Category Archives: Sunday Homilies

The Disorienting Shock of an Empty Tomb: Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Orthodox Church

We all know what it is like to receive shocking news. Sometimes it is simply impossible to be prepared to hear an astounding message that we did not expect at all. Today we commemorate the people who received the most shocking news of all time from the angel: “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

These first witnesses to our salvation were all women who expected to find the dead body of Jesus Christ in the tomb. They saw Him die on the Cross and now went to anoint Him properly for burial. Like the disciples and everyone else, these women did not expect the resurrection. We can only imagine how sad, scared, and terribly disappointed they must have been as they rose very early on Sunday morning to take their sorrowful journey to His tomb. When they got there, these women–the Theotokos, Mary Magdalen, two other Mary’s, Johanna, Salome, Martha, Susanna and others whose names we do not know– were the first to receive the shocking news of the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

We also remember today Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prominent Jewish leaders who were also the Lord’s secret followers. Joseph “took courage” and risked his position and perhaps his life by asking Pilate for the Savior’s body. He took Him down from the Cross and, with Nicodemus’ help, wrapped Him in a linen shroud and put Him in a tomb.

Not only must the women and the men we remember today have been torn apart with grief at the death of Christ, they were surely afraid to be identified with One Who had been rejected, condemned, and publicly executed as a blasphemer by the Jews and a traitor by the Romans. Nonetheless, they found the courage to do what devotion to their Lord required, regardless of their pain and fear. They served Christ in the only way still available to them by providing Him a decent burial.

There is a powerful realism about this story, for it certainly does not read like something made up after the fact. The Lord’s disciples are not even present in it, for they had run away in fear at His arrest. St. Peter, the chief disciple, had denied Him three times before His crucifixion. The first witnesses of the resurrection are all women, whose testimony had no authority in that time and place. Moreover, they went to the grave in order to anoint His dead body, not to find an empty tomb. Like them, Sts Joseph and Nicodemus viewed Christ simply as one of the dead at that point. If someone were trying to make up a story to support the truth of the resurrection and to build up the credibility of the first Christians, this would not be the way to do it. It is, however, the perfect way to bear witness to the shocking truth of what no one expected, of what makes no sense according to our usual ways of thinking, and of what truly happened on that great and holy day when Life first dawned from the tomb.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious season of Christ’s Passover from death to life, we must not lose the sense of disorienting shock that the myrrh-bearing women received when they saw the stone that had been rolled away from the door of the tomb and heard the message from the angel of the Savior’s resurrection. What happened was so amazing that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Too often, we take the good news of Christ’s victory over death for granted as part of a story that we know quite well. Even as we are accustomed to the intensified prayer, fasting, and repentance of Lent, we get used to the joyful celebration of the season of Pascha each year. A way to reopen the eyes of our souls to the unique and extraordinary nature of the Lord’s resurrection is for us to put ourselves in the place of the myrrh-bearers and of Sts Joseph and Nicodemus by struggling to overcome anything that would hold us back from devoted service to Jesus Christ, even when it is not easy. Nothing that these holy women and men did in the aftermath of Christ’s death was fun, popular, or safe. We can be sure that they would have all strongly preferred to be doing something other than burying their friend and Lord. But they overcame those struggles and pressed on in serving Him in the only way available to them. If they were to love Him then, they had to give Him a proper burial.

Our situation is obviously different, for we live well after the Lord’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the spiritual challenge is the same. No generation gets to pick the circumstances that it faces. Human beings do not get to choose the illnesses, tragedies, or other problems that they encounter. It is not entirely up to us what temptations and weaknesses challenge us, our marriages, and our families spiritually, morally, or in any other way. Indeed, if we pretend that we get to pick how to serve our Lord in ways that suit us, we will likely ignore what He is actually calling us to do. Our challenge is to be faithful in responding to the situation that is before us, in discerning how to bear witness to Christ’s victory over death in the here and now, even if we would rather be doing something else.

The Church in Jerusalem faced a similar situation when there was strife over the daily distribution of bread to widows of different ethnic backgrounds. The apostles were too busy with their ministries to address that problem, so they ordained the first deacons to serve the practical needs of the community. And as a result, the Church flourished. We can be sure that the apostles would have preferred for such problems not to have arisen at all. But that is not what happened. When the problem arose, they had to find a way to address it. To have ignored it because they did not like it would have been to ignore God’s calling to them and to have refused to serve Christ in His Body, the Church.

We will grow in our participation in the Savior’s victory over sin and death by humbly accepting the opportunities for serving Him that our lives, and the lives of those around us, present. Most of us need look no further than our own families, our parish, and our friends and acquaintances in order to discern quite clearly what God is calling us to do. If we want a Lord Who fits our preconceived notions and calls us to serve Him only in ways that we find convenient, pleasing, or easy, then we will fall into the idolatry of worshiping our own self-centered delusions. Remember that our Lord’s empty tomb was an unexpected shock from which the women initially fled in fear. But what was at first so terrifying turned out to be a blessing beyond anyone’s expectations. Had the women not put themselves in the place of humble obedience and service, they would not have been the first witnesses of the resurrection. And our lives will not bear witness to the joy of Christ’s great victory unless we do the difficult work of serving Him in whatever circumstances we face, regardless of whether we especially like them or not.

Pascha was truly disorienting for all our Lord’s followers. It did not fit with any conventional expectations for religion in that time and place, and it still does not. In order to participate more fully in the life of our Risen Lord, we must follow the example of those blessed women and men who, in the midst of their fear and pain, did what needed to be done in order to love and serve Christ, even though they could not imagine what was to happen next. Theirs was not a self-centered, sentimental, or culturally accommodated spirituality, but a way of living that opened them to the new day of a Kingdom not of this world. The shock of the empty tomb was overwhelming, but that was necessary in order to open their eyes to news so good that nothing could have prepared them for it. This Paschal season, let us follow their holy example so that our eyes will also be opened to the brilliant light that continues to illumine even the darkest grave. As the angel said, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on The Disorienting Shock of an Empty Tomb: Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Orthodox Church

Filed under Holy Week & Holy Pascha, Readings, Sunday Homilies

His Bodily Wounds and Ours: Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Sunday of Thomas, John 4: 5-42

Christ is Risen!

I was surprised a few years ago in one of my college classes when even the best students were surprised to learn that Christian hope for eternal life includes the resurrection of the body. They were comfortable thinking of human souls experiencing eternal life, but doubted that our actual physical bodies would have any part in the Kingdom of Heaven. Especially on this Sunday of St. Thomas, we celebrate how Christ’s bodily resurrection is the basis of hope for our own. Today we proclaim that our Savior brings healing and transformation to whole, embodied persons, for that is how He conquered death on the third day.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious good news of this season of Pascha, we recall how Christ called doubting Thomas to faith in His great victory. “He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Still bearing His wounds even in His glorified body as the God-Man, the Risen Christ brought Thomas to faith through the witness of His own deified flesh.

We have probably heard the story so many times that we have become deaf to its importance. Nonetheless, it remains the case that the Savior’s resurrection is not an escape from the body or the physical world, but instead their healing and sanctification. Likewise, St. John referred in his epistle to that “which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it…” The Apostles saw the Lord after His resurrection with their eyes, touched Him with their hands, heard His voice with their ears, felt His breath on their skin, and even saw Him eat food. (Luke 24: 36-43).

The good news that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” comes from a resurrection in glory of a complete Person with a human body marked by the wounds of torture and crucifixion. His resurrection is not an escape from the body, but its fulfillment. The Eternal Word Who created us by breathing into the dust of the earth now breathes physically on His Disciples as He empowers them to carry out His ministry of bringing salvation to the world, even to the point of forgiving sins in His name. Here are powerful signs of what it means for human beings to be in the likeness of God and partakers of the divine nature by grace.

These are not merely details of ancient history, but reminders that we participate in Christ’s Passover from death to life by how we live as whole, embodied persons. We were baptized physically with water into Christ’s death in order to put Him on like a garment, in order to rise with Him into a new life of holiness. To be blunt, the Christian life is not simply about our emotions, ideas, or opinions; it is not reduced to what we say we believe. For those who are truly in Christ will live in ways that manifest the brilliant life of the resurrection, that radiate the holy light of the Savior’s great victory over sin and death. As St. John put it, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We participate in the new life of our Risen Lord by walking into His light, by embracing as fully as we can the blessed healing of the human being that He has brought to the world. Christ’s Passion was not a matter simply of His feelings, words, or ideas, but of His complete Self-offering through crucifixion, burial, descent to Hades, and resurrection from the dead. He rises in glory with His wounds, and we cannot begin to make sense of His salvation without speaking of the most bodily of realities, such as torture, execution, death, and burial in a tomb that was later found to be empty.

We are probably all tempted at times to think how much easier it would be to serve God if we did not have our particular set of bodily limitations and problems. Some are challenged by physical or mental illness, while others wrestle with passions for the pleasures of food, sex, alcohol, or other substances. Eating disorders and unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like ruin the health and well-being of some, while others struggle to accept that their male or female bodies are signs of who they are in God’s image and likeness.

Many today ignore the sacredness of the intimate bodily union of man and woman, which makes two into one flesh. The epidemic of pornography in our culture reflects a repudiation of the sacredness of the flesh and blood through which we encounter the living icons of Christ. Some refuse to honor the bodies of their neighbors by becoming blind to the humanity of children in the womb, of people with skin of a different color, or of terminally ill patients in chronic pain. And whether it is greed, sloth, anger, or refusal to help the needy with our time, attention, and resources, there is no sin that does not show itself physically in some way in the lives of those who struggle with it.

No matter what someone’s particular struggles, weaknesses, or failings are, we must respond with compassion, for we too are among the sick who need the Physician. Nonetheless, no physical condition can ever make us sin or do evil. The problem is not that we have bodies, but that we choose to remain in the tomb, that we would rather walk in the darkness than in the light. For it is no sin to be ill or to be tempted in any way. The Lord Himself suffered terribly on the cross and was tempted. It is a sin, however, to let any of our wounds become excuses for not walking in the light as best we can. It is a sin to let anything fill our lives with such darkness that we refuse to open our eyes—and our lives—to the good news of the resurrection. It is a sin when we think that God must remove this or that problem in order to earn our faithfulness, in order to be worthy of our devotion. As we celebrate Christ’s great victory over sin and death, we must not be afraid to expose our wounded selves to Him with humility as we say with St. Thomas “My Lord and my God!”

Remember that the Savior has taken upon Himself even the worst bodily wounds. It is through them that He has brought life out of death and brilliant light out of the darkest tomb. Darkness is simply the absence of light and it disappears when it is illumined. The same Lord Who conquered Hades and the tomb for our salvation, and Who invited Thomas to touch His wounds, will bring us as whole, embodied persons into the new day of His Kingdom if we will only keep turning as best we can from the darkness as we struggle to live faithfully each day in the midst of the problems, pains, and weaknesses that beset us. We must all take that journey one day at a time.

The good news is that Christ does not ask us to conquer sin and death by our own power, for He has already done that. But He does ask us truly to have faith, which requires a faithful life, even as we constantly ask for His mercy and strength to participate as fully as possible in the joy of His resurrection. We will not do that with a fake spirituality that relies purely on emotions or ideas, but as whole persons of flesh and blood enlivened by the One Who made us in His image and likeness and even died and rose again for our salvation. So let us celebrate Pascha by walking in the light as best we can with all our wounds, for that is how we will open ourselves to the light that has made even the tomb radiant with the divine glory. If He can do that to a grave, just imagine what He can do with us.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on His Bodily Wounds and Ours: Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Filed under Holy Week & Holy Pascha, Readings, Sunday Homilies

The power of prayer and fasting

4th Sunday of Lent, St John Climacus, Mark 9: 17-31

As Christians, thoughtfully done prayers and fasts can help us realize our impact on the salvation of the world; Jesus has made it clear that believers can achieve anything they want. In these times when the certainties and great world theories have all failed, it just may be time to try the answer provided by Jesus. “Lord, help my unbelief,” the cry of the father in the gospel below, serves as a lesson for us all.

The Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent, Mark 9, 17-31), presents Jesus as coming face to face with an ancient problem which affects the whole of humanity: the ability of people to overcome evil. For as long as there have been people on earth, evil in its thousand and one forms- poverty, hunger, wars, refugee crises, sicknesses and death- has held sway over their lives, suffocated their hopes and, often enough, driven them to despair. Philosophers, economists, politicians, scientists, religious leaders and even soothsayers have, for centuries, struggled against it on a daily basis. Sometimes more successfully, at other times less so, the human race has managed to make some progress towards the improvement of the quality of life, but, like the Hydra in ancient mythology, evil itself has remained invincible.

His disciples put this problem to Christ when, while He was on Mount Tabor, where He was transfigured, they were attempting, without success, to cure an epileptic child. If, on Mount Tabor, the glory of Christ as God appeared in all its majesty, below, in the villages of Galilee, human misery and pain continued to be the order of the day. At the time when Jesus was on the mountain, a despairing father brought his sick child to the disciples to be cured. But they were unable to help. The people closest to Christ failed to free someone from the pain that had tormented him for years. Then the father summoned whatever resources of faith remained to him and addressed Jesus Himself.

Jesus asked him if he believed and he, calling upon the last ounce of his spiritual strength cried: ‘I do believe, Lord’. But at the same time, recognizing his limits, he added: ‘Help my unbelief’. In his efforts to proclaim his faith, all he managed to do, in the end, was to declare his inability to believe completely. Respecting his sincerity and his agony, Jesus gave him what he’d been longing for, for years: the healing of his child. The disciples, however, continued to be tormented by the problem and, as soon as they were alone with Christ, they asked Him why they had been una-ble to help. Jesus’ answer was brief: ‘The only way to defeat evil is through prayer and fasting’.

At this point, Saint Mark the Evangelist interrupts his narrative. He says nothing about the reaction of the disciples, nor whether they understand Jesus’ response. But the modern reader will certainly have numerous questions left unanswered, since it’s difficult to accept that the problem is really so easy, difficult to claim that prayer and fasting are enough in themselves to solve all of the problems of humankind. Besides, it’s easy to raise an objection to Jesus’ answer: thousands of people pray and fast throughout their lives, but nothing’s changed in the world.

Jesus’ response is surprising because people today have become used to dealing with problems in a dynamic fashion, with action and decisive actions, among which it would certainly be difficult to include prayer and fasting. On the other hand, in the minds of many religious people, prayer has become associated with personal requests, and fasting with an attempt to placate God. People pray for their work to go well, for their children to get on, for God to grant health or whatever else they need. And they fast because they’ll be in God’s good books and He’ll reward them when the time comes. But this isn’t the kind of prayer and fasting that Christ taught people.

If you look carefully, you’ll notice that, in the Orthodox tradition, the pronouns used with verbs invoking God in prayer are always in the first person plural and never in the first person singular. ‘Our Father’, ‘give us’, ‘forgive us’. Nowhere do we say ‘My Father’, ‘give me’ or ‘forgive me’. There’s only one prayer which uses the first person singular, and that’s the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, but that’s when the person praying is asking God for the opportunity to live in communion with others. It’s only when the subject matter of the prayer of Christians is the salvation of the whole world, when Christians realize that they can’t live happily if there are unhappy people around them, that we’ll have made strides towards the solution of the problems of humankind.

The same is true of fasting. From the time of ancient Israel, the prophets of the Old Testament envisioned the coming of the Messiah as a period when all conflict would be resolved, even in nature. Fasting isn’t an indication of piety, but a conscious act of giving up certain self-evident rights- such as, for example, the right to food- a declaration that someone is prepared to sacrifice something of themselves for other people and for the whole world. This is the fasting that |Christ asks of us who believe in Him, because this is the only fasting that can save humankind.

It may seem that these are small steps and probably most people doubt their efficacy. It’s true that the world can’t hope to be saved with a few prayers and fasts. But when the prayers and fasts are performed conscientiously they can help an increasing number of people to become aware of their role and their responsibility for the salvation of the world. And it’s certain that a society made up of conscientious Christians, of people who’ve made it their aim in life to bring into being the Kingdom of God, is the greatest hope for humankind today. Today, when everybody knows that the certainties and great world theories have all failed, it may be time to try the solution proposed by Christ. In any case, He Himself makes it clear that believers can achieve anything they want. And if anybody doubts the efficacy of this, it may be that the cry of the tragic father in the Gospel reading we mentioned above may be particularly effective: ‘Lord, help my unbelief’.

Comments Off on The power of prayer and fasting

Filed under Readings, Sunday Homilies

True Crosses

3rd Sunday of Lent, The Veneration of the Holy Cross, Mark 8: 34-38, 9:1

How many of us would say that today, or yesterday or this past week, we have suffered in some form or another, that we’ve had a bad day or a difficult moment in which we felt pain and despair? And when we felt this way did we ask: why me, why now or just why? And where was this question directed: towards another person, towards myself or towards God? Where did we try and find relief from suffering: in some form of escape, by talking with a friend or a priest, in prayer, in the scriptures?

A lot of help and answers to these questions can be found in today’s gospel reading (Mark 8:34-9:1). In this passage, Jesus states ‘‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (v.34). When He says ‘take up his cross’, what does Jesus mean by ‘cross’?. Well, some people think that ‘cross’ here means ‘any particular suffering’ or ‘when things don’t go our way.’ For example, one might say ‘I lost money in the stock market but that’s my cross to bear.’ However, this is not what Jesus is talking about because not all suffering in this life is suffering for God’s sake. Often the suffer-ing we experience is because of our own actions. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark Jesus said, ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’ (7:21). In Galatians 5, St. Paul takes up the same theme saying, 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,[c] fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal.5:19-21). Have we ever considered that our suffering could be coming from one or more of the behaviors just mentioned?

However, if our suffering is not a result of our own sin, but a suffering given or allowed by God, what might that look like? Well, there are three types of suffering. The first type results from persecution of body and soul by other people. Secondly, there is suffering as a result of sickness and disease. And third, people suffer in spirit because of the sins of the world. We could include in the third type the suffering that occurs when a loved one dies, what we commonly call ‘grief’. With all these types of suffering, there are only two responses: The first response is humble acceptance and transformation towards salvation for one’s self and for others. This is what Jesus means when He says ‘take up our cross.’ In other words, Jesus is telling us to humbly accept our suffering and let it transform us so that it may become the way or the means of our salvation in Him and perhaps even the way of salvation for other people.

The second possible response is trying to defeat our cross by rebelling against it and rejecting it. This seems to be the pre-dominant message within our society today when dealing with suffering. This message says expend as much energy as possible towards creating comfort and luxury in order to prevent and avoid suffering. If you see suffering coming your way, turn around and run away as fast as you can.

For those who suffer, whether from persecution, from illness or from grieving, if we do this by the virtue of God, we will receive sufficient grace from God to be strong in the Lord. God’s grace will enable us to take up our cross – to be crucified – for God’s glory and not for our spiritual death. In other words, when we suffer, we should suffer with the hope that Christ will help us get through it (not around it or away from it), with the hope that we will learn from it, with the hope that we will become better persons because of it, and with the ultimate hope that we will grow closer to Him in the midst of it.

If we see that our suffering is separating us from God, then it is because we brought it on by our own sins or we are not taking up our cross and following Christ. Christ suffered on the cross for our sake. He took on all the sin of the world so that we would not be enslaved by sin and death anymore. Yet, even if our suffering has been self-imposed through our own sinful actions, when we repent of them and take responsibility for the consequences, resolving to make restitution as best we can when appropriate, then this suffering can become a true cross.

The most difficult suffering of all is not in the flesh but rather in the spirit. It happens in the soul of the spiritual person when he/she sees the utter futility, ugliness and pettiness of sin that damages and destroys persons made in the image of God. It is the pain we feel when we see people persecuting each other by gossip, slander, selfishness and abuse. It is the hurt we feel when we see each other suffering in sickness, illness and disease. It is the grief we feel when we see someone die and how it affects their surviving friends and family. When we witness and experience all these things, we suffer because we realize this is not the world, nor the life that God created. It is a world, a life, that has become infected by sin and fallen from grace. Yet, even in the midst of this ugliness and disfigurement, Christ is with us. He never abandons us.

When Christ says, ‘if you want to come after me, you must first deny yourself,’ He means that we must deny sin and temptation in our life. We cannot grow closer to Christ while continuing to give in to unhealthy and self-serving behaviours. We can grow closer to Him through self-control which is strengthened by practicing asceticism in prayer, fasting, almsgiving and worship, the pillars of Orthodox spirituality.

And finally, when Christ says, ‘take up your cross and follow Me,’ He means to take whatever suffering comes our way and bear it with meaning and hope, following Him wherever He leads us. Denying ourselves and taking up our cross in this manner, this is what Jesus means when He says, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (v.35). Denying, running away from or rejecting our suffering will not save our life, but rather cause us to lose it (v.35). Let us lose our life for Christ and the Good News understanding what the true crosses are in our life, and how they can help us grow closer to God. Amen!

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Comments Off on True Crosses

Filed under Readings, Sunday Homilies

Second Sunday of Lent ~ Gregory Palamas

Mark 2: 1-12

Your Friends May Never Read the Scriptures, But They are Always Reading You

Our Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Lent might be summarized in this way: One day, four men carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They laboured hard to get their friend into the Lord’s presence. As any of you who have ever carried another human being know – the man is literally dead weight. He is paralyzed and can’t help the others who are carrying him. When Jesus saw the faith of the four men, he pronounced that the paralyzed man’s sins had been forgiven.

Note in the Gospel lesson that neither the paralyzed man nor his friends protest when Jesus forgives the paralyzed man – none of them say, “No, Lord, he’s a good guy, he never did anything wrong that’s why we’re bringing him to you. He deserves to be healed because of all his good deeds.” Instead they all seem to accept that the man is a sinner and needs God’s forgiveness.

The four men bear the burden of their friend’s sinfulness. They are not bringing to Christ some upright and holy man who they think deserves God’s intervention, rather they are bringing to Christ a man whose sin apparently led to his paralysis. His sin had a visible effect and all could see it. His paralysis perhaps the result of the man’s own choices. I visited such a man once – he was in his mid-30s and paralyzed from the waist down. He told me he had been in that condition for 15 years – the end result of being a young fool who was drinking and driving. He regretted his condition and his past choices, and he blamed no one but himself for the fact that he was in a wheelchair and in a great deal of pain. So we can even imagine that instead of bearing the burden of their friend’s sinfulness, that the men in the Gospel lesson could have been more like Job’s friends and telling him: “you made your own bed, now sleep in it” or “you caused your own problems, so solve them yourself.” Or even worse, “you were such an idiot, now you got what you deserved.” Or maybe even reminding the paralyzed man, “We are doing all the work and you don’t even carry your own weight around here because you are the burden.”

But the four men aren’t complaining, they are fulfilling the Gospel commandment that we bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2) – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” We should have the same attitude when we do the work of God – not complaining about the burden we have to bear nor to criticize those who don’t carry their own weight around the church. We have a task to accomplish – to bring others to Christ, not just holy, deserving and good people, but even those who have made a mess of their lives.

We bear other people’s burdens not only in bringing them to church, but also when we decide to pray for them and when our hearts are moved by their problems and we fell the weight of their suffering. We are called by Christ to help carry the burdens of others.

We are to lead by example. It is Great Lent and some have rightfully set out to read Scripture during Lent, or to read more Scripture daily: God bless you for that. Persevere! We all know how our good intentions don’t always get fulfilled. We start out with zeal, but then life intervenes and pretty soon we have forgotten what we promised to do.

Just remember that reading the bible is noble, but that is not the goal of the Christian life. The real goal is to live the scriptures in your daily life. St. Paul once said to his flock: You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The goal is to live in such a way that others can read the scriptures written on our hearts. We are to be the living word, a living temple of God. If Christians keep the Gospel commandments, others will be able to see the Word of God active and alive in us…

You are to be the living word of God – with the Word written on your hearts and visible for all to see in your life and life style. Of course you first have to know the Scriptures before they can be written on your hearts, but then you have to live that Word. Your friends, family, neighbours, co-workers may never read the Bible, but they do read you – what you say, how you live, what you do.

Be an example to others, let them see in you Jesus Christ – may they experience from you the power of living the Gospel. The only word from God they may ever experience is the one they see in you. Great Lent is sometimes called a school for us Orthodox. It is a time for us to practice our faith, to be an example of what it is to be a Christian.

And what is the word that we should be an example of? St. Paul says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

May God bless your Lenten efforts and give growth to the seeds which are planted in your hearts so that you might bring forth spiritual fruit.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Comments Off on Second Sunday of Lent ~ Gregory Palamas

Filed under Readings, Sunday Homilies

Venerate Icons by Becoming One: On the Sunday of Orthodoxy

First Sunday of Lent, Sunday of Orthodoxy, John 1: 43-51

One of the great dangers of our age is the tendency to set our sights too low, to expect too little of ourselves and others. It is so appealing to think that being true to ourselves means indulging every desire and finding fulfillment by getting whatever want at the moment. It is so easy to envision our neighbors and even God in our own image, as though the meaning and purpose of all reality boils down to whatever makes us comfortable here and now. The blessed season of Lent, however, calls us to an entirely different way of life that reveals the holy beauty for which God created us in His image and likeness.

Today we celebrate the restoration of icons to the Orthodox Church at the end of the iconoclastic controversy, during which emperors ordered the destruction of images of our Lord, the Theotokos, and the Saints in the name of opposing idolatry. Of course, icons are not false gods to be worshiped, but visual symbols of the salvation that the incarnate Son of God has brought to the world. They reflect the true humanity of Jesus Christ, as well as how people like you and me may participate in His holiness in every dimension of our lives. They remind us not only that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) who have gone before us, but that our Savior calls and enables us to join them in shining radiantly with the divine glory, even as we live and breathe as flesh and blood.

When we make a procession after Liturgy today with our icons, we will proclaim that our identity is not determined by whatever is popular, easy, or appealing. As those created in God’s image and likeness, we will never be fulfilled by the false gods of this world, such as indulgence in money, power, and pleasure in its various forms. We are called to something much higher, for Christ told Nathanael that he would “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:51) He comes to make us all participants in the divine glory by grace.

At the end of the day, the only way to answer that calling is by becoming better icons of Christ, better visible and tangible witnesses of His salvation. That is why we must fast from whatever keeps us from radiating the holy light of God. It is why we must refuse to feed our tendencies to dwell on the failings of others. It is why we must starve our inclination to speak words of self-righteous judgment and condemnation. It is why we must abstain from indulging in actions that harm, weaken, or take advantage of anyone. It is why we must refuse to nourish our passions by allowing into our eyes, ears, and stomachs anything that enslaves us to self-centered desire.

Even as we turn away from what diminishes us in the divine likeness, we must also feast on what helps us embrace more fully our true identity in Christ. That means putting our souls on a steady diet of prayer; of reading the Bible, the lives of the Saints, and other spiritually edifying works; and of mindfulness in all things such that we remain alert to the spiritual significance of what we think, say, and do. The more that we fill ourselves with holy things, the less appetite we will have for unholy things.

The journey of Lent is not about punishment or legalism, but instead about helping us grow personally into our exalted identity as those called to share in the eternal life of our Lord. It is about turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness in order to become a more beautiful icon of the divine glory. It is about refusing to set our sights low concerning what it means to be a human being in God’s image and likeness. It is about crucifying our self-centered desires so that we may enter into the holy mystery of Lord’s cross and resurrection.

For it is through His Passion that we will “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters

According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.”
Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life.
We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.

Comments Off on Venerate Icons by Becoming One: On the Sunday of Orthodoxy

Filed under Sunday Homilies

Cheesefare (Forgiveness) Sunday

Matthew 6: 14-21

“Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also” – Homily for Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church

If all of your money is in a certain bank or investment, you will be very concerned about that bank or investment. Your treasure is there, and your heart will follow. If you invest your time, energy, and effort in any relationship or any activity, you will value it highly. You give your life to it, and your heart follows.

We are all given a blessed opportunity during Lent to invest our lives in God and our neighbours. For the treasure of our lives is our love, our attention, our time, and our actions. Too often, that treasure is wasted, is squandered, on matters of no importance at all. We use our minds to hold grudges and our lips to condemn others. We use food and drink simply for pleasure in ways that weaken us spiritually and physically. We fixate on money as though it is the measure of our worth and, no matter how much or how little we have, we are never satisfied. Our hearts follow our treasure. So we come to love putting others down and building ourselves up. We come to love pleasing ourselves in whatever way possible. And, of course, we come to love material possessions more than God and neighbour.

As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, it is time to wake up from our slumber. For without acknowledging what we are doing, we have all been stumbling in the dark, spending ourselves on that which cannot satisfy us, wasting life itself on the bad dreams of our passions. Yes, it’s time to wake up, for Lent is like an alarm clock reminding us to stop throwing our lives away and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

We need to pay attention to St. Paul’s warning. For too long, we have used our time, energy, and attention to fulfill whatever self-centered desires we have. Instead of focusing on forgiving those who have wronged us, we have remembered the offenses of others and fantasized about how to get even. Instead of using food or other pleasures with self-restraint so that they have their proper place in our lives, we have indulged ourselves and become their slaves. Instead of using our financial resources to help the needy and support the ministries of the Church, we have selfishly loved our money and possessions. In other words, we have learned to love what we treasure: ourselves and the things that help us get what we want.

Jesus Christ calls us to a different kind of life, of course. He calls us to invest ourselves in Him, to offer our time, energy, possessions, relationships, and bodily appetites for the healing, fulfillment, and transformation of the Kingdom. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If we want to be pure of heart, if we want to love God with every ounce of our being and our neighbours as ourselves, we must learn to treasure the new life that Christ has brought to the world. We do that by taking deliberate, intentional steps to redirect our hearts to Him, by investing the treasure of our lives in the ways of the Kingdom.

If there is anything that takes focused effort, it is forgiveness. How easy and seductive it is to brood over the wrongs other have done us, to judge them again and again in our minds, and to make ourselves feel better by comparing ourselves with those on whom we like to look down. But when we do so, we simply make provision for the flesh and fulfill its lusts. We sink deeper and deeper into a spiral of self-righteous delusion. We end up wasting the treasure of our lives and damaging our hearts.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on Cheesefare (Forgiveness) Sunday

Filed under Sunday Homilies