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.
Four kinds of soil, four different outcomes to the Word of God. Logos.
- path-devil takes it away (birds)
- rock-receive it with joy, but no root, temptation comes and they fall away (moisture)
- thorns-they hear but are choked by cares of life, fruit does not mature
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- They hold fast to the Word with an honest and good heart.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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’?
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.
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!
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.
- You have no faith
- 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.
- I have so far to go.
- 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.
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.
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?
5. pasta (a lot like bread)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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?
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.”
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.