Category Archives: 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

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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.

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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

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The Last Judgment: Don’t Be Surprised

Sermon on Judgement (Meatfare) Sunday, Matthew 25: 31-46

When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory, all things shall tremble and the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat; the books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed! Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, righteous Judge! (Hymn of the Last Judgement)

Sounds pretty frightening – and it is meant to be. The Church in its hymns uses these words to describe the Last Judgment:


Dreaded
Awesome
Fearful

What most bothers us as 21st Century Christians about the Judgment Day is not the thought that sinners will be condemned to the fires of hell and damned for all eternity – in fact on that point we tend to like retributive justice for sinners because they finally get what they deserve – what actually bothers us is that WE – each of us – You and me – are going to be held accountable for everything we said and did in this life. We are OK with others – the sinners – being held accountable, but why should we be judged? That God might even think about judging you or me based on our behavior, that is hard to swallow – Let Him judge sinners, murderers, perverts, terrorists, criminals, liars and the lazy, and leave the rest of us alone.

Actually many of the Jews in Jesus’ day had a similar thought. They were anxiously awaiting the Day of the Lord, because they believed on that day God would finally and completely condemn and annihilate all of Israel’s enemies and oppressors. On that day God would judge and condemn to hell the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Philistines, Canaanites. The Jewish people would finally be avenged!

What these folk’s ignored was that the prophets had been warning that the Day of the Lord was also going to be a day of Judgment for God’s own people, and that God would start the judgment with Israel. All of us who think God is going to judge “someone else” – we Orthodox or we Americans – also need to take the prophets’ message to heart – judgment begins with us.

And we might begin to feel a little hot under the collar about this. All the porn we looked, all the times we were drunk, all the times we lied, all the times we were greedy, selfish, angry, enraged, sexually immoral, jealous, envious, bickering and contentious – for all of this we are going to be judged by God. As St. Paul says all those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. It’s not just that we are going to have to give account for this behavior, we are going to be condemned for it at the Last Judgment.

Dreaded
Awesome
Fearful
Judgment

But then the Lord Jesus shocked His followers when He spoke about the Last Judgment. Jesus did not say that at the Judgment Seat all Jews or that all Christians will be declared righteous and everyone else will be condemned as sinners.

Saint and sinner will be assembled before God, and God will judge us based upon:

Our mercifulness
Our kindness
Our love for others
Our concern for the well-being of others

Jesus says we will be judged in the same way and by the same criteria we judged and criticized others. If we thought the poor and needy were not worthy of our time, our attention, our possessions, we will find ourselves so judged by God who will not share His time, attention and possessions – namely His Kingdom – with us. The Kingdom belongs to Him, not to us. Just like we think our possessions belong to us and not to some beggar.

God’s judgment is a judgment of our hearts. The proper defense before the dread Judgment Seat is loving others, being merciful to others, showing mercy to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.

A story from the lives of the saints:
St. Martin of Tours was a Roman Army Officer who was entering a city one cold, wet, wintry day. A beggar asked him for money, but Martin had none with him. But seeing the man shiver with cold, Martin came down off his horse, took his sword, and cut his soldier’s cloak in half. His cloak was like a large warm poncho. He wrapped the beggar in this half portion of his cloak. That night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ standing in the wintery cold wearing an old tattered cloak. An angel approached Christ dismayed at how the Lord was dressed. “Lord,” the angel said, “where did you get that old, torn cloak?” Jesus responded, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

Martin thought he gave his cloak to a beggar, but as today’s Gospel teaches us what we give to the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ, we give to the Lord Jesus Himself.

Note: Martin didn’t give his whole cloak, he shared half of it with the beggar. He didn’t impoverish himself, but provided for another from his means.

We each have that same chance to share what we can with those in need. We don’t have to deprive ourselves of everything, but certainly can share some things by ministering to the Lord Himself.

There will be surprises for us on the Judgment Day as we see in the Gospel:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?’ And the wicked will say: ‘And Lord, when did we see you a stranger and not welcome you, or naked and not clothe you?’ (Matthew 25:37-41)

Both the blessed and cursed are going to be in for a surprise on Judgment day. Don’t you be surprised!

Fr Ted’s Blog – Meditations of an Orthodox Priest

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Advent is a Time to Accept the Invitation to the God’s Great Banquet in Jesus Christ

11th Sunday of Luke, Luke 14: 16-24

Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, when we commemorate all those in the Old Testament who foretold or prefigured the coming of Christ, from our first father Adam to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. We remember today that the Incarnation of our Lord did not simply occur one day out of the blue, but was the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan to bring humanity into His divine life. No one was forced, of course, to prepare for our Lord’s coming. Today we honor those who responded in freedom to God’s calling, who accepted His invitation to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. And in this season of Advent, we want to be like them, which is sometimes a struggle. For we all face powerful temptations to excuse ourselves from the blessing and joy of the Kingdom. Today’s gospel text reminds us of what is at stake. For when a great man invited people to a great feast, they all had better things to do. They turned down the invitation because they had land to inspect, oxen to test, or family responsibilities. So their places at the banquet were taken by the most unlikely of party guests: the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. Strangers from the highways and hedges came to the celebration, but none of those who were originally invited tasted of the supper.

The Lord often used the image of a great feast for the Kingdom of God. This parable reminds us that many of Jesus Christ’s own people, the Jews, refused to accept Him as the Messiah, refused to accept His salvation, while many of the Gentiles—the mostly unlikely people—did accept Him. But we would miss the meaning of this passage for us if we think that it refers simply to what happened long ago to other people. For we too have been invited to the Heavenly Banquet, to the life of the Kingdom of God. And unlike the people of the Old Testament, we have more than the Law and the Prophets to foreshadow the coming of Christ. We have Him, living in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit; nourishing our souls with His Body and Blood; we are members of His Body, the Church; He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. The Incarnation has already occurred. Christ has united our fallen, corrupt humanity to divinity. He has brought us into the life of the Holy Trinity. We could not ask for more.

But unfortunately, we often act like those who refused to attend the great banquet in today’s gospel lesson. That is, we get so fixated on the cares and worries of daily life that we become blind to the great blessing and glory to which our Lord invites us. The problem is that we make false gods of our possessions, work, family, relationships, and other cares. Instead, of seeing that these good things have their proper and healthy place only when we offer them to the Lord—and that they all provide opportunities to grow in holiness, we tend to choose them instead of God.

So we would rather worry than pray; we would rather obsess about our problems and fears than serve our neighbors, forgive those who have offended us, and find healing for the damage that our sins have done in our own lives. Instead of making our life a Eucharist, instead of offering every bit of who we are to the Lord for blessing and fulfillment, we try to live on our own terms. And when we do, we turn away from the greatest blessing of all, from participation in the eternal life of our Lord and His Kingdom. And consequently we shut ourselves out of the great banquet of God and turn away from the unspeakable glory that is ours in Christ Jesus.

The problem is not with our possessions themselves, or our work, or marriage and family life. These are all blessings from the Lord; no, the problem is with us. As we never tire of saying in the Orthodox Church, we have disordered desires and broken relationships that make it so easy for us to make false gods of other people, of our daily responsibilities, our hopes and dreams in life, and just about everything else. Envy, pride, anger, lust, greed, and other passions tempt us mightily to believe that satisfying our self-centered desires really is more important than loving and serving God and neighbor. And if we are not careful, these temptations will lead us to become like the people in the gospel lesson who really believed that they had better things to do than to share in the great joy of the Lord’s banquet.

Christmas, of course, is a banquet, a great feast. It is a celebration of our salvation in the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God Who became a human being in order to unite our fallen, corrupt humanity with divinity, to bring us from mortality to immortality. No matter how the Nativity Fast has gone for us so far, we all have a choice whether we will use the ten days to prepare to enter more fully into the blessed truth and reality of the Incarnation. And it’s clear what we need to do: to confess our sins and repent, as we do in the Sacrament of Confession that we should all take during Advent; to be generous to the needy and kind to the lonely; to fast in a way appropriate to our spiritual strength and life circumstances; to pray, to open our hearts, souls, and minds to God deliberately and regularly in prayer; to be mindful, refusing to dwell on unhealthy thoughts or to act in ways that do not show the love of Christ; and to say the Jesus Prayer as often as we can, especially when our minds are inclined toward something that we know is not pleasing to the Lord.

No, these spiritual disciplines won’t make us saints overnight and we won’t do them perfectly. But that’s not really the point. Instead, these disciplines are our way of accepting the invitation of our Lord to the banquet of His Kingdom, of offering our cares, worries, and relation-ships for blessing and fulfillment. They are how we fight our passions, resist our temptations, and do what we can to prepare to receive Him at Christmas. They are what Advent is all about.

We have less than two weeks left before Christmas. We could say that the shepherds, wise men, and angels are on their way to Bethlehem. We should be on our way also. The preparation for the feast will soon begin. Will we be ready? Will we accept the invitation to the feast? I certainly hope so. For we stand at the end of a very long line that goes back to Adam, the first-created; that extends through Abra-ham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, Bathsheeba; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; that includes Joachim, Anna, and the Theotokos.

The good news of Christmas is that in Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises are extended to people like us, who are blinded and sickened with sin, who suffer from the pain, weakness, and corruption of life in the world as we know it, and who are not yet perfect. In the Babe of Bethlehem, even people like you and me are invited to take our place with the Holy Forefathers and Foremothers of Christ in the heavenly banquet and to become participants in the Divine Glory.

Now is the time to get ready for His coming, to put aside our excuses, to set right what has gone wrong in our lives, and to prepare to receive Him with the fear of God and faith and love at the great feast of Christmas. Unfortunately, some did not recognize Him at the first Christmas. King Herod tried to kill him, and so many who should have known better rejected the Lord during His earthly ministry, even crucifying Him as a blasphemer and a traitor. Yes, some really did turn down their invitations to the blessedness of the Kingdom, preferring political and religious power to Christ’s salvation.

Nothing that we do will probably be so dramatic, but the same thing is at stake: Will we make our marriages, our finances, our work, our friendships, and our life plans points of entry into the joy of the Lord? Will we accept our Savior’s invitation not to be distracted from receiving the eternal life that He has brought to the world? Our response will be shown by what we do with the last next ten days of Advent.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Sabbath Rest and Healing

10th Sunday of Luke, Luke 13: 10-17

Recently I visited a friend. She is a very busy person, always on the go personally and professionally. On the refrigerator was a postcard from someone who must have known her well. It said, “I’ll have time to sleep when I’m dead.” Do you ever feel that there are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the week? Is sleep interfering with getting things done? If so, you are not alone. Life is very busy and seemingly getting more hectic these days.

Let’s take a step back today and consider a few things. We cannot add another hour or two to the 24 we have each day nor can we add a day to each week. These are fixed and constant. What can we change in order to be more productive and not feel so pressured for time? We can try to change ourselves by periodically and regularly taking rest in a Sabbath. What is Sabbath? Most of you probably know that it comes from Hebrew word “sabbat” and Greek word “Sabbato” that refers to the seventh day of week — Saturday.

The origin of Sabbath goes back to Genesis: “Thus the heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).

After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He led them to Mt. Sinai. There He revealed Himself to Moses and gave the tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Listen to the fourth commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your manservant or your maid-servant or your cattle or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath is important for two reasons: 1) It is a time for rest and recovery; and 2) It is holy, meaning set-apart for God. In the first, the corollary is implied that if the all-powerful, all-knowing God needs rest, then we His tiny creatures need rest too. If we think and act like we do not need rest, then we are placing ourselves above God. In the second, we have the foundation for communal worship. In both Jewish and Orthodox Christian liturgical time, the new day begins at sunset/sundown. Thus, Sabbath began on Friday (Greek: Paraskeve meaning “preparation”) evening.

Essentially, the Sabbath is a day of physical rest and spiritual joy, centred around the twin poles of home and synagogue. In Orthodox Judaism, as the men leave for evening service, the women recite a special blessing over the Sabbath candles. Upon his return, the husband blesses his wife and the children, they pray and sing together and partake of a meal of bread and wine together. Some families eat the meal first and then go together to evening service. The next day, Saturday, another festive meal is eaten and the day ends with another worship service. (Oxford Dictionary of Judaism).

Jesus Christ observed the Sabbath by going to the synagogue regularly and at times by going away, either by Himself or with His disciples, to be alone and/or to pray (Mark 6:31; Luke10:38-42; John 6:15;12:36). In addition, after completing His work of salvation culminating in His death on the Cross, Jesus rested in Hades on the Sabbath before being raised from the dead by His Father. In fact, we find Jesus in the synagogues on the Sabbath in today’s Gospel reading from the 10th Sunday of Luke 13:10-17. He heals the woman with the 18 year infirmity. We can learn a great deal from this passage. Of course, in the Orthodox Christian tradition, Sabbath rest is taken not on Saturday but on Sunday (Greek: Kyriake – “the Lord’s Day”) that begins with Great Vespers service on Saturday evening and culminates with the Divine Liturgy – the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. The woman with the eighteen-year infirmity observes the Sabbath, takes leave of work, goes to the synagogue, is seen by Jesus who calls her over, speaks to her, touches and heals her. We need to do essentially the same thing. It is no coincidence that the relationship between Sabbath and healing is highlighted.

If we constantly work and are busy, eventually our body and mind will begin to break down. We are not made to endure constant stress and anxiety. We must take a break. We must also remember that our rest needs to be accompanied by a return, a return to God. Just like we need 7-8 hours of sleep each day, we need to spend some time, at least a few minutes each day, in dedicated prayer, meditation and quietness.

The day we take-off from work should be Sunday and on that day, we need to be right here to hear the Word of God and touch/taste His Body and Blood. Our rest in and return to God will have several effects:

  • We will be released from our bondage of chronic stress and anxiety that produces fatigue and despair. This will lead to healing and restoration of body, mind and soul. God’s peace will our fill heart and mind.
  • This peace of mind allows us to exercise discernment to prioritize the tasks and relationships of our life.

We will have more time and be more productive. If we don’t pray, we usually feel rushed and overwhelmed by the work that is in front of us.

When we do pray, the minutes and hours of the day are stretched and we can accomplish our work, even more work than if we had not prayed. Therefore, let us observe the Sabbath and keep it holy so God can prepare and raise us up to eternal life.

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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The Blind Beggar Receives His Sight

14th Sunday of Luke, Luke 18: 25-43

We have probably all had moments in our lives when we couldn’t see very well. Maybe the power went out at night at home, our eyes took a while to adjust after walking out of movie theater, we lost our glasses, or we were headed east or west at just the right time to be blinded by the light of the sun. Unfortunately, we have also had moments when we have been blind in other ways when our actions, words, and thoughts went against God’s purposes for our lives. In fact, it’s an ongoing struggle to have a clear take on how what we do each day impacts our souls, as well as our neighbors in whom we encounter the Lord.

St. Paul reminded the Ephesians that they had come out of the darkness of paganism and immorality by putting on Christ in baptism and the life of His body, the Church. Instead of returning to the shadowy ways of the world, he called them to turn on the lights, see the truth about themselves, and live accordingly. “Awake from sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” he tells them. It’s not a time to be in a drunken stupor or to be lulled into complacency in any other way, but instead to be alert and focused so that we won’t be lulled back into the darkness.

Our Savior, in His earthly ministry, certainly healed many blind people. We read in today’s gospel text of a blind beggar who was so eager to see that he would not stop yelling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” as the Lord passed by. Even though others told the man to be quiet and not to cause a scene, he continued to plead for healing. He succeeded in getting Christ’s attention, and He asked the man a simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man responded, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Christ said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he could see again and began to follow the Lord and to glorify God.

Unlike the Gentiles we mentioned earlier, this fellow was Jewish and waiting for a Messiah to fulfill God’s promises to Israel. But he was not able to see the Savior as He passed by. His eyes were shut to the Lord and to all the beauty of the creation. He lived in darkness. He was poor and wretched, a beggar, who could do nothing but call out for help from the Son of David, a common name for “the anointed one” whom the Jews expected. And the man’s sufferings had made quite clear to him what he wanted: to be able to see, for he was tired of living in darkness. When the blind man had his chance, he took it – refusing to shut up when he heard that Christ was passing his way.

Of course, the man knew a portion of the truth. He knew that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, Who could miraculously restore his sight. He had enough faith, enough trust in Christ, to ask for that. His plea for mercy sounds like an early version of the Jesus Prayer. But the man did not know that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. Like the rest of the Jews, he was probably waiting for a Messiah who would be a great political and religious leader, not a Savior Who is both God and man. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, Christ is not a stern master who has mercy only on those with perfect understanding. He heard the man’s humble plea and restored his sight; then the man gave thanks to God and began to follow the Lord.

Jesus Christ came to bring us all into the light of His life, regardless of whether we are Gentiles or Jews and no matter how we have lived or what we have done. Just as a blind person could only beg and pray for a miracle in that time and place, we cannot force or earn our way into the blessed life of the Kingdom. We all need His mercy. But like both the blind man and the Ephesians, we have to do our part to become receptive to the light of Christ in our lives.

A person who keeps his eyes closed will never see the day or the beauty of the world. Likewise, it is impossible for those who insist on filling their lives with darkness to receive the light of Christ. If we are asleep, we are not awake. If we insist on living in the shadows, we will never see clearly. The good news is that we have already open our eyes to the light, for we have put on Christ in the waters of baptism, been sealed with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and nourished with the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist. Our eyes have been opened to behold the glory of the Lord. We have entered into His house, the Church, and confessed Him in the words of the Creed and in our hearts. Indeed, we know that we are able at any moment of the day to show the humble faith of the blind beggar through the words of the Jesus Prayer.

Nonetheless, our spiritual vision is still obscured by a measure of darkness. We still look at other people with self-righteous judgment, envy, lust, and other bad attitudes. We make hateful, profane, and other unedifying comments that make faithfulness harder for ourselves and other people. We drift off to spiritual sleep thinking that we will find fulfillment in pleasure, possessions, and the praise of others. We are lured powerfully back to the darkness in many ways. So we continue to need therapy to help us keep our eyes open to the brilliant light of Christ, to the salvation that He has brought to the world.

That’s why it’s good that we have seasons like Advent to wake us up from our slumbers, to switch on the lights and tell us it’s time to wake up. In these weeks of preparation for Christmas, all of us need to gain strength in resisting our self-centered desires by fasting or some other form of self-denial. All of us need to place greater focus on prayer. All of us need to confess our sins and turn away from them through repentance. All of us need to give alms and become more generous to the needy with our time and resources. All of us need to love and forgive our enemies. In these ways, we all need to open our lives more fully to the light of Christ.

At the same time, we also need to do everything that we can to shut out the darkness that so easily overtakes us. Most of us probably do not have to look very closely at our lives to identify habits, weaknesses, relationships, or social settings that can dim the spiritual light pretty quickly. We have to be prudent and persistent in discerning how to respond to those temptations, but it’s not our intelligence or will power that is our hope. It’s the mercy of the Lord, the same One who responded to the plea of that blind beggar. So when we are tempted to wallow in the darkness, we need to follow his example of calling out to Christ persistently with humility, asking for His forgiveness and healing. That fellow would not shut up even when his pleas disturbed others, and we must learn not to abandon our spiritual disciplines, mindfulness, and prayers even when our thoughts, feelings, and friends want to lead us away from the light.

Sometimes we feel like it will kill us to resist certain temptations. Of course, that’s not true, but it is often how we feel. We all need to cultivate the faith that Christ comes to heal and strengthen us, not to frustrate and destroy us. The disciplines of Advent are not about legalism or causing inconvenience.

Instead, they are tools for our healing, ways for us to turn away from the darkness and to walk in the light, into a life where we are not the slaves of sin but embrace joyfully the glorious freedom of the children of God.

No matter where we are in our journey to the Kingdom, we can all welcome the light of Christ more fully into our lives in the coming weeks. No matter our measure of spiritual health or disease, we can open ourselves more fully to the mercy and healing of the Lord. He made a blind beggar see and turned idol-worshipping pagans into saints. And He will do the same for us, if we will only stay focused on Him and turn away from the many distractions that blind us to His truth. As we prepare for Christmas, let’s do everything that we can to walk in the light of the Lord.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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