SIXTH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 9: 1-8
In 2015, I went to liturgy in an Orthodox parish in Rome that meets in a vacant Catholic church. After the service, the priest showed me the bones of early Christian martyrs kept there in a cabinet. Rome was the capital city of an empire that put so many to death for their faith in Christ and their refusal to worship the emperor and other false gods. Whether in great cathedrals or humble parish churches, the relics of saints are never far away in such a place. They are tangible signs of holiness.
Category Archives: Sunday Homilies
SIXTH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 9: 1-8
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
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
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)
Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost at which the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord’s followers, making them members of His Body, the Church. A week ago we celebrated the Sunday of All Saints, remembering all those who have become living icons of our Lord’s salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since then, we have begun the Apostles Fast, a period in which we embrace a fairly light discipline of self-restraint in our diets in order to gain the spiritual strength that we need to become more like the apostles who responded faithfully to Christ’s command “Follow Me.”
When the disciples first heard that command, they were involved in their daily work as fishermen. But the Saviour called them to the fulfillment of their fishing, for they were to learn how to catch people for the Kingdom, how to draw them into the blessing of God’s salvation. That required leaving their homes and occupations in order literally to follow Christ around in His ministry and to learn from His teaching and example as best they could. Of course, it was not until after His resurrection that they really understood who He was and were empowered by the Holy Spirit for their unique ministry.
Nonetheless, it was essential that the first disciples obeyed the command to leave home and follow the Messiah. Even though their understanding was quite limited, they were prepared by their close association with Christ for what was to come. Had they not obeyed that initial command, they would not have become His disciples. Literally leaving home and following Christ were necessary dimensions of their preparation to unite themselves with the risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as for their leadership of the Church. Their discipleship provided the context within which they would find the healing of their souls.
We live well after Christ called His first followers to leave their nets and become fishers of men. Many centuries have passed since the day of Pentecost when our ascended Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, however, we participate in the eternal truth and reality of these events. They are present to us in the life of the Church, especially as we enter into the heavenly banquet in the Divine Liturgy. That means that He calls us as He called them. That means that He enables us to share in His life as He did for those gathered at Pentecost. The Apostles Fast provides us all with a good opportunity to consider whether we are placing our lives in a context that enables us to follow their example of faithfulness to the Lord.
Even small acts of self-denial, such as abstaining from meat in the Apostles Fast, remind us that our strength comes from God, not from our own will being accomplished or our desires for pleasure being fulfilled. We humble ourselves when we put our own preferences for food or anything else aside in order to orient ourselves more fully to the Kingdom. Fasting periods are times of training, of learning to say “no” to our self-centeredness so that we will find it easier to say “yes” to Christ, especially when He calls us to follow Him in ways that challenge our inclinations to place our own comfort and desires before the demands of serving Him faithfully.
In some ways, we may think that the disciples had it easy when Christ walked up to them and told them straightforwardly what to do. They had to leave home and their livelihood, but at least the Lord made that crystal clear to them. Our challenge is a bit different because we encounter Him in our hearts and souls, which are not pure and so easily misinterpret what He wants us to do. We typically get so caught up in our thoughts and self-centered desires that we hear only what we want to hear. It is much more appealing to make God in our own image than to take up the cross of truly becoming more like Him in holiness. It is so tempting to fill our minds with whatever fuels our passions such that we have little interest in devoting ourselves to prayer, Bible reading, or the lives and teachings of the Saints. It is so easy to fill our eyes and ears with entertainment that denigrates the holiness of the intimate union of man and woman, that celebrates violence and hatred, and that worships at the altar of money and what it can buy.
In so many ways, we are caught up in nets that make it difficult for us to follow the example of the apostles who left everything behind in order to follow Christ. The good news, however, is that we have all we need in the life of the Church in order to hear and respond faithfully to the call of our Lord. The path that leads to the healing of our souls is open to all and quite obvious. We have died to sin in baptism and risen with Christ into a new life of holiness. We have received the Holy Spirit personally in chrismation and are nourished with “the medicine of immortality,” our Lord’s own Body and Blood, in the Eucharist. When we fall short of living faithfully as those who are in Christ, He Himself receives us through repentance and forgives us through Confession. Through our life together in the Church, we have innumerable opportunities to serve and love Him in one another. In a world so obviously corrupted by the worship of the false gods of power, pleasure, and possessions, we have tremendous resources in the Church for a radically different way of living in which self-righteous judgment and self-centered indulgence have no place at all.
It is tempting to think that all this is fine for the Saints, but not for people like you and me who have spent decades weakening ourselves spiritually in one way or another. We all bear the burdens of our brokenness, both personally and collectively. The Church is a hospital for us all, and the therapy is not always easy or pleasant. Old habits are hard to break, and pursuing a life of holiness can be as difficult as undergoing physical therapy for muscles that have grown weak through disuse or become mangled by disease or accident. So it is rarely going to be easy or appealing for us to embrace the healing of our souls. Work and sacrifice are required, but this is not simply a journey of self-help. It is, instead, always a matter of opening ourselves as fully as possible to the gracious healing energies of the Holy Spirit by embracing the humble path of discipleship as best we have the strength to do at this point in our journey.
It really is a simple path. If you want to discern faithfully what Christ is calling you to do in life, devote at least a few minutes regularly each day to prayer. As your physical health allows, fast as best you can according to the guidelines of the Church. Give as generously as you can to the needy and in support of the Church’s ministries. Read the Bible each day and turn your attention away from entertainment that inflames your passions. Learn more about the teaching and example of the Saints and give less attention to the rich and famous of this world. Confess your sins in humility and strive to reorient your life to Christ. Pray for those who have offended you every day and do your best to mend broken relationships. Ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. When someone asks for your forgiveness, give it readily. Pray for the departed and for everyone in need. Refuse to judge anyone else and focus on repenting of your own sins. Prepare to receive the Eucharist with prayer, fasting, and regular Confession.
Do these things persistently throughout your life as you call upon the mercy of the Lord with the humility of the Jesus Prayer. If you do so, you will be able to hear and respond to His command “Follow Me.” And, by His grace, you may even become a Saint.
Fr. Philip LeMasters
If you are like me, sometimes when you read the lives of the saints you shake your head and think, “I could never do anything like that.” Many endured horrible tortures to the point of death because they refused to deny Christ. Others denied themselves food, clothing, and shelter in ways that seem beyond the strength of human beings. Some accepted insult and abuse while forgiving their tormentors and turning the other cheek in a fashion that seems not of this world. As today’s epistle reading reminds us, the Old Testament saints endured such trials purely in anticipation of the coming of the Saviour. Most of us, who have received the fullness of the promise in Christ, cannot fathom how we could be nearly as faithful as was this cloud of witnesses who point us by their examples and prayers to commend our lives to Christ.
On this Sunday of All Saints, we commemorate all those who have united themselves to the Lord to the point that they have become radiant with His holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, including those whose are not formally canonized as saints by the Church. The canonized saints are like the members of the hall of fame who stand as shining examples of obedience to the Lord. We celebrate them because their lives are such vivid icons of what it means for a human being to become a partaker of the divine nature by grace. We do not know the names of all the saints, of course. Not all who are illumined with the divine glory are known publically as such; of course, the point of holiness is never simply to draw attention to oneself. It is, instead, to be faithful in offering our lives to Christ. Only He knows the names and number of those Who have done that, for He alone knows our hearts.
If we want to join their number, then we must attend carefully to Christ’s teachings today in the gospel reading. “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” No doubt, these words concern the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord even in the face of fierce persecution. Martyrs and confessors continue to refuse to deny Him, regardless of the physical abuse they suffer in many countries around the world. But we would let ourselves off the hook by thinking that this teaching refers only to those who lives are literally at risk for being faithful Christians. We must also ask whether we acknowledge Him before our neighbors every day of our lives in what we say and do. It is only our pride that makes us think that true faithfulness must be dramatic and spectacular. Most of us struggle to be faithful even in our routine trials and temptations. We will fail to unite ourselves to Christ in holiness if we fail to see that the most common challenges that we face are our opportunities to acknowledge that we belong to Him, and not simply to ourselves.
The Saviour said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” There is nothing wrong, of course with loving our parents or our children, but if we are to become radiant with the holiness of God, we must keep even our strongest loves in proper order. We must remember that our parents, children, and spouses are gifts of God to us. His love is obviously the ground of all love worthy of the name. Our calling is not to worship people or make them ends in themselves, but to relate to them in a way that fulfills God’s gracious purposes for them and us. If we make false gods out of others, we will make them miserable and probably drive them away. And since God created us in His image and likeness, we will learn the hard way that we will never find fulfillment in anyone but Him.
“People pleasing” is quite dangerous because it is ultimately a self-centred form of idolatry in which we crave the approval of others to the point that we will sacrifice anything for it. Instead of offering even our most prized and intimate relationships to the Lord for His healing and blessing, we end up offering ourselves to others, willing to compromise our faithfulness for the sake of giving whomever we want to impress what we think they want. That is not taking up our crosses, but sacrificing our obedience to the Saviour in order to serve lesser gods. And since what drives this attitude is our self-centered desire for the approval of others, it is ultimately a way of worshiping ourselves.
The Lord said that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” That is not only a promise for those who have physically given up their families and possessions, but also for those who have made the less dramatic sacrifice of putting Christ first in how they treat and speak to their spouse, children, family members, and friends. It is a promise for those who have denied themselves in order to have more time, energy, and resources to share with the poor, sick, and lonely. It is a promise for those who turn away from self-centeredness by offering themselves to the Lord in daily prayer, regular worship, and conscientious fasting.
Too often we think that holiness occurs only within the context of the four walls of the Church. If we are to take up our crosses and follow Christ, we must also learn to see the infinite opportunities of dying to self out of love for Him and our neighbors in our daily lives. That means we must take a painfully honest look at ourselves. For example, we may enjoy filling out minds with entertainment—such as news, social media, video games, film, etc.–that only inflames passions of worry, fear, hate, envy, and lust. If so, we need to turn away from it as we focus on the words of the Jesus Prayer or at least something else that does not inflame our passions. If we can-not learn to make such small sacrifices, we will never have the strength to make larger ones.
Regardless of our age, we likely are close to people whose values and way of life are apparently not consistent with obedience to Christ. Even as we must not condemn them personally, we must resist the subtle temptation to compromise our faithfulness to the Lord in what we say and do in order to gain their approval. It is one thing to show everyone Christ’s love as best we can, but another to fail to acknowledge Him by engaging in conduct and conversation that contradict our primarily loyalty to Him. That would be a form of putting other people, and ultimately ourselves, before God, which is a path only to greater weakness for them and us. We must all discern mindfully and prayerfully whether we are acknowledging Christ in situations where it is much easier to act and speak as though He were not our Lord. We must all be willing to take up the cross of obedience to Him even if it means that we will be met with disapproval.
“Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The Saviour’s statement applies to all who have put Him first in their lives, for doing so requires sacrificing much that the world worships. It is obviously the case for martyrs and confessors to this very day, but also applies to everyone who sacrifices, even in small ways, in order to seek first the Kingdom of God. When we direct our time, energy, and attention to serve Christ, His Church, and our neighbors in whom He is present, we take a lower place in the estimation of the world. When we refuse to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of conventional accounts of success and happiness, we embrace the humility of Christ. Even when we do so in seemingly ordinary ways, we take step in running “with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.” That is how, we too, may join that great cloud of witnesses who have become radiant with the holiness of our Lord. Nothing dramatic or spectacular is required, but only true faithfulness.
Fr. Philip LeMasters
John 7:37-52, 8:12 ~ Save and sanctify all who know You as God
I will try to say a few words to analyse this sublime line taken from the hymn for this great day of Pentecost.
In Cyprus, the suffering island, where Greek Orthodox identity is more purely, fully and faithfully upheld, they call this day ‘the day of the flood’. Which means that the heavens and God Himself flooded the world – not with threatening waters, as when the world was destroyed in the time of Noah. Instead, He has flooded the world with endless gifts, which the life-giving death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, has opened up for all of us on earth.
That is why this is a great and unrepeatable day. Within it, the whole mystery of the divine Economy reaches its pinnacle. God became flesh for this day. Christ was sacrificed for us to reach this day, to reconcile us with God the Father, to wash us of our sins.
And who among us does not have sins? Not only the original sin! This is the least of our concerns today, unfortunately. It was a great sin, but we are washed of it in our Baptism.
Each of us has their own sins: sins of the day and sins of the night, our immeasurable sins. I with mine, and you with yours. However, we are cleansed of these sins by the death of the God-Man, the Theanthropos. It is the precious and holy Blood of the Lord which cleanses us of our sins, and washes us in the font of regeneration. It offers rebirth.
And after all this, the springs of the Holy Spirit gush forth today.
Following the Ascension, God sends the Holy Spirit to guide us unto all truth, and only in so doing is the knowledge of God made complete.
We worship God the Father; we have come to know God the Son as a man; today we shall meet the Holy Spirit poured out, proceeding, being distributed but not divided, in the form of tongues of fire.
After all was finished, we can say that we have now come to the knowledge of the true God. We no longer believe in idols. We no longer believe in ourselves. We believe in God. Not an imaginary god, but God in Trinity. We are, then, “those who know God”. We have come to the awareness of truth. We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit. Precisely what we chant at every Liturgy!
However, more is needed. When we know God, and when we confess the true God while knowing the truth, we still need the forgiveness, pardon, benevolence and mercy that come from above. This is why we chant “Save and sanctify all who know You as God”.
It is not enough for us to be saved. It is not enough for Him to take us from the left where the goats are, and deliver us to the right where the sheep are. It is not enough for Him to make us righteous after we were sinners. It is not enough for Him to turn us, out of children of wrath, into children of light and obedience and adoption and love. Justification is not enough for us. We want sanctification.
This is why the cry of the Church reaches sky-high; we heard it in the hymn we chanted this morning: “Save and sanctify all who know You as God”. Not just a few people, or even many people – but all!
This is the prayer of the Church. This is the wish of the Church today. This is the supplication of the Church today. This is the proclamation of the Church today. That no one is condemned forever to death and decay. Because to those who were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, light has shone in Christ. Now there is light, life, salvation and sanctification. But if even one person remains outside the kingdom of God, we will have sorrow. If only one loses salvation, humanity will mourn.
Because He created all people out of nothing; all creation is His.
For this reason, the flood of the Holy Spirit today will cleanse, enlighten, save and sanctify.
Let us honour this great day with repentance, with edification, with doxology towards the Trinitarian God. Amen.
Writings & Homilies of Archbishop Stylianos of Australia
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of Pentecost
This great Feast of the Church is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on the Sunday that is the fiftieth day after the celebration of Pascha. The Liturgy is conducted on the day of the Feast, and is preceded the evening before by a Great Vespers service and on the morning of the Feast by the Matins service. On the day of the Feast a Vespers service is conducted that includes the kneeling prayers. These prayers mark the beginning of the practice of kneeling during the Liturgy at the time when the holy gifts of bread and wine are consecrated as the body and blood of Christ.
The practice of kneeling has been suspended during the Paschal season. On the Monday following the Feast, the Divine Liturgy is conducted in commemoration of the All-holy and Life-creating and All-powerful Spirit, Who is God, and One of the Trinity, and of one honour and one essence and one glory with the Father and the Son.
From the Synaxarion of the Feast
Prayer of the Holy Spirit
Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, the Treasury of good and Giver of life: come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, Gracious One. Amen.