Sermons

March 8

First a word about Coronavirus. In case there are questions about our communion practice in light of Coronavirus. Will we stop serving communion? Will we change how we serve communion?

Many have asked this question around the country. Indeed, many are contemplating making changes.

Some Roman Catholic parishes have started only giving the Body, not the Blood.

I will give you the answer I have learned from the leaders of our Church, the Bishops.

Actually, you can read it for yourself in the bulletin.

Let me ask a question.

Do you believe in miracles? Yes. Do you believe that every week we experience a miracle when we eat the Body and Blood of Christ. That bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood? Truly this is a miracle.

You easily believe this miracle every week.

Why then is it so hard to believe that it is impossible to get sick by eating and drinking the Body and Blood? Can we believe one miracle and not the other?

 

So the only change we will make at this time, is that we are more vigilant about cleaning things here.

We will not make any change about how we take communion or what we believe about communion.

Please read the notice inserted into the bulletin from the Chancellor of the OCA.

We encourage frequent hand washing, not touching your face with your hands, be very careful about embracing each other. If you feel sick, stay home. If you develop a fever get tested for a virus.

We will not over-react. The regular virus is more of a threat at this point. But this is an evolving situation. Let’s be diligent to pray about this matter and be wise, not fearful.

Since Oct 2019 the CDC estimates 30,000 people died of the regular flu up to now, just up to now. Only about 2 dozen have died in the US of Coronavirus.

We will keep clean icons that people kiss. Before and after each service.

The Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ, it has survived plaques in the past. It will survive any threat; even the gates of hell cannot overcome it.

But we also know how to be wise and do what we know to do.

 

 

How Early Christians Reacted To Plague

“Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that in death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.”
-Pastoral Letter, Bp. Dionysios of Alexandria, Dionysius, Festival Letters, in Eusebius, The History of the Church 7.22.

From, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion by Rodney Stark.

So, let me sum this all up. Please follow the recommendations from health officials, wash hands, etc. Be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Pray for all of us and for this holy parish.

 

Today we celebrate the restoration of icons to our homes and churches. This is the theme of the First Sunday of Great Lent. Called Orthodoxy Sunday or the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Also called the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which refers to the victory of correct theology over heresy.

The heresy was this-since God is unseen we should not make any images of anything heavenly. And then there is the second commandment against making graven images.

As a result of bad theology iconoclasts (icon haters) became very powerful and took over the Church, persecuting the iconodules (icon lovers). Controversy for more than 100 years, imagine that.

Finally a Church Council is called in 787 to settle this issue and the Church re-affirmed the historic teaching of Classical Christianity-icons are to be properly used and understood, for prayer in churches and homes. And the tradition was explained.

God is visible, He is visible in Jesus Christ who said, Those who have seen me have seen the Father.

We do not worship saints or Mary, we show respect and honor to them and the love given to the icons passes through to them.

They become for us windows into heaven.

God is the Creator of things. Everything in the universe that is not God is created. All matter in creation was made good. Jesus Christ through the Church, His Body, sanctifies matter.

Taking elements of creation we fashion them into something, using our gifts, and the things we fashion become an offering to God through prayer.

This is communion. We take wheat water, grapes, we fashion them into bread and wine and they become an offering to God, “offering to unto Thee, Thine own from Thine own, on behalf of all and for all.” Is what the priest prays when offering the gifts to God.

This is the pattern for all we do.

It is the same with icons. And God infuses matter with His grace. And through this sanctified matter, amazing things happen.

People receive healing. Prayers are answered. Spirits lifted.

So icons become for us, vehicles of grace, a means of grace. A way of touching heaven.

 

Lets take this one step further.

The word icon means image.

And you are created in the image of God. You are an icon.

So this raises the question-do you love icons?

Do you love each other? Do you see each other as vehicles of grace?

Do you see yourself as worthy of love as an icon of God, not by your own merits but by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God?

 

The bottom line is this.

To deny icons is ultimately to deny The Incarnation of Christ in the flesh.

 

It is to say-“God has not revealed Himself.” This is a grave error.

So this is why this day is called The Triumph of Orthodoxy. Proper doctrine triumphed over heresy, proper worship and veneration was re-established. Proper order was returned to the Church and Her worship. Our homes and our prayers.

This is a great and glorious thing. The Lord promised just before He ascended into heaven that He would send the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into all Truth.

And He has, and He does, and He will continue; because it protects the proper Glory of God, it protects the Church from human thought that is not sanctified.

This evening at 5 pm we will gather here for a special evening worship. We will celebrate a special vespers service and we will celebrate  the Glory of God in His Church through icons and we will celebrate the return of icons to their proper place in our lives, so that we would maintain the True Faith.

We will march around the church, carrying icons and singing the glory of God and praying for His world. We will read the declaration of the 7th Ecumenical Council. We will rejoice in God’s care for His Church and then we will celebrate with a lenten supper.

We will be joined by several Orthodox priests from surrounding churches and some people will also come from surrounding churches and it will be something you don’t want to miss.

Ans one of the things we will celebrate is the fact that you are made of matter. Matter that God Himself created.

The same matter that He took on when He became human.

The same matter that has been and will be sanctified in the Church by our proper worship and the sacraments.

We who are dust are being made into His glorious likeness, having been made in His image. We are icons of Him, and we carry icons of saints and holy events; to build up our faith, to teach our children proper worship and how to live in Christ.

March 1

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (13:11-14:4)

Brethren, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

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We are at the dawn of Lent. It begins tonight when you go to bed.

What will be, how much you benefit from the lenten journey depends upon you.

 

Today we remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. And that is where we find ourselves today-outside of Paradise.

Lent provides us with a strategy to return into Paradise, but we must take the opportunity given us. We must take up the challenge. The effort must be made to receive the desired result.

A man once bought a membership to a gym in order to get stronger and build up his body.

He attended the gym diligently, but only once a week.

His body did not get stronger.

This is how many people are spiritually, only working out once a week.

 

So the question today is: what will you do with Lent? What will you do to grow closer to Christ in this season.

 

Fasting is, according to St. John Chrysostom, the third most important element in our spiritual practices outside the worship of God in community. What are the other two?

They are almsgiving, which indicates a willingness to help others, even at the expense of his or her own well-being, and prayer. However, what we normally hear about most at this time of the year is fasting, and in fact our Lenten season also bears the name of the Holy and Great Fast.

 

If St. John puts fasting in third place, why this emphasis? There are three reasons that come to mind, though there are of course many more.

  1. First of all, fasting is a marker of our return to God. As the services remind us, it was by food that our ancestors Adam and Eve were led to their ancient fall from the grace and glory of God to which they were called to participate, and the results of that choice have affected all of us ever since.

Our stomachs are, as St. John Climacus calls them, “a clamorous mistress” that demand everything of us, leading us down wrong paths, and continually deceiving us into thinking that our bodily needs are far more than they really are. This translates into other desires as well—we pamper ourselves and continually seek to satisfy that most fickle of masters, the human will.

Fasting helps to remind us that we are putting off the things that separate us from God in order to slowly climb back to the Paradise that we lost.

Secondly, fasting disrupts our normal routine and self-centered wills.

As creatures of tremendous habit, and often bad habits at that, we need something to serve as a “circuit breaker” to interrupt this process of continuous self-centeredness.

Fasting makes us think twice about the high favor we have for ourselves by depriving us of those things that we take to ourselves too often and easily.

This includes all facets of our lives as well as that of pure intake of food.

We must remember our need to reach out of ourselves and help others, to dedicate an increased amount of time to spiritual reading and conversation, especially that involving the Holy Scriptures, and to make every effort to attend the extra services offered during this season as a sacrifice to God of prayer and praise.

He doesn’t need this, but we do, and those who neglect this are missing a great opportunity for a quick injection of spiritual growth.

Lastly, fasting is a way of practicing obedience.

The one thing that we all talk about as being important in the spiritual life is probably the one thing that we hate most of all!

Tito Colliander asks in his marvelous book The Way of the Ascetics, “since the time of the Apostles [the Church] has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live…Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting.”

By being obedient to the rules of the Church rather than our own re-interpretation of them, we are practicing the purest form of spiritual and bodily obedience possible, and it’s a fact of life that if we cannot do this then the instructions of the most saintly elder would prove impossible for us!

Yet the Fathers of the Church also encourage moderation in how we keep the fast. I have seen the strictest adherence prove to be most harmful to someone because of the poisonous attitude that resulted from it. It does no good to fast from all meat and then eat your brother.

Here are a few things to remember about fasting:

  • Challenge yourself—you can probably do much more than you do. It’s the old thing about pampering the flesh again. Find a way of fasting that is within your means, that makes you stretch a bit, but that doesn’t frustrate so much that you give up. We are all on different spiritual levels and practical abilities.
  • Make your fast a broad-based effort. Find time for reading and extra attendance at the services. The excuse of not having enough time will not suffice, since we all find time for those things we really want to do, no matter how crowded the schedule. Consider a media fast.
  • Always remember to repent for your failings. God is not there to strike you down, but to lift you up, and nothing reaches his heart like sincere repentance.
  • Remember that breaking the fast, or failing to keep it as well as you might is not a sin, but failing to keep the spirit of the fast in mind, or denying its importance as a precept of the church, certainly is. And no matter how we might ignore this time of the year, it is still a holy one whether we pay attention or not, and the evil one certainly knows what time of the year it is, and will increase his attacks whether you are prepared for them or not!
  • Approach the fast with joy and anticipation, a time of year that the church gives us to draw closer to God, and to achieve true and genuinely heartfelt reconciliation and forgiveness with and for our family, friends, neighbors, congregation, nation, and the world at large.
  • Remember Love and do not judge.

February 23

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew

The Lord said, “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?’

Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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People are really confused about what happens when we die. Its pretty crazy what people say and believe.

There seem to be two beliefs about this, though they aren’t well thought out or precise, they are mostly just cultural myths that people embrace without a systematic approach to what happens when we die.

  1. One belief is when we die we just cease to exist. There is nothing after death. We come to earth for 70-80 years grab all the gusto we can and then POOF we are gone. No longer in existence.
  2. The second belief is the afterlife is a good life for everyone. That what happens is we become angels and just do what ever we like, for ever.

This is why people say things like, well, their suffering is over, or well, they are in a better place.

Neither of these is what Christ taught us.

This Sunday in the Church Year is here to remind us what Christ DOES teach. And we heard it in the Gospel reading.

Death is not an end, it is a passageway. We do not cease to exist, but our existence drastically changes, as we are absent from the body and no longer seen on earth; yet we continue to live. And we do face judgement.

There is not just life after death, it is an eternal life. God will judge each of us; this is what the Church says:

 

When the thrones are set in place and the books are opened, then God will take His place on the judgment seat. Oh, what a fearful sight! The Angels stand in fear, and the river of fire flows by. What shall we do, who are already condemned by our many sins, as we hear Christ call the righteous to His Father’s Kingdom, and send the wicked to eternal damnation? Who among us can bear that terrible verdict? Hasten to us, O Lover of man and King of the universe; grant us the grace of repentance before the end, and have mercy on us!

 

This is sobering Sunday. Being reminded of our sin, we beg of God to grant us the grace of repentance.

The last few Sundays during matins, if you come early, you will hear us sing the song, Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life.

This is preparation for the Lenten effort, the war of Lent. We realize our helplessness and ask God to help us.

 

What does this parable tell us?

 

Lets take note of a few things before we move on; from my friend Steve Robinson:

 

Everyone goes to judgement, all are invited to the Kingdom, all have an opportunity.

The Sheep and the Goats were both in the flock of the Good Shepherd. They both heard His voice and knew His face.

St. John Chrysostom notes that the “goats” were “kids”: not fully matured: children who are distracted and inattentive.

As in all of Christ’s parables, the sheep and goats were one Flock,

the Wheat and the Tares grew up together in the Field,

“All Manner of Things” were drawn up from one Lake in the Fisherman’s “Kingdom Net”,

the Wise Virgins and Un-wise were both invited to the Wedding Feast,

The Good stewards and Bad Stewards were all in the Household and given gifts,

the Friends and Beggars were all invited to the Great Banquet: ALL were “included” prior to their separations.

All are invited, all are included.

The “judgment” is not so much “condemnation” as it is “identification”:

Who looks like The Generous Master, who hears the Voice of the Shepherd, who looks like the Wheat/Bread of Life, who is a Fish and not dead flotsam:

The separation is this: Who was paying attention to life itself, and fulfilling the Image in which we are created?

Who is, in love paying attention to what is ultimately our Salvation now, and ever, and unto the ages, even though we do not know it.

God is not the bad guy at the judgment seat. He deals with what we bring Him from our life here.

 

Have we imitated Him? Do we look like a sheep or a goat, by our works?

 

We determine whether we are sheep or goats by our lives in this life.

 

We all want to have joyful lives. We want to have lives that are pleasing to Christ and offer us meaning and fulfillment. This is only possible if the One who created us, also accepts us to dwell with Him in peace and joy for all eternity. This is the judgement.

Our Lord Jesus tells us that this is possible only through acts of love and mercy. We can only stand at the Lord’s right hand if we are willing to live sacrificial lives and go out of our way to show acts of mercy to others. This is what is expected of us because this is what Our Lord has done for each of us.

He showed us how to live; do we follow and obey Him; or do we go our own way?

He has fed us with both food as well as the heavenly bread.

He has clothed us not only with clothing but with the garments of righteousness.

He has visited us in our sicknesses and given us both physical and spiritual healing.

He has not only visited us while we were imprisoned by our sins, but He has completely freed us from the power of sin and death.

Let us be His children and reflect this mercy and love in all of our dealings with others.

May the Lord judge us worthy to be numbered among His faithful sheep.

Glory be to God Forever, AMEN.

February 9

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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We continue on the march towards Great Lent. We are like soldiers who are drawing near to the front lines of the battlefield. The Church is preparing us for spiritual battle because Lent is a great spiritual battle. As we draw near to the battlefield, we are given special gospel readings to aid in our preparation.

The Church like a wise general is foreshadowing the moves and the tactics of the enemy and is giving us the counterattacks. Each week is a new building block, a new tactic or weapon that we will add to our repertoire.

This week we hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. This is a story told by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells these stories because He loves us and He wants to connect with us, with our hearts, through these stories that give us access to truth and light.

What is the point of the parable? The point is humility. The Lord Jesus, our beloved master, gives us two very different people with two very different prayers.

One does everything correctly from an outsiders perspective, he also keeps all of the small traditions and rules with exactness. But the problem is that he doesn’t  keep them out of love for God, therefore, his strictness has not produced love within him. He gains great pride through his perfect observance of all things religious.

But it gets worse, he also boldly uses this distorted vision of himself to accuse others before God! God forbid that we should become like this man.

Our prayers are a sacred time to draw near to God, not to accuse and condemn others. The fact that he is obsessed with the activities of others and their shortcomings, both perceived and real, is a sign of just how much he lacks peace from above, peace from God.

 

This is pointed out to us in the prayer we use so much in Lent, the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, the first line of that prayer is:

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. (prostration)

The idea of meddling is being too concerned with the lives and sins of other people, not focusing on your own.

This is exactly what the Publican was doing in talking about how he was better than other men.

We all say the prayer before communion; I believe O Lord, and I confess, that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.

This reminds us of the same principle, I should think of my own sins first as the first of all sinners. And if I remember my own sin, I will not condemn my brothers and sisters.

 

The people that Jesus speaks directly against are the religious, those who put rules above mercy, those who take pride in their rule keeping but condemn their neighbors.

 

St. John of San Francisco writes, “The power of God is effective when a person asks for the help from God, acknowledging his own weakness and sinfulness. This is why humility and the striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian.”

So the point of this story is God will exalt the humble, but He will humble the proud.

So then let us acquire humility so that our prayers will be heard and we will be forgiven.

 

We see by looking into the story that the two men took two very different approaches to God, the Publican was very sure he was doing great, he had convinced himself that he was a very good person, that other people should be like him. He even boldly says this to God, I am so glad I am not like those people, that like that guy, I am so glad I am better than him.

 

I know that none of us would ever be like this, out loud. But don’t we often have thoughts that are similar?

Or maybe we are more subtle, we wouldn’t be that bold, but we might have a way of soothing ourselves by blaming our anger on someone else, or thinking better of ourselves because we feel morally superior. Because I would never do that, or wear that, or never get a tatoo, or I always let other people go ahead of me.

Humility is a tricky thing, because we can be so easily convinced we have it. But we are really just patting ourselves on the back.

 

Here is a test. One of the church fathers said: A humble man cannot be offended.

And then remember the last time you took offense, or got angry when something didn’t go as planned.

You go to the pharmacy to pick up some medication, but the clerk tells you they don’t have it. You show up at the dr. for an appointment but there is no appointment. You are late for an event and the traffic is slow. You get an unexpected bill. Your car doesn’t start. Someone in front of you in the coffee hour line gets that last thing that you wanted.

 

These are opportunities for us to reflect. To do self-examination. To confess our weakness before God and ask for humility, for forgiveness.

 

Perhaps the most important thing about humility is directly tied to our eternal destiny. To whether we go to heaven or not.

Humility is what allows us to ask, to truly ask, for forgiveness. It is true that if we want to be forgiven we must ask to be forgiven. This takes a measure of humility.

If we are too proud to admit our sin and ask for God or man to forgive us, we remain in our sin and we remain unforgiven.

The door to heaven has a pride detector. Only the humble enter herein.

The Church has prepared for us many remedies for our diseases; our sins. We have to open the medicine cabinet and take the medicine.

We all have electricity in our homes. For the electricity to work you have to plug into the socket. It is always there, waiting. It is powerful, it is even deadly in its power. But it only helpful if we plug something in so the power can flow.

It is the same with the Church.

The power of Christ is always there. It is always there, it is even deadly in its power. But we have to plug in. We have to want something. We have to be aware of a need to plug in. This is humility. I need. I don’t have the power on my own. I am weak, I fail to accomplish the cooking of supper cause I didn’t turn on the power. I don’t make progress in the spiritual life for the same reason.

This Sunday we are reminded, again, of our need, of the importance of humility and of the availability of grace and power. In the Church of Jesus Christ.

You are invited to plug in. To receive the power of God for the healing our souls.

This is the season to make changes, to take a new direction, to start again; or to really get serious with God.

Seek humility and you will find God. The services of the church are a schoolmaster teaching us the way of salvation. But you have to come, you have to participate, you have to plug in.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take this opportunity and boldly run the race set before us. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

February 2

Today is the confluence of two important commemorations, one much more important than the other.

The most important is the Feast of the Entry of Our Lord Into the Temple. One of the 12 major feasts of the Church year.

The second is the Sunday of Zacchaeus.

The Entry of the Lord is another look at the obedience of the Lord to the Jewish tradition and the Law of God in the O.T.

The Lord of the Temple enters into the temple as a baby. The One who created all things from nothingness is a baby carried in the arms of Simeon. Prophetess Anna proclaims His glory, Simeon rejoices that now he has seen the salvation of his people and the gentiles too.

The angels rejoice in amazement at the Amazing Condescension of the Lord of  Glory and what He is willing to do to save mankind.

They were poor people, not wealthy, no privilege. We know this by the sacrifice they brought to offer, a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons. This was the offering allowed for the poor who were not owners of animals. Even the Law had mercy on the poor. They could bring a lamb due to their poverty, but a suitable offering was made available, still not cheap, but doable to fulfill the law.

And it says that have fulfilled all the requirements of the Law they departed for Nazareth where Jesus grew up. The Lord fulfilled the Law, He did not neglect obedience, even when it was not convenient or easy.

This sends us an important message today. We who follow the Lord Jesus also must be obedient to His commands for our salvation and to please Him, knowing that it is for our salvation and our good.

We also look to Zacchaeus, the hypocrite, traitor who comes to love the Lord.

He was a chief tax collector and rich. Rich? Well, he worked for the Romans and to the amount he was required to pay to the Romans, he added a hefty amount of tax in order to make himself, at the expense of his own countrymen. And he was rich because as a chief tax collector he took a little from each of those under him who were collecting taxes, helping him to do his job. And so the people treated him as a traitor and a scallywag, they hated him.

But life was about to change for Z.

Maybe he took a little too much tax because he was resentful at being too short. But it was his shortness that caught the attention of Jesus because he went up a tree to see Jesus, the tree allowed him to catch a glimpse he would never get if he stayed on the ground.

You see Z has a heart problem. His biggest problem is not his stature, it is his heart.

When we lived in PA we had a large country home, built in the 1860’s. Three floors and built like a fortress.

It had the original windows from the 1800’s! So the only way to clean the windows was on a ladder.

Being a little younger than I am now, and a little more arrogant, I decided, one nice Spring day, to clean those windows with an extension ladder.

So, being anxious to get the job done, I only had some coffee and not breakfast and I got to work, up and down the ladder.

After a bit I noticed a strange sound in my ears. I stopped and listened. It was my pulse. My heart was going nuts. I thought maybe I am having a heart attack.

I went to the Dr. and he did all the tests.

When all the tests were done he met with me to tell me what was wrong with me.

He started by saying, well we know what is wrong with you!

I said, great, what is it?

He said, the only thing wrong with you is you are stupid.

I guess I looked a little startled, he went on to explain. Your heart is fine, you just need to stop pretending you are 25 years old. Eat some breakfast.

So I don’t have a heart disease? No. Your heart is very healthy.

So that was a relief, I get it, don’t work hard on an empty stomach, especially after several cups of coffee.!

My physical heart had no problem. My spiritual heart is another story. That needs constant attention. Amen?

Z realized that he had a great need, I need some help, he said, I need Jesus.

Z had heart surgery up in that tree.

 

Jesus quoted the Great Prophet Isaiah: Mat 15:8  This people honor me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.

Z’s heart was starting to have a desire for help, for salvation, for healing. His awareness of his bad heart was ringing in his ears with the disdain of the people.

His heart was drawn to the Savior and the Savior changed his heart.

We know this because of the fruits of repentance he displayed. What does he say?

 

Luke 19:8  And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

 

Jesus came to save those who know they have a heart disease, a heart with wrong desires, scattered wishes, unclear paths ahead.

Jesus does spiritual surgery on the heart, a spiritual pace maker.

 

So this begs the question: Z teaches about desire. Our hearts desire.

 

The Psalmist tells us, God will give us the desires of our hearts.

What is the desire of your heart?

 

Z is a mirror. In the past I have told you to read the Gospel stories and realize that you are the person in the story. You are Z. You have come up short in seeking the Lord, in loving your neighbor, in loving God.

 

We can learn from Z about desire and repentance. How much effort do we put into seeking a vision of God, to really know God?

 

We can spend more time seeking Him in the Holy Gospels. We can spend more time seeking Him in quiet prayer. We can seek to be like Him in loving our neighbor.

Let Z instruct you this day.

 

But,

 

Z is also yearly reminder that Lent is coming.

 

One month from now the Great Fast begins.

 

Lent is a school of repentance for the broken hearted, those with a contrite and broken heart profit the most from Lent.

 

St. Nicholai (Velimirovich) of Zicha preached some beautiful words about this gospel text. He said

“Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, becomes fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.

“Today, salvation has come to this house” said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us.”

We are given these times to recall us to our main calling in life, Seek ye first the kingdom of God….

 

This is what Lent shows us… We start moving in that direction today. As the Lord of the temple entered into the temple.

 

May that same Lord enter into and abide in the temple that each one of us is. Amen.

December 15

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (14:16-24) 

The Lord spoke this parable: “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’  But, one by one, they all began to make excuses.

The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’  So the servant came and reported this to his master.

Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’  And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’

And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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The Sunday that falls between December 11-17 is known as the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. These are the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh, who lived before the Law and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).

Adam, our first Father, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve Patriarchs; and those who came after the Law: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and with them the Twelve Prophets: Elijah, Elisha, and all the rest, Zachariah and John the Baptist: all those who proclaimed Christ, the Life and Resurrection of the human race!

This even includes those like Zachariah and Elisabeth, the parents of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.

Luke 1 is a great read, right? You all read it this week, right?

So, today lets take a closer look at parts of Luke 1, next week we will dig into Luke 2.

Luke 1-7 sections

  1. Prologue-there were false apostles writing false gospel accounts-eye witnesses are more reliable
  2. Zachariah and Elizabeth-The Barren One

Zach is in the temple-the high priest-Gabriel talks to him, Zach isn’t sure-is struck dumb due to a lack of faith, only regaining his voice when he agrees to name his son John, as he had been instructed; much to the shock of the family. Zachariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child to God. God answers their prayer.

  1. Annunciation to Mary-When Elisabeth is 6 months pregnant with John, Gabriel comes to Mary, a virgin, and announces to her that she will miraculously conceive a child. He calls her highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women for you will bear the Son of the Highest, who will take over the throne of David, His kingdom will never end.

But I am a virgin and I will always be a virgin, so how? The power of the Most High will overshadow you. You will have a son without an earthly father. Mary says yes.

Eve brought forth children is sorrow, Mary will rejoice in the birth of hers, she being the Second Eve. Eve received a curse, Mary is blessed. Eve hears the words of the serpent and obeys them bring the Fall. Mary listens to God and obeys Him, bringing us up from the Fall by the One born of her.

  1. Mary visits Elisabeth-the formerly barren Elizabeth, far past childbearing years is now 6 months pregnant and her cousin Mary comes to visit. When John, in the womb of Elizabeth, hears Mary’s voice he leaps in her womb for joy, knowing the Lord is in her womb. A baby in the womb is aware, has feelings, reacts. Has life.

Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith. For the first time Mary is called the Mother of My Lord by Elizabeth.

Mary is forever known as the Birthgiver of God. The Theotokos. A unique title only given once, to one woman. The Ever-Virgin Mary.

These people seem to be aware of how gigantic this is, how incredible.

  1. The Magnificat-My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Mary says in the Magnificat (Latin for magnifies) that from then on all generations shall call her blessed. Indeed this has happened.

Every Sunday morning during Matins will sing this.

Mary is carried by the Holy Spirit as she sings this song, recorded for us by St. Luke in Luke 1.

  1. The birth of John the Baptist-the family wants to name the baby Zachariah, but first Elizabeth says no, John, they protest to Zachariah, Zachariah asks for a tablet and writes his name is John; then he is able to speak. His words are also recorded by Luke and are called in Latin the Benedictus, beginning with the word, Blessed.

People are left wondering, What kind of child will this be? And the hand of the Lord was with him.

Gabriel had said of John, he will be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, Elias; to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. He is The Forerunner.

  1. Zachariah’s prophecy-When Zachariah’s tongue is loosened he is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies the Benedictus. Glorifying God for all He has done.

Following the prophecy of Zachariah’s prophecy Luke finishes the chapter with the words, So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Tradition tells us that Zachariah was martyred in the altar of the temple and that after that Elizabeth took John to the desert and that there he was ministered to by the angels.

End of Chapter 1.

Wow. What an amazing chapter of incredible events, all leading up to the Nativity of Christ. Miraculous events.

God’s sovereign, loving plan for mankind is working things out to bring about the Savior of the world.

And that brings us to the Gospel reading of the day. The great banquet of the Lord, from Luke chapter 14.

This parable is told at a dinner in the home of one of the Pharisees (His enemies) while they are eating together.

The Lord points out how the guests had been very careful to choose the best seats of honor, to receive kudos from everyone. Instructing them to pick places of humility, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

 

Then He speaks to the host who invited him. Telling him, invite those who cannot repay you for your dinner by inviting you to theirs. Then you will have a reward at the Resurrection. Then Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet.

 

The parable is appropriate for our Advent preparation for Christmas. It reminds us of how easy it is to get caught up in the affairs of the world and family and celebration so much that we begin to turn away from things eternal.

 

How easy it is to lose sight of what is really important. The Kingdom of God. This is the one thing needful Christ speaks about.

 

 

The distractions of this world are never ceasing, only increasing. Like Esau we sell our inheritance for a bowl of soup.

It is time to reawaken our souls, to return to the Lord, to re-focus on the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world.

10 days until Christmas. What will you do with them to turn your attention to God, at least a little during these days?

It is not too late. Be inspired by the people in chapter 1 of Luke. Read about them. Follow them. Find some time. Don’t let excuses keep you out of the Kingdom.

December 8

The reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-7)

Brethren, I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, Who is above all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (17:12-19)

At that time as Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.

Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

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St Paul wants to help us in our advent journey today. He wants to remind us of how we should live. Perfect for the advent season of preparation.

So what does the epistle for today say to us? lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Maybe we forget about what St Paul went through. Let’s recall.

He writes, “Brethren, I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,”

Sometimes we forget the sorts of trials and struggles that were faced by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We forget what they must have undergone and what they went through in order to preach this gospel that we often take so lightly and so casually.

St. Paul reminds his hearers that he is writing this while he is a prisoner, under house arrest in Rome. Yet what is his focus and goal during that time? It was the well being and the care of the Church of God, for which he had toiled day and night.

His words to the Christians of Ephesus are very important to us today.

This is the situation in which St Paul writes- he is in prison for being a Christian.

He knows he is about to be executed. But he is thinking about other Christians and their growth in Christ.

Then St. Paul gives us as Christians some really important guidance, and it is important for each of us to hear these words.

He says “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” and then he goes on to describe this life, and how one lives it in a way that is worthy of the name of Christian. It is not enough to claim to be Christians. Just saying we are Christians, we must actually live like Christians.

It is not enough to believe we are Christians internally. We are called to live the life of Christians and He tells us to do this “with all lowliness and meekness”.

What do these words “lowliness” and “meekness” mean? One of the Bible dictionaries describes lowliness in the following ways, 1) the having a humble opinion of one’s self 2) a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness 3) modesty, humility…

His words are very appropriate for our advent preparation for Christmas. Reminding us that as hard as we work for the Church, we have to work on our own lives, to foster lives of humility.

A truly humble person cannot be offended.

Next, St Paul tells us that Christians must have “patience, forbearing one another in love.” Patience is defined here as “endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance” as well as “longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs.”

Forbearing is defined as “to bear with, or to endure.”

St. Paul is trying to give us a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven, and the Church is the image of the kingdom on earth, for the Church is the place where we unite with Christ and His saints and participate in the Holy Spirit.

How can brothers and sisters who live together in Christ, in the midst of the saints and the angels, be impatient with one another? How can brothers and sisters in Christ be boastful and arrogant?

And this is what I see at an event like the Christmas Bake Sale. There are a lot of people with this attitude of humble service.

Yesterday we had an amazing parish experience of holiness at the Christmas Bake Sale.

See, the thing is the Christmas Bake Sale is not just a one day event. It is lots of preparation before the day arrives, advertisements, promotions, taking pre-orders, making cookies, baking bread, filling the freezers with rolls, pierogies, spanakopita and cabbage rolls. Buying kolbassa, sauerkraut,setting up tables, setting up the kitchen. Hundreds of hours of work.

And people enjoy it. We have a good time. There are no outbursts of anger, no one goes home in a huff. No fights.

We are reminded that while we are all human, we are called to be holy and transfigured humans together in the Church. Why?

St. Paul tells us that we are “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If one person begins to act in a way that is rash or unkind to someone else within the Church what will be the result?

It is possible that some of the people will be pushed away from the Church. We as Christians are not called to push people away from the Church, that is the job of the evil one. We are called to be like the apostles and evangelists of the Lord. We are called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. We do this through our living example of love.

 

Notice today in the Divine Liturgy, how many times we bow to each other, the priest to the people, asking for forgiveness, the people bowing in return, saying God forgives all, or The Lord forgive you father.

This is the spirit of humility St. Paul is talking about.

 

St. John Chrysostom says “The purpose for which the Spirit was given was to bring into unity all who remain separated by different ethnic and cultural divisions: young and old, rich and poor, women and men.”

He continues “Bind yourselves to your brethren. Those thus bound together in love bear everything with ease.… If now you want to make the bond double, your brother must also be bound together with you. Beautiful is this bond. With this bond we bind ourselves together both to one another and to God. This is not a chain that bruises. It does not cramp the hands. It leaves them free, gives them ample room and greater courage.”

St. Silouan once said- “our brother is our life.” We live this truth.

We also see this lowliness, this humility, in the story of Christmas. Luke 1 is an amazing read, if you slow down to really look at it.

It is the story of the mindset St Paul talks about. The lowliness and humility of God, taking the most ordinary people and ordinary circumstances and this is how God becomes human.

We are on our advent journey, preparing for Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Christ. St Paul has taught us how to be like God. We are heading in the right direction if we follow his teaching.

May I suggest that this week you spend some time in the first few chapters of the gospel of St. Luke? Become familiar with the actual Christmas story from the Bible.

Ch. 1 & 2- read it everyday for this week, get it in your mind. Let the Lord speak to you in the reading of His word.

May the Lord truly help us to always be united as brothers and sisters in love, this will allow the Church to be what it is meant to be, a place of healing, hope, and peace….a place where we strongly sense the presence of the living God. To Him alone be the glory, together with His only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

December 1

The reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (2:14:22)

Brethren, Christ is our peace, Who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.

And He came and preached peace to you, who were far off, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

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

At that time a ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”

And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

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How was your Thanksgiving celebration? Relaxing? I hope you actually gave thanks to God for all the blessings we receive from Him, every minute of every day.

It is not enough to FEEL thankful, or to have warm, fuzzy feelings, we really must get beyond emotion and actually say Thank you to God, to our family members, to our fellow parishioners. We have to say it and show it.

In order to be thankful, we have to be aware that we have received benefits. This requires some thought, some maturity of faith. Some humility.

We have to cultivate a sense of helplessness, weakness, neediness toward God.

The first step is to become aware that without Christ we can do nothing.

Lets look at the epistle reading for a minute today.

And He came and preached peace to you, who were far off, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Look what God has done for us!

I have often heard comments from those who grew up in the Orthodox Church about those of us who came to the Orthodox Faith from somewhere else. The comments are about how much the converts to Orthodoxy know about the Faith, usually admitting that they don’t know as much.

For many of us, coming to the Orthodox Faith is very complicated and usually involves a search. We are so discontent with where we were that we start a search for something better. There has to be something better. I read about it in the Bible, but I don’t experience what I read in the Bible, this gets us going. Looking, seeking.

So a convert reads the epistle today and can really relate to it. “He came and preached to you who were far off, and peace to those who were near.” He says we were “strangers and sojourners”. And indeed it often felt like that.

I clearly remember the first time I attended a Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church. I had no idea what was happening or was about to happen.

It was very similar to the first day of school. When I was 5 years old and went to Kindergarten, I had no idea what was happening or was about to happen.

But at the same time, in the first Divine Liturgy I had ever attended, I was strangely, at home. Even though I was a stranger, I knew I was heading somewhere I wanted to be. A fellow citizen with the saints and member of the household of God.

That is the experience of a convert to the Orthodox Faith but, in reality it is the experience of every believer.

Some are brought into the household of God as infants through baptism, some convert later in life; but we all make the same journey.

And what a beautiful description of the Church:

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

So St Paul is telling us about what God has done with and for us.

That we are all, converts, reverts or cradle; being made into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

This is our goal and our hope.

That what you are a part of here at HSOC is not in vain, it not without eternal value.

When we all come together here in worship, we become something beautiful, holy. Each of us adding something, each of us benefiting something. And God is glorified.

He has brought us from being prodigals who were wandering and wasting our gifts and He has brought us back to the Father, a dwelling place for the Spirit.

We don’t think about that much, what God is really doing here among us. The gradual changes that are happening among us. Some depart, some new ones come. Lives are slowly changed by prayer, repentance, learning and working.

But then we stop and look around, and we marvel.

This is how a heart of thanksgiving grows.

This is what I see. When each individual member works at their salvation, the whole body gets stronger.

And this is happening here at HSOC. People find us. They look, God helps them find us.

In the Gospel reading today we have a very sad story, about a very sad man. A wealthy man, but not a happy man.

He was not happy because He did not trust God, he trusted his wealth.

He could not give thanks and give back what had been given him.

Here is a good point to remember. Thanksgiving starts with the character of God. When we know God we learn to trust Him. When we learn to trust Him, we lose the stress of trying to be God and we become thankful people.

St Paul said, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.

When we understand that God is King, we can relax. When we remember that all we have is from Him, we can become thankful.

When a man takes credit for what he has, that man becomes stingy. He wants to hold on tight, afraid he will lose something. Its mine. A man like that cannot be saved until he becomes humble enough to have gratitude and to ask God for forgiveness.

This is what we are all working on right now in the Advent Fast.

The purpose of this season of Advent is to better prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We do this by intention. With purpose, with determination.

In the midst of the worldly preparation for Christmas, there is a call going out.

The Lord tells the rich, young, ruler – give up everything and follow me. He is saying that to us as well. Remember last week I told you. In all these stories put yourself in the story. You, I, am the rich, young, ruler. I am the one who holds on to control. I am the one who is stingy. I am the one who cannot trust God.

Thank God for Advent.

The preparation for Christmas should not all be about busy-ness, buying, hurrying, cooking.

It should be not just about externals, but about internals as well. About our hearts, minds and souls.

The rich, young, ruler was very devoted, very dedicated-but to the wrong thing. He missed the mark.

We are being called this season, to come away, to re-focus. To come to confession, to fast, to give to the needy. To pray, to learn. To prepare our hearts to receive Him, with Thanksgiving.

Let us attend.

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November 24

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (13:10-17)

At that time Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”

And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.”

Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”

As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
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The week of Thanksgiving Day, that means we must be preparing for Christmas.

Today we read about a woman who had an infirmity that would not allow her to straighten up and walk erect, but was always bent over.

She had been like this for 18 years and had come to the synagogue.

She did not ask for healing.

Jesus saw her and called to her and told her she was freed from her infirmity.

He just asserted His authority over disease and evil and banished them from her. He laid hands on her and immediately she was straight. And she praised God.

But the religious hypocrites criticized Jesus for healing on the sabbath, rather than rejoicing at the miracle.

So we see again the power of Jesus to heal, to defeat evil, to overcome corruption and death, to bring the Kingdom to all people.

And where do we see ourselves in this story?

And we see ourselves as bent over people, unable to heal ourselves, facing the ground which will eventually swallow us up.

But Jesus is our straightener, the one who lifts up my head, I look unto the hills from where comes my help.

He has come and straightened us all, given us the power to overcome our past, to have an upright future in Him.

We rejoice in His coming to earth, taking on our humanity to save us and lift us up to heavenly places.

And this is where we are in the life of the church.

We have entered into the season of preparation called Advent in the West. A season like Great Lent. In Great Lent we are preparing for Pascha, with Advent we are preparing for the Feast of the Nativity, or birthday, of Jesus.

We are now in a season of intensity of spiritual endeavor. We have four seasons of intensity in the church, this one and Great Lent are 40 days long. Advent is sometimes called Little Lent, Christmas is sometimes called Winter Pascha.

It is a time of anticipation, not of celebration.

From our perspective we are not in synch with our culture, with our society. Wal-Mart has been pushing Christmas shopping since August.

Our culture has lost touch with Christian tradition and so things have gotten a little backward.

Now, the world celebrates Christmas before it gets here. The “season of the holidays” seems to get longer and more exhausting, more stressful.

Celebrating before the event means that by the time Christmas gets here people are tired of it and just want to move on, or relax.

The Church resists this. We don’t celebrate before the event. Do we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Palm Sunday?

The Church offers us a different way, enter into the way of the Kingdom. Resist the culture; what is the Church saying?

A period of fasting is a period of preparation. There is a different perspective when you embrace the Mind of the Church.

The focus shifts to our hearts. We see our hearts as the manger into which Christ will be born at Christmas.

The period advent is the period of cleaning up the manger so that it is a fit place for Him to be born.

So the wisdom of the saints is not celebration but preparation.

We have some special services during Advent- special prayer services- you can read about them in the bulletin. These help to focus our thoughts on the Savior and His coming to earth. These are ways to turn off the outward jangle and focus our hearts in a different direction, inward.

It’s a struggle out there. The pressure to buy, to have extravagant parties, to give extravagant gifts; the pressure to go all out. Bigger displays, more food, new cars, more perfume, watches, alcohol.

While we neglect our souls and forget the poor.

Jesus says, come to me you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

My intention here is not to be Scrooge, but to remind us of the reason for the season.

To call us to nurture our love for God, to confess our sins, to maintain or increase our focus on God, who alone can satisfy us, rather than material things that are temporary.

Are you familiar with the Christmas Carol, O Come, O Come, Immanuel?

This carol strikes a good note for advent. IT is a carol that focuses on our need for the savior to come, to save us, to ransom us captives,

To straighten us up, to lift us up from grief.

But it seems odd to sing, Joy to the world, the Lord is come, until we celebrate His coming in the flesh.

A marvelous thing about this liturgical life is our ability to have two minds. We know Christ has already come. We know that the first Christmas was over 2000 years ago. We know this is an actual historical event. We don’t try to acquire historical amnesia here.

In order to be integrated into the story, the event, to become personally involved in Christmas or Easter, we enter into the story. We sing about it as if it was still in the future. On Christmas we will sing, Today the Virgin comes to a cave.

We make the story a present reality, we become somehow part of the story. It becomes a story we embrace.

We sing, O Come, O Come Immanuel, as if we are asking Him to come for the first time.

We all have sins, regrets, shame, guilt that we carry. We need Him to come and live in us. We mourn, we cry, we suffer until He comes and dwells in us, and yet as Christians, He already lives in us. So this is a form of renewal.

The Christmas story is that Christ, the eternal God who created all things, comes to be part of His own creation, in order to lift that creation out of the mire, without giving up His God-ness. We understand how important this is. We are dead in our sins without it.

We don’t celebrate His coming until we first embrace our very real need for Him to come. This take work.

This takes a different set of priorities. This requires a new orientation to our lives.

This is what advent is for.

This is why we fast. This is why we must teach our children to fast. If you love your children, you will teach them to fast. Indulgence is empty and temporary. Fasting enriches the soul and lifts it up to heaven.

This is why we say extra prayers, have special services, work at remembering and helping the needy. Why? To come to grips with our very real need for God to come and abide in us. We long for it. We must need it.

Then, when our longing is fulfilled by God at Christmas, there is the joy.

Then with joyful hearts we can sing, Joy to the world the Lord is come.

The joy at the celebration is in proportion to the preparation.

Enter into the spirit of Advent. Work at it, Resist the culture, think like a Christian. Come and prepare, come and pray. And you will have joy.

Glory to Jesus Christ.

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November 10-The Good Samaritan

This famous parable comes to us again today.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus first tells the man, Love God and love your fellowman, with everything within you, your heart, mind, soul and strength.

The law of God is Love.

But, wishing to justify himself tries to find a loophole.

Why does he need a loophole?

He can’t do it. He doesn’t at this time or doesn’t want to ever really do that. That simple commandment is extremely difficult.

And people are deeply selfish. So we look for a way to justify ourselves.

We try to narrow the focus, as this man. He wants to love a few people and he wants to love God kinda.

To love the loveable, to not get too carried away with loving God, this is most people.

But Jesus doesn’t really let him get away with that.

Jesus expands the picture, not reduces it.

Everyone you encounter during your day is your neighbor; loving them is like loving God, if you don’t love them, you don’t really love God.

 

Most of us like to be comfortable. Actually, let me re-phrase that. Most of us are addicted to comfort. Being comfortable is a part time job for many people.

Suffering is the worst thing ever. To be comfortable is seen as an American right.

But I have noticed that Jesus is not the least bit concerned about you being comfortable.

He is much more concerned about you being holy. Comfort and holiness do not go together.

The way of the Cross is not the way of comfort, ease, pain-free living, relaxation, plenty of food and drink. This is not the way of the Cross, but this is what many seek. Broad and well paved is this road.

The road to holiness is narrow and much less filled with ease and comfort.

Maybe this is why St. Paul and Jesus use metaphors for the Christian life that are strenuous, frought with danger. We need armor, we are in a race, we battle, we hear about spiritual combat, we need to train.

To love is to put someone else ahead of me. This is what Jesus did.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan

John 18

Judas then, having received the band of soldiers, and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon him, went forth, and saith unto them, Whom do ye seek?

 

Joh 18:5  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he.

And Judas also, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When therefore he said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.

 

Joh 18:7  Again therefore he asked them, Whom do ye seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus answered, I told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the word might be fulfilled which he spake, Of those whom thou hast given me I lost not one. Simon Peter therefore having a sword drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus therefore said unto Peter, Put up the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

 

The love of Christ preferred to accept the suffering of the Cross in order to love. To obey the Father, to rescue us from death and hell. Peter regarded suffering as evil, Jesus saw it as love.

How are we to take up this way of Jesus?

It begins with a change of thinking.

  1. It begins with putting on humility, put on humility as you would clothes, intentionally, with purpose, with action.

Remember the line, Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. This is the beginning of humility.

Instead of analyzing the sins of others, focus on getting rid of our own.

Instead of thinking of myself as superior, I remember how lost I was, what Jesus has done for me; and I put on humility. I change my thinking. I don’t allow myself to believe that I am superior. I remember how many times I have been forgiven and I forgive others. I stop judging other people-this is a tactic we use in order not to love someone. We judge them as not worthy of love because they sin. Completely forgetting our own sin. When this happens we are saying Jesus came into the world to save sinners and he is first.

This is how the man in the parable could interrupt his life to care for the man in the ditch. He put someone else first in his life to show love to one who was dying.

This is what Jesus did for us. While we were yet sinners Jesus died for us.

So we put on this thinking, I am a Christian, I follow Jesus, I am a sinner saved by the love of God, how can I not give that love to others?

I allow myself to be inconvenienced. I give up my comfort. I permit the interruption without anger and resentment. Without getting bitter that I was then late for dinner because I did something for someone.

And we keep quiet about it. We don’t go around telling people about the sacrifice we have made, this will inflate our pride and steal the value of our sacrifice.

Php 2:1  If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

Php 2:5  Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.

Php 2:9  Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

We are the beat up guy laying in the ditch, we can’t help ourselves. Our sins have overwhelmed us, we don’t have the resources to fight this infection. Our medicine has not worked. We need a better healer. The Great Physician of our souls and bodies.

He, Jesus, raised us up out of the ditch of our own making. He brought us to the Inn, His Church, He gave us oil an wine. The Sacraments. He paid for it all. We owe nothing. We are healed and saved by His love, His work, His effort, His grace. He is our model, He is our hope, He is our salvation.

We turn to Him in hope and faith. He still waits for us to remember who He is, to put away our own efforts, our own false medicine that cannot heal us. Only He can heal us.

We come to Him. We ask Him. We bless Him. We give thanks to Him.

And now, today, we make a firm resolve to imitate Him. That He may be glorified.

Glory to Jesus Christ.

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November 3

Background- Things are happening in fulfillment of the prophecies of what the Messiah would do when He came.

Ch. 7

Centurion

Widow of Nain, son raised

Sinful woman-anointed His feet with oil

Women who served Him

Parable of the Sower

Ch. 8

Calms the storm

Gadarene Demoniac

Raising of Jairus’ daughter and woman with flow of blood

The followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus in CH. 7:18 Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?

V 22-the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.

These are the markers of the work of the Messiah, so he would be recognized. The coming of the Messiah meant the coming of the Kingdom.

With Jesus coming to earth, the Kingdom comes with Him, the Kingdom is where the King is.

All these things are happening because the Messiah has come, even the demons realize the reality of the Kingdom that has come.

Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is God.

So lets review this story of events from the eyes and memory of St. Luke, as he records these events, being inspired to write and helped and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  1. When Jesus returned, the multitude welcomed Him. From where-the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were all waiting for Him.

A ruler of the synagogue comes to Him. A very important man in the town, highly regarded, his 12 yr old daughter is dying, he begs Jesus to come to his house to heal her.

So Jesus begins to go to the house and the multitudes thronged around Him.

While they are going to the home of Jairus, a woman who had been hemoraging for 12 years secretly comes in from behind and touches the cloak of Jesus.

And her bleeding stopped.

And Jesus asks Who touched me?

But the disciples say, lots of people touched you.

Jesus says, no this was special, someone touched me with faith and I felt power go out of me.

Now the woman is no longer in secret and she is scared.

Expecting to be rebuked, the woman is praised by Jesus for her faith, the faith that made her well.

At that same moment, word comes that the daughter of Jairus has indeed died, saying, leave Jesus alone, the girl is dead.

Jesus is not put off by this news saying, Don’t be afraid, only believe and she will be made well.

So, now there will be a different kind of healing.

Peter, James and John, with Jesus and the parents go into the child’s room.

Jesus sends all the extra people out of the room and raises her from the dead. The second resurrection in a few days.

Jesus again says, don’t tell anyone about this.

The long awaited Messiah is doing deeds the Messiah does. That only the Messiah can do.

So lets sum this all up.

The woman with the flow of blood. Does it seems strange that she would sneak up and touch the fringe of His garment?

She lacked boldness for a reason.

Flow of blood: In the Old Testament a hemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement, imposing religious and social restrictions, for contact with blood was strictly forbidden (Lev. 15:25) This woman accounted herself unclean, nevertheless approached Jesus secretly and with great faith. She puts all there at risk of uncleanness, including Jesus and the leader of the synagogue.

Three things happen at this touching. 1. Jesus brings her good cheer because of her faith.

  1. Corrects her thinking, for neither could she hid from God, or her touch from Him; nor is she excluded from approaching Him because of her sickness.
  2. Exhibits her faith to all, so that all may imitate her.

The touch itself

Touch- Who touched me? Means more than it seems.

Does not simply mean physical touch, but rather, “Who touched me in faith?”

Just as “the temple sanctifies the gold” (Matt. 23:17), so also matter is sanctified by Christ’s incarnation, and the power of Christ works through even His garment. To touch Christ’s garment in faith is to touch Him. In the Church we touch Christ through icons, oil, water, bread, wine, etc. When it is done in faith, the power of Christ is received. A touch can be in faith, in curiosity, in affection or in scorn.

Many touched Jesus for many reasons, this touch was different.

The touch of faith brings healing. Like static electricity.

You touch something you get a shock.

Seeing this miracle gives hope to Jauris that his daughter also will be healed. But, before Jesus can arrive at the home, due in part to the interruption of the bleeding woman, the girl is dead.

Jesus dealt with interruptions, He calmly went on with what came to Him with faith if His Heavenly Father.

With this interruption Jesus brings her to Himself to take away her fear, He does not condemn her for breaking the purity laws, for she no longer is, due to His healing.

Her faith is rewarded, she abandoned all to touch the Master, but really He touched her. His touch is so comforting and healing.

She becomes an example to us of not being deterred by long periods of unanswered prayer, the dis-belief of others and the constraints of the medical industry.

The Messiah Jesus is a healer, One who restores and makes new. One who is loving and not of rebukes, saving His rebukes for hypocrites, those who see themselves as not needing healing.

To those who seek Him, He is found. To the sick He is physician, to the lost He is a compass, to the demon possessed He brings freedom. To the grieving He brings comfort and hope of the resurrection.

To us He gives all of this, plus His own body and blood for our healing and the forgiveness of our sins.

He is our great God, Glory to Him!

October 27

At that time, Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.  And as He stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What hast Thou to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beseech Thee, do not torment me.”  For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.

Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.  And they begged Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss.  Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged Jesus to let them enter these.  So He gave them leave.

Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.  When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed.

Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so He got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.

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What is it with demons that when they are in a person there is a lot of yelling?

What is the situation with this familiar story?

Up to this time, Jesus has been among His own people, the Jews. He has been around familiar territory where people had a familiarity with the Bible, they had been raised in the temple and the synagogue. They knew how they were supposed to live. They had a common ancestry and history.

If you can picture Palestine, He had been mostly on the West side of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, or more to the North. Now he goes to Decapolis.

At that time, Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.

This is on the other side of the Jordan in a Roman province called Decapolis. It was dominated by the Roman army and had a very bad reputation, morally. It is thought that this is where the Prodigal Son went, the far country. It was a far country in terms of philosophy, culture and religion. Decapolis was very pagan, very Hellenized. Very different from the Jewish culture Jesus grew up in. Two very different languages. The Jews being Semitic and the Romans being under the influence of the Greek pagan culture going back to Alexander the Great.

In the province of Decapolis was a town called Gadara, which is near where this story took place.

Jesus is leaving the Jews and for the first time going to the Gentiles; leaving behind what He was familiar with. So He was probably expecting some resistance and that people would not have much common ground as far as faith is concerned.

He is a missionary not only to those He relates to; He goes to the uncomfortable.

And it seems to me that the forces of evil don’t really want Him to come, and they know He is coming. They are prepared.

Why do I think that?
What happens just before this?

The storm on the sea. And now we remember that just before the calming of the sea, Luke reports that Jesus said, Lets go over to the other side.

 

This is not just a way of saying we are crossing the lake, the Jews regarded this as “the other side of the tracks”, a place where a holy man might not want to go to. Those people on the other side, they just don’t measure up to us. They aren’t Orthodox.

 

So I am thinking, you notice how the demons immediately recognize Jesus, they know who He is, they announce it in a loud voice every time.

 

So, maybe this is why there was this storm on the lake, the forces of evil knew He was coming and put up resistance.

And then when they land, boom, a crazy person with a legion of demons. Again, this relates to the area where they were, a Roman province with lots of pagan troops, opposed to the people of God. The demons were afraid of what Jesus was up to “on the other side.”

 

It is also interesting that at that time the abyss was a deep, dark pit where the demons could be imprisoned and it was thought to be watery. So they drown the pigs in the water. This too shows that these were not Jews, not people of the Covenant for the Law of Moses forbids the raising of swine.

 

A Roman Legion was about 5000 troops. That is a lot of demons. This also could indicate that the demons were very comfortable around the soldiers, but they were very uncomfortable around Jesus, they are in moral fear.

Jesus heads directly into the darkness of the pagan world to preach His message of love and healing. This man is completely overtaken by the forces of darkness, he is a prisoner in his own body.

Jesus easily sets him free, heals him, restores him to a sane mind.

Were the people happy about this?

No.

Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so He got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.

 

The locals were not at all excited about Jesus being there, they ask Him to leave and He returns back across the lake.

Was His mission a failure?

No. He now has a missionary to leave behind.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.

 

With human perspective, perhaps it looked like a failure. But men see with different eyes than God.

Wherever Jesus goes, change follows, healing follows, demons flee, the kingdom of darkness is defeated.

We see later in the Gospels, when Jesus again goes into the region that large crowds followed Him around. So maybe the healed man was effective in spreading his news.

 

So what are we to make of this story?

  1. Jesus had a love for all mankind, not just for His own people.
  2. Jesus was not afraid to confront evil, He did not shy away but confronted it head on with great power.
  3. Jesus has all power. He is God, the Creator. As He says to the man He healed, declare all that God has done for you.
  4. We have been saved from many terrible things by the elimination of paganism and idol worship, we have grace from God because over 2000 years ago He came and broke the power of diabolos. So much so that people in our culture question whether this can really happen to people.

 

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven is advancing and will overcome death and all evil. We follow the great Healer, the One who restores, who makes new. Our Jesus is a Champion and has already defeated the devil with His Great Work on the Cross. There is no problem He cannot handle. There is no situation that is beyond His power. He can be trusted. He is the Master. The God of the Universe. He will create a new heaven and a new earth and we will see the final defeat of all those who oppose Him. His power in here, now today; in His Church, His Body. It is available to all who wish to follow Him and believe in Him.

Come to Him with all your problems, He will see you through.

October 20

This Sunday we continue with the theme of last Sunday, you reap what you sow.

Last Sunday we learned about the parable of the Sower, the parable of the soils, the parable of the hearts.

In the epistle today St. Paul says: Brethren, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

And there it is.

This Sunday St. Paul references the Sower in the epistle reading and the same principle comes through in the Gospel of St. Luke.

But Abraham said, `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 rich man sowed things that focused on being rich and comfortable in this life, and that was his reward, that is what he had, but he lost his eternal reward, suffering in anguish in the next life.

Lazarus, not the brother of Mary and Martha, a fictional Lazarus, had no comfort in this life, poor, sickly, lonely and was comforted in the next life.

 

Reaping and sowing is obviously not just about worldly crops and flowers, but eternal things, the things that matter for eternity.

 

This life is directed linked to the next life. What we do here resounds for eternity.

Nothing is in secret, nothing is hidden, all will be exposed.

You will get what you want, what you truly pursue, ultimately. What you spend your time mining, you will find.

 

Most Americans when they are in high school, as they are getting ready to go to college, take standardized tests, one of them is called the SAT.

Some hire tutors to help them get a higher score, there is even a pre-SAT to get you ready.

How well a student does on this test is a major factor in what college you can get into.

 

This life on earth is kinda like that. What we do in this life has a huge bearing on our life in the Kingdom.

A big difference between the SAT and this life is that with the SAT you can take it more than once, but we only have one lifetime.

The main point of the parable is: But Abraham said, `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.

This is an illustration of what Jesus meant when He said, the last shall be first and the first last.

So the question becomes where do you want your reward?

Mat 16:25  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

 

So we can think of life in this world as an investment. What are we investing in? What are we banking on?

So now we know what the main point of the parable, lets look at a few other things.

 

  1. That life is similar to this life, but also very different.

How similar? They are in a place, they can see each other. They can talk to each other. They recognize each other. They have great awareness of their situation. One is in the bosom of Abraham, an image of God, paradise. The other is in anguish, in Hades, in the same basic location. They are aware of those on earth, still in this life. They are concerned about them. They remember their life on earth. They have bodies, they are not ghosts.

 

How different? Their destiny 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.’

 

You can’t make up for this life in the next one. Mistakes in this life cannot be corrected then. The dead can’t talk to the living, to warn them. We have the Scriptures, we have the Church to warn us.

 

So what are we to do?

  1. live a life of repentance, humility, merciful, forgiving. Following God’s commandments, His priorities.
  2. Count on the Divine Services, the Sacraments, the hymns and prayers of the Church.
  3. Re-arrange priorities to put God first.
  4. As members of the Body of Christ, baptized into His resurrection, we have eternal life, death is destroyed, but our reward has yet to be determined. In this life we pray as if everything depended upon God and we work as if everything depended upon us. To please Christ, to receive the reward of good stewards, the reward of sons and daughters.

So let us be reminded of our death, of the day of judgement. Let us not lose zeal for Jesus Christ. It is He that we live for. It is He that has given us all things for life and godliness.

 

October 13

The reading of the second epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (6:16-7:1)

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (8:5-15)

At that time Jesus told this parable. “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

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Four kinds of soil, four different outcomes to the Word of God. Logos.

  1. path-devil takes it away (birds)
  2. rock-receive it with joy, but no root, temptation comes and they fall away (moisture)
  3. thorns-they hear but are choked by cares of life, fruit does not mature
  4. good soil-yield a hundredfold-a good and honest heart, fruit with patience

 

The four kinds of soil are four kinds of hearts.

There are three that go wrong, one that goes right.

It is easy to go off into the wilderness and lose the way.

  1. Some do not accept the Word of God, at all. This is a well worn path, which is why it is hard and no growth occurs.
  2. Some fall to temptations because of weakness or distractions and deny the Word. John 6:60- This is a hard word, who can listen to it? He preaches in and out of season.
  3. Some hear the word and start out ok, but the cares of this world derail them and they don’t become mature, they fall away. They could not lay aside all earthly cares, in other words, they could not trust God. Wealth is not the problem, love of wealth is the problem, worry, lack of faith. Judas might fit in this category. He was a thief and jealous over money and power.
  4. Some hear the Word and KEEP IT. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

Only the last group actually bring forth fruit. The other three groups are lost and bear no fruit. The evidence of a Christian is the fruit of repentance.

How does the fruitful group produce fruit?

  1. They hold fast to the Word with an honest and good heart.
  2. They bring forth fruit with patience.

Notice as you look at the text in your Bible, that there is an increasing level of attachment as the groups are described.

The first group, not attachment at all.

The second group at least has some joy at the beginning, but loses it.

The third group gets a little farther, they gradually allow the world to take them away, slowly over time, they begin to miss a few Sunday’s, then some more. Then it gets easy to just stay home. Then it gets harder to come back, they then stop thinking about coming at all.

The fourth group seizes upon the Word, they develop a good heart that is honest, they confess their need and get healed and produce fruit. They do the work that is required.

Where do you fit in this parable? What is it saying to us today? Why did the Lord tell this parable? Remember He told this to a large crowd, v. 4.

It may be that in this room are all four kinds of hearts.

  1. The first kind of heart may be hard because of a very difficult childhood, abuse and/or neglect. Or maybe things as adult have not gone well and the heart becomes hardened, the Word of God does not penetrate.
  2. Some can be raised in a good home but not really committed to a faith tradition, the pleasures of life seem much more attractive and they go astray.
  3. Some have a heart that starts to go down the path of faith in Christ, but something goes wrong and the faith never matures, they walk away from church for some reason, a bad leader, scandal, religious abuse, or other reason.
  4. The fourth kind of heart will let nothing deter it, they just keep hanging in there, they keep following, keep going, keep growing and produce fruit.

Secondly I am going to say that there may be periods of time when we have experienced all four. People can go through seasons of life. Maybe raising a bunch of kids with wild working hours and little money causes people to drop away.

Maybe at some point there was a sin that someone is too ashamed of or does not believe it can be forgiven, so they carry it and the weight of it is devastating.

Thirdly, I am going to say, no one is stuck with one kind of heart for all time. In this parable it seems like a heart has one shot at it. But God is in the change business. Jesus is the raiser of the dead, the resurrector of lives.

Fourth, He spreads His Word, even where it may not bear fruit, there is no excuse. He is always speaking, He is the Word, He spoke all of creation into existence. He can speak change into your life.

Ask Him to. We have a God of second chances, who makes a way through the storm. NO issues is too big, no history is too powerful to be overcome. No sin can bind you if you ask Him to forgive.

Healing is here.

A hard heart can be softened, prayers is a cultivator of hard hearts, reading the Scripture loosens hearts. You are not locked in forever, unless you want to be.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Take courage, Take hope, don’t think the Lord is far away, He is here, now, He is still speaking, still the Sower, What kind of heart do you have? What kind of heart do you want to have?

The Sower is the Changer of Hearts, come to Him today.

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October 6

The reading of the second epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (6:1-10)

Brethren, working together with Him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For He says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 

Today is the Day. Not a day to come, not tomorrow, not when things get better. Today.

One key to the spiritual life is not being distracted by past and future. There are certainly many thoughts to tear us away from God and His kingdom.

One of the ways we get easily distracted is by thinking about our life it terms of what I wish it was. How much time have you spent thinking about what you would do if you win the lottery?

How much time do you spend thinking: If only this was not happening. Or If only this would happen,

The temptation to think that if I could change a few things, life would be better, I would be happier. I would pray more.

But when we talk about things this way, gratitude goes out the door. That means that today is not the day of salvation, so it must be tomorrow, and we forget about God, forget to repent.

We have stopped living a life of repentance and started second guessing God.

Despite all the advances in technology, medicine, industry we still haven’t learned how to focus on the one thing needful.

The 20th century was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. We are not making progress in understanding the human and the human soul.

We can fix your leaking valve in your heart, but not the soul.

The eternal questions are still being asked and many want change here too. Get rid of traditional answers, get rid of patriarchy. Just be yourself is the motto. But people don’t know who they are. Culture is without a moral compass.

For Orthodox Christians I want to suggest we do something else.

Lets work on stability. Lets focus on the day of salvation.

Did you ever notice that God is not in a hurry?

Do we not believe that God is patient?

Spiritually, hurry is not good. Seeking change constantly makes us think that prayer is boring, we are not entertained.

Lets face it. What we do here every Sunday takes some effort. It is work.

Work that produces a good result, if our hearts are in it.

 

Do you worry that you are easily distracted in church?

 

We can learn from our Lord.

Today is the day of salvation has meaning for us.

Focus on what is at hand, do what is in front of you to do. Do it as unto the Lord.

Every morning, start anew. Begin again. Today is a new day, every day.

 

We always have a chance to overcome, to re-focus, to re-commit our lives to Christ our God.

 

Let us remember that we serve a God of love, a God who controls all things, who is all powerful.

A God like that should be easy to trust, to have confidence in, to have less worry and anxiety.

 

I can learn to be content. I can learn to trust God. I can live as if today is the day of salvation.

 

St. Innocent is a great saint of Russia who lived many years in America, he labored for 45 years in different mission fields, including Alaska.

 

He gave the Yakut people their first alphabet, he created an alphabet for the Aleut people in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and translated many works and services into their own language, for the first time a written language.

In creating the alphabet for them he invented accent marks to properly convey the sound of the language, they speak with gutterals and clicks. St. Innocent created these books in their language and sent the manuscripts to St. Petersburg in Russia to be printed.

It was more than 10 years before they appeared in Alaska from Russia.

Imagine the anticipation and the joy of opening the shipping container, unwrapping the books, opening the first one to read it.

All the accent marks were wrong, the publisher didn’t do what St Innocent had instructed.

None of the books could be used.

After all that work, all that waiting, all that anticipation.

 

Did he give up?

No, he decided to travel himself to supervise the publication in St. Petersburg.

When he got to St. Petersburg he learned that during his journey, his wife had died.

 

Many people when things go wrong think God does not love them, or that they are not doing God’s will, or else why is it so hard?

 

St. Innocent mourned and moved on, becoming a monk and then was made Metropolitan of Moscow, head of the Russian church.

 

Today is the day of salvation, if you walk calmly with your God. If you trust Him, if you remind yourself that all things work together for good to those who are called according to His purposes.

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September 29, 2019

 Brethren, it is the God Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.

The light of the knowledge of God, in earthen vessels. The treasure in the earthen vessels is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The amazing condescension of God that He lends this glory to us, earthen vessels.

This earthen vessel language comes, of course, from the creation account of Genesis 2:7  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

First God made the earth, all of creation; then He took some of that creation, some of the earth, dirt, dust; formed it into shape and breathed His own breath into it and it became a human being.

And so we are indeed earthen vessels.

In fact, the name Adam comes from the word for ground Adamah. We have a very humble origin, dirt, dust, earth. But God animated us with His own breath. He didn’t just gently blow into the form of the dirt to animate man, the word means to blow vigorously, He enthusiastically brought man to live. It is the image of the blacksmith using bellows to stoke his fire.

The breath of God makes man unique in all creation. All other animate creatures were just spoken into existence. The creation of man was extraordinary, special, separating man from the rest of creation.

After mankind fell in sin and death, the creator came and took on this dirt, this earth that He Himself had made in order to save it.

He Himself breathed one more time upon mankind, vigorously, this time it sounded like a rushing wind, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. This filling again elevated mankind above creation, setting us apart as a royal priesthood, a holy nation.

Mankind, through the Apostles, received the glory of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, they beheld His glory, the Glory of the only-begotten Son. And we share in this through them in our own baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit at Chrismation.

Earthen vessels, receiving Glory. Earthen vessels, sharing the Divine Nature, Earthen Vessels, eating the God who created us.

These earthen vessels will one day be enthroned with Christ in Glory, with a new, resurrected body.

So what do we do now?

  1. Remember that you are dust. Humility is the first and greatest Christian virtue. When you sin, when you fail, when you disappoint yourself, remember that you are dust.

When someone else lets you down, remember, they are an earthen vessel, like you. You are not better than they are.

We have to remember, if I step on your toes, forgive me. Why? Because someday you may step on my toes, and I will forgive you.

This is how a parish keeps it together, we forgive each other, dust forgives dust. Or, Or, Christ will walk out the door. And then we are no better than dust.

  1. Be thankful. Try to grasp what God has done for you. Try to be in awe of what He has done to save us; though we are dust. He loves the dust He created. He used dust once time to heal the man born blind. He brought the four days dead dust of Lazarus back to life.
  2. Remember, you are so much more than dust. Not because of you, not because of who you are, not because of what you have done. Only because of Jesus Christ, who lives in you and He is the lifter up of dust.

He is the one who fills us with power to be united with Him, to have intimate communion with Him.

He is the one who saves us from death and forgives our sins.

  1. Realize, even earthen vessels can hold treasures. In 1946 a shepherd boy entered a cave in the Qumran desert on the North Shore of the Dead Sea. In the cave were some old clay pots. Some were broken, many were broken, some were not.

Being a boy, he started throwing stones at them to break them. This is how the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Some of the most treasured manuscripts of Holy Scripture to ever be discovered. The oldest copy of the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah was found in one of those caves, perfectly preserved by the dry, hot air.

Clay pots can hold treasures.

  • We try to remember, everyone is carrying a burden, be kind.
  • We try to remember, all human beings are created in the image of God, all have infinite value.
  • We try to remember, the earthen vessel in front of you, or beside you; is carrying not just a burden, but a treasure.

Each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Made of earth that lives and breathes, but a temple none the less.

God glorifies earthen vessels who partake of His glory through Christ. The earthen vessels become relics.

  • We try to remember, a cracked pot can be mended. The creator has just what is need to mend those cracks, chips, leaks in the earthen vessels.

We don’t cast aside cracked vessels, we don’t treat them as worthless (worth less). We try to not take much note of the cracks and let God heal them. We don’t point out the cracks, we look first at our own cracks and focus on them. The leaking vessel needs to focus on his own cracks first. I am first of sinners.

  • We remember the end of the story.

Rev 21  And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 

And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 

He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Sept. 22

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (5:1-11)

At that time, Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret.  And He saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, Jesus asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.

And when Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at Thy word I will let down the nets.”

And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish, which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”

And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

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Fishing in the days of Jesus was a manly vocation, requiring great strong hands, backs and arms. Pulling in heavy nets, working long hours fishing and then long hours mending nets, fixing boats. An exhausting way to live.

And there were days and nights when all that work resulted in no fish. Long hours of work for nothing.

Such is the case when we read this story today. The men had gotten out of their boats and were washing their nets when Jesus came to the lake and decides this is a teaching moment.

And to show that He is a man among men He decides to teach from the boat. So He gets into Simon’s boat and has them push Him out a little from land and He teaches from the boat as the audience is on the bank of the lake. Quit a beautiful, pastoral scene.

Jesus finishes His talk, and as if to accentuate a point, He tells Simon to push out a little more and let down the nets for some fish. He says to Peter, put out into the deep and put down your nets.

Jesus wants to go fishing with them.

But Peter is bushed. He replies: Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing. He is ready to quit and go home right after the sermon.

But He is obedient, there is something in the way Jesus talks to him that makes him do what Jesus says. At thy word I will let down the nets. In other words, because it is you we will do it, at thy word.

So he pushes out into the deep part, away from shore and catches a monster load of fish.

This is a life changing day for these men. The amount of fish is incredible. The teaching of Jesus is amazing.

Peter is afraid. He feels the guilt of his sinfulness. What does it say?: he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

He is convicted of sin, he doesn’t know what to do.

 

But Jesus is comforting. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”

 

Not only does Jesus overlook the confession of Peter of his unworthiness, but he gives him a new commission. Become a fisher of men and follow me.

So Peter, James and John and possibly more have just pulled in a huge load of fish, worth a lot of money, but they abandon it all and follow Jesus, becoming Apostles of Christ.

Jesus Christ changes lives. Has He changed yours? Do you know Him? Can you find comfort in Him?

At first glimpse this seems like a nice miracle story of Jesus, like so many others, but this one is about gathering disciples, not much to do with us who have a ready supply of food available to us.

 

But is there a lesson in here for us?

Do you find deep water scary? Or dark water? If I can see the bottom, or at least see down into the water, it is not as scary. I have been 28 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico in 100 feet of water and we could see sea turtles resting on the bottom. That is not scary to me, at least it wasn’t scary until the motor on the boat did not start, then it got scary.

I have been on rivers fishing in AK where you can’t see an inch into the water due to glacial silt. Not as nice. Cold, dark water is the worst.

We like the comfort of the shallow, warmer water near the shore. Let the kids play in the shallow parts near the shore, they will be ok.

 

We are the same in our spiritual lives. We tend to like to stay in the safe, shallow waters. Where things are more familiar, safer. We are still in sight of land, where we think safety is.

What would it mean for you to put out into the deep in your spiritual life? Your prayer life? In obedience to Jesus?

Oh, sure, it might be scarier. The unfamiliar is often scary, part of the reason why we fear death is the fact that it has never happened to us.

Are you content to stay in the shallows with God? Not shake it up too much? Not ask for much? Keep expectations low for yourself?

 

Is Jesus asking you to put out a little into the deep? To trust Him more? To move out of the comfort zone and push into Him a little more? To be quiet more? To practice the Jesus Prayer more? To give more? To be more mindful of the needs of others?

 

Where is the deep water you don’t want to go into in your life?

 

In general, the bigger fish are in the deeper water. It takes more effort, more risk, more time.

 

Are you content to be slack in the spiritual disciplines? Prayer, almsgiving, Scripture reading, fasting? Content to stay in the shallow water?

Maybe Christ is calling you into the deeps. Maybe He has higher expectations for you than you have.

Did Peter see himself as a fisher of men that morning before Jesus showed up? NO, he did not.

But spending time with Jesus gave him an entirely new perspective. He went into the deep following Christ.

Will you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sept. 15

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew (21:33-42)

At that time Jesus said: “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them.  Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves,This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

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We are celebrating the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which started yesterday and last for 8 days. During those 8 days we have the Cross in the center of the church. There are always crosses in our church, crosses are everywhere we look around us, but twice a year the Cross is brought is solemn procession to the center of the church. Why?

By the mere planting of thy Cross, O Christ, the foundation of death did shake; for him whom Hades did swallow eagerly, it delivered up with trembling; for verily, thou didst reveal to us thy salvation, O holy One. Wherefore, do we glorify thee, O Son of God. Have mercy upon us.

+Second Kathisma, Orthros of the Feast, Tone 6

We are always in need of re-minding. We bring the Cross into the center of the church to remind ourselves that it is REAL. It is not a mere symbol, more than just an idea.

There is a perfect man, who is also perfect God, and He hung upon a cross, with real nails, who took away our sin, our real sin, and He rescued us from death. He ransomed us.

Hades thought he had taken care of the Messiah, the evil one had been trying for a very long time to get rid of the Messiah, and finally Messiah was in the belly of the beast, dead, conquered. But hades was soon in for a surprise. Because Jesus was real, real God, His cross was real, He broke out of hades, destroying death, He has really rescued us from death and hell.

This is why the Church celebrates the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

 

What we do now would be shocking to 1st. century Jews. The Cross in the time of Christ was the worst form of torture. It was a symbol of fear, it was used to intimidate people into obedience of Rome. It was a shameful way to die.

To us it is the most glorious symbol of the Overcomer of sin and death.

 

As you know much of our culture has forgotten about God, or they treat Him as if He were irrelevant.

Many treat God as if He were on a long cruise, and we are not really sure when He will come back.

Or some see God as a slightly crazy uncle who lives upstairs who rarely is involved with our lives on the first floor.

The Gospel story today illustrates the attitude of many people-we don’t need God, God is a negative influence in our lives, we need to get rid of him; but it also reminds us, He is coming back.

Our culture needs to be reminded about the True Cross and what it really means for all mankind. They need to see people who really live what they believe.

We are the ones to remind them, or at least those people in our lives. How long has it been since you had a conversation with someone and invited them to church, or talked with them about Jesus, or the Cross you wear, what it means?

Today our celebration, our boldness, reminds us that we can be bold with people and ask people questions about what they believe. Who knows where it will lead?

 

So in the Cross we see Victory. We see our Champion who defeated our most imposing enemy. How do we share in His victory?

We follow the same pattern as our Savior. We take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus.

 

The children in our Sunday Christian Ed class will be learning this too.

By the Cross joy has come into all the world, we have the forgiveness of sins, we have been saved from death, we have eternal communion with Christ in His Kingdom. We enter into that Victory by believing, by following Jesus, learning to live in the shadow of the Cross.

 

From Vespers:

As the Cross is lifted up, it urges all of creation to praise the immaculate Passion of the One Who was lifted up thereon. For by means of the Cross, He slew him that slew us; and He made the dead to live again, making them beautiful, granting them the Heavens as dwelling-place, because He is compassionate, in the unsurpassed and unspeakable excess of His goodness. With joy, then, let us all exalt His Name, while magnifying His infinite condescension toward our race.

 

Come, all ye nations, let us worship the blessed Tree, through which was wrought the everlasting righteousness. For he that by a tree beguiled our forefather Adam, is himself ensnared by the Cross;

and he that by tyranny gained dominion over the creation of the King, is by faith overthrown in utter ruin.

By the Blood of God, the serpent’s poison is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the unjust judgment passed against the Just One.

For it was fitting that the wood should be healed by wood; and that the sufferings of him who was condemned because of the tree should be done away through the Passion of Him Who is passionless.

But, O Christ our King, glory to Thy dread dispensation toward us, whereby Thou hast saved us all, since Thou art good and the Lover of mankind.

 

Remember, in the Garden of Paradise there was a tree?  Actually, there were a lot of trees. But there were two special trees. Remember? The Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.

God instructed Adam and Eve about these two special trees, He instructed them that they were to fast from the fruit of these trees. They were not to eat from them. This is a type of fasting, in other words, these trees are ok to eat from, but not these trees. Not all food is the same, distinctions are made, based upon the Word of the Lord and the purpose of the tree.

They ate from one of the trees anyway. And with that breaking of the God-imposed fast, mankind and all creation suffered from their disobedience.

The fall of mankind involves a tree, so does man’s salvation.

When Jesus Christ died on the tree, He enabled all His followers to eat of the second tree that was restricted in the Garden of Paradise but which we now can access, the Tree of Life.

This is the tree which appears in Revelations. the tree of life, bearing its fruit all year round.

We adore the Cross, the tree of our salvation, because it sums up our lives in Christ.

 

Today is a reminder of what the Life in Christ is. Christ and Him Crucified. We follow Him when we take up our own cross and live in obedience, with faith, hope and love.

St Paul said, it is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ lives in me.

This is our life, this is our goal, this is our hope.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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Aug. 25

Today we are confronted with a harsh reality.

There is a battle going on.

The evil one has his forces deployed in the world, the anti-church.

The Lord has His forces deployed in the world, the True Church.

The anti-church has demons and those who serve them, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The Church has Saints, and saints in training.

The Apostles in today’s Gospel reading are saints in training. They have not got it right yet.

The father of the epileptic brings his suffering son to the disciples and they could not heal him.

They have not had enough time with Jesus, yet.

 

Jesus is a little exasperated, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring his here to me.!”

Immediately, Jesus rebukes the demon and the boy is cured.

Later, in private, the disciples ask Jesus, “What is up? Why can’t we do that?”

Jesus tells them 2 things.

  1. You have no faith
  2. You lack prayer and fasting

Then He announces His coming crucifixion.

 

One of the things I do in services is read the lives of the saints. Every Saturday at Vespers and at the weekday services, I read the lives of the saints in place of a sermon.

Their lives are a sermon.

Reading the lives of the saints is a life changing exercise.

If you like who you are and have no desire to become like Christ I would recommend that you not start reading them.

But, if you understand that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ; and you realize the truth of things, you are not like Christ; I highly recommend this practice, reading the lives of the saints, daily.

Reading about those who have finished the race gives strength and encouragement to those of us who are only part way to the finish line. They are like a cool drink on a blistering hot day.

They show us another kind of love, a higher kind of faith, a stronger kind of dedication.

We need their example.

We have icons on the walls. As role models, as examples. To many they are just pictures, decorations.

Some look at the saints and are intimidated and get discouraged, I could never be like that.

Well, lets say that as a young person you longed to be an Olympic gymnast. Your goal was to win the Gold Medal in gymnastics.

You are still young, practicing, learning, far from the Olympic team.

You walk into the gym for practice and on the walls of the gym are giant posters of past great in gymnastics, Olga Comenich, Mary Lou Retton.

You are inspired in your practice, when you get blisters, you look at the poster and remind your self, Mary Lou got blisters too, and she stuck with it. Olga fell off the beam many times and had many injuries, but she was perfect in the Olympics. I will keep going. I cannot quit. Blisters heal, injuries heal, practice makes perfect.

You pick up your courage, you know their stories. You have seen the video highlights, heard the swelling music, watched the gold medal go around their necks. That is what I want. And you keep going.

This is what the lives of the saints can do for Christians.

We realize, I am like those disciples, I want to be like Christ, I will keep going. What do I need? Prayer and fasting? OK, lets do it.

And you keep going, keep following after Christ.

 

And Jesus gives some encouraging words here today too. He gives us hope.

 

In response to the disciples’ question about why they were unable to cast out the demon, Christ told them that it was because they lacked faith.  If they had faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed, they could move mountains.

They apparently lacked even that in the face of a demon that “never comes out except by prayer and fasting.”

We should learn from the weakness of the disciples’ faith that speaking religious words is not enough.

Pretending to have spiritual authority without truly uniting ourselves to Christ will simply reveal our weakness and lack of integrity.

Faith is not simply a matter of affirming beliefs or having feelings.

Faith requires offering ourselves to the Lord such that His life becomes ours, such that our character confirms to His.

Remember how Saint Paul put it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

With such faith, there are no limits to the health of our souls other than those which we impose by our own refusal to share more fully in the life of Christ.

We must confront our own spiritual weakness as we unite ourselves in faith to the Lord.

To be in Christ means that His life truly becomes ours – Saint Paul could encourage the Corinthians to imitate him because he had truly united himself to Christ in faith and faithfulness. The disciples were impotent in the face of evil because they had not yet done so.

Let us follow Saint Paul’s example of humble obedience to the way of Christ, for it is the only way to live the Christian life with integrity.

 

There are some new icons on our walls, have you noticed? They are so inspiring, if you know their story.

One of the new ones is St. Marina. In the West she is called St. Margaret. Fourth century. Lived in what we now call Turkey. She is shown holding a mallet in one hand and a demon in the other because while being tortured for Christ in a Roman prison a demon appeared to torment her and she grabbed him and beat him I am so inspired by this image. What a woman.

I see this icon and two things happen.

  1. I have so far to go.
  2. It can be done.

The encouraging words of Jesus are: If you only have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.

This means, a little faith can be a seed that properly planted and cared for can become a giant faith. The disciples had that faith, we see them a few years later doing marvelous miracles.

We can only lose if we give up. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up your faith.

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The 5 Loaves and Communion-Aug. 11

The universe is God’s giant cathedral.
We are all priests in His cathedral.
-duty, our joy, as His priests is to receive what He has given us, give thanks for it, and return it back to Him as an offering of thanksgiving.
This is the pattern of the ages.

In the Garden of Paradise, God provided all that was necessary.
Adam and Eve had no needs, no want, no necessity, no problems.
They received what God gave them and were thankful, offering it back to God with thanksgiving.
The same pattern still is here today, and at the end, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

We see it in the Liturgy.
We see it in the miracle today in the reading.
Man has a need. God provides, man receives, gives thanks, offers it to back to God.
This is what Jesus shows us too, in the reading today:
Notice the difference between the men and God.

The men are passive. They don’t know what to do, they can’t fix it so they try to get rid of the problem. The apostles want to send them away, let them find their own food. They have to solution to the hunger of the people. This is human thinking, limited.
This is what passions do to us, make us passive, reactive, victims even.
Jesus takes action. Jesus tells them to take action-You feed them.

The men are limited, they don’t know the power of God.
They see only 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Men cannot feed a crowd with this.
But God can. Where God wills the natural order is overturned.
God is the creator of all things, extending bread and fish is easy.
Men see limits, God sees possibilities.
Jesus shows us the liturgical pattern.
He takes what God has given, gives thanks, blesses it, breaks it and feeds a multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fishes.
And, there is abundance, not just enough. Plenty of leftovers.
So we take note: He has more than enough of what we need in our lives. With Him there is no want, my cup overflows. The people never ran out of manna in the O.T. the widows oil lasted, her flour did not run out.

N.B. – No Waste. The words of our Lord bid us also to beware of wastefulness: “Gather up the fragments, lest they be lost.”
It is wrong to allow the gifts of God to be wasted.

N.B. – We learn to thank God for our food and bless our food before breaking and eating it.
Today’s miracle is about communion.
This is what is happening in the divine liturgy each time. It all points to communion.
A family takes flour, made from wheat that God gave us. It is mixed with the water that God has given to us, then yeast is added, one of the basic elements of creation, fermentation takes place, the mix becomes bread.
The family brings the bread to the Church.
The priest takes that bread, receives it. Blesses it. Offers it back to God. He breaks the bread and we are fed with it. This is how a Christian lives, how he thinks, how he has joy.

Bread
staff of life
noun–bread, considered as the mainstay of the human diet.
I looked this up. What is the most consumed food in the world?
1. bread
2. rice
3. water
4. milk
5. pasta (a lot like bread)
6. chicken
7. vegetables
8. soft drinks
9. fish and seafood
10. pizza (also bread)
Now you might have a clue as to why Jesus said, John 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

In the Garden of Paradise, Jesus gave them all they needed.
When wandering in the wilderness, Jesus gave them manna to eat. I am the living bread which came down from heaven
Jesus provided for Elias when he was hungry. He provides for us too.

So, when we ask for our daily bread, what are we asking for, flour, water, and yeast? Or the Bread of Life? Give us this day our daily bread. Maybe there is one obvious meaning and one more hidden. Maybe it is about much more than physical bread.
When the beatitudes say blessed are the poor in spirit. What does that mean?
I think the intent there is really to say, Blessed are those who know they need God, know their dependence upon God.

Here is an interesting question about this miracle, why does Jesus need to ask for a blessing, since He is God. Why does Jesus look to heaven when He is God?
Even Jesus was under authority. He went alone to pray, wanted to do the will of another, His Father. He looks up to heaven as if looking up to His Father.
He asks His Father to bless the bread and multiply. He is like us, He is in a relationship with His Father and the Holy Spirit. They are a holy community. They communicate. They have a holy dependence on each other. They share communion with each other.
Food is part of the story of salvation from Paradise until the Restored Paradise.
Even in Paradise we eat at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. The Lord said in John 6, if you do not eat the body and blood of Jesus, you have no life in you.
Food, bread, communion.
Taking the common things of life and with thanksgiving transforming them and they become holy, life giving; and it is enough with plenty left over.
This is Eucharistic, Liturgical imagery. This is our way of thinking.

So a few concluding notes:
We all face situations in life like this. We can’t see a way out, we have a need, we worry about health, finances, family. Sometimes there is no human solution to situations in life, sometimes we need divine intervention. Sometimes the natural order needs to be overturned by God. Sometimes the effects of sin can be overwhelming, we need a Savior who is mighty. And we have one in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

  1. You now know where to find real, spiritual food. As important as bread is to our natural life, the Bread of Heaven is essential for our life in the Kingdom. We are fed in His Church, His Body; and we eat His body and drink His blood unto forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.
  2. You now know a basic approach to your whole life. Take what God has given, give thanks for it and use it for His glory. All of life can be liturgical. Give thanks in everything.
  3. You now know His purpose. Jesus wants to bring us into His circle of friends, to eat around His table, to share His life, to be His companion, His brother. He brought, gathered in the whole 5,000! We can trust Jesus to provide all we need, there is no need He cannot easily fill. We worry needlessly.

Let us remember that His ways are higher than our human ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Let us learn to trust, to be thankful, to find true communion with Him, the Creator of all things.

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The Scriptures Bring Life-Aug. 4

Sometimes life can be discouraging, even depressing. Sometimes hope seems far off and prospects appear dim. Courage has gone from being a close friend to a distant relative.
We need encouragement, we need an injection of hope.
Where do we go? How do we find it.
We find the answer in the todays readings.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.
Romans 15:4
In the Gospel reading we hear the story of two blind men who sought Jesus for healing; like many others.
These two blind men followed the Lord and tried to approach Him, because they had heard that the Lord performed healings.
They believed that God’s power, if it touched them, could grant them their vision. We know what vision means for someone. We all fear losing our sight.
When someone loses his vision, he loses his spatial orientation and cannot see the world’s beauty, which the Lord created. Life becomes more trying.
This is a terrible loss for human life. Yet these people followed Christ.
So the question arises: how could these blind men have followed the Lord and Savior if they could not see anything? How could someone who did not see anything follow Him? But they did. Maybe they had help.
Christ would withdraw and go from home to home, but they followed Him until, finally, He did not stop to preach and they were able to approach Him.
These people, being blind, turned themselves into hearing, so to speak. And their hearing was directed only towards hearing where the Lord was. In the large city of Capernaum there were many different sounds, words, and songs.
All this reached the ears of the blind men, but they did not pay attention to it. Their hearing was directed towards one thing only: where the Lord was.
Sometimes stumbling, falling, losing their way, they followed the Savior’s voice in order to receive healing. And they did receive this gift because they had great faith, they labored, and their entire lives were directed towards following Christ.
Apart from Christ, they had no hope. When the blind men approached the Lord, He asked: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Their reply was perfectly natural for them: “Of course we believe, Lord!”
This seems obvious, but the question teaches us about relationship.

Today these two blind men teach us, we have an opportunity to grow to a fuller understanding of our own healing and salvation.
Responding to their plea for mercy, the God of mercy, Jesus Christ, receives the two blind men into His presence and He heals them. And, like the healing of the paralytic last week, we’re taught a lesson in faith and healing that is also helpful to our own need for Christ’s healing touch.
Sometimes we think that it is God who is withholding growth or healing from us.
But what we learn over and over again through the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints is that we have to be ready and willing to accept God’s healing, to get ourselves into Christ’s near presence, to have the faith to present ourselves to Him for the healing we need. We have to go to Him.
To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, Christ doesn’t run after those in need of healing everywhere, lest anyone think He’s healing out of vainglory.
No, there’s more at work here: we have a role to play in our own healing. There is a relationship.
In fact, in most of the healings we see in the Gospels, those in need of healing personally seek out that healing from Christ.
In other words, they desire that healing, they desire for Christ to touch them and heal them, they desire cleansing from their sins.
They desire His visitation enough to seek Christ out, to entrust themselves to Him, to acknowledge their need for Him.
They desire healing enough to step forward in faith, recognizing that God alone is worthy of their trust, that He alone is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.
The two blind men seek out Jesus; they follow Him, crying out to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
These two men know the Source of mercy; they know that God alone can give such a mercy, such a miraculous healing.
To test their faith further, Jesus asks them even after such a demonstration of faith, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And they say to Him, “Yes, Lord.” But note what Christ says in response, “According to your faith, let it be to you.”
Do you see the involvement of their souls here, the relationship which Christ God develops between them and Him?
Their will, was to be healed of their physical infirmity, their blindness, but it demanded the ‘eyes’ of faith and the strength of soul.
Even still, Jesus doesn’t heal everyone today; not everyone receives physical healing. It remains a mystery. To some, like St. Paul, who petitioned God to remove the “thorn in his flesh,” God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12).
In other words, there was something about that ‘thorn’ that St. Paul ‘needed’ if he was to trust in God for his strength, to be humble before Him, to serve God to the amazing extent he did, converting whole nations to the truth of God and His salvation.
Our physical healing involves our will, our souls and our spiritual healing of our souls involves our bodies, our participation, our presentation of ourselves before God, our getting to the divine services, to Confession, to properly prepare for the Eucharist that it can work in our souls for our deification, healing, salvation.
Each of us has to decide to take up and read the Holy Scriptures, how do we seek Christ? We read the Scriptures, we come to the divine services, even more than once a week.
We seek Him. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”

The encouragement of the scriptures, by reading the scriptures, we are seeking Christ. By coming on Tuesday for the Feast of The Transfiguration, we are seeking Christ, seeking to know Him, to commune with Him, to learn from Him, and why? So that we would be transformed BY HIM!
How much of your life is involved in actively seeking to know Jesus Christ? By taking the time, making the effort, not just on Sunday, but everyday. Like the blind men looking for healing, they did not seek Christ just once in a while, but everyday.
But the good news is when we seek Him, Jesus will meet us where we are, He will find us at our jobs, in our loneliness, in our weakness, in our despondency. He made us, He died to save us from sin and death. He offers us new life, hope, Resurrection, heaven.
He has slain death that we might have life. He comes to us. He meets us. He never leaves us.
Do not fear, don’t let your weariness stop you. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep wanting Him and His abundant life.
You will not be disappointed if you keep seeking Jesus.

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July 28

The text before us today in the epistle is a helpful and concise reminder of what our life should be like. How to be a servant of God, a slave of God.
What he is giving us are attitudes of the heart. Not a manual of how to. Not telling us what steps to take, not much about how to do it.
Some will complain, not very practical Paul, pretty theological. Pretty deep here.
But, when you see this as attitudes of the heart, things change.
He is talking again about the nous, the heart of the soul, the innermost person. The part of us that can commune with God.

Remember the quote last week from St. Macarios of Egypt?
The heart itself is only a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and lions, there are poisonous beasts, and all the treasures of evil, there are rough and uneven roads, there are precipices; but there too is God and the angels, life is there, and the Kingdom, there too is light, and there are the apostles and the heavenly cities, and the treasures of grace. All things lie within that little space.
St. Macarius of Egypt

Out of the heart the mouth speaks means, if your heart ain’t right you have nothing good to offer.

Its all about the heart. When the heart is right, storms won’t disturb your life.

Listen to Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev and All Ukraine:
He was asked, what spiritual advice would you give to all Christians?
He said: To learn how to live in your soul wilderness. We can learn how to do it from the great saints.
Then he quotes Mat. 6:6-“But when you pray, enter into your closet (that is, your soul, into your heart) and pray to the Father which is in secret; and your Father which is in secret will reward you openly.”
He goes on: A person must turn his soul into a wilderness, where, if not constantly, then from time to time-the mind of the person must live, that is, to go there and pray there, think and repent of their sins.
In order to make our soul such a fertile wilderness, we must work and fight with ourselves, with our weakness, sins, and vices.
These attempts to fight will sometimes fail, but the attempts with God’s help will surely be crowned with success.
What does he mean by your soul becoming a wilderness?
It is not a negative thing. The fathers of our church see the wilderness as a refuge, a place of quiet, silence. Refreshment.

I reflect on this a lot.
Week before last Nancy and I had 5 days on Treasure Island beach. We did no chores. We did not think about bills, worries, children (well, not too much on the children).
That was a wilderness. Quiet. Spiritual reading. Conversation. Wilderness. Why wilderness? We were away from the world, while living right in the middle of it.
This is what the fathers mean by wilderness.
I reflected on my life as a boy. How much freedom I had. How much I was out in God’s creation. How much time I spent in the woods.
How peaceful my life was much of the time. I grew up aware of how few things I could control.

Many of the most important things in my life were not my choice. Things were determined by God.
Who my parents were. What my DNA was. My race. Where I was born. My family. My social status. My name. When and where I was baptized.
I had no control over these decisions.
Yet, I still think I have control.
This is a symptom of modern life, detached from God’s creation, living isolated lives of digital delusion.

But now that I am more aware of the choices I do have, St Paul wants to remind us how to live.
Spending time in the wilderness of Treasure Island was very strengthening, very refreshing. I feel more connected now. Less disintegrated.
I need to have a physical place of refreshment, for recreation, not entertainment. Big difference. Get out a dictionary this afternoon and study the difference between recreation, what the root words mean, recreation and entertainment. We don’t need entertainment, we need refreshment.
This is one reason why monasteries are soooo important. Spiritual Recreation.
So as I was reflecting on this I came to understand the need for a wilderness inside me. This is the nous. The spiritual heart, so to speak.
Prayer, contemplation, musing on Holy Scripture, these are developing a wilderness.

So maybe we should think of it as a reservoir rather than a wilderness.
What happens when your phone dies, the battery gets too low and the phone shuts off.
It has lost its reservoir of power.
Ever gone out in the Northern Winter at 30 below and you try to start your car and it just goes-bbbb.?
Batteries need to be charged. Our bodies need to be recharged, this is why we sleep.
How can we recharge our souls, our nous?
The wilderness is the battery charger. You don’t have to go to Alaska to find your souls wilderness.

Many people complain that prayer is hard, perhaps the number one complaint is that prayers go unanswered.
This is hard, prayer is hard. Prayers do go unanswered, from our perspective.
But maybe prayer is not about a list of requests.
Jesus in John 17 has a very famous prayer before He is crucified. All about unity.
It seems to have been answered for a short time, but not for long.
Prayer is about communion with God, changing our hearts, becoming more God-like. Not about getting what we want.
When we enter the wilderness of the heart, all things are there. God is there. He is what we really want.
Maybe you are tired. Maybe you get discouraged. Maybe it seems like no one is listening. Remember that the battle to keep going is building things in you, communion with God is hard, but it is worth it.
Here the Psalms help us.
In today’s Gospel the Lord addresses the paralytic: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” One translation says, “be of good cheer.”
This is the word of the Lord for you today. Take heart. Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven, not enter the wilderness.

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July 21

Today my friends, we are confronted with a story that seems like a fairy tale, from long ago and in a land far away.
Two people who’s hearts has been completely taken over by an alien force that threatens to destroy them, body and soul.
They have been so completely taken over that they have no control over themselves.
So much so that when the demons were permitted to enter the swine, immediately the swine drowned themselves.
From this let us notice, as an aside, how God was protecting the men, even as they were being tormented.
See how the demons wanted so much to destroy them that when they were permitted by God to enter the swine, death was instantaneous; but while the demons were in the men, God protected them from death; so that they could be saved by Jesus.
What we can learn from this little example to us of God’s love and care for us in affliction. Did God abandon the men in their possession by demons? No!
Did He say of them, They made their bed, let them lie in it?” No!
Did God say, “See what happens when you mess with demons?, you are without hope”! No!
But God had a way prepared for them to escape.
How good and loving is our God?
Yet how many of us have said those same things about people in our lives? How quickly we rejoice in the downfall of others, how easily we condemn and judge our family members and neighbors in their fallen-ness, as if we were truly holy!
We have got to learn to be lovers of mankind and stop condemning people if we want peace with God and we seek to have communion with Christ.
So today let us take a minute to speak about issues of the heart.
By “heart” I do not mean, of course, the organ pumping blood through your body right now. I speak rather of the nous, the core of our being. The heart of our souls. The thoughts, feelings and emotions of our being.- intended to be directed Godward.
For instance, what does Jesus say about seeing God?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:8)
How important is the heart, the spiritual intellect?
for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

How central is this nous to our lives?
Matthew 12:34 Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Is the heart part of our problem?
Matthew 15:8 This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.
Well, that can’t be good! The core of hypocrisy. Let us never be accused of being Christian in name only, which is the meaning of nominal.

So here we go.
Why are we here?
To have communion with Christ. Look at the icon and be reminded.!
2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
There it is!
That is why we are here: 1. To worship the Holy God in Trinity, because He is the only one worthy of worship. 2. To receive from Him eternal life by participating in His Body the Church and through His Body receiving His Body and Blood, the medicine of immortality.
What are we to do the rest of the time? Continue the journey to God by going inward into the Kingdom in prayer, fasting, confession of sins, almsgiving, etc.
So today I invite you to examine yourselves. Why are YOU here? What do you want to receive? What are you wiling to give? Let us contemplate on these important decisions, let us not forget the seriousness of our quest.
Let us consider what wonders lurk in the heart of the Christian and explore them.
Listen to the Great Saint Macarios of Egypt and think about our own hearts as I read.

The heart itself is only a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and lions, there are poisonous beasts, and all the treasures of evil, there are rough and uneven roads, there are precipices; but there too is God and the angels, life is there, and the Kingdom, there too is light, and there are the apostles and the heavenly cities, and the treasures of grace. All things lie within that little space.
St. Macarius of Egypt
The Kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:21
Is it possible that we have been missing out on something fantastic?
Dragons, lions and poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil, wow. In my heart?
What would it be like if these were visible to our eyes.?
Imagine if we could see the evil in people, in ourselves.
Do you have this image of driving down the highway and seeing poisonous beasts coming out the windows of cars of people with road rage?

So let’s think about this imagery for a minute.
1. Think of your heart as a flower garden. What is your garden producing? What are we growing? We have a choice of what to cultivate, we have a choice to ignore the garden. Like a garden with weeds and flowers, if we want flowers we can’t ignore the weeds, they must be rooted out or they will overtake the flowers.
2. Repentance and Confession is getting rid of the weeds with acts of kindness.
3. The positive side of gardening is also in this quote, here also resides God and the angels, light, the apostles, the heavenly cities, the treasures of grace. We can also cultivate that. You see it is not enough to get rid of weeds and pests in a garden, a good garden also needs tilling, watering, fertilizer. What we work on will grow by grace.
Just as weeds that aren’t pulled will multiply and take over a garden; flowers that are properly taken care of will flourish and be full of beauty, fragrance and wonders.
4. Realizing that this is true; what do you want to do about this presence in your heart? What do you need to do in order for your garden to produce beauty, peace, fragrance?
5. If gardening is hard work, what about the garden in your heart? How much work does that take? Has your garden gone fallow, is it full of weeds? Is it time to dig up the soil and add some fertilizer? This is called living a life of repentance. Working in the garden of your soul; fertilizing, weeding, watering, nurturing. It is a work of Love.
Love for God, Love for neighbor, Love for the image and likeness of God in yourself.
Let us learn better gardening of the soul, let us dedicate ourselves to do the work. Let us not be discouraged that the evil one has come and stomped on all our flowers.
In Alaska we had beautiful peonies. Huge, fragrant, stunning. But in Alaska they are called moose candy. In 15 minutes one moose can wipe out all your peonies, mouthful by mouthful.
But they grow back. Your heart can grow back too. Focus on being like the Great Gardener, study the quote in the bulletin from St. Poryphrios.
Watch your thoughts, purify your hearts through repentance and confession. Pray day and night. Practice kindness. Just be kind. Be prayerful. Be humble. Always ask God for help and your garden will be restored. Focus on Jesus Christ.
Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

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July 14

What is the first thing you think of when I mention the name King David?
Do you see his icon with a crown on his head?
Do you think of him as a boy killing Goliath?
Or
Did you think of his sin with Bathsheba?
We find the story of David in 2 Samuel.
David is to become king, the youngest of his family, an insignificant family. The current kings, Saul, is jealous of David and hunts him, trying to kill him. David kills Goliath, making things worse with King Saul.
When David takes over there is civil war, because of Saul and his followers. Some want a descendant of Saul, some don’t.
David settles the war and brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the new capital of Israel; David brings peace to Jerusalem, God then makes a covenant with David.
God promises that a descendant of David will always rule Israel (2 Sam 7). This covenant is also the basis for the concept of a messiah, or anointed one, who provides security and stability for Israel.
Soon after this, David lusts after another man’s wife, Bathsheba and everything goes downhill. He commits adultery with her. He has her husband killed. Bathseba gets pregnant and the child dies. Later, David’s son Amnon sexually assaults his sister—demonstrating further that it is not just David’s nation that is in shambles, but also his family (2 Sam 13:1–20).
David’s other son, Absalom, kills Amnon in revenge and then revolts against David beginning another civil war. David weeps again.
Ultimately, Joab, commander of David’s army, his most trusted counselor, quells the revolt by putting Absalom to death (2 Sam 18). David is full of anguish, seeing the results of his sin, the death of a baby son, the death of his son Absalom who rebelled against him, the death of his son Amnon, and a new civil war.
This is the anointed one of Israel? The one called the apple of God’s eye, the man after God’s own heart? This is what a king is to be like?
What this does is it points out the need of the King of Kings, the sinless King, the Messiah, who would do what David failed to do. David is a weak man in many ways, he accomplishes much and fails much, large, visible, public failures, resulting in the death of others.
Not exactly a role model.
But in spite of David’s mistakes, Yahweh is still with him, honoring his covenant.
Second Samuel 22 even records a song in which David extols Yahweh, reflecting on the many times Yahweh rescued him (compare Ps. 18).
Second Samuel concludes with David’s last words, a list of his mighty-men, and census of Israel (2 Sam 23–24). But the census is a problem here—it shows David once again depending on himself instead of Yahweh; David himself recognizes the census as a great sin. He seeks forgiveness and is given a choice about his punishment; he chooses plague.
After all the times God has rescued him, David doesn’t learn the lesson and does not trust God.
Yet 2 Samuel ends on a positive note—Yahweh commands David to build an altar and offer a sacrifice. This sacrifice averts the plague (2 Sam 24:25) and it is on this note that the book ends.
You could easily look at the life of David, all the gifts he was given, all the grace he was given and then look at all the times he seriously messed up and think what a loser.!
In fact, if this was a story about a public figure today, that is exactly how he would be judged.
David goes from moments of great courage, like going out to fight Goliath, to moments of stupendous stupidity and weakness.
But how does the story end? How does the story of David end up? Was he killed in battle? No. Was he run out of office in shame? No. Was there a coup and he was sent into exile in shame? No. Was he left to die alone of disease? No. Was he run through with a rusty sword and left to die alone? No.
None of those Hollywood stories.
The last words of David are: 2Sa 23:2 The Spirit of the LORD has told me what to say. Our Mighty Rock, the God of Jacob, told me, “A ruler who obeys God and does right is like the sunrise on a cloudless day, or like rain that sparkles on the grass.” I have ruled this way, and God will never break his promise to me. God’s promise is complete and unchanging; he will always help me and give me what I hope for.
What is the basic pattern of David’s life?
Sin, followed by repentance.
Mistakes followed by a change of heart.
Great errors followed by a broken heart that cries out to God for help and mercy.

This is why David is an example to us. Not because of his failings, we all fail. We all come up short. But he continually turned to God, he was sorry for his sin, he asked God for forgiveness.
And God was faithful to him. God does not forget His promises.
A broken and contrite heart, God will not despise. Ps. 50

Why do you need to be reminded of this?
Because we are like David.
We have such great and precious promises from God. We have all the riches of God and we become the prodigal son, wasting what is freely given to us; taking it lightly, living in fear, worried, harassed and helpless.
What we are learning is that if we are like David and come humbly back to God asking for help and forgiveness, He is always there. He will always be there. He is quick to forgive, quick to run to us when we turn to Him.

When you’re down and troubled And you need a helping hand And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right Close your eyes and think of me And soon I will be there To brighten up even your darkest nights You just call out my name And you know wherever I am I’ll come running oh yeah baby To see you again Winter, spring, summer, or fall All you got to do is call And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah yeah You’ve got a friend
We all need a friend who can be trusted.
God is our friend in Christ.
We need to remember:
1. Jesus is Lord. Nothing is random or accidental or outside His care.
2. God is good. His intentions for me are only for my salvation.
3. God loves me, personally. Me. He loves. Me. Not just everyone, but also me.
4. Together it will be ok. He can be trusted.

Put your trust in the God of David, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sinners saved by grace, and even though you are a sinner, you too will find salvation.

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July 7-

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
This final line in today’s gospel reading is a very important verse for us to bring into our hearts. To memorize, to refer to, to help guide our lives.
It gives perspective to difficult times, it helps us orient ourselves.
Many times decisions we make have to do with what is most important.

I remember a time not long after we had gotten married.
I was working as a window cleaner, learning how to run the business.
The man I was working with offered me the opportunity to buy the business from him. I was being offered not just a business, but a career, a way to support my family.

It was very tempting.
But this offer came at a time when we had decided to go to seminary, we had decided that I was to become a pastor.
Was this the hand of God bringing me a business opportunity or was it a temptation to take a different path, perhaps an easier path.
Its not that the way of a window cleaner is beneath a Christian. It wasn’t that it would have been a bad life, but was it was God was calling me to? Calling us to? No. It was a distraction. A temptation to take us in the wrong direction.
The verse that came to us was this one. Could someone seek God and be a good Christian as a window cleaner? Yes. Could I, no.
Seek first the Kingdom to us meant, follow your calling, put God first, seek His Kingdom.

So what is it that we should seek first? The kingdom of God. And how should we seek it?
We seek it by making God, His commandments, and His ways, the focus of our whole life.
When we rise in the morning, the Lord should be the first thought and first objective. The psalmist writes “early will I seek Thee, My soul thirsts after thee, my flesh longs for thee in a dry and waterless land.”
You see, as we focus our gaze on Christ, we begin to seek Him more. As we seek Him more, we find ourselves thirsty and hungry for His presence in our lives. We find ourselves asking “how does this activity bring me closer to you O Lord?” “How can I better serve you and know you my God?”

When this is done there is less worry. Less stress. Trusting God brings less stress, less anxiety.

We trust God when we decide to not always be in in the drivers seat, to stop making decisions based upon what I want.
We also have less stress and worry when we start to follow Christ with our daily activities. What I mean is, the simple daily walk with Christ. Remembering that we walk through life with Christ by our side, and living as if He were beside us all the way.
A few years ago there was the WWJD fad. What would Jesus do? Its not a bad idea to think that way, if Jesus were here, how would I act?
1Jn 1:5 And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Or St. John tells us, maybe we are too attached to the world and this is why we are stressed.
1Jn 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

This past week Nancy and I were up in Pensecola visiting some friends from Alaska.
On the way home we drove several hours in a steady downpour of rain and thunderstorms.
Some were driving with headlights off in this downpour, in near whiteout conditions, they were nearly invisible.
Some were driving with their hazards flashers on.
These drivers need to go back to the basics and learn the rules of the road. Some don’t like to slow down much in heavy rain, they threaten the safety of other drivers.
There are laws against these things but many do what they want.
Maybe they need to be reminded of the basics of safety.

In todays Gospel Jesus is reminding us of the basics. Calling us back to something forgotten in the hurry.

If you can solve your problem, why worry? If you can’t solve the problem, why worry. Trust it to God.
Jesus gives us a command: Do not worry.
Then He shows us how silly it is to worry, as if God doesn’t know our need. Do we trust God or not?
When we look at the Sermon on the Mount we notice that the Lord teaches a lot before He gets to this Do not worry stuff.
He starts in Ch. 5 with the Beatitudes. Who is blessed? Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for Christ’s sake. These are the ones who rejoice.
Then He talks about His followers, how they should live, like salt and light, fulfilling the law, not just in letter but in the spirit of the law.
He teaches about giving, how to pray, how to fast.
Then, how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer.
Then, after all that, He tells us not to worry.
There is a logic here.
The very next part of His sermon after this is about not judging, even those who worry are not to be judged.
So how does the Lord conclude this amazing sermon?
Therefore, whoever hears these words and does them will be like the builder who builds his house on a firm foundation that can withstand many storms.
He who does not do them is like a man who builds his house on the beach with no foundation and his house falls down in a storm.

We have to put this instruction about not worrying in the whole context.
In other words, we must know the basics and do the basics before there is peace and no worry.
So how do I conclude?
Maybe the problem in not that we are worry warts
Maybe the problem is that we have not remembered the basics of our faith. Love, prayer, fasting, kindness, patience, obeying the commandments, living like Jesus.
Maybe we need a refresher course in walking with Christ.
When I got a ticket for speeding in a school zone about 6 years ago, I could get out of a large fine by taking an online safety course.
That course made a big difference in my driving. I learned, I was reminded, I was corrected.
The Lord is urging us, maybe, that we have much to learn about following Him, that He wants to lead us beside the still waters.
Maybe this summer is a good time to spend some time getting closer to God, reading the Sermon on the Mount, reading some spiritual books, praying, practicing kindness, being loving, walking with Jesus.
Maybe we aren’t way off base, just a little distracted.
Don’t be discouraged that you forget, be thankful that you have been reminded.
Its not how you start, its how you finish.
The race is long, those who persevere will be the victors.

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June 30-Holy Apostles and All Saints of North America

At that time, when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Today I am inspired by the beauty that has come into the House of God.
Last night before Vespers, Sub-deacon Mitri came into the altar, as usual, and just stood there, kind of stunned as he looked at the icon and the transformation that took place in a few hours.
He finally turned to me and said, “Now this is a temple.!” Amen to that.
Thanks be to God for beauty, He is the Creator of beauty, we imitate Him to bring glory to His name.
Today we look at the Gospel reading about the sheep without a shepherd.

I find it so comforting that Jesus calls us sheep. He could have called us donkeys, or eagles, or cows; but He calls us sheep, in more than one place.
Well, I don’t claim to know for sure why He did, but it makes sense to me.
When Jesus looks at the crowd, they looked kind of pitiful, they were harassed and helpless.
I’ve seen sheep like this before.
One of our dogs on the farm took a fancy to harassing our neighbor’s sheep. The Hamilton’s were our neighbor, the farm just South of ours. They pastured sheep and our dog took great delight in chasing them. The sheep thought the dog was a wolf and panicked, every time he started chasing them.
He would go under the fence and start running toward them and they would panic, so they just started running. All of them, together as a group. Even when they were being- what they thought was attacked -they stuck together.
Eventually one sheep would get separated from the flock, and then there was real panic.
If they had just one time ignored the dog and just stood there looking at the dog it wouldn’t be any fun for the dog and he would have just left.
But they always ran, and it was so much fun for the dog. They were just harassed and helpless, they had no idea what to do about this dog.
But our neighbor did, he complained to us and we ended up getting rid of the dog, he would not stop chasing sheep!
But how sweet and loving is our Lord?
When Jesus sees this in His flock, His reaction is so kind, so understanding. He knows they are sheep.
So He did not judge or condemn them, or write them off.
What does it say? He had compassion on them.! He has compassion on us.
He doesn’t expect us to be eagles when we are sheep.
He knows us, He knows what we need, He knows how we operate, what we lack.
He knows us because 1. He made us. 2. He became one of us. 3. He became our shepherd. Sheep with a good shepherd can be amazing.

What is it about sheep? Well, they are group oriented, and they are not good at being loners. When a sheep gets separated from the flock they become very vulnerable, afraid. They panic, fearing for their lives, they make mistakes that could lead to death.
They aren’t really smart, even with the flock, without the flock they are helpless.
That is why the Good Shepherd leaves behind the 99 and searches all over for the one that is lost; and when The Good Shepherd finds the one, there is great rejoicing.
The one on his own is doomed to be killed by the predator who seeks after the lost sheep, steal, kill, and destroy.
This is why the word church comes from the word that means, the called together ones.
The Good Shepherd does not allow the flock to be harassed; He does not leave us helpless.
He leads us beside still waters. He prepares a table for us in the presence of the enemies of our souls. He feeds us His own Body and Blood. He purges our sins and gives us immortal life.

Notice that He leads, when you want sheep to go somewhere you don’t stand behind them and push them where you want them to go like cows and horses.
The sheep follow the voice of the shepherd. The Shepherd knows them by name and they recognize His voice. They do not follow another voice. John 10.
His is the only voice that restores the soul.
With Him they do not fear death or enemies.
He leads us beside still waters, where there is peace.
1. How do we know the voice of the Shepherd? In times of peace, we listen, we spend time with Him by the peaceful waters, we get to know Him intimately. Then, when the wolf comes, when the storm rises and frightens us, we will be able to hear His still, small voice and trust Him.
It is the quiet times that save us in the storms, or when we are attacked.

Our Good Shepherd feeds us in the presence of the Enemy, Let us live in His house forever. He prepares a table for us. Of eternal, heavenly food. Not the dead food we find to eat.
This is what we will remember every time we come forward for communion and we look up and see our Good Shepherd giving the Apostles communion. We installed this icon of the Apostles communing on the eve of the feast of the Apostles, pretty cool.

We forget sometimes to be quiet and spend time with the Good Shepherd, to learn His voice, so it is hard to trust Him.
We will not progress beyond being sheep if we don’t learn this. The sheep need time with the Shepherd.
Not only did He feed His people of the Old Covenant in the wilderness for 40 years, not only did He give them bread from heaven called manna; He also brought water out of the rock.
He fed over 5,000 on the hillside.
He fed the Apostles and made them fishers of men, preaching the Gospel to the whole world. And we following the Holy Apostles are still being fed by Him, the Author of Life.
He, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, healed the sheep when they were harassed and helpless, He rescued them, He cast out the wolf, gave them oil for their wounds and led them to wonderful places of rest.
The Apostles, we commemorate today, along with All the Saints of North America, were sheep who became much more than sheep. Ordinary men and women, and children and teenagers who became for more than ordinary; by following the Good Shepherd, by learning to hear His voice and fully trust Him. By eating from His hand the Bread of Life.
We have been given so much by our God of crazy love.
Psalm 36 Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light. O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.

We are here to be follow the Holy Apostles. To eat the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life. We will rejoice with the Good Shepherd in green pastures of delight.
We love the beauty of His house. We rejoice in His house forever.
Psalm 84 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob.
Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
Amen.

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All Saints June 23

On the first Sunday of Pentecost we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the day to recall and commemorate all the saints in Christ’s holy Church, known and unknown.

This is because there are many saints who are not know, and many who are not recognized officially by the Church.
Today’s Feast is the result of all that has gone before it.
The purpose of all the events in Christ’s life, is to make Saints.
That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy.
Today’s Feast is the Feast of the identity of the Church, for a Church that does not make Saints is not a Church, it is merely an institution which abuses the word ‘Church’.
What is a Saint? Firstly, it seems that Saints are not born, they are made. At baptism we are all born again potentially to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, whereas we give up.
So as we celebrate this feast day, what are we to do? What exactly is our response?

The appropriate response is to have a firm resolve to follow them as examples.

This is why it is an excellent practice to read the lives of the saints, often, if not daily.

So to help us focus on the role of the saints in our lives, I want to continue along our road for the last little while of working on our image of God, Sharpening how we understand God.
How will we do this today? This prayer:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!
That prayer tells the whole story.
1. This is a prayer to the Holy Spirit. This is why we don’t pray this prayer in any service, from Pascha to Pentecost. We are waiting for the Spirit to come upon us at Pentecost. Now in the season of Pentecost, we have resumed saying this prayer and it forms our understanding of our Life in Christ.

  1. It begins by acknowledging Who the Holy Spirit is: Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit is fully God, as is the Son. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is God in His fullness.
  2. Then it tells us where the Holy Spirit is, and what He does: He is everywhere present, He fills all things, He is the Treasury of Blessings and the Giver of Life.
    So, again, fully God, He brings all that God is to us.
    This requires a little more thinking. Everywhere present. Hmmm. Everywhere. There is no place to go where the Holy Spirit is not, you can’t escape Him, you can’t flee from His presence. You can’t leave Him behind, you can’t lose Him, you can’t run away from Him, like Jonah tried to do.
    But this also means, on the other hand, that whether you are aware of it or not, He is there with you, in every part of your life. There is no part of your life that is not spiritual, because the Holy Spirit is there in the middle of it.

And everywhere He is, He brings Blessings, as the Treasury of Blessings, He holds all the blessings. As the Giver of Life, where He is there is Life. Where He is, everything is.
Our life is not really divided up into sacred and secular, in Christ all is done for Him, in Him, and through Him.
We often live our lives as if God really lived in the church, and only in the church.
We often leave Him behind when we leave.
The saints work very hard at always living life with an awareness of God in all they do, say, and think.
This is what ceaseless prayer is, living life in the very presence of God. Welcoming Him into all parts of our life and thoughts, not excluding Him, but making Him the True Lord of our lives.
1. Saints don’t give up, they understand the Grace of God.
2. Saints remember that what is most valuable is that which is eternal.
3. Saints keep their mind in the right place, they remember death, they remember God.

Today we celebrate the saints, lets get acquainted with them so we can be like them.

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Pentecost-June 16

Today we have a Great Feast of the Lord, Pentecost. The final fulfillment of the prophecies about the work of our Lord for our salvation.
We celebrate with joy the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Church is full of light, darkness has been banished, death is overcome, our stoney hearts have been made flesh, the God of the Universe lives in us.
It is truly a great day. So we celebrate. And it is Father’s Day, Happy Father’s Day. And it is my ordination anniversary. I was ordained on June 16, 1996. So, many years to me. 23 years I have been a priest of the Most High God, despite my unworthiness and due in a large part to my excellent wife, the love of the Most Holy Theotokos and the prayers of the saints.
So today we celebrate.
So lets think about all these things and ponder the Greatness of our God, let Him fill us with wonder and joy.
Happy Feast Day to all of you. May the blessing of the Lord be with you always.
Today we do a lot of singing. But
Did you know that God sings? Lets think today. What do you think? Does God sing?
Zep 3:17 The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Did you know that there is a correct way to worship God, that He tells us how to do it?
Ps. 100:2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Exo 15:1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Creation sings, did you know that?
Is. 44:23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.

The people of God rejoice with singing
Is. 51:11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
In the New Testament- The Church rejoices with singing.
Eph. 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Act 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Heb 2:12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

And in the Kingdom to come: singing!
Rev 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
Rev 14:3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

Singing is a normal way to worship.
The Western Church has predominately lost this concept in worship, starting with the Protestant Reformation, where chanting left the worship, singing became something only done for certain hymns, now many Protestant churches watch as others sing for them.
The Catholic Church has done much of the same.
This is sad and unfortunate.

But all religions have a longstanding tradition of singing in worship. Muslims chant, Jews chant.

We believe that following the Biblical pattern of worship is important, God has revealed to us how He should be worshipped, not according to what is entertaining, or what we think He might like, but what He has shown us.
The singing in Heaven is the pattern we follow, no matter how weak, how feeble, how inferior it may be.
But we also know that singing is not intended to arouse emotion or elevate us with thrills of orchestras. We sing because of what we sing about, not to inflame passions but to elevate us and our hearts and minds above this world. Our music is neptic, guided by sobriety, not emotion.
The whole book of the Psalms is intended to be chanted or sung, not read.

And we do sing. It is a way of speaking, but elevated.
If you are not singing, you are not worshipping.
This is why we have service books, with music in them, we all sing together, as the Body of Christ.

Why does God sing? Why does anybody sing?

Today is a day for rejoicing, singing. Singing not songs of men, but songs of God, what He has done.
He came down and divided the tongues for the salvation of men, He prevented them from singing together; until the Savior could come to save us from death, then at Pentecost He came down by His Holy Spirit and united us all by unifying our race in the Church. Now all mankind can sing together again, the songs of the Church.
At Pentecost men are united by the Gospel, there is no more separation by color or continent, all are one in Christ.
At Pentecost, the human race, in Christ, is made the Body of Christ, with Him as our head.
Why do we sing? We have a lot to sing about.
God sings, so we sing.
Creation itself sings, so we sing.
The angels sing, so we sing.
It may be true that we are most like God when we sing His songs back to Him in a beautiful, eternal dialogue of worship. I encourage all of you to sing to God, in your hearts, in your car, in your homes. When we lift up our voices, we lift up our hearts.

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Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council-June 9

Is theology important?
In today’s epistle reading St. Paul prophecies of wolves who will come in the Church to try to destroy the flock.
Wolves come in to the flock to steal, kill, and destroy.
This happened many times, it is still happening.
But today we recall, commemorate and honor the 318 Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in the year 325.

St. Constantine the Great called this council for one reason. Theology matters.
We, the Orthodox, are trusted with keeping the Faith, keeping correct worship, correct praise, correct doctrine.

Why was this council called by St. Constantine?

A priest from Alexandria, Egypt in 311 began teaching that Jesus was not equal to the Father. That Jesus was a created being. That there was a time when Jesus did not exist, that therefore, Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father. Not consubstantial with the Father, not eternal, not God. This is not good.
So what happened to this priest, named Arius?

What is supposed to happen, he was called by the bishop and examined. The Patriarch of Alexandria tried to correct the teaching of Arius. To keep him in the Orthodox Church.
He told him he had to stop teaching these things. Arius did not listen. He kept promoting the error, confusing and dividing the One True Church.
The bishop deposed him from the priesthood when it became obvious that Arius had to intention of changing his teaching.
So, was Arius humbled by no longer being a priest?
Did he change his ways to save his soul?
No, he did not.

He began to write to the other bishops, asking them to examine his teaching and accept it, in the meantime he kept on teaching his heresy.
BTW, what is a heretic?
Is it someone who wrong teaching? No.
It is someone who has wrong teaching but does not accept the teaching and correction of the Holy Church, persisting in false doctrine. Then one is a heretic, for refusing to be humble, refusing to repent.
Not only was Arius not humble, not only did he refuse to stop teaching heresy, destructive to souls, but he began to convince people that he was correct.

In fact, he convinced much of the Church that he was correct and caused great turmoil and division in Christ’s Holy Church.
It is said of St. Athanasius the Great that he stood against the world in opposing Arius, so pervasive was his teaching.

So, St. Constantine called the council. Bishops and holy men came from all regions of the Church. 318 were there.

The Holy Fathers who were there, many of whom were survivors of torture and persecution, proclaimed the True Faith, they traditioned, the Truth.
The word tradition means to pass on to someone else what you have received, The Holy Fathers passed on what had been delivered to them, Arius wanted to reject and change what had been passed down from the apostles.
The Councils don’t say, “This is what we have decided.” They say, “This is what we have received, this is what the Church has always taught by all everywhere.”

What did they say at this council? Theology is incredibly important.
It is so important, we are going to write a new creed to improve on the Apostles Creed, to make clear what the Church has always taught, what the Holy Scriptures proclaim, that which is essential for our salvation.

So, they did so. They wrote the Nicean Creed, the one we still say every Liturgy. Up to the point where we say, And in the Holy Spirit. That second part about the Holy Spirit and the Church was added in the Second Ecumenical Council.
BTW, what does Ecumenical Council mean?
All the Church agrees.

So, Arius and his teaching were condemned, along with Nestorius and others who were champions of heresy.
This teaching is still followed by many outside the Orthodox Church, the teaching of Nestorius and Arius is still followed and they are honored by JW’s, for instance.

So what does the Church teach?
1Jn 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Joh_3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Joh 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 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: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

We stand before the world, we proclaim the Truth.
We are hated because we say these things. This is what we have received. This is what we hold and pass down. Boldly.
Jesus Christ is God, Equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we proclaim, He is eternal, like the Father and the HS.
He is composed of the same stuff as the F and the HS.
There never was a time when He was not.
In fact, we believe that not only is Jesus True God of True God, but that He created all that there is.
All others religions of the world may have some truth, but they ultimately deny the Truth, and therefore are anti-Christ.

Two fundamental elements of our Faith are proclaimed.
1. God is a Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Equal in glory, co-eternal, consubstantial, of one essence.
2. Jesus Chris is God come in the flesh, without leaving behind His Godness, He was made man to save men.
God became man, that man might become god.

This is our glory, this is our salvation, this we proclaim, this we confess, that Jesus Christ is God, to the Glory of God the Father. Amen.

Sermon-Sunday of the Blind Man-June 2

The Paschal Service, the Resurrection Service-is truly an amazing and memorable event.
The Church takes has taken us through a darkness, Lent is similar to the setting of the Sun, Holy Week is the darkness of the middle of the night. Gradual darkening followed by complete darkness.

Then we bring out the light of Christ and the priest sings: Come take light from the light that is never overtaken by night, come glorify Christ, who is risen from the dead.

The church that has been dark, solemn, subdued is transformed into brightness, joy and glorious celebration-illustrating what the song promised. The darkness cannot overcome the light.

Our Fathers tell us that in fact darkness does not exist, it is merely the absence of light.
Similarly, they tell us that evil does not exist as a thing in itself, it is the absence of the Holy. Things are either toward God or away from God. God is life, true existence is in Him, evil is not life, it has no life, it is moving toward annihilation. When we move toward God we are moving toward Life and Light, away from evil.

Sometimes when I read the lives of the saints, such as St. Paisius, the brightness of his life makes it seem like I am living in darkness much of the time.
It is often said by holy men, that we live in a dark age spiritually.

In the old days of the church a holy elder was asked what will we be able to do? The answer was, in the future people will only be able to do half of what we do. But in the end times, it will be a miracle if people only keep the faith.
Perhaps those days are coming, soon.
The darkness seems to be encroaching, evil seems prevalent, men and women say evil is good and good evil, even the mention of God has been eliminated in the US House of Representatives.
The politics of rage and division are effectively causing strife. The LGBTQ community is being more and more accepted, in fact, it is promoted in the elementary schools of Sarasota County.
Darkness can be confusing and scary.
If fact, darkness is a symbol of evil, in the new heaven and the new earth, there is no night.
The scariest darkness is the darkness of the soul, the love of darkness, of evil, or maybe just a fleeing from, an avoidance of God.
This darkness is a blindness, an inability to see, a willful blindness.
This is what we see in the Pharisees, a darkness that made them want to kill the King of Glory.
Rather than rejoicing in the miracle which occurs through the compassion of Jesus Christ, they focus on blaming someone for breaking a rule. Angry that they were not receiving their due attention, they have lost the power of explanation.
For the last few weeks I have been preaching to you about the Goodness of God. That He is good, that His will for us is only good, because it can be no other than good, since it comes from a Good God.
So, I am taking about not thinking like the people in the story. What is our God image? How do we view God, how do we think about Him?
Is He to blame for a misfortune in your life? Is He one you get angry with in difficult times?
So much of our life can be a wandering in darkness and we may have despaired of things ever getting any better. At times, we may not have the eyes to see any light at all.
We find it easy to think only of ourselves and our will, but so hard to live with the humility and selfless love of Christ.
Maybe we have looked for fulfillment in the vanity of life: money, power, pleasure, appearances, impressing others, and getting our own way.
These produce more darkness, not light.
We cannot let ourselves be held captive by the corruptions of death, our passions, and the accumulated weight of human sin all around us. Or the darkness of our surrounding culture. We become what we focus on. St. Porphyrios said, ignore evil and follow Christ.

The good news of Pascha is that, in Christ, we may pass over from this living death to life eternal. The spiritual blindness of our souls may be healed.
If we develop the eyes to see it, we may leave behind the darkness. We may rise up to the light, truth, and joy of the kingdom of heaven. We may share in Christ’s eternal life, in His victory over sin and death, even now.

But we have to be honest with ourselves: it is much easier to remain in the darkness than to move into the light. Just as our eyes need time to adjust when we leave a movie theater and walk into the sunshine of a summer day, the eyes of our souls are not cleansed in an instant.
Our salvation is not a magic act, but requires our intentional, patient cooperation with the grace of the Great Physician.
There is simply no alternative to perseverance, to accepting bravely the tension and struggle that we experience when we expose our darkened souls to the healing light of Christ, and to mindfully turning away from temptations of whatever kind.

90 % of Orthodoxy is just being faithful, just showing up. In faith. In hope. In love.

The Lord gave the man born blind new eyes, he began to see, he began to worship.

As we near the end of the season of Pascha, we can all wrestle seriously with the question of whether we are really doing what we can to open ourselves to the light of Christ.
Are we intentionally moving toward God, and therefore away from evil?
Are we obeying the Lord’s instructions on how to find healing in our souls?
Are we keeping a close watch on our thoughts and disregarding those that tempt us to sin?
Are we following a rule of prayer and fasting that reorients our daily life toward God and helps us find healing from our passions?
Are we preparing faithfully to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist each Sunday?
Do we take confession regularly and ask for the forgiveness of others whenever we wrong them?
Are we really dedicated to living the Life of Christ?
This is the last Sunday this year that we will sing, Christ is Risen. But He still wants to live in our hearts and give us new life.
Re-commit yourself to Him today. Renew your desire for Him. Don’t give up.
Christ is Risen!

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May 26-The Samaritan Woman

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.

We meet again the Samaritan Woman, the one who we would later learn was named Photini, a martyr for Christ.
She went on quite a journey after meeting Jesus.
She, like me, could divide her life into two main sections, B.C. and A.D.

She came to the well that morning, just as any other day, but this day was to be different.
She reveals herself to us and we can see that in many ways she is like us.
She has two very important thought problems.
Her self image and her God image.

Her self image was damaged, her immoral lifestyle made her embarrassed, she was not about to talk about her many husbands and the fact that she was living with a man outside of marriage.
She was willing to ignore the Jew at the well, for as she said, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, especially a man with a woman. She was happy enough to just draw her water and go home.

But Jesus had a better idea.
He engaged her in conversation. He had a plan.

This has happened to you, too.
You thought at the time, that the person who talked to you was just a person who bumped into you somehow, not really sure how it happened. It started out as a casual conversation, but it developed into an event you will not forget. A God-appointed meeting. Yes, you have. You have had those kind of meetings, arranged by a loving God.

She had pre-judged the situation as something to avoid, Jesus changed the narrative.
He asked her for a drink. A very normal, little thing; but it changed everything. The familiar can open doors because there is a comfort level making it easier to move forward in an encounter with a stranger. Jesus found a way to let her relax and the conversation begins, she is curious.
Why is he talking to me?
As the conversation continues Jesus takes it into a more serious direction very quickly, taking it to a second level.
When her lifestyle comes up something very interesting happens, Jesus does not let it become THE issue. He goes deeper.
She is drawing water, He is drawing her. Drawing her to eternal life, living water; and then reveals that He is the long-awaited Messiah.
So there are two issues here.
1. Her self-image; adulterer.
2. Her God image; religious barriers, we have different views on worship.
Jesus won’t let either of these be THE issue.
He says: you believe the Messiah will settle these issues, I am He. I am bringing a new way of worship where it doesn’t matter where you are or what country you come from.
The Truth transcends man-made barriers.

Jesus comes to you like this.
Whatever past you have, whatever sins you think are a hindrance, whatever thoughts you have been listening to about why God cannot or will not forgive you, whatever you are ashamed of in your life, whatever you find embarrassing and could never confess; He already knows; and He still loves you. He is offering living water, new life, joy in forgiveness. Don’t let your image of God stop you. Take a risk. Your God-image is probably wrong. So is your self-image.

It is so wonderful in this story that Photini leaves her water pot to run back to the city to tell people about Jesus.
Her past was no longer the issue. She left it behind. She has a new beginning. She has new life in Christ. The living water is spilling out of her.

God wants to give us a new self-image-Child of God, True Christian, forgiven and set free.
He also gives us a new God-image. The one who is greater; the one who loves mankind, the one who comes to wells and stores and living rooms to set people free with new life, a new heart, a new way of life. The one who comes to us, pursues us, because that is what love does.
All that is left for us is to answer Him, accept Him, His love, His forgiveness, His living water.
She went on to be baptized by the Apostles and became a great example of a Christian.

I find it interesting that she came to the well at the sixth hour. Noon.
Tradition tells us that it was the sixth hour when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise. It was the Sixth hour when Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again to take us back to Paradise with Him. Will you come?

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May 19-The Paralytic

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8)
One man was there, who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.”
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Somehow in 38 years of being paralyzed this man had heard that there was a place where healing happened. So he went there. And he waited.
He had no reasonable hope that he would receive healing, because as he explained to Jesus, I can’t get into the water in time because I have no one to help me.
So what is he doing there? After all those years? The situation has not changed, he still has no one to put him in the water?
1. He knew he needed healing. Some diseases are more problematic than others, some are more destructive than others, some are more obvious than others. He could not cover up the fact that he needed healing, it was obvious and debilitating.
But the fact is that we all need healing, in one or more areas, we need healing, mental, physical or spiritual, or a combination of the three.
The Christian life is beginning to understand our disease and find healing. Not do I have a disease? But, what is my disease.
We are all dying from a disease called sin. The only questions are: 1. Am I aware of it or am I in denial, and 2. what am I doing about it?
The Spiritual Life is getting to know the reality of our situation and receiving healing in Christ through His Body, the Church.
This brings us back to the biggest problems that we face: We don’t ask for healing because we don’t know how sick we actually are and we don’t come directly to the source of all healing.
We have amazing doctors and medicine in this country and we can reasonably help people with physical illnesses, but man is more than a body and a brain. He is meant to be the image and likeness of God. This image and likeness makes man a true human being when he is in Christ.
Our restoration as human beings happens when we are healthy in the soul.
It happens when we know the source of our healing intimately and we are purified by repentance.
Most people think you get saved, or go to heaven, by being better, by trying, by being nice. The Bible never says that. Be ye holy as I am holy. Not be ye nice and go forth. If nice would cut it Jesus wasted His time in death and resurrection.
We cannot heal ourselves, we need a Savior/Healer.
This story pushes us to see the True Source of Healing? How?
Why is this story included in the Paschal Season?
We can understand St Thomas and the myrhhbearing women, but this guy?
What is the link with Pascha? Water, baptism. Pascha was the time when people were baptized into Christ in the early Church. All the story chosen to be read during the Paschal Season have a role for water. So lets look at this story.
As we examine the story of the paralytic in greater depth, it is important to see that in its original context the Bethesda pool was not a source of salvation for the paralytic, but a rival alternative to it, if not its positive impediment.
The pool was thought to have healing power due to the fact that the water came out of the temple when the sacrifices were washed out of the altar. The blood of forgiveness was in that pool.
Remember the details of the story: the paralytic sat languishing by the pool, thirty-eight years in his wretched condition, hoping for healing.
When the pool’s waters were stirred (by an angel, as everyone thought), he hoped to be the first one into the pool to soak up the angel’s divine power and be cured, but being paralyzed, he was too slow, and someone always beat him to the pool.
So, he waited and waited, hoping to find salvation one day in the pool.
It was there that Jesus found him. When Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6), he didn’t say, “Yes Lord, please heal me!”
He was still hoping to get into the pool, and he answered, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” His hope is in the wrong place.
But salvation wasn’t in the pool. It was in Jesus. Jesus simply said, “Rise, take your pallet, and walk,” and the man did. He didn’t need the pool after all. All he needed was Jesus.

We see this contrast between the old and the new throughout John’s Gospel: not Jewish water, but Christ’s wine, not the old Temple, but Christ’s body, not the manna in the wilderness, but Christ’s flesh.
Christian faith involved turning from the old ways to the new.
Christ wants to give us new ways of healing, Pursue Christ, be purified by repentance. Jesus is the answer. Pursue Christ.

The Soul is a Mirror

Featured

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

The soul is a difficult thing to speak (or write) about. First, the word is used so commonly and widely that its true meaning becomes obscured. Second, the soul is largely unknown to each of us, despite its primary importance. So, I will begin by giving its simple meaning: the soul is our life. When we hear the story of Adam’s creation we learn that he is fashioned out of the earth. Then, God breathes into him, “and he became a living soul.” The soul is the life (there are no dead souls), and the life is a gift from God, the “Lord and Giver of Life.”

Read the rest here: soul

A Reason for the Hope that is in Us

by Fr. Lawrence Farley

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” These words of Christ, spoken to Thomas and recorded in John 20:29, have often been misunderstood. Some suggest that Christ was offering a blessing to those who believe in Him without any evidence at all, who accept Him on blind faith. This is not what Christ meant, for Thomas never accepted Christ on blind faith in the absence of any evidence. Indeed, Thomas had plenty of evidence and reason to accept Jesus as the Christ, including the many miracles he saw Him perform. By these words Christ was not affirming the necessity of blind faith, but offering a blessing to those who believed in Him even though they never experienced a resurrection appearance as Thomas did.

Read more here:http://www.pravmir.com/a-reason-for-the-hope-that-is-in-us/

Taste The presence

We all need a good dose of silent prayer each and every day. Finding that perfect place in your home that can become your cave, or prayer closet, will afford you that sacred space where you can go deep into the heart and connect with God. That place where you can close off your family, your worries, your job, your distractions, and go deep into your heart where you will find the peace that comes from Christ.

The Jesus Prayer is the perfect prayer, for it is a prayer of adoration and praise, and a prayer that proclaims that Jesus is Lord, and, as God, can grant mercy upon you. The simple prayer which invokes the Holy Name of Jesus can transform your life, and take you into the very Heart of God. This prayer is known as the Prayer of the Heart for the very reason that it is of the heart.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Said with the aid of a Prayer Rope (thus bringing your body into the action of the prayer), this prayer accomplishes Saint Paul’s admonition that we should “pray always”. It is a prayer that takes you out of yourself and into communion with Christ. It is a prayer that can change your life because through this prayer you can taste the presence of Christ within you.

Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Get To Know St. Paisios

The path to Athos is open to men only. But in Greece there is a women’s monastery where they live according to strict Athonite rules and serve without electricity, by candlelight. This monastery, in the village of Souroti, was founded by Elder Paisios the Athonite, whose books have been so popular in the past few years in America and Russia. A correspondent of the Russian Orthodox journal “Neskuchnii Sad” headed to Souroti to meet with people who remember Elder Paisios.

“I Was an Atheist”

“When Elder Paisios would visit the sisters at the Monastery of John the Theologian, thousands of people would come see him. I went especially to see how the swindler was cheating them all. I was an atheist. This was in 1988. The service had started. The church was divided into two parts: for laity and for nuns. There was a taut rope between the two sections, and I didn’t know that I couldn’t go in, so I crossed over. There was an elder sitting among the nuns, whose face radiated light… Seeing this, I left, but two days later I came again, for a blessing. Then I went to Athos and so remained with the elder for life,” recalls Nicholas Mentesidis, a jeweler who knew the elder.

Read more here

Sermons

August 25

 

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August 18

One of my favorite scenes in the Bible is the Road to Emmaus.

Jesus walking with His disciples.

I often imagine this happening with me. Jesus and I walking together through life.

Side by side, conversing, sharing, wondering, me stumbling, He picking me up.

Its not some romantic nostalgia.

St. Paul had the same idea.

Gal 5:16  This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Gal 5:25  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

1Thess 5:16-18  Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 

This is the same basic concept, I think.

When we practice prayer during the day, such as the Jesus Prayer, we are recognizing this fact. Asking Him to walk with us.

What a beautiful thought, one we can hold on to; think about, embrace; and believe by faith.

This is a practice taught by St. Paul and the Fathers of the Church, constant prayer, promotes constant walking in the spirit. We can all work on this can’t we?

 

This familiar story teaches us many things about walking in the spirit, about following and obeying the Lord.

Do you think Jesus followed this practice?

BTW, do you know that some saints only read the 4 gospels? St. Paisios would carry a Gospel book with him all the time. Every free moment he would read it. This too is a way to walk in the Spirit.

 

Let’s consider a few points this morning.

 

  1. Matthew 14: “And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.”

 

Jesus gives us an example of how to live, how to pray, how to walk in the spirit. He withdrew from the strain of the people, the demands of always being on the road, the teaching of His disciples. To regroup He would go away alone to pray to His Father.

The Lord is the model for our lives, let us spend time each day getting to know Him by prayer and reading the Gospels.

  1. Jesus comes in the storm, He does not prevent the storm.

He could have easily calmed the sea from the shore. He could have said, don’t try to cross the sea tonight, there is a storm coming. He could have storm from coming. He is the one who can calm the sea, He can do all things.

So we learn from this. Whatever storms come into our lives are not accidental or coincidental, they are not arbitrary. There is a purpose in them all, when we trust God, when we remember He is loving, when we recall that all things work together for good for those who walk in His purpose.

A God who is not in control is not a God at all. A God who cannot calm the storm is no God at all. A God who cannot come to you in the midst of the storm and bring you to the boat is of no use at all.

Sometimes His coming is delayed, He did not come as the storm was beginning. It had reached a crisis point when He came to them.

We easily think that prayer is not being answered when it is delayed. The 4th watch is just before dawn-Jesus had spent a long time in prayer, the storm came after dark. When the answer to our prayers is not immediate, we must press on in faith, trusting God to be with us.

 

  1. The disciples had just witnessed the feeding of the 5,000, not more than a few hours have passed and they are in this amazing, life-threatening storm. Jesus is not there with them. Remember, He had sent them on while He went to pray.

Don’t you find it true that things are scarier in the dark? It is one thing to be in a storm on the sea in the daytime, it is a very different matter when it is the early morning dark.

The fear level seems to rise. When they finally do see Him, they think He is a phantom and their fear increases.

But He speaks to them in the storm, He comes to them in the storm. He doesn’t just instantly appear with them in the boat, He walks across the lake on the water, coming to them in the storm while walking on the water. Don’t you think this would be quite a fright? The disciples were not being irrational in their fear, I would have been afraid too.

He speaks to them, Peter isn’t sure. He wants to test it out before He believes. Peter! I am so glad this is recorded for us in the Bible. The Bible is so real, it doesn’t over-glorify men but gives us real details like this. Peter was just like us. I don’t believe my eyes. If it is you, let me walk on water too.

And he does, and he shows again he is just like us, he sees the wind (how do you see wind?) and he loses his courage. Just like us. So easily afraid, so quickly doubting God.

 

Conclusion- when we are walking with Jesus, walking in the spirit, there are times when we lose track of the fact that Jesus is with us. We get distracted by the wind and the waves.

Sometimes we think we can walk on the water on our own. We take our eyes off of Jesus and we can only see the tall crashing waves, the dark sea, we can only hear the fearful wind.

We forget that the Lord of Glory, this same Jesus, created all that there is, including us.

Walking in the spirit means walking by faith. Trusting God to be there. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus could see Jesus walking with them, but did not recognize Him. The disciples on the sea thought Him to be a ghost. We don’t see Him because we are so intent on seeing the waves.

Let us learn to hear His voice, to trust Him.

What does He say to us? “It is I, have no fear, be of good cheer.”

Glory to Jesus Christ.

December 9

The reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)
Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
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He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
I saw this happen yesterday. I saw someone transferred, delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Son.
I saw redemption happen with the forgiveness of sins.
I saw a person drowned and brought back to life. A person was re-born, made alive in the inner man.
The angels rejoiced, saints offered praise. Many were filled with tears of thankfulness.
To some it seemed like a simple ceremony, to others it was a marvelous miracle.
What did I witness in the cold Boston winter, at St. Mary Orthodox Church? I saw my adopted granddaughter baptized, I helped. I prayed, I sang, I rejoiced.
But what I know happened is this statement from St. Paul. A transfer happened. My granddaughter Cassidy died. She entered the church in one state and left in another spiritual state. She was put under the water in the old man and she was raised from the water in Christ as Kassiani. A new name for a new person.
She was taken from the kingdom of darkness. The biological parents of Kassiani had lost all rights to her many years ago, they remain homeless drug addicts. But Kassiani has been saved from that life. Though she has been through trauma and great difficulty, she now has a new life. She even has a new birth certificate from the state of Mass, listing new parents.
I am so full of thankfulness to God. This baptism did for me what a baptism always does. It reminds me of many things.

St. Mark the ascetic wrote “You should continually and unceasingly call to mind all the blessings which God in His love has bestowed on you in the past, and still bestows on you for the salvation of your soul.
You must not let forgetfulness of evil or laziness make you grow unmindful of these many and great blessings, and so pass the rest of your life uselessly and ungratefully.
We must keep them in mind.
Today in the Gospel we heard about 10 lepers who were healed by our Lord. But only one had a thankful heart and brought thanks to God. It took thought, effort, it sprang from a rejoicing heart. Thankfulness brought about action.
We must constantly strive to be thankful.

Our human condition may be compared to life on an island of lepers, where the inhabitants are in different stages of recovery.
The Sacrament of Baptism washes away the leprosy of sin and infuses great spiritual power into a person.
The scars of sin, however, do not disappear right away. A certain predisposition to sin remains.
We all know this. Kassiani will still have neurological weakness, bad memories, a broken family in her distant past. She will still show signs of her human weakness.
But she now has the spiritual weapons to continue to overcome. Though scars remain on the Resurrected Christ as a reminder of His sacrifice, He overcame them and rose again, still bearing a reminder of His suffering.

The man who returned to Christ to give thanks had a new life before him. Or he could let his past disease define him. He could get hung up on the scars of the disease, or he could be thankful for the healing he had received.

We have the same choice.

We can become re-minders. Remind yourself, means re mind yourself. To put things back into your mind is to remind yourself.
To be thankful for your baptism and give God praise for what He has done for you by transferring you from the kingdom of darkness to His kingdom, is to remind your self.

This produces thankfulness.
This produces joy.
This produces a better life.

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December 2

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. (6:10-17)
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:35-43)
At that time, when Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging;
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I remember last year when the hurricane came through here and did a lot of damage. We did not evacuate, we watched it out our windows and listened to it. Everything was fine, until the power went out.
It was well after sundown and it was dark. I thought I knew where the flashlight and candles were. Because I knew how to see them in the light. Its all different in the dark.
Electricity has permanently changed us.
We don’t really know what life was like before it. We imagine we do, but we can’t really know. Darkness is disturbing and can be scary. It affects on the level of the soul.
Darkness presents to us a spiritual reality.

1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Luk 1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luk 2:32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

The Holy Scriptures use light and darkness symbolically. In the beginning, darkness; and God said, “Let there be light.”
Light overcomes darkness and order overcame chaos. Darkness and chaos represent evil, light and order are of God and represent good.
This is why we are disturbed by them (darkness and chaos) at a deep level.
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging;

The epistle and the gospel have something in common, a common theme.
Darkness.
So stick with me here, as we bring these things together.

There is a lot about the “Holidays” that I dislike, a lot. Dislike is putting it mildly.
One thing I love is the Carols we sing. The classic carols are so CHRISTIAN!!
Not the junk about Rudolph, the ones about the real story of Christmas, the story in the Bible.

I am amazed by this in our culture where mentioning Christmas seems verboten.
People are singing the Gospel in malls, in cars, in homes.
People who never go to church, many who perhaps don’t have much of God in their lives. They are proclaiming to themselves and others the glorious birth of the Savior of mankind.
These carols bring some measure of light into there lives, some hope, some joy.

Does it strike you that Christ was born at night? That the Light of the World came into and was presented to us in the Darkness?
Out of darkness came the Light.
The Light came into the darkness to abolish it.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Definition: suffer a mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart.
“she thinks I am pining away from love”
miss and long for the return of.
“I was pining for my boyfriend”

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Longing for Messiah who would deliver us from sin, darkness, Hades.
St. Paul:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Darkness resists the light. When the light bulb goes out, it is instant darkness. Turn the light on and darkness goes immediately away.
When we choose to follow Christ we take the side of the Light. For He is The Light of The World. We love light, we rejoice in it. Darkness is used to cover sin and rebellion. We walk in the light.
The blind man in the gospel reading today is all of us who were lost but now found, blind but now we see.
And now that we have sight, through Jesus Christ, we fight against the rulers of this present darkness.
How did the wise men find the baby? The Light of a Star. How did the shepherds know where the Child King was? The glory of the Lord shown round about them.

The Light of the World has come to dispel the darkness. The darkness is persistent but it will lose.

You really should take a ride to Sarasota some evening, go to the area around the UTC mall and see the lights.

I see the lights and it reminds me of the wise men and shepherds. So used to the darkness of night as they tend sheep or study the stars.
When we see the lights and sing the Christmas Carols, we proclaim to the world that the Light has come, darkness has been defeated. The blind man sees, Life defeats death, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of light.
In the Book of Revelations, it says:
Rev_21:25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
Rev_22:5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

This war we wage against the forces of darkness will come to an end. We will not struggle forever.
Conclusion:
The Nativity of our Lord, which we are preparing for, means that the Light of the World has come into the world, the darkness has been overcome.
So the Orthodox Church has given us this time of preparation. We use this time to prepare our hearts, as if our heart was the manger where the Lord is to be born.
We pray, we fast, we give alms, we clean up our lives, we go to confession, we fight the darkness that seems to find its way into our lives, a little at a time. We push it back out with the Light of Christ.
We acknowledge it, we confess it, we cast out the darkness with the Light of Christ, with the joy of Christmas, with grace, mercy, and love. And hope in His victory.

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November 25, 2018

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 13:10-17

Today we hear about a bent-over woman, for 18 years unable to stand upright. Surely a painful and debilitating affliction to endure.
And on this day we are reminded that even if we have no physically debilitating afflictions like hers, we are all spiritually bent over and need healing from the Lord.
We have difficulty standing upright before the Lord because we have a spirit of infirmity that we have had since birth. And only the Lord Jesus can straighten us up.

I want to take a quick look at Is. 6 in this light.
Isa 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 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, Jehovah of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven.
What do we learn from Is. 6?
Is. was like us, we are like him, and the bent over woman too.
When Isaiah becomes aware of being in the presence of God he feels doomed. Suddenly, he realizes he has no business being in the presence of God, that God is holy and Isaiah is not. That he is without defense, that he has no hope. He feels completely unclean and helpless.
Woe is me! Means I am doomed. Its over. I’m a dead man. I can do nothing to save myself.

But, Isaiah is saved.
A seraphim brings a live coal from the altar with tongs and touched his mouth with it to purify him and take away his iniquity, to give forgiveness. Undeserved forgiveness.

This is what the Lord does for us when we humble ourselves and aware of our sin, aware of the great distance between ourselves and God cry out Woe is me, help me, forgive.

This is what the Lord did for the bent over woman. This is what He offers to all who turn to Him, without prejudice, without hesitating.
What a great and gracious God this is.

Today is the end of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos Into The Temple. It is a short feast, due to the fast period we are in as we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord.
As we give leave to this feast we reflect on what it means for us.

The Theotokos is a model for us. As the greatest among women she is our second Eve. She is our mother, she is the first and greatest Christian.
Her miraculous birth was only the beginning of an astonishing life and death.

Taken to the Temple in Jerusalem at an early age, around 3. Her parents, Joachim and Anna, set her on the first step of the temple and she went up the steps on her on and at the top was Zachariah, the High Priest that year. The same Zachariah who was the father of John the Forerunner.
Zacharias then took her into not only the Holy Place, where only men were allowed, he, being moved by the Holy Spirit, also took her into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest was permitted and that only once a year.
She was then raised in the temple apart from her parents, though they were allowed to visit.

This is a foreshadowing of what is to happen to all followers of Christ after her.

In Christ all have access to the presence of God, we are all taken into the Holy Of Holies in Christ.
The curtain in the Temple, was in fact, torn in two by God at the Crucifixion. This is the curtain which separated the people from the holy of holies. The direct presence of God.

We all have access to the God of the universe when we are in Christ. Christ is the God of the universe.
The Theotokos shows us how, in faith, we have boldness to come into the presence of God with our heartbroken prayers. There is no barrier any longer because of Christ.

We do not have to wait and hope that Jesus will visit our village and maybe we will be able to see Him and ask for healing. He lives here. He is always present with us.
We always have access to Him in everyplace and at everytime.

The Theotokos Mary showed us a life of humble, quiet obedience to her Son.
She showed us a life of utter holiness.
And in her death she showed us the way we all must go.

Today we give thanks to God that Heaven has met the Earth. That God became a man. That His Mother is our Mother. That she is a hero to us. That her faith changed the universe and the history of mankind, fulfilling the plan of God for our salvation.
Glory to Jesus Christ.

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November 18
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.”

What is the secret of happiness?
People have been seeking happiness forever. The famous saying-you can’t buy happiness, is proven true over and over.
People spend so much money trying to find happiness, ignoring the saying and the facts behind it.
The pursuit of happiness is listed in our Declaration of Independence as one of three inalienable rights of Americans, along with life and liberty.
Ancient Greek philosophers debated the same thing, what is happiness, how do we find it?
Could the answer be really simple? Could it be so simple that people overlook it?
I did a Google search for happiness quotes. 60 million 800 thousand others have made a similar search.

I don’t really have a secret to happiness, do these three things and you will be happy.
But, I do know an essential ingredient. Without this ingredient there will be no happiness. And this ingredient is at the core of the message of the Gospel.
Gratitude is a key ingredient in happiness. Happiness cannot exist without gratitude. Gratitude is more foundational than happiness.

In fact, I think the problem is that people seek happiness rather than the things that produce it.

When I look back over my life I see the shaped of an hourglass.

All the events and happenings of my early life can be seen as funneling down to a single point, and then from there the rest of my life follows.
The single point is the day I encountered Jesus Christ in a very real and personal way, for the first time understood who I am and who God is.
Everything in my life since then has flowed from that encounter.

Following and obeying Jesus is the primary shaper of my life since then. My life of blessing comes from thankfulness and gratitude for what God has done for me. I cannot separate out anything in my life without referencing it back to God.
Out of that gratefulness comes lasting happiness.
Un-happiness comes when I take my focus off of what God has given me to do and I become selfish.

This is exactly what happens in the parable that we read this morning.
A man is not thankful for all the abundance that God has given him. He is impressed with himself.
He is not so grateful that he begins to help the poor with his abundance, no, he builds bigger barns. He buys more annuities. He takes more vacations. He buys a summer home, a new car.

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.”

He had a ill-formed conscience, He did not learn from the law. It all became about him and his treasure. No gratitude, no thought of others, no thanksgiving. He was laying up treasures on earth and was not rich toward God. The opposite of what Christ taught in the sermon on the mount.
Mat 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

October 3, 1863
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

A heart that is full of gratefulness cannot be defeated. The words on the lips of martyrs teach us this much.
This Thursday we follow the prescription of President Lincoln. We will gather in our homes to give thanks (he doesn’t mention anything about a feast of food) to Almighty God for all that we have been given.
Let us remember:
All we have has been given us, including our ability to produce financial abundance and the good health to achieve all we have, so none can boast.
All can be taken away from us. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.
Humble gratitude draws a warm response from our patient merciful God who loves mankind. Presumption and arrogance draw His swift wrath.
We have a debt of gratitude and worship to our Heavenly Father. We owe Him our obedience, our love, our worship and our eternal gratitude. Lets practice being grateful.
As we all gather in various homes to celebrate this national holiday, to eat, drink and be merry, as is appropriate. Let us keep a glass full of gratitude and humble thanksgiving to God Almighty. Let us be thankful for His abundance towards us. Let us give Him thanks for family, friends and freedom.
Let us not be ashamed to bend the knee and express our love with joy in our hearts.
Most important, let us first of all be thankful for the awe inspiring gifts God has given us in His Son and in His Church. In the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit. For this holy parish, for our bishops, priests and deacons. For all the faithful who gather to become His people.
Let us all determine today, that we will always be a Thankful people.
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November 11-Veteran’s Day

The Good Samaritan
This famous parable is read twice a year, just before the beginning of two fast seasons. The Nativity or Advent Fast and the season of Great Lent, leading to Pascha.
We are given this parable at the beginning of a fast for a reason. To better understand spiritual healing.
Fasting and spiritual healing are linked.
The appointed fasts of the Church are a form of medicine for our souls, helping us to connect more closely with God in repentance and therefore to receive healing.
Lets look at two ways of reading this parable.
Most commentaries (and most sermons) read this parable as though the audience is called to identify with the Good Samaritan (who helped the wounded man), not the priest or levite (who passed by “on the other side”). 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.
I am not the Good Samaritan, I am the bleeding one who was robbed. I am not the healer, but the one who needs healing.
To think ourselves as the Good Samaritan smacks of pride.

The problem with the moral reading of the parable is that it places the listener in the seat of the healer, the strong one, the deliverer. This is spiritual pride, the failure to be aware of our own need for grace and mercy; for healing for us.
It is good to see how shallow our knowledge of ourselves is. It is good to see that in many ways I am more wounded than the homeless person I think I can help: wounded by pride and self conceit, wounded by a high opinion of myself and my abilities, wounded by the delusion that I am the healthy one.
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.
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 Saviour.
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.

Origen, following St Irenaeus (Adv. haer. III:17:3), alludes to an ancient interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable which sees
in the beaten Jew, Adam;
in Jerusalem, an image of Paradise;
in Jericho, the fallen world;
in the robbers, demonic enemies;
in the priest, the Hebrew Law;
in the Levite, the prophets;
and in the Samaritan, Christ.
and in the inn where the man was welcomed, the Church
in the innkeeper, the episcopal authority of the Church;
and in the Samaritan’s promise to return, a prophetic figure of the Second Coming.

This makes this parable a vision of the salvation of the world, all mankind in the ditch in need of a Savior who heals the wounds of sin.
Those who have been touched by Him, then start to imitate Him and become compassionate, caring for others, because of gratitude.

How do we receive this healing? It begins with humility.
Every person has to ask a question of themselves.
Do I believe in Jesus? Is He King and Lord in my life?
Have I surrendered all to Him, does He have first place in my life?
The minute by minute prayer of a true Christian is Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.
Is this the prayer on your lips?
Have you come before Him and said to Him in your heart- Lord, I am a sinner, please forgive me and cleanse me. Lord, give me strength to sin no more?
Lord, I am the man in the ditch. I cannot save or heal myself. I need you, the Good Samaritan to help me. I cannot even rise on my own, I am beaten and robbed of any good thing. Help me.
I will never forget the day I prayed like that for the first time at the age of 25. And the Lord heard me and brought me to the Inn, the Church. He is healing me. I long for all people to know this healing. There is a way forward with God.

Come to the Good Samaritan, Jesus and be healed.

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October 28

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Ger’asenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
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Two very different responses from the same event, seen from two different perspectives.
1. They were afraid
2. Begged to be with Jesus
One reaction came from those not personally affected by the healing, they did not see.
The other reaction from the one healed, the demons were gone, the man had returned to normal.
People are not always going to be happy about your faith, they may not rejoice when you rejoice, they may not see, they may not understand.
We must be careful in how we respond to things.
We are sometimes like these people who sent Jesus away, in fear.

We notice in the Holy Scriptures that fear is often present when an encounter with God happens. Why, because when a sinner becomes aware of reality it is frightening. How did the three apostles respond on the Mount of Transfiguration? Fear.
This is a normal reaction to such a shattering event, normal human thought cannot process an event like that.

We spend much of our lives in denial about who we are and who God is, or we just forget or we just don’t know.
We are in denial about how far above us God is in His holiness, not in distance but in perspective. His ways of Thinking and Being are so far beyond where we are that the Biblical writers can’t even describe it in normal language, they have to use symbols, images. They have seen God more clearly than we do. It is shocking. Fear, a godly fear is the result. The holiness of God is incomprehensible to our sinful minds.
Plus, on the other hand, we think of ourselves and being more holy than we really are. We have a pretty high opinion of ourselves. We really think we are OK with God, just the way we are.
When we encounter holiness in the saints, in the Sacraments, at a funeral. There are times and places when we are more aware of God, more aware of our need for Him. Sometimes we feel desperate in our need for God, in these moments, we are breaking through delusion and getting in touch with reality.
This is what happened with the people in this miraculous event. The world of these people was turned upside down. Suddenly, God is there. Awareness of reality comes with the presence of God.

This is what happened with Moses at the burning bush.
This is what happened with Jacob when he saw the ladder to heaven.
This is what happened to Isaiah when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up.
This is what happened to the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Maybe on a smaller scale? Maybe you are the only one who knows about it.
Hold on to this in your heart, for it will nourish your soul.

The people of the Ger’asenes had a bad reaction to their fear.
When we have a real encounter with God we can respond in one of two ways.
Like the Ger’asenes we can reject the Lord and demand He leave us alone, and He will.
Or like the prophets and saints, we can be humbled and with appropriate fear, cry out for mercy. The man who had the demons cast out of him, had a saintly response. He wanted to be with Jesus MORE!
We can learn to have the correct response. It can be practiced.
Here are a couple of ideas from what little I know. Its begins with a firm resolve and it begins in the mind. Its about a longing, a yearning, being willing to be changed.
1. Develop the habit of learning the Scriptures-here we learn humility-both is events and in the proper teaching of doctrine from God Himself.
2. Develop the habit of humility. Adopt Christlike thinking by soaking up the ethos of The Church. The phronema of The Church. Breath in the holiness in the prayers and services of the church. Learn prayers, memorize Psalms and Bible verses. Break through the denial of our culture that so heavily affects us.
3. Develop the habit of putting others first, higher than you. Defer to the other, as Christ did for us. Love always, judge no one, be cheerful; knowing that Christ has a place for us in the Kingdom, do not despair over your sin, but repent, we have been forgiven much, so we can love much.
4. Don’t get stuck in shame over your fallenness. Remember the great and precious promises God has declared for you.
Today I want to end with what might be a new thought to you. I hope you will be encouraged by what I am about to tell you.
Remember King David. This is how we get to this important truth, for it was revealed to David by Solomon.

2 Chronicles 6
And the king turned his face, and blessed the whole congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who hath with his hands fulfilled that which he spake with his mouth to my father David, saying, since the day that I brought forth my people out of the land of Egypt I chose no city among all the tribes of Israel to build an house in, that my name might be there; neither chose I any man to be a ruler over my people Israel: But I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel.

Now it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the LORD God of Israel. But the LORD said to David my father, Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build an house for my name, thou didst well in that it was in thine heart: nevertheless, thou shalt not build the house; but thy son which shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house for my name. (Solomon)

The LORD therefore hath performed his word that he hath spoken: for I am risen up in the room of David my father, and am set on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and have built the house for the name of the LORD God of Israel. And in it have I put the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD, that he made with the children of Israel.

Did you hear it? Good and holy intentions count.!!
Listen to what Solomon says to us: Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build an house for my name, thou didst well in that it was in thine heart

God counts good intentions.
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, which means, good intentions mean we wanted to do something but didn’t.
God sees the heart, he knows your intention to help your neighbor, your desire to do something that could not happen.

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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