Monthly Archives: July 2019

FIFTH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 8: 28-34—9:1

Wouldn’t it be nice to find a place of sanctuary, a retreat from the uncertain world that we live in. Finding a sanctuary is an essential element for a healthy spiritual life. The word “sanctuary” comes from the Latin word “Sanctus” which means holy. A sanctuary is a holy place where we can go to find peace and commune with God and with others who also want the same thing. The spiritual life in some ways is a search for sanctuary.

The demoniacs in today’s Gospel were driven by dark forces to choose an unholy place to live in. Tombs were considered to be a place of demons and dark forces. They were not considered wholesome places. There the demoniacs isolated themselves from other people attacking those who attempted to come close to them. The bottom line is that these poor men were miserable. Their choice of dwelling reflected the chaos in their souls. People today try to isolate themselves from others. Many people live like this. They may not be possessed by demons, but by passions and fears that enslave in the same way. Ironically, many come to prefer misery to happiness and they think they will never find a way out. This way of life is the one we are trying to avoid.

There are two kinds of sanctuaries. One is what we see all around us in these four walls. Orthodox Christians build churches as sanctuaries they are filled with holy things, icons, chanting, incense and holy actions: liturgies, sacraments and prayers. We surround ourselves with holy things in order to support us in our journey to the kingdom. Our homes should be sanctuaries as well. In order to keep this place holy we have to keep it clean, pay the bills and improve and beautify it as best we can. But first we have to understand and accept that such places exist.

In this place…our unity in Christ is celebrated and the beauty of the image of God in everyone is celebrated as we gather at the chalice. This place is a true sanctuary of the first kind. Still if the hearts that inhabit the church are filled with hatred and pride even the most beautiful temple will become an unholy place.

The other kind of sanctuary is interior. We call this sanctuary the “heart.” (Nous) “The kingdom of heaven is within you,” The problem is that our hearts also need to be cleaned, maintained and beautified like this building and the surrounding property so that to it can become the sanctuary it was meant to be. It’s why we do not let certain things into our hearts. It’s why we take advantage of the sacrament of repentance. Without proper maintenance the heart cannot clearly reflect the truth that it is the very place where God dwells. The heart is where the struggle that St. Paul describes in Romans 7 is played out: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil that I will not to do, that I practice.” This mental conflict causes internal suffering; a painful division between the image of God in us and the often unwise choices we make. The spiritual life is designed to bring an end to this suffering by removing this mental conflict. Another problem is that most people think we can create our sanctuaries by just wishing it to be so.

Our church teaches that it is through bringing the heart and the mind together that we are able to create a true sanctuary within where we can go whenever we want to. “There is a time coming,” Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman, “and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) This does not mean that physical sanctuaries will vanish, but that sanctuaries of the heart/mind will be strengthened in the faithful by cooperating with the Holy Spirit. This is how the martyrs were able to be so peaceful as they gave their lives for Christ. We will be recognized as Christians by everyone because our hearts will be filled with the light of God. We will love our enemies, not because God said we have a moral obligation to do so, but because we are filled with God’s love and will not know how else to live.

One of the things in this Gospel that always makes me think is the reaction of the people. They come face to face with the living God and they ask Him to leave.

Did you ever wonder what kind of people they must have been?

The truth is they are just like you and me. When God entered their world it was very inconvenient. We are much the same. We come to church and we expect to encounter God to hear a homily that says love those around you, be nice, God is supposed to be here in church where He belongs, and the priest should only be involved in the aspect of my life that we call spiritual, but what happens when God invades the rest of our lives? The places that we work, and our homes?

We talk a lot about doctrines, church history, tradition and not much about the practical ins and outs of the spiritual life which, if practiced, will revolutionize how we live. Real change is possible from the inside out! The peace that passes understanding, this gift is something we literally can begin to work towards. It works best if we do this together. If we fast as individuals we miss everything. If we do not go through lent together it becomes just a change in our diet. We must struggle for unity in everything. We should be doing everything together. We have been conditioned and trained by our society to be individuals, not persons, So if one person wants to follow a strict fast or wear a head covering we think good for them, but we do not believe that the churches’ wisdom has anything relevant to say to us today and we will never submit or change anything that requires a sacrifice on our part. We are usually willing to change our ideas especially if we see an advantage because we like being right, but we will not change who we are at the core of our being, we live in the 21st Century and we can decide everything for ourselves. In my mind this is the definition of hell.

By the grace of God, we have not been left as orphans to decide on our own what is true and to be enslaved like the demoniacs. The Gift of the Holy Spirit revitalizes the gifts granted to all human beings and together we cooperate with Him in the purpose of our life…deification.

Life is not a test; it is not given to us to see if we come to a correct doctrinal position, or live up to a sliding scale of some arbitrary moral standard. Life is given in order to restore our souls to its original design- to choose life who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and where do we find this life?—-only in the Church. And only in the sacraments, the life of the Church.

We have to want our lives to be transformed and healed. Authentic spirituality is not extreme or unreasonable but if we pursue a life that imitates Christ we will begin to feel and look different than the world around us. This kind of life can be practiced quietly with as simple an aim as the pursuit of inner peace. We don’t have to become “crazy fanatics” to practice the spiritual life we just have to embrace becoming who we really are. But, I would say, that if we do pursue this goal, most of the people we know will consider us “crazy fanatics..”

So what should we do? We start by taking a little time to learn the beauty of silence, to pay attention to the present moment, to learn how to quiet the constant and meaningless dialogue in our mind, say a little prayer now and then with full attention. Care for our neighbor a little more than our self.

Notice that there is beauty all around if we are willing to see it. Choose wisely what we will think, say and do. Don’t worry what people will think if we kiss the hand of a priest in public. Slowly, but surely, with such simple practices, our minds awaken, our hearts becomes pure, the love of Christ reveals itself and the light of the kingdom begins to illumine our souls. It is a slow process and it will cost our very lives. But this is the only way to create our inner sanctuary and avoid living in the tombs of this world and live where we worship our Lord in spirit and in truth.

Fr. Gregory Owen

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Saint Panteleimon Great Martyr and Healer

This Saint, who had Nicomedia as his homeland, was the son of Eustorgius and Eubula. His father was an idolater, but his mother was a Christian from her ancestors. It was through her that he was instructed in piety, and still later, he was catechized in the Faith of Christ by Saint Hermolaus (see July 26) and baptized by him. Being proficient in the physician’s vocation, he practiced it in a philanthropic manner, healing every illness more by the grace of Christ than by medicines. Thus, although his parents had named him Pantoleon (“in all things a lion”), because of the compassion he showed for the souls and bodies of all, he was worthily renamed Panteleimon, meaning “all-merciful.”

On one occasion, when he restored the sight of a certain blind man by calling on the Divine Name, he enlightened also the eyes of this man’s soul to the knowledge of the truth. This also became the cause for the martyrdom of him who had been blind, since when he was asked by whom and in what manner his eyes had been opened, in imitation of that blind man of the Gospel he confessed with boldness both who the physician was and the manner of his healing. For this he was put to death immediately. Panteleimon was arrested also, and having endured many wounds, he was finally beheaded in the year 305, during the reign of Maximian. Saint Panteleimon is one of the Holy Unmercenaries, and is held in special honour among them, even as Saint George is among the Martyrs.

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Shining with His Light: Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

In just about anything we do in life, it is helpful at times to sit back and ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve. Unless we have a clear purpose in mind, we are probably not going to get very far in anything. By taking a hard look at ourselves, we may find that there is a disconnection between our goals and our actions. If so, some adjustments are in order.

What Jesus Christ told His followers in today’s gospel lesson certainly challenged them to take a hard look at themselves and change their expectations. He made clear that He was not calling them to join a nationalistic campaign for Israel’s liberation from the Romans, as most Jews then expected the Messiah to do. Instead, they would have to abandon their dreams of using Him to gain power. They would not conquer with an army, a revolution, or a political party, but were to become the light of the world by becoming holy. That holiness would not be the result of obedience merely to the externals of the law as interpreted by the Pharisees, but would instead reflect its fulfillment to the depths of their souls.

By teaching in the following verses that the commandment against murder extended to prohibit anger and insult, Christ showed that He called His followers to a purity of heart that would enable them to see God. He did the same by insisting that the law against adultery also condemned lust. He called the disciples to embody the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose of the law: to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. It is in that context that the Saviour taught that we must go beyond “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and in-stead love, forgive, and bless even our enemies. Whether in first-century Palestine or today, those who live this way will be a light to the world as they provide a vivid example of a holy life that stands in stark contrast to the usual ways of our age. It will be as impossible to hide the brilliance of their souls as it is to hide a shining lamp in a dark room.

Today we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which met at Chalcedon. This council taught that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, being fully divine and fully human. It is only by confessing that He is both perfectly God and perfectly man that it is possible to give an account of how He is the Saviour Who brings human beings into the eternal life of God. For if He is not truly one of us, even as He is divine, how can He make human beings “partakers of the divine nature” who shine with holiness like an iron left in the fire? Christ enables us to become the light of the world by becoming radiant with His light, by being illuminated with His gracious divine energies. He is able to share His holiness with us because He is both fully God and fully human. This is not simply a point from an-cient Church history, but the bedrock of our faith and our hope.

It is also the most basic reason that we must all take a hard look at ourselves and adjust how we think and live as Christians. For if we truly believe that the eternal Son of God has become fully one of us and makes us participants in His eternal life, then His holiness must become characteristic of our lives. Anything less than that is a distortion of what it means be a person in communion with our Lord. His true humanity enables us to become truly human as the fulfillment of our creation in His image and likeness. That is why we speak so much of theosis in the Orthodox Church as the process of being united with God in holiness.

If we have made any progress at all in this journey of the healing of our souls, we will immediately be aware of how poorly we have an-swered this call. The greater spiritual clarity we acquire, the more open our eyes will be to how far we are from shining brilliantly with the light of holiness. So if our reaction to this high vision is along the lines of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” we are in the perfect place to embrace more fully our identity as the light of the world. That is the case because humility is absolutely essential to opening ourselves to the gracious divine energies of our Lord. Consider again His interpretation of the laws against murder and adul-tery. If they referred only to the physical actions of taking life or being unfaithful to a spouse, many could congratulate themselves for not breaking them. But when they extend to condemn anger, insult, and lust, our illusions of self-righteousness immediately fall away. The same is true about loving our enemies, for Christ calls us to go beyond limiting our vengeance to turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and loving as our Father loves the just and unjust. We probably do not have to have much spiritual clarity to see that we are not there yet.

Were Jesus Christ simply another religious or moral teacher, these high requirements would probably lead us to despair and give up. Rules tell us what to do, but do not give us the strength to obey them. But because Christ is both divine and human, He provides more than a set of instructions. For precisely through our awareness of how far short we have fallen from meeting these standards, He heals and strengthens us to serve Him more faithfully. The calling to holiness is not about meeting abstract rules by our own power, but about being united with a Person by grace. Even as He has made great saints out of so many sinners who kneeled in humility before Him, His trans-forming mercy extends also to us. That is a sign of hope for us all. Who would have thought that Zacchaeus, a notorious tax collector, or Photini, a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation, would become shining lights of the world? They did not do so because of perfect obedience to the law. Far from it, they came to see their own brokenness through personal encounters with Jesus Christ. Their humble acceptance of the distance between themselves and the Lord enabled them to grow closer to Him, to open their lives to a divine healing that they could never have given themselves.

They show that, as we fall before Christ in humility, He will raise us up to participate personally in His holiness in ways that simply cannot be known except through repentance. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the God-Man Who has come to make us participants in His healing of every dimension of our humanity, then we must follow the example of all the sinners who have become saints by opening them-selves to participate in our Lord’s holiness. Instead of worrying about whether we will get our lives in perfect order according to our own standards, we must simply do what we have the sight and strength to do today in serving Him as we know we should. St. Paul reminded St. Titus to tell the people to avoid foolish arguments, do good deeds, and meet urgent needs. If we fill our lives with the things we know we should be doing and ignore the temptation to become distracted by nonsense, He will enable us to become light to the world. Since He Himself is the Light, the more closely united we are to Christ, the more brilliantly our lives will become signs of the fulfillment of His purposes for the entire creation.

Perhaps one of the reasons many people do not take the faith seriously today is that the lives of so many Christians do not manifest Christ’s healing and blessing of our humanity. If we are not living icons of His fulfillment of the law and the prophets, then we are very poor witnesses to our Lord. As Orthodox Christians who have received the fullness of the Church’s teaching about Jesus Christ as God and man, we have no excuse to accept distorted views of what faithfulness to Him means such that we excuse ourselves from the vocation to holiness. Even as He did with His first disciples, He calls us to adjust our lives to be in line with His gracious purposes for those created in His image and likeness. As we turn away from all distractions, let us keep focused on shining the light of Christ so that others will give thanks to God and be drawn to the new day of His Kingdom. There is no other way to bear true witness to the Saviour Who is both fully human and divine, for He came to enable us to shine with His holy light in our darkened world.

Fr Philip LeMasters

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Holy Prophet Elias

“The glorious Elias, incarnate messenger of God, pillar of Prophets and forerunner of the second coming of Christ, sent grace from on high to Elisha that he might cure sickness and cleanse lepers. Overflowing with healing for all those who honor him.”
~Troparion to Prophet Elias~

Prophet Elias (Elijah) was a hero of faithfulness to God in Israel and a courageous prophet. Achab (Ahab), seventh King of Israel, (875-854 BC), influenced by his pagan wife Jezebel, had forgotten the true God and returned to pagan-ism. Elias reproached the king for his idolatry and killed the priests of Baal. He fled to the mountains because of Jezebel’s anger. God appeared to him there, and a crow brought him bread for food. At the time of Josaphat, King of Israel (874-85O BC), Elias was taken up in a chariot of fire in the presence of his disciple Eliseus (Elisha). The prophet Malachias had said: “Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet, before the coming and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Mal. 4:5) The prophet refers to the second coming of the Lord, at the end of the world.

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St John Chrysostom – ‘Do not despair’

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

Since it is likely that, being men, they would sin every day, St Paul consoles his hearers by saying “renew yourselves” from day to day.

This is what we do with houses: we keep constantly repairing them as they wear old. You should do the same thing to yourself.

Have you sinned today? Have you made your soul old? Do not despair, do not despond, but renew your soul by repentance, and tears, and Confession, and by doing good things. And never cease doing this.

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Too Many Worries Make People Forget God

3rd SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 6: 22-33

– Geronda (spiritual elder in Greek), does worrying about too many things take us away from God?
Look, let me try to explain. When a little child is playing and is all absorbed with his toys, he s not aware that his father may be next to him caressing him. If he interrupts his play a bit, then he will become aware of his father’s caresses. Similarly, when we are preoccupied with too many activities and are anxiously concerned about them, when we worry too much about worldly matters, we cannot become aware of God’s love. God gives but we do not sense it. Be careful not to waste your precious energy on redundant worries and vanities, which will turn to dust one day. When you do this, you not only tire your body, but you also scatter your mind aimlessly, offering God only your fatigue and yawns at the time of prayer – much like the sacrifice offered by Cain. It follows that your inner state will be like that of Cain’s, you will be full of anxiety and sighs provoked by the devil standing by your side.

You must not waste aimlessly the fruit, the inner cure of our power and then leave the shells for God. The many cares of life sap the marrow of our heart and leave nothing for Christ. If you notice that your mind constantly wanders off to various chores that you have to do, you must realize that you are not doing well spiritually, and this should alarm you because you have distanced yourself from God. You must realize that you are closer to material things than you are to God, closer to creation than to Creator.

We must learn to care about things in the right way
If we seek above all the Kingdom of Heaven and that’s all we care for, the rest will be given to us (Mt 6:33, Lk 12:13). If we become forgetful, then not only do we waste our time but we waste our own self. When we remain mindful and prepare for the next life, than this life too will become meaningful. When we start thinking of the next life, nothing is the same anymore. But if all we think about is how to make this a comfortable life, then not only are we miserable, but we end up weary and condemned. Do not be overwhelmed with anxiety and be possessed by the thought that, “Now we must do this, next we must do that and so on,” because this way Armageddon (Rev 16:16). Will come and you will still be hard at work. Even doing things with anxiety is demonic. Tune in to Christ! Otherwise, you will appear to be living near Him but inside you will still carry the mindset of this world, and you might and up, I’m afraid like the foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13).

The wise virgins did not only had kindness, they also had the right kind of mindfulness, unlike the foolish virgins that were careless, they were on guard and vigilant. This is why the Lord gave them the solemn warning, Be awake and watchful (Mt 25:13). They were virgins but foolish. If someone is born a fool, it is a blessing from God. She enters directly into the next life without having to pass any examinations. But if she is gifted with an intelligent mind and yet lives a foolish life, she will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment.

Can you see in the case of Martha and Mary, mentioned in the Gospel (Lk 10:38-42), how mindless care for things caused Martha to behave somewhat impudently? It seems that in the beginning Mary was actually helping her, but when she realized that Martha was nowhere near completing her preparations, she went her and went to listen to Jesus. She thought to herself, “Am I to lose time with my Christ for the sake of Martha’s salads and sweets?” As if Christ had come to their home to taste Martha’s salads and foods! It was then that Martha became annoyed and said, Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? (Lk 10:40). Let us be careful, then, not to behave like Martha. Let us pray that we will become good “Marys”.

An Excerpt from “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man” by Elder St Paisios of Mount Athos (Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologion”, 2006)

Elder Paisios and St. Euphemia
“Father Paisios was going through a very difficult phase. A problem was created in the Church at that time and many bishops had gone to him to ask for his help. However, it was a very complicated problem and even if he wanted to, he was unable to assist; as he said, no matter from which side you look at the problem, you come face to face with a spiritual impasse. So, he decided to turn his efforts to solve the problem into prayer. During that time, Father Paisios constantly prayed for God to give solution to the Church’s problem; especially, he prayed to St Ephemia:
St Ephemia, you who miraculously solved the serious problem the Church was facing then, take the Church out of the present impasse!

One morning, at nine o’ clock, when Father Paisios was reading the service of the third hour, he suddenly heard someone discreetly knocking on his door.

The Elder asked from inside: – Who is it?
Then, he heard a woman’s voice answering: – It is me, Ephemia, Father.
– Which Ephemia? He asked again.
There was no answer. There was another knock on the door and he asked again: – Who is it?
The same voice was heard saying: – It is Ephemia, Father.

There was a third knock and the Elder felt someone coming inside his cell and walking through the corridor. He went to the door and there he saw St Ephemia, who had miraculously entered his cell through the locked door and was venerating the icon of the Holy Trinity, which the Elder had placed on the wall of his corridor, on the right hand side of the church’s door. Then the Elder told the saint: Say: Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

St Ephemia clearly repeated those words and immediately Father Paisios knelt and venerated the saint.

Afterwards, they sat and talked for quite a while; he could not specify for how long, as he had lost all sense of time while being with St Ephemia. She gave the solution for all three matters he had been praying for and in the end he said to her: I would like you to tell me how you endured your martyrdom.

The saint replied:
– Father, if I knew back then how eternal life would be and the heavenly beauty the souls enjoy by being next to God, I honestly would have asked for my martyrdom to last for ever, as it was absolutely nothing compared to the gifts of grace of God!


(taken from: http://www.pigizois.net/agglika/paisios/11.htm)

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