.

So we mustn’t identify with these thoughts—don’t give them room to land.

Do you ever have conversations with yourself? What kind of dress is that? Does she dye her hair? Who taught him how to drive? Does she ever shut up?

Don’t enter into debate. We ought to, really, avoid criticizing not only others, but even situations.

Judging situations is a symptom of our blindness, our pride, because we assume we know God’s will, His plan for our lives, and for the life of the world.

We do not know His will, really, and to assess every situation suggests we know what’s best for ourselves.

Not only does the Publican turn his thoughts away in order to grasp the mercy of God but he barely lifts his gaze from himself.

Each time a thought arrives, we must acknowledge this and return to our gaze to the heart, to the kingdom of God.

St. John the Evangelist tells us Christ stands at our door, knocks, and if we hear Him, which means looking past the buzz of our mind, putting aside the negative thoughts, and invite Christ in, then Christ breaks bread with us.

When we offer ourselves, we receive Christ Who always offers Himself. It’s as though we clear a spot at the dinner table for Him.

This is one of the things we must work on when we pray, when we come to liturgy. Controlling, redirecting, our thoughts to where they should be. Discipline the mind to have peace in the heart. This is progress when we do this. When you realize you are doing this, it is good. Be happy. Something is working.

Don’t let the thoughts take your mind away to other things and situations. Snap back to the proper focus, this is repentance.

Its like a thread on the sidewalk, don’t pick it up, just let it be.

Let me remind you of the words of St. Paisius of the Holy Mountain:

Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.

Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow.

You see, the fly only knows where the unclean things are, while the honeybee knows where the beautiful iris or hyacinth is.

As I have come to understand, some people resemble the honeybee and some resemble the fly. Those who resemble the fly seek to find evil in every circumstance and are preoccupied with it; they see no good anywhere.

But those who resemble the honeybee only see the good in everything they see. The stupid person thinks stupidly and takes everything in the wrong way, whereas the person who has good thoughts, no matter what he sees, no matter what you tell him, maintains a positive and good thought.

Amen.

Let us join Zaachaeus in lofty places, trying to see Christ.

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Today we hear a clear signal. Great Lent is coming.

God has again used the small, the seemingly insignificant, the rejected, to teach us.

Zacc becomes for us an image of repentance, and that is why we read this Gospel every year.

Zacchaeus lives in the Church, abiding as an image of us all. In some sense, everyone of us is Zacchaeus, for everyone of us is a sinner at heart.

When the priest comes to your home to bless it. We use Zacc as an example in the prayer of the home blessing. He is invoked. Jesus condescended to enter into the house of Zacc, bringing salvation to him and to all his household.

Christ entered a good many people’s homes during His brief ministry, including the home of Simon Peter and of the ruler of the synagogue, and yet these visits are not referred to as is the visit to the home of Zacchaeus.

That is because Zacchaeus stood out among people.

Most people were decent folk, fallen, yet trying their best to do the right thing.

They had a sound moral compass, and even when they strayed a bit, they tried not to stray too far or for too long a time.

Zacchaeus was different. Zacchaeus was a sinner—that is, someone without apparent moral compass. He did not mind straying, and he had evidently lost his own moral compass a long time ago.

The word “sinner” (Greek amartolos) means this.

It did not denote someone who was merely fallen and mortal, but a lifestyle.

The word described a person with a certain social status—or, more accurately, a certain lack of social status. Prostitutes were sinners, traitors and collaborators were sinners.

Thieves and bandits were sinners. And tax-collectors of that time were sinners, and Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, was one of the worst.

He was described in Luke 19 as “rich”, and doubtless he had grown rich in the same way as most tax-collectors did—namely by cheating decent folk and enriching himself at their expense. Poverty-stricken widows and their children went to bed hungry because of Zacchaeus and people like him.

Little wonder then that the locals were scandalized, shocked, and traumatized when Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree which Zacchaeus had climbed and announced publicly that He had decided to stay at his house.

Christ’s visit would bestow status and honor upon the house which received Him, and everyone thought that no one deserved the honor less than Zacchaeus.

What about the local head of the town, or perhaps the ruler of the synagogue? Why should they be passed over and snubbed—and for Zacchaeus, of all people?

No wonder Luke reports that “everyone grumbled, saying, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’” (Luke 19:7).

But Christ saw more than simply a sinner. He saw a sinner who so wanted to reach out for something more that he was even willing to make himself look ridiculous by climbing into a tree (something no adult conscious of his dignity would ever do).

Christ responded.

When Zacchaeus, sacrificing his dignity, reached down, Christ reached up, and the contact between them changed everything.

Zacchaeus changed his whole life, so that salvation came to his house that day. Christ came into the world to save Zacchaeus. He came into the world to save sinners.

But let’s be honest. Most of the time, we don’t feel like we are sinners.

That is why the Church holds the example of Zacchaeus before us as Great Lent approaches. Lent is about repentance and forgiveness, and it will be good to know how little we deserve the forgiveness we so constantly receive.

Many people say that they want to know God. Sometimes people are more specific and they say that they want to know Jesus Christ. We want to know grace, forgiveness, peace of soul.

It is a good thing to desire to know God, but what is the process by which we obtain this knowledge? How do we acquire knowledge of God?

Desire.

We all have passing desires.

However, our desire to know God should follow the model of Zacchaeus.

He had a desire and he didn’t ignore it or get distracted away from it.

His desire to see the Lord Jesus was not just a brief moment of wishful thinking or daydreaming. He allowed it to overtake him. It was the driving force behind his real struggle and efforts.

Zacchaeus has so much to teach us. Even though he was a tax-collector, among the most hated people in all of the Jewish world, he impressed the Lord so much by his zeal for knowledge of God.

Zacchaeus demonstrated his heart for God by not allowing anything to become an obstacle for him.

He was born short, it was easy for him to shrug his shoulders and say “too bad God didn’t make me taller so that I could see Jesus.” He didn’t complain about the crowd that surrounded Christ. He could’ve said “I would’ve loved to see Jesus but there’s simply too many people.”

He doesn’t use these difficulties or obstacles as excuses, he uses them as proof. What did he prove?

Zacchaeus proved that his desire to see Jesus was genuine, heartfelt and powerful.

Climbing the tree, he leaves the crowd behind.

Climbing the tree, he showed his faith.

Climbing the tree, he left his earthly cares behind seeking something higher.

By climbing the tree he let Jesus into his earthly house and into his inner house.

By a tree, Adam and Eve were banished out of paradise.

By climbing a tree, Zachaeus found paradise in the form of a man and was granted not only to see Christ but to sit and to dine with Him.

Conclusion

Ronald Reagan wrote that his mother “always expected to find the best in people and often did”. She attended the Disciples of Christ church regularly and was active, and very influential, within it; she frequently led Sunday school services and gave the Bible readings to the congregation during the services. A strong believer in the power of prayer, she led prayer meetings at church and was in charge of mid-week prayers when the pastor was out of town.

Her strong commitment to the church is what induced her son Ronald to become a Protestant Christian rather than a Roman Catholic like his father. He also stated that she strongly influenced his own beliefs: “I know that she planted that faith very deeply in me.”

She once said to Ron, “You can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small.”

Zacchaeus was small, but used by God. Let us follow him.

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The reading of the epistle of the holy apostle Paul to Timothy (1:15-17)

Brethren, the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (18:35-43)

At that time, as he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me receive my sight.”

And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

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Glory to ….

Beggars would often be found at the city gate where people are passing in and out. He is probably used to calling out to those who pass by, asking for money, begging for alms.

Blindness and diseases of the eye were common illness in the ancient world.

Those who lost one of their senses would often develop their other sense much more. But it takes no special insight for the blind man to realize that the number of people on the road crowding into the city is much large than usual.

A pushing, shoving crowd competes to stay up with someone who attracts their attention. The blind man cries out to whoever can hear him, “What is going on?” And one of the bystanders says, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

Once he is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, he begins to yell at the top of his lungs: “He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ ” (18:38-39)

But this is no helpless, feeble cry for help. It is loud and insistent. He keeps on shouting. He won’t be shut up, even though the crowd continues to tell him to stop.

Some people are intimidated and subdued by their own handicaps. It’s possible to almost give up. But not our Blind man. What motivates his uncontainable cry for healing? Faith.

  1. Faith can increase in times of desperation. We become more conscious of our need for God when we really become aware of our own weakness. The events of life can remind that we really have no power over whether healing comes, or a situation changes. This is when we suddenly have a jolt of faith.

When you feel that panicky feeling in the heart, know that God is near, you are now aware of your need for Him. Call to Him like this man.

To call someone “Son of David” as a title is equivalent to calling someone, “Messiah,” for it signifies to the Jews a person who is the promised descendent of David who will sit upon the throne of Israel.

During most of his ministry, Jesus doesn’t encourage others to refer to him as the Messiah, because the political implications of this title would soon prevent him from being able to minister effectively (Matthew 16:16, 20). But now his hour is come. His face is set towards Jerusalem where he will be crucified.

When he asks the “Son of David” for mercy, he is expecting far more than money. And he has faith that the Son of David, the Messiah, will grant his request.

“Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied.” (18:40-42)

But why does Jesus ask the obvious? I can think of a few reasons: (1) to energize faith and cause it to be vocalized, (2) to help the person himself determine what he wanted from Jesus. (3) So that others would become aware of what the man wanted. (4) He often asks questions of people, making them speak their hearts. Uttering a need clarifies it for us, helps us sort out the real issue. Make priorities.

  1. Make your requests known to God, knowing that He knows. Knowing that He is near. Knowing that He is benevolent and loves you. Speak you hearts desires to Him. This is faith.

The fact is, some people do NOT really want to be healed — a blessing, a prayer, perhaps, but not real healing.

In the case of Blind man, Jesus is trying to get him to vocalize his faith, since Jesus responds to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”(18:42)

Jesus speaks a word, a command for healing, and the healing takes place immediately.

  1. Jesus is a bridge to the Father, always pointing people to a relationship with the Father. Jesus is trying to make people trust God on their own. Many can see Jesus only, but Jesus keeps encouraging their faith and pointing them to the invisible Father.

We also can serve as bridges for people. At first, they are often very dependent upon us. There may come a time when people come to you because they realize you go to church. They may become desperate and start looking for help.

We can see this as a stage of faith. Our goal is to help transfer their faith in us to faith in their Heavenly Father. Only when we have achieved this have we succeeded, only then have we become like Jesus. We bring the people to the Church, to Jesus, by this they come to the Father.

“Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (18:43)

The once-blind man now becomes a disciple and joins Jesus’ disciples.

He now is ready. He is a man of faith, and is more than ready to leave begging and take up giving to others.

This blind man serves a tremendous encouragement to others who are in the same physical or spiritual situation that he was.

The story of the blind man now known to the church as Bartimaeus (Mk. 10) is a powerful example to us of how it pleases Jesus for our faith to see its opportunity, grasp it, and refuse to let it go until we receive what we need from God. Who would have thought this beggar would instantly become a giver!

The fathers also give a spiritual interpretation to this miracle, with the blind men symbolizing future generations who would come to faith only by hearing, without the benefit of seeing Christ in person (see Jn 20:29).

Those who tried to silence the blind man are persecutors and tyrants who, in every generation try to silence the Church. Nevertheless, under persecution the Church all the more confesses Jesus Christ and calls us to do the same.

Brothers and sisters let as ask ourselves what can our faith help us become?

Amen.

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We are celebrating the first coming of the Savior, in our flesh, coming to earth as a God/man Theanthropos.

He came to become like us so we could become like Him, to save our souls and bodies. To communicate with us. To liberate us from false gods and idols. To Show us a new way to live, by walking in the Spirit.

But we forget.

I spent some time recently, thinking, meditating, recalling to mind the day that had gone before me, as I was heading to sleep. How much of my day was I aware of God?

How many times did I pray? How many times did I realize that I hadn’t thought about God for a while?

Much of my day was lived as if God was far away, as far as He is invisible.

With God it is often, out of sight, out of mind.

This is something many people aren’t aware is really a sin. When you confess to God, to you think of this as sinful? Selfish? Earthbound?

When you come to confession with the priest, do your number among your sins: forgetfulness of God, lack of concern for my salvation?

This is why God came. To save us from this selfishness, this distraction of only thinking about ourselves.

We all need to work on remembering God, all the time, staying in prayer, all the time.

Here is what I want you to think about today:

Being a sermon.

Remember one thing from my sermon today: You are a sermon.

What do I mean by this?

I have preached a lot of sermons with my mouth. So are good, many are not.

I have preached many, many more sermons with my life.

And you do as well.

St. Francis of Assisi said this: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Someone else said, The only Bible most people will ever read is your life.

Raising children, interacting with family, relationships at work, or in volunteer positions. You are preaching a sermon with your life.

I am preaching a sermon with my life: how I talk, how I react to stressful situations, how I treat other people. It’s a sermon. It tells others what you really believe.

I want us all to think about this when we consider 2017 and as we make resolutions for 2018.

What kind of sermon do I want to preach with my life in 2018?

What are steps I can take in 2018 to be a better preacher with my life? With my words.

Let’s think about this for a while.

And let me remind you of our Gracious, Mankind Loving God:

Every Sunday we enter into eternity.

The greatest grace we have in this life is The Divine Liturgy. The greatest miracle in any of our lives is the Divine Liturgy.

Remember that. We don’t have miracle workers in our midst. But we all experience a miracle every Sunday.

God accepts our worship, He forgives our sins.

Do you know where joy comes from? How do we get and maintain joy?

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God is the highest thing we can do.

How can I become a better sermon?

Acquiring the Mind Of Christ.

This is our retreat theme this year.

Very important. Make plans now to attend this.

Why we have a retreat every year.

I long for this holy parish to grow nearer to Jesus, to become more like our Lord.

This takes work.

BTW. I have noticed how hard you work in the Liturgy every Sunday.

A lot of singing.

This is so good for me to hear. It is so good for you to do! Keep up the good work.

I really, truly believe this one thing. What is the most beneficial thing most Orthodox Christians need to do to become better Christians?

Here it is.

Learn more about what we believe and why.

Let me wrap this up!

How can we grow as Christians? Study the Holy Scriptures. Learn them. Memorize them. Let them sink into your heart. Let them change you.

How can we understand the Holy Scriptures? The Church services, the writings of the holy ones in the Church.

Here is what St. John Chrysostom said:

The Holy Scriptures were not given to us that we should enclose them in books, but that we should engrave them upon our hearts.

Let me speak to you as a father.

What is my New Year Resolution for you for 2018?

What does my heart long for when it comes to all of you?

That these words of St. Paul be true of you:

“that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”

So because I love you, I will keep raising the bar.

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The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:18-27)

Today we are going to start with Esther. Esther from the OT.

In the days of the exile to Babylon, the people of God, the Hebrews suffered in a pagan and foreign land, where the traditions of God were not allowed. This is the time when we hear about the Prophet Daniel and the Three Young Men in the fiery furnace.

This is another story from that same time of exile. After Neb. had died, the new king ruled from India to Ethiopia. He was having seven days of banquets for all the officials of all his provinces.

The men were in one banquet hall with the king and the women were in another banquet hall with Queen Vashti.

On the seventh day of parties, the king was a little drunk and called for his wife Vashti to come to the men’s banquet to show her off. She said NO WAY!

The king is very angry and embarrassed that his wife said no. So it was decided that she be banished from the king and all her goodies be given to another. And letters were sent to all the provinces about this so that all women would know to honor their husbands.

When the king sobered up he was sorry, for he loved Vashti. But his advisors reminded him, once you declare something, it cannot be reversed. But don’t worry, we will have a beauty contest and find a replacement.

So this was done. In each province of his kingdom, from India to Ethiopia the governors found the most beautiful girls and sent them to the palace of the king for a Queen replacement contest.

Each girl went through 1 year of purification and preparation for this contest.

In the staff of the king’s palace at the time was a Jew named Mordecai. He was Esther’s uncle and he was keeping an eye on her and coaching her up for this contest.

One of the things he told her was to tell anyone who she was or who her people were.

And Esther ends up being chosen to be the next Queen.

While all this is going on, there is a plot against the king, to overthrow him.

Two men in the staff of the king plan to lay hands on the king and get rid of him. But Mordecai finds out about the plot and tells Esther tells the king what Mordecai said and an internal investigation finds out that this is true and the two men were hung, and the king was saved. The annals of the king reflect this event and Mordecai gets credit for it.

Soon after this, a man named Haman was promoted over all the staff and princes. The king ordered that all bow down to him. But Mordecai refused to bow down to him and told them he was a Jew.

And the more Mordecai refused, the more Haman got angry and so Haman decided to get rid of all the Jews. He put a plot in motion to get rid of all the Jews.

So Haman, the enemy of God’s people, went to the king with this idea and told him, All the Jews refuse to obey your laws, let me destroy them.

So the King says, cool, here is my ring, get it done.

So a decree was sent by Haman with the king’s seal that all the Jews were to be rounded up on a certain day to destroy them.

And the people were perplexed that all, men, women and children of the Jews were to be destroyed.

Now back to Mordecai, he is stunned at this turn of events and tears his clothes, puts on ashes and goes out into the city mourning and wailing.

And all across the kingdom the Jews are mourning and weeping. Esther hears about this and she is very distressed.

Mordecai sends a message to Esther, you gotta got and talk to the king and beg him to not do this to us! Tell him who you are!

Right??

What does Esther say to Mordecai? No way! If I go to the king when he hasn’t asked to see me, he could have me put to death.

Mordecai says, what? Don’t you realize you are a Jew and will be killed too?

“For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house shall perish: and who knows whether you are not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai,

Est 4:16  Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.

So this is done. After the three days Esther gets all dolled up and goes to the king and he accepts her and asks, what do you want?

I want you and Haman to come to a party I have prepared and I will tell you.

So this happens and at the party the king says, I will give you anything up to half of my kingdom. (sound familiar)

Ok, come to another party I am having and I will tell you. Ok, we will.

The next day, Haman is prancing around and bragging about how much the king loves him, and then he saw Mordecai, the Jew who still refused to bow to him and he was enraged.

So his friends say to him. Build a gallows and hang him! Mordecai approved the idea.

That same night the king can’t sleep, so he has a secretary come and read the minutes of what the king has done.

And the story is read of Mordecai saving the kings life and the king said, what did we ever do to reward Mordecai for this and the secretary said nothing was done.

At that same moment, Haman comes in to ask about hanging Mordecai. So the king asks Haman, what should we do for a man who has done so much for the king?

Well, because he was so prideful and arrogant, he thought the king wanted to reward him, so he came up with all these great rewards, thinking he was going to get them.

The king says, great idea, you go and give all that to Mordecai and don’t neglect a single thing!

So Haman had to gave him a horse and fine clothes and led him around the city, bowing and proclaiming what a great man Mordecai was!

Can you imagine? How angry is Haman is now? His wife and friends tell him, maybe you are messin with the wrong man.

That night is the second party for the king and Haman that Esther was giving and at the party she tells the king, an evil man is trying to destroy me and my people. The king says, who is he?

And Esther said, An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

Est 7:7  And the king arose in his wrath from the banquet of wine and went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.

Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the couch whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he even force the queen before me in the house? As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.

Then one of the chamberlains that were before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman hath made for Mordecai, who spake good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. And the king said, Hang him thereon.

So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.

So the possessions of Haman are given to Esther and the ring the king had given Haman was given to Mordecai and the Jews are saved.

So the Messiah can come a few hundred years later.

Whew, what a story.

Now why did we just go through that?

One of the problems we have as weak, fearful people is lack of faith in God. We think that if we hold onto control of our possessions we will be ok. That through our own efforts we will have a long and prosperous life.

What I want you to consider from the story of Esther and the Gospel reading today is:

  1. You need to read the Bible, so many good things.
  2. You need to read the Old Testament more.
  3. God is always in control. Not kings, presidents, not congressmen, not governors.

We pray a line in the Divine Liturgy in which we give thanks to God for all He does for us, things seen and unseen, known and unknown.

Do you see in Esther how God was working behind the scenes? Our God is a humble God who is willing to work out His plans quietly. Using creation, broken people, even people who hate Him.

How did it come about that Esther is in the right place at the right time to save God’s people?

Because a king has a party and drinks too much wine? That’s how it all started.

We want to have it all figured out. We want to see things go our way.

But God uses all things for His will. All created beings are His servants, whether they want to be or not.

When a misfortune or difficulty hits your family, how do you deal with it?

Is there panic? Often our response is how can I fix this?

Its like when we start to get a cold. We reach for the cold medicine. Never thinking about prayer, never thinking about God healing us.

If there is a major medical problem, we call the priest, while driving to the hospital, its not the first thing we think of. How can God help me?

It’s the same with our finances and our possessions.

Here is the good news. God owns all the stuff anyway. We are just managers of stuff. He owns it.

If we can learn from Esther, see who is in control, we can have peace.

Learn from Job. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Trust God, in every single thing. In every detail of your life.

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The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (12:16-21)

The Lord spoke this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” As He said this, Jesus called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

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Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Have you ever wanted God to speak directly to you?

There have been times in my life, when I was young, when I longed to have God tell me what I should do, so I would be sure of success, afraid of doing the wrong thing.

I didn’t happen with a voice, but God still directed us, brought us through. He always brings us through.

But He spoke directly to this man.

FOOL!

If we examine our own lives and our own values, do we imagine that God’s first words to us would be one of praise for our lives and thinking, or would we be rebuked for our folly – for basing our lives on shallow ideas, on goals that turn out to be phantoms which disappear in a second when we wake up to reality?

According to the Lord, the man’s folly was not that he had become rich, but he had not become rich towards God.  Wealth and prosperity can be a blessing from the Lord, but they are given to us in order for us to accomplish His will, not to selfishly spend it on ourselves which also turns out to be folly.

This is a parable about Matt. 6:33, seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you as well.

Today the message is: priorities, get them right!

If God isn’t number one, it’s time for a change.

How can you know if God is number one?

N.B. priorities arise from what we actively seek.

So when it is time to re-examine priorities, the Christian must ask himself, what is it that I truly seek?

What is my hearts desire? That is ultimately what we will receive. Or another way to say it, What do I really love?

Our sweet Lord Jesus said: “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” Eventually we get what we want, what we lay down our lives for.

The very center of the Life in Christ requires asking. Dependent. The sick that need a physician ask for help.

We have taken asking and turned it into consumerism, acquiring, shopping. Things that we want, shopping as amusement.

This is a cheap substitute.

We can easily go and buy an icon and put it up. It is much harder to actually pray with the icon. We acquire, but we have trouble asking. What are we seeking when we put up the icon? Perhaps it is something different than what we want when we actually pray with that icon.

We are created to be askers/seekers, to see our dependency on God, this is where we become truly human, dependence upon The Human, Jesus.

We are created with desire so that we would always desire to be with God, to be close to Him.

St. James said: “You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Shopping is not satisfying, except for a moment.

Seeking/Asking is a life-long pursuit. Seeking a God who sometimes hides. Sometimes reveals Himself.

True asking requires practice. Sorting out priorities is a constant struggle if we are in love with the world.

We hesitate to sell everything to purchase the pearl of great price, fear and anxiety defeat us so easily.

Hear the words of the elder.

“When your heart does not have Christ, it will contain either money, property or people instead.”

+Elder Amphilochios

The empty heart creates a vacuum, it will be filled with something.

The man in Jesus’ story was into acquiring. He took no thought for God, for his own soul. Just get more stuff. I need to take care of myself. I need to be in control.

All his stuff did him no good at the judgment seat.

This parable is not really about money, or possessions.

What is it about?

The heart.

God is after our hearts.

What we do with things tells us a lot about our hearts.

How attached we are to things shows where our love is, where our hearts are. Who is really God in our lives.

During a fasting season such as we are in now is a time to evaluate our hearts, to ask ourselves some questions about our hearts, what are our true desires, what is it that I truly am investing myself in, The Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world?

Mat 6:24 No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Mat 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.

As Jesus said in today’s reading: Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

This is evaluation, take heed, be aware, pay attention. Examine yourself.

1Ti 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and shelter we shall be content.

Let us all take up the call from Jesus this Advent season to Take Heed.

To evaluate our priorities and where are hearts are aiming so that we seek Him first.

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The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37)

The Good Samaritan

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‘’He who does not love his brother abides in death’’ (1Jn 3:14)

‘’Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him’’ (1Jn 3:18-19).

  1. What is this parable about?

Almost every contemporary biblical commentary interprets the parable of the Good Samaritan as story about morality.  We should behave better.

Most people read the Scriptures putting themselves in a positive light, in other words, they see the story being about them being the Good Samaritan, the helper, the healer, the one who does good. Not the priest or levite who is too busy to help.

And indeed, Jesus’ “Go and do likewise” at the end of the passage fits neatly into this interpretation.

However, the hymns of the Orthodox Church teach us to identify with the wounded man, whom Christ (the Good Samaritan) rescues, binding his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, placing him on His own beast, and taking him to the inn keeper to be cared for until His return.

According to the Church hymns, the inn keeper represents the bishops and priests of the Church, the oil and wine are the healing Grace of the sacramental life, the beast is Christ’s own flesh that bore our sins and carried us from death to Life, and the binding of the wounds is the discipline of Church life (through repentance and confession) closing up the deep gashes of sin so that healing can begin.

These two interpretations are, of course, are valid.

After all, those who are in Christ (baptized) are called to become like Christ, to participate in the Life of Christ.  It is little wonder then, that Christians seek to follow the example of the Good Samaritan.  However, participating in the Life of Christ is not a simple matter of morality.

Participation in the Life of Christ is not so much about morality as it is about mystical union.  It is about being in Christ, and it is this being in Christ that leads us into a Christ-like life, a life that to those around us might appear as a “moral” life.

One of the problems with reading the parable of the Good Samaritan primarily as a moral tale is that it is easy to comprehend, easy to apply (or at least feel like you are applying), and easy to teach.

Easy readings of the scripture, unfortunately, often lead to shallow understanding, and most tragically, to the sense that one already knows the meaning of a passage.  Mystery is gone, and the words of Jesus are pressed into a mental box, a category, to be brought to mind as needed.

The Church’s reading of this parable, on the other hand, teaches us to see ourselves as the wounded one, in need of a Good Samaritan to bind our wounds and lead us to the inn.

It teaches us that this is not an I-did-it-once experience, but a spiritual reality that we enter into (“remember” is the correct theological word) constantly.

In fact, the life in Christ is a life of continually remembering that I am the poor and needy one, I am the wounded man in need of the Savior.  And then [deep breath] somehow a miracle happens.

As I am cared for by the Good Samaritan, I become in some small ways like the Good Samaritan.

The One who cares for me allows me to share in some small ways in His care for others–and in His suffering.

This is the goal of the Christian Life, to become like Christ, to be untied to Him.

Out of love, God creates everything. And when humanity fell from love, from communion with God, He did not abandon us. He humbled Himself and saved us.

The God-man our Lord Jesus Christ is a revelation of incredible love for all of creation and the human being. Jesus does not see enemies but friends.

He gives no defense to be saved, but sacrifices Himself to save everyone.

He even considers friends those who crucify Him.

He does not destroy enemies because He doesn’t have any, but abolishes the hatred in humanity.

This final victory of peace destroys death, enlivens everyone and resurrects them.

This is love.

‘’we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death’’ (1Jn 3:14; cf. Lk 10:27-28).

Love is the oxygen of life. It does not divide but unites. It helps everyone improve their behavior, heals the sick and assists people to rejoice in their life.

This is how we renew our love of God, by practicing love in action.

  1. This leads to my second point. The importance of sorrow. Our Savior was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knew what suffering is, what sorrow is, and this propels love.

Without sorrow there is not love. We grieve when we love. We have sorrow when we lose something or someone of value to us, someone we love.

Our sins demand that we have sorrow for our fallen-ness.

We experience our grief over our own failings and that drives us to have compassion for others. This is what took the Samaritan from the road into the ditch.

His compassion, He was not above the other. Because Jesus was God, He knew perfection.

When He sees imperfection His reaction is not one of anger as much as one of sorrow. He feels sorrow for a different reason than we do. We feel sorrow because we are broken (or we should), He does too; because He longs for us to share in His perfection, that we be united with Him.

You know, the church community, this church community, should be a safe place.

We should feel safe to share our sorrow with each other, to embrace our grief and not to repress it.

We should not repress our grief, we should express it. It is an act of love to share your burdens with fellow parishioners, it gives them the opportunity to love you. We are not afraid when we have love.

So this is it.

Because we have been in the ditch, we can have love and compassion for those in the ditch. We know what it is like to be beat up, how can we not help others when they are beat up? We stop judging are start loving. We stop avoiding reality and redeem reality. We call heaven down to earth and put the will of God into being in this world by being like Christ.

Isn’t that what love is?

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Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

What an action packed Gospel we have today! Christ is attending to a woman in dire straits and is interrupted by another emergency before He can deal with the first one!

  1. Jairus, a religious leader had a 12 year old daughter who was dying, he needed Jesus, he needed help, desperately.

Jesus is walking and the crowds are pressing around Him, it probably felt a little scary. Like, if I trip and fall down, I could get trampled. Bodies pressing on bodies. But he falls down before Jesus and begs for help. Apparently unafraid of being stepped on. Only focused on his daughter and saving her. Can you relate to that feeling of desperation? The fear, the panic, the worry? Only One can help. Must get some help. Now.

This is what it feels like to be helpless, to have nothing to offer, only able to pray. Desperation inspires our prayers. Forces us to ask for help, changes our entire focus.

Desperation is helplessness

  1. As all this is happening, a secret, much quieter desperation comes into the picture. A woman with a huge medical problem. 12 years of looking for healing. Praying with no results. Beaten down by her disability she is humbly, despairingly desperate. Desperate enough to risk the crowd, bold enough to reach out to the Master. Not to talk to Him, not to beg Him, not to demand from Him; not even to ask Him to heal her. She had just enough faith to reach out in secret, perhaps her hand reaching around others standing near Jesus. Just reaching out to the Great Physician of our souls and bodies, maybe if I can touch Him, something good will happen.

So she does, she touches Him, ever so slightly, just a gentle touch, not on His person, but on His robe. No one even saw it. Jesus didn’t feel her touch it was so slight, so gentle. So humble. So undeserving. Daring not to hope for too much.

But then the most appalling thing happens. Jesus feels power go out from Himself to heal her and He stops!

Who touched me? Suddenly the secret is exposed. She can no longer hide. She is revealed in all her desperate humility.

His disciples try to play it off, Master, there are so many crowding around you, of course someone touched you.

No, I felt power go out from me.

She cannot escape in her quietude. She must speak up, explain herself.

Terribly afraid, she with trembling, quietly explains her actions, how she touched the hem of His garment, how she had immediately been healed.

And then, shock of shocks, He speaks directly to her. Looking into her eyes with love and compassion.

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

And then, the joy. The unrestrained elation. The huge rush of relief. Relief that she was not rebuked, He did not reject her. Relief that she was healed. He talked to me. He healed me. The crowd is now gone as she weeps in the dust with so much emotion. How great is this Man!  How blessed am I? Wait till I go home! Oh, glory to God!

  1. As soon as this is over, bad news for Jairus! Your daughter is dead, don’t bother the Teacher anymore.

But Jesus hears this and turns the tables again!

“Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.”

The Author of Life is not afraid of death, He is not worried. He is in control. His faith is infectious to those around Him. Even Jairus perks up a little. Maybe there is hope still.

Suddenly the crowd is rapidly moving, going to the house of Jairus. Let’s go see what will happen next! Can you feel the excitement? The hope is contagious. The Master has set His face and will show us something. Let’s go see. And they all hurry along, thinking that this rabbi is putting on a show and will be so famous, and I will be able to say, “I was there!”

But another surprise is coming. The crowd will not see this miracle. Only Peter, James and John, and the parents of the child go into the room with The Healer.

Now it is quiet. The dead child laying there. Pale, lifeless. Parents are in gut-wrenching pain and agony. Hoping against hope. Dare we believe what He says? Who is this rabbi? What is He capable of? If have heard all about Him and now He is in my bedroom? The air is electric with anticipation.

And all were weeping and bewailing her; but He said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.

Dead meaning her life has left her. Asleep meaning the body sleeps in the grave awaiting the resurrection. The Lord of Life surely knows the difference and He surely has the power to raise her from the dead, as He is the Creator of all things. He is the Life-giver, the Life-creator.

He does all this, quietly, privately, not to make it public. Peter, James and John experience all this. The intimacy of the small room, the quiet conversation, even as the parents mourn. This gives them precious memories that they will cherish later and will build their faith.

It is no effort for The Lord to reach out, take her by the hand and raise her up. All power and authority are given unto Him. Death has no power, the evil one is powerless before Him.

He gently brings back her life and raises her up, then she is given food, what was she experiencing as she ate? What did she remember?

Conclusion

What do we take from this? What is Jesus saying to you today as you heard these stories?

  1. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing shocks Him. He never has to wonder, What can I do? What shall I do? He is in control. He is the giver and sustainer of Life.

He can be trusted.

  1. By studying the life of Jesus we are instructed, encouraged, corrected in our thinking. We often think incorrectly, adopting the thinking of the world around us. Studying the Gospel brings needed correction, hope, encouragement, strength. He is always teaching, healing, rebuking.
  2. He is close to you. He wants to be closer to you. See how He took the three aside to spend some quiet time with them? He wants this for all of us. Let’s spend some quiet time alone with Him. Let us ask Him to teach us, in our hearts. Let us realize that our lives lie open before Him. There are no secrets. He sees our hearts, He knows our thoughts. He longs to help us.

Jesus sits with you, near to you in your desperate hour. He is never far from you. He hears the cry of your heart. He is with you as He was with the young girl and her parents.

Reach out to Him this week in quiet prayer. Study the Gospel.

The Bible teaches us that if we will draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.

Let’s work on that this week.

Amen.

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

As you have you noticed, in our holy faith we have seasons. Our Liturgical life has seasons, times of preparation, times of celebration, times of intensity of repentance and times of rejoicing.

There is a pattern that runs through it all, preparation followed by fulfillment.

For instance, we have four fasting periods each year, seasons of focused repentance, increased levels of prayer, self-examination, almsgiving and fasting. More than during normal time.

This season is always followed by a fulfilment of what is hoped for, the feast arrives and our intense preparation is changed over to celebration, rejoicing in what the Lord has done for us and the cosmos.

One of these seasons begins is just a few weeks, beginning on November 15 we enter the preparation season for The Nativity of our Lord. At the end, we celebrate the completion of the fasting season with a Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Nativity.

This is a pattern fixed by the Lord Himself in the Old Covenant with the feasts of the Hebrew people.

Of course that was a long season! Similar to the season of the Church we are in now from Pentecost to the Second Coming, a long season.

What we want to see today is that this parable of our Lord is another example of this rhythm in our lives.

This is what I mean: this life, the one we are living in this world, is a season of preparation for another season, the Kingdom of God. In other words, eternity.

So let me say this plainly: what we do in this life is preparation for the next life, the life with no end. Eternal life.

How do we know this to be true? The words of Jesus Christ: `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.

The reward or anguish of the next life is based on the lifetime here. This leads to that. There is no other way. Life has consequences.

  1. Life has consequences.

My whole life I have been interested in sports. I follow, at a low level, baseball, football and track. A lifelong Yankees fan.

How does a baseball team get ready for the season to begin? Spring Training.

What is the purpose of Spring training? To get ready, to practice, to get in shape, to change a way of life to one more conducive to winning.

The key to winning games is –Preparation.

Now, the goal of the Christian is, in this parable, to be in Abraham’s bosom. Or, to be close to God, to have union with God.

How did Lazarus end up in Abraham’s bosom? By what he did and experienced in this life. And the rich man, the nameless one? How did he end up in anquish? The same, what he did and experienced in this life.

What was the difference? Character. Compassion. Humility.

This is a good reminder from our sweet savior, this life matters.

  1. At death our fate is fixed

between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

This thought flows naturally from the first.

If this life is a preparation for the next. How we live here will be determined by our priorities in this life. Priorities don’t change once one dies. The things we love in this life, we will still love in the next. The things we hate in this life will still repulse us in the next.

In other words, the time to repent is in this life, don’t look for an escape clause when you die. There is none. Not all will be saved.

On the other hand, remember it is not too late. The thief on the cross repented at the last possible moment and was saved. This does happen still today.

Sometimes as death draws closer, people, if they have time to reflect on their life, can be softened and become sorrowful about their life and desire to confess and believe. This causes rejoicing in heaven.

Sometimes as death draws near people set their heels and become more defiant.

Many people reveal their hearts as death draws near.

Listen to the last words of these people.

Leonardo da Vinci, inventor and painter:

“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Blues singer Bessie Smith died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.”

Actor and comedian W.C. Fields died in 1946. He last words: “God damn the whole friggin’ world and everyone in it but you, Carlotta.”

Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”

Voltaire cried as he died, “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life. Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me.

What struck me many times as I have read the last words of famous people was how casual they were, even flippant. As if unaware of what they were facing. As if they believed that somehow God was a like a jolly uncle who didn’t care about holiness.

This parable is a good cure for that. Are we listening?

  1. Some will not want to repent and be saved.

`If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

This is partly the reason why some are flippant about dying. They either don’t believe they need to repent, or they don’t believe there is a God, or they don’t believe there is a judgment day.

As the apostle Paul faced execution in a Roman prison, he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8a).

When St Sisoës lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoës replied that he saw St Anthony, the Prophets, and the Apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone.

The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance.

The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoës said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.”

Charles Wesley: “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness— satisfied, satisfied!”

John Wesley preached his last sermon of February 17, 1791, on the text, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). The following day, very sick, he was put to bed in his home. During the days of his illness, he often repeated these words from one of his brother’s hymns: “I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me!”

His last words were, “The best of all is, God is with us!” He died March 2, 1791.

What Jesus is saying here is “We sent plenty of messengers to tell you. Some just wouldn’t believe. If they won’t listen to someone life Moses or the prophets, they also will not be convinced by My Resurrection.

Even with all kinds of evidence that the Christian Faith is real and true, some WILL NOT believe. This is not the will of God, nor from a lack of concern on God’s part. This is not because there is no reason to believe.

The sower keeps sowing His seed, God continually calls us and all mankind into a close, intimate relationship with Him. He wants all to believe and be saved, many will not.

But this message is not for the “them”. It is for you.

Do not you lose heart. Recognize the sins in your life, examine yourself. Come to Christ and be cleansed. Repent, confess and find eternal life in the bosom of Abraham.

Amen.

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God! Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today let us look with new eyes, with renewed hearts, at the parable of the Sower.

In the past when I have preached on this parable I have tended to focus on the seed and the soil, not mentioning the sower all that much.

Today, it will be different.

Today we glorify the Sower.

Now we all know, or should be aware, that the Sower is Jesus Christ. The One who came sowing from the Father, sowing the word of God, by the Word of God.

  1. The Sower “went out to sow his seed” the text says. Went out from His pre-existence as God the Son, went out to become Incarnate and sow the word, the Words of the Father.

This is the reason for the Incarnation, the reason the Sower came to us.

Notice that the Sower does not discriminate as to where He scatters the seed of the Word.

He scatters, not worrying about wasted seed that falls on rocks and hard surfaces, so great is His love and generosity.

Love does not count the cost.

  1. He gives three reasons why the seed does not produce the intended, hoped for result.
  2. hard soil, birds devour
  3. rock, withered, no moisture
  4. thorns, choked out

So, Jesus, the Sower, indiscriminately sows the seed, but not all respond. In fact, according to the parable, only ¼ become a good crop.

Many are called, few are chosen. Narrow is he way and few are those that find it.

  1. Many hear the word, but it does not penetrate. They think perhaps, it is meaningless, or it is balderdash or I don’t need this.

The seed comes, there is a rejection of the seed.

We all have known some people like this. Hard of soul. Resistant. Stiffened.

With some people there is no ability to understand, or even to hear; thus Jesus says: “He who has ears, let him hear.”

In His explanation of the parable, Jesus attributes this hardness to the devil who snatches the word away with rationalization, self-love, pride or rank bitterness.

These are not without hope, it requires prayer and fasting.

  1. some seeds fall on rock, they begin to grow but later withers due to lack of water. Jesus says they believe for a while, but due to temptation later fall away. This too is the work of the devil. He seeks to steal, kill and destroy.

We all know people like this, avid Christians, never missed a service, worked for the good of the Church, devoted to Christ. But, the temptations of the world gradually wear them down.

The moisture Jesus speaks of is interesting. What would that refer to? In this analogy perhaps moisture is due to the lack of continuing to feed on the vine. Not developing the habits of prayer, thanksgiving and alms giving. If we think a little about this, if we are like plants, we need moisture, nutrients and sun. Most plants won’t survive too long without these, or if there is too much of one of them.

Balance. The clear reference here for the reason for the failure is a time of temptation. Some due to lack of moisture cannot endure the temptations of the world.

  1. others are the ones who fall among thorns. They are choked with “cares, riches, and pleasures of life and bring no fruit to maturity.”

The Sower intends all His seed to come to fullness, perfection, maturity. He is not willing that any should perish.

But most do. The Sower does not force the seed to do anything.

Let’s be clear that cares, riches and pleasures are not evil in themselves. They are all part of life, a life God intended for good. But many of the good things in life are mis-used and become sinful. They become the focus rather than a blessing.

  1. The good soil.

Two traits of the ones who bear much fruit

They hear the word with a good and noble heart and keep it

They bear fruit with patience.

Maybe the reason some don’t bear much fruit is it takes too long. We live in an impatient culture.

The Sower sows, The Spirit causes the growth, the Father is glorified. We all weep over those who bring forth not fruit. Remembering that The Father is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life.

Today is the remembrance of the Fathers of the Seventh Ec. Council. I love this council. It is so key for myself in my growth.

Icons changed my life. I am so thankful for icons. They are so full of power and fertilizer for the seed. They teach so much without speaking a word.

Many groups say that are the church of Christ. Many claim to be biblical.

How do we sort it all out? How do we know that the Orthodox Church has it correct.?

Councils. The spirit bears witness to Truth through councils. How do we understand the Bible? Not by individuals, but by councils.

The Lord said: I will send the Spirit and He will lead you into all Truth. He also said, the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church.

Through councils of the Church, the Lord of the Church, through His Spirit, has protected Truth, preserved it and passed it down to us.

So when the iconoclast heresy spread through the Church, a council was called to sort out the heresy and proclaim the Truth teaching from the Apostles.

This how the Sower keeps His seed and protects it, growing it to maturity, the Holy Scriptures, The Creeds, The Councils, The Hymns, The Services of the Church, The Sacraments which give us young plants the moisture we need to grow.

Today we give Glory, Honor and Worship to The Father, The Sower (the Son), and the Holy Spirit, for they are growing their Church! They are preserving the seed. Causing the growth.

To them be all the glory forever, Amen.

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October 8, 2017- Mourning of Sin

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 7:11-16

At that time, Jesus went to a city called Nain, and many of His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.  As He drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her.

And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  And He came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up, and began to speak.  And Jesus gave him to his mother.

Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!”


Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today this amazing event is brought again before our eyes for learning and encouragement, so that we would be revived by the amazing sweetness of our Life-giving Lord Jesus.

Jesus is the Rescuer from Death, the healer of our infirmities.

He raises the dead, restores the broken, affirms life over death.

God has visited His people.!

They were ready to take her to the cemetery, Jesus raised her up. The mourners were comforted.

This leads us to the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

So let us take a few minutes to look at this pronouncement of our Lord.

When we think of mourning, we normally think of the process that surrounds death, the falling asleep of someone. The process of grief.

And we all know that Jesus can give us comfort in the mourning and grieving process, because of our belief in the resurrection.

But as usual, Jesus wants to take us a little deeper today.

There is a different more lasting kind of mourning that I think Jesus is pointing us to today.

It is the mourning related to sin.

In the text, the word signifying to mourn is — grief manifested; too deep for concealment. Hence it is often joined with κλαίειν, to weep audibly. This verb “is most frequent in the lxx for mourning for the dead, and for the sorrows and sins of others” (McNeile). “There can be no comfort where there is no grief” (Bruce).

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted — This “mourning” must not be taken loosely for that feeling which is wrung from men under pressure of the ills of life, nor yet strictly for sorrow on account of committed sins.

Evidently it is that entire feeling which the sense of our spiritual poverty begets; and so the second beatitude is but the complement of the first.

The one is the intellectual, the other the emotional aspect of the same thing. It is poverty of spirit that says, “Woe is me, I am undone”; and it is the mourning which this causes that makes it break forth in the form of a lamentation – “Woe is me! for I am undone.”

Faith, according to the Bible, is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings, but a compound of both, the former giving birth to the latter. Thus closely do the first two beatitudes cohere. The mourners shall be “comforted.”

Sowing in tears, they reap even here in joy.

Still, all present comfort, even the best, is partial, interrupted, short-lived.

But the days of our mourning shall soon be ended, and then God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.

Then, in the fullest sense, shall the mourners be “comforted.”

St. Paul- 2Co 7:10 For godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation, a repentance which brings no regret: but the sorrow of the world works death.

As the deepest poverty lies in the sphere of the spirit, so the deepest mourning lies there also. All other mourning is but partial and slight compared with this

Pro 18:14 -The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a broken spirit who can bear?

Where does this mourning arise?

  1. There is a mourning arising from a sense of having offended God.
  2. Those who mourn under the afflicting dispensations of God’s providence.
  3. Mourning from the realization that we are in exile due to our own sin, that the whole cosmos is wailing due to sin and cries out for redemption.
  4. Sorrow because of the sins that we see around us (Jer. 9:18; Psalm 119:36). Sins of the world, and sins of the Church-inconsistency, etc.
  5. Sorrow because of the little progress of Christianity.
  6. That we are able to do so little.
  7. Sorrow that makes one sometimes long to be “absent from the body,” etc.

Recall the godly sorrow of David (Ps. 51:4).

The same kind was that of the woman who “was a sinner,” and whose conversion is briefly related by St. Luke (chap. 7.).

Peter mourned when his Lord looked on him after his cruel denial. He went out and “wept bitterly.”

Our tears must, make us more holy. The waters of holy mourning are like the river Jordan, wherein Naaman washed, and was cleansed of his leprosy.

Our tears must be joined with hatred of sin. We must not only abstain from sin, but abhor it. The dove hates the least feather of the hawk; a true mourner hates the least motion to sin.

Our tears must be joined with restitution. If we have eclipsed the good name of others, we are bound to ask them forgiveness; if we have wronged them by unjust, fraudulent dealing, we must make them compensation.

Our tears should lead us to a good confession.

Bring your mourning to Christ, He is the comforter and healer. He raises up.

Confession needs to become more popular in this parish.

Confession for a Christian is not optional.

The number one error people make is keeping it all inside. Dealing with the mourning by distraction. By focusing on other things.

It is a gift. Repentance is a gift from God. Do not spurn it.

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How Poor Are You? October 1, 2017

The Reading of the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians

Brethren, we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Therefore, come out from them, and be separate from them,” says the Lord, “and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke.

The Lord said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.

And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen!

Both our readings this day remind us of what a Christian looks like. Both readings give us Christianity 101, boot camp teaching. How should we then live….

The Epistle calls us to holiness, come out from them and be separate from them, this is the meaning of holiness. Set apart. God promises to live with and among His people. Not distant and far away. He promises to be as close as a loving father, calling us His children. Because this is true, cleanse yourselves!

The Gospel sets a high standard, not to be like sinners, those who don’t claim to follow God.

Today, in light of these instructions, I want to look at the Lord’s teaching to all of us in the Sermon on the Mount. These are the teachings of Jesus to His people and they fill this out for us, giving it a different light.

So let’s look at Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We sing this every Sunday.

So here is the question—how poor are you?

Taking a closer look at this, the Lord Jesus is saying, those who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven will be poor in spirit. They will have poverty of spirit.

What might this mean? If you want to have something you have to know what that thing is.

Lets start with this. Poverty of spirit means I have poverty in the eyes of God.

Let me read to you from Isaiah 6

Isa 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

This is Isaiah in the presence of God, having a vision of God. He describes it the best he can.

How does Isaiah respond?

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

This is the response of a man with poverty of spirit.

What you see is that he realizes he has nothing to offer God. Poverty is not having anything. Empty hands when we approach God. We have nothing to offer Him.

Why does Jesus say that those who are poor in spirit have the Kingdom of God?

Those who have empty hands are ready to receive.

In comparison to God, Isaiah knew he had nothing, that he was nothing but dust and ashes.

You see, if we come to God offering him anything of ourselves, we cannot receive because our hands are already full.

Jesus said, Mark 2:17 “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

If you don’t realize that you are sick, then you don’t have need of healing. Isaiah knew he needed God.

We can only approach God by first realizing that He made us, that we are sick with sin, that we need His healing, that we have nothing to give Him to pay for the healing.

There is an old poem that says Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your cross I cling.

This is what is happening with the Pubican and Pharisee, one is full of himself, the Publican has empty hands, receives forgiveness.

This is what is happening with the Good Samaritan, we are lying in the ditch, beat up, helpless, nearly dead. What can that man offer to the Samaritan? Nothing. That is us. We have nothing to offer to pay for our healing.

There is a blessing here for you today if you feel inadequate.

There is a blessing here for you today if you feel unworthy.

There is a blessing here for you today if you realize your spiritual poverty.

You are ready to receive a great blessing from God, by pure Grace.

Grace is often hard for people to trust. We are a wary people.

We have been taught that there is no free lunch, you can’t get something for nothing. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not true.

People resist the Grace of God because we want to pay for something of value.

But what can we pay for salvation?

If I could buy it, I wouldn’t need God.

And that is where many people end up, I don’t need God.

Their hands are full, they don’t have the Kingdom of heaven because they are trying to pay for it.

SOOO, how poor are you?

We bring only our brokenness, our weariness, our heartache. We come to the Giver of Life and like the tax collector in the temple we say, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.

When we get this, when we embrace our spiritual poverty; we become grateful, generous, blessed.

We become like Him. Then we can fulfill the readings today and become Holy, filled with His holiness.

Amen.

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The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23- 4 Traits of God

 In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God.  Amen.

Today we hear about the calling of the disciples. Fishermen becoming saints by faithfully (most of the time) following their Savior.

Fishermen were hard working men, it was a tough job, long hours of back-breaking work, tough on the hands and the back, pulling heavy nets up into the boat.

It is interesting to me that the text says Jesus taught them in their boat, putting Himself at the level of the people, and He taught them from the boat, pushed out a little way on the water.

You can imagine the crowd sitting on the bank of the lake, looking out on the lake to hear Jesus.

The text says that after teaching them is when He told them to push the boat out to catch some fish. What had He been teaching them? We are not told.

It seems like putting out to get the fish was a teaching moment based on what He had taught them, as if to make it clear what He had said.

I would like to know what He was teaching! Something having to do with the Heavenly Father taking care of them when times look desperate? What a sermon illustration that must have been!!

I am thinking that because Jesus quotes from the Psalms more than any other book, maybe we could look at Psalm 23(24) to learn more about our Savior. There is a common theme of God as Shepherd in the N.T. It is a motif which would have resonated with this audience.

  1. My Shepherd

[1] The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; [2] he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; [3] he restores my soul.

Jesus is the shepherd, we are the sheep. It works.

When Jesus is our shepherd we can be ok with being sheep.

Sheep need a shepherd, as sheep, we aren’t able to make it without a shepherd.

We tend to wander around looking for the next nice pasture, not noticing the cliff, or the wolf nearby. We aren’t always much smarter than real sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd of John 10 is aware when we are distracted, when we are in danger, when we need a directing nudge, or a little discipline.

I shall not want-I have all I need; I can lack nothing

He makes me lie down in green pastures-makes me-brings me to the place where there are green pastures, He knows where they are, so that we can lie down

Still waters and green pastures are an image of peace, calm, plenty, rest, refreshment

Restores my soul- why do I need this?

I put all my energy into other things, I need to get away to refocus, to relax, to refresh

N.B.–Many times Jesus went off alone to pray, solitude is important for developing a healthy soul, for refining the conscience. If Jesus, our Creator and the Sovereign God needed to be alone, we do as well, even more so.

How are you doing with getting alone? Do you ever have solitude?

How do you restore your soul? Just as your physical body needs recreation, refreshment, so does your soul.

Your conscience needs regular contact with the Shepherd to recognize His voice and follow Him. (cf. John 10:16)

Again, the shepherd takes care of my needs, physical and spiritual

  1. My Protector

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. [4] Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

He leads, the shepherd takes where He has already been, He knows the way, it is safe, He is not guessing, He is never surprised. He isn’t just hoping it will be ok. How wonderful that this shepherd makes no mistakes. We aren’t worried about following Him! He, because He knows the way, saves us completely. He has taken all of humanity upon Himself, in order to redeem it, restore it, sanctify it. Amazing!

We never have to worry about where He is leading us.

It may not be comfortable, but it will be safe.

When it is not comfortable, He is still with us; leading us. He is with us with His strength.

Thy Rod and staff, He protects us from predators, wolves, false teachers, we won’t recognize their voice, if we follow the voice of the Shepherd, we are safe. If we stay in the Church we are safe.

 My provider

[5] Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Even when life seems overwhelming, when surrounded by enemies (demons) He takes care of us and anoints us with power, we have all we need.  The anointing denotes healing, the table, communion and the wedding supper of the Lamb.

The shepherd protects the sheep from wolves, shelters them in storms, they hear His voice and are comforted. He defends them from all predators. The shepherd is strong to save. He sets before us a table of plenty, bread and wine, Body and Blood. Our enemies are helpless before Him. If our hunger is rightly directed, we will be satisfied by the Shepherd.

  1. My Savior

[6] Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

By following the Lord, our Shepherd, we know that His mercy and goodness (righteousness) are with us. And we have eternal life. We aren’t aimlessly wandering in the wilderness, we are going home. The Shepherd has a fold for His sheep that is beyond our belief or comprehension.

This is a picture of Paradise, heaven, the Kingdom of God, this is our hope, our hearts longing.

Are you following this shepherd? Do you need to change who you are listening to? Whom you are following? Rearrange some priorities?

Don’t lose hope, He called fishermen to be Apostles, He takes sheep and makes them saints. Work on letting Him restore Your Soul. Lie down in His green pastures, prepare yourself for the table He has spread for you.

The Shepherd is our Lord, The Shepherd is our hope, the Shepherd is our Savior. Follow Him and be saved!

Glory to Him forever!

Fr. Stephen Lourie

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Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 Today we are still in the season of the Cross, the Holy Gospel calls us again to take up our cross and follow Christ. This we joyfully do, a want to do, or think we do.

Our faith can seem so weak sometimes.

Today I want to encourage you, remind you, that our Savior is faithful, that He can be trusted. That if and when we do take up our cross, we will not be left to carry it on our own.

I want to talk about two little words and look into the Holy Scriptures to do this.

Let us first look into the book of Genesis. I hope you are familiar with the book of Genesis, indeed, the entire Old Testament.

I think, apart from the Psalms, it is my favorite Old Covenant book.

I encourage you, if you have not read Genesis, if it has been a while since you read Genesis, get it out and dig in.

What are the two little words? But God.

First we will look at the Patriarch Joseph.

I know you remember the story of Joseph

You remember how he was the youngest, how his brothers developed envy of Joseph and over time this grew into hatred. Until finally, they had planned to kill him. The oldest brother, Rueben, suggested that rather than kill him, it would be better to put him down a well and pretend they had killed him, and they ended up selling him to slave traders who carried him into Egypt. Joseph had many trials in Egypt, many temptations.

He trusted God, did not carry a root of bitterness about what his brothers had done, was falsely accused, thrown into prison, while innocent, and because he continued to be faithful to the God of his fathers, who was faithful to him, was exalted, through humility, to be the second in command in all of Egypt.

Eventually, (I am greatly abbreviating the story for the sake of time, please read it all yourself) all his brothers came to Egypt because there was a famine in Palestine where they lived, but Egypt, thanks to Joseph, had lots of grain.

In the course of coming to ask for grain they meet Joseph, but don’t recognize him. They discuss how their starvation may be because of what they had done to their brother.

Joseph, decides to reveal himself to his brothers. Then this…

In forgiveness, Joseph says to them, Genesis 50-So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, `Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’

And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”

Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

But Joseph said to them, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he reassured them and comforted them. So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s house; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years.

Secondly, lets look at King David.

David also feared for his life. King Saul, also jealous of David was trying to kill him. Why? David had killed Goliath. David was the people’s favorite. Saul was so frustrated that is says in 1 Samuel 23- And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph.

And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand. And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.

David trusted God, no matter the circumstances. He had ample opportunity to take the life of Saul and establish himself as king. He did not. David trusted God to work it out. Psalm 73:26  My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.

St. Peter in the New Testament came to a crisis point in the development of the Church. He was committed to the Mosaic law as the avenue for the Gentiles to take, before they could become Christians.

He had a conflict with Paul about this. Then, Act 10:28 -And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

The Apostles and disciples thought the Messiah had failed in dying, Acts 13:30 – Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead;

God takes care of us in temptation, just as He did with them. 1Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Remember when Daniel the prophet got in trouble with the King for not worshipping the idol? He was thrown in the lion’s den.

Daniel 6:18 -And the king departed to his house, and lay down fasting, and they brought him no food; and his sleep departed from him. But God shut the mouths of the lions, and they not molest Daniel.

But God

But God

We could not save ourselves, but God acted.

We could not stop sinning, but God made a way for us through His Church.

We could not love our enemies, but God loved us when we were His enemies and showed us the way.

The National Hurricane Center said we were all going to be wiped by Hurricane Irma, But God, moved Irma at the last minute.

Where is God in your life? Can you tell a story of a time when it was-but God– when the Lord did something amazing for you? You should have a But God story about your own life.

Can you think of one to pass on to your children and grandchildren? Maybe more than one?

When we first got married, we thought we would wait a while to have children, but God had a better idea. We got pregnant in three months.

When we had three children, it had been eight years, we thought we were done. But God had a better idea, Now we have four.

What is your But God story?

Or are you instead asking Why didn’t God? Perhaps you are angry about what you think God should have done? Maybe you are stuck on asking Why?

Wrong question. Questions that begin with why many times have no answer. And if God did tell you why, you wouldn’t be satisfied. You wouldn’t like the answer. Stop asking why and start asking How?

How can God use this situation for His glory? How can I be obedient to Him now? How can I walk in the Spirit in this time?

In the future—when you are faced with a great difficulty in your life, will it be- “I know that in the past, I had some But God moments. So now I can face the future and it becomes, But God can…..”? Or will you become bitter about what didn’t happen?

We are called by the Gospel today to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Him. Looking back you know He can be trusted, it might be hard, but God, is faithful.

Trust Him to do what is His will for you.

To Him be glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Fr. Stephen Lourie