5th SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 8: 28-34, 9:1

That Christ came into the world to enter into the fray on our behalf is obvious in todays Gospel lesson:

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.And he said to them, Go.So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood. And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. (Matthew 8:289:1). Continue reading

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Veneration of the Saints

“Greet one another with a holy kiss…” ~ Romans 16:16

An Orthodox young man was once in Winchester Cathedral near the Shrine of St Swithun. There are icons above the shrine, including one of the saint. When he was sure no one was looking he crept around the rope cordon and venerated the icons. He said a few prayers at the shrine and then went to leave. Unbeknown to him, one of the Cathedral Stewards had seen him kissing the icons and praying. She went up to him afterwards looking rather stern. The young man braced himself for a telling-off. But instead, the Steward asked him very politely why it was important for him to kiss the icons.

When I meet a close friend or relative, we exchange a kiss. More than this, St Paul instructs Christians to ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’. The Orthodox Church doesn’t distinguish between those Christians who are alive and those who have died. All are alive in Christ. We recognise that some of our Christian brothers and sisters who have passed on before us are certainly alive in Christ by their answers to our prayers, and we therefore honour them as ‘Saints’. It is important to affirm that they continue to live only through the saving grace of Our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. Without the resurrection of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, all are truly dead. It is by His saving grace alone that we enter into eternal life.

So what of the icons? It is not seen as unusual for a bereaved wife to kiss a photograph of her late husband, or for a fiance to kiss a photograph of her intended groom. This is quite natural – they are conveying their love for the person depicted, not their love of a piece of paper! With icons it is the same. The Word ‘icon’ simply means ‘image’; we kiss the image of the one we love.

Since the Saints are alive to us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it seems right that we should talk to them. We are not offering them praise and worship, which is due to God alone. It is more like chatting with our friends and asking for their prayers. I often ask my Christian friends to pray for me, so why should I not ask the Saints to do likewise? They have gone before me into the resurrected life in Christ, and as such are currently closer the Risen Lord than I am!

When an Orthodox Christian enters the temple, he would usually kiss the icons of Christ and of Mary (the greatest Saint), plus any other Saint of his choosing. He may also then kiss and greet other people within the temple. Unlike in the West, this is not done in a formal way as part of the liturgy. It is far more spontaneous.

In the world as well as in the temple, we are surrounded by a great army of the Saints, those who have gone before us. It is only right that we continue to love them and honour them as much now as we did before they died.

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Hear, Follow, and Obey : Homily for the Second Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

Most of us like to find ways to make things easier on ourselves and harder on others. We enjoy coming up with excuses to justify not fulfilling demanding and inconvenient requirements, even as we judge our neighbours for not meeting them perfectly. That tendency is both common and difficult for many to resist, but it is diametrically opposed to the way of life to which our Lord calls us. Continue reading

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SAINTS

Saints are people who have faced the evils of this world and through their love of God, and strength of faith have overcome the evils by the grace of God and have become examples for us to do the same. When we are feeling like life is too hard, our troubles are too many or too great a burden, we can look to the saints and the lives they led, the hardships they went through, even to the point of their deaths, and yet see their faith and know that if they can do it, so can we! For this reason we honour them.

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Synaxis of the Twelve Holy Apostles
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these: Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, the First-called; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who was also the Evangelist and Theologian; Philip, and Bartholomew (see also June 11); Thomas, and Matthew the publican, who was also called Levi and was an Evangelist; James the son of Alphaeus, and Jude (also called Lebbaeus, and surnamed Thaddaeus), the brother of James, the Brother of God; Simon the Cananite (“the Zealot”), and Matthias, who was elected to fill the place of Judas the traitor (see Aug. 9).These men’s lives were changed once having come to know Christ our Lord; they showed us this was a change not out of duty, but of love—by their most precious sacrifice. They left families, jobs, homes, earthly comforts—they gave all, even themselves. By tracing their travels on a map we see the drive within them; their love for Christ Preaches at Pentecost; to share His love and salvation with others. They comforted, helped, freed from fear, guilt and sin, healed from sickness, all, regard-less of danger and obstacles. They opened mankind’s eyes to Truth and Love and bestowed us the Gospel of joy and hope. We remember them especially and honour them through the ages. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. (Amen.)

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Brothers and Sisters, on this day we observe a very meaning-filled celebration, after the many radiant Sundays of Great Lent and of the Season of Pascha, leading up to the glorious feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, as last week’s Gospel reading told us, was “the last and greatest day of the feast,” in Saint John’s words, and, as it was celebrated by the Jewish nation in the time of Christ, it was a very festive holiday celebrating the harvest. Special offerings and sacrifices were prescribed by the Law for this holiday.

Many think that the saints are far from us. But they are far from those who distance themselves from them, and very close to those keep the commandments of Christ and have the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the heavens, all things are moved by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is on earth too. He lives in our Church. He lives in the Mysteries. He is in the Holy Scriptures. He is in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all things, and therefore the saints are close to us. And when we pray to them, then the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.

~ St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, XII.3

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Homily on the Sunday of All Saints

SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS, Matthew 10: 32-33, 37-38, 19: 27-30

Today, Heaven and earth celebrate the innumerable Saints of the Church of Christ, with glory and praise. This Feast honours all of the Saints who rejoice in God, from all parts of the world and in every age. Many of them we know by name, and we honour them throughout the year. However, there are many more that are unknown, and this is why the Church has set aside the Sunday after Pentecost to honour all Saints, so that they may also be venerated by all. The choice of this particular day is also significant, because it is with the Grace of the Holy Spirit that the Saints were sanctified.

According to the Synaxarion, these sanctified ones include: the Nine Orders of Angels; the Lord’s Forefathers, Patriarchs and Prophets from the Old Testament; the Holy Apostles; the Martyrs; the Hierarchs; Hieromartyrs; Confessors; Ascetics; along with all the Righteous, be they men, women, or children. This includes the countless ones whose names are known only to God. Additionally, we honour the Blessed Virgin Mary. This day is also established to encourage us to follow the path of the Saints as much as we are able, to struggle with zeal towards holiness.

This can be a scary thing to think about, because we think of our sins and doubt. They think about the great saints like St. Nicholas and others famous for their miracles. What is important to remember is that we are not called to be miracle workers. Sanctity is the turning away from satan and his works. The honour these great Saints receive from God, including the gift of miracle working, is the fruit of their spiritual labours. In this way, they are able to help us.

We must be clear on what God is telling us when He says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 20: 7; 1 Peter 1:16). He is calling us to turn away from the devil and sin, and to live according to the will of God with faith, love, and devotion. It is not for us to say that we will become Saints by our own power. Only God is Holy, and whoever is in communion with God and is united with Him will share in this holiness. “I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:8). One can speak eloquently about Christ, give alms, donate generously to the Church, attend every Divine Liturgy, receive Holy Communion, and even perform miracles; but if a person does this for their own glory and declares themselves a saint, then to God they are nothing. They are no better than the Pharisees if they take credit, and do not glorify God. The Lord said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23). Woe to the person who, upon hearing the praise of men, thinks that they have become a saint! The truly sanctified person believes that they are just lowly sinners. Let us remember the Great Apostle of the Gentiles St. Paul, who in the last days of his life wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). We also recall the words of St. Porphyrios, a Saint of our times, responding to the praise of others with the declaration that he was nothing more than “an old tin can” (useless and worthless).

My brothers and sisters, this is exactly what we need, the realization that we are sinners. This is our reality, because no one in the world is without sin. This is also true of the Saints we remember today. Some of them had very sinful lives, and were known for their corruption. The difference here is that they were cleansed by repentance. They turned against the passions, and were healed by the Sacred Mysteries of the Church. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they struggled and reached deification, resulting in their glorification as Saints. Understanding this, we can see that all of us can reach for holiness, no matter where we come from or what situation we find ourselves in. The Grace of God is a gift, and it is in this gift that we can experience sanctification.

God’s Word assures us: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is why our Holy Church exists, so that with the Sacred Mysteries, teaching, and pastoral care it provides, God gives us the means to become Saints. This is His will, and we also need to want this great gift. This is why God’s Word urges us again: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

May we be inspired by the Saints we celebrate today, and with their intercession, follow in their footsteps. Amen.

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HOLY PENTECOST – John 7: 37-52, 8: 12

In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end – the achievement and fulfilment – of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness. Continue reading

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Pentecost – The indwelling of the Holy Spirit

On this day we recall that just 50 days after the Glorious Resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the Holy Apostles and all those gathered with them in a new and different way. For the first time, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within the human soul. Continue reading

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Why We Pray For The Dead

Just as we love and respect our living brethren, so do we love and respect those of our brethren who have departed this life. We express our love for our departed friends and relatives through prayer. Just as we pray for the living that the Grace of God may be upon them, so do we pray for the dead that they may become worthy of the vision of God. At death no man leaves the world to appear before God free of sin, perfect, holy, so that he does not need the mercy and Grace of God. The Holy Church is composed not only of the living, earthly members but also of the faithful departed. All of us, living and dead, are members of one Church and are bound together by one Faith, by common love, and are unworthy sons of the merciful God. It is therefore our duty to ask God, each of us separately, and all together are one Church, to be merciful toward the sinful soul of our departed brother. Continue reading

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Ascending in Holiness Through the Body of Christ: Homily for the Sunday of the After-Feast of the Ascension and the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

We are now in the season of the Ascension in the Orthodox Church, when we celebrate our Lord’s ascent into heaven forty days after His resurrection. It is easy for us to pass over this feast without paying much attention because it comes between Pascha and Pentecost. The danger of doing so, however, is that if we do not attend to the importance of uniting ourselves to Christ as He ascends into heavenly glory, we will have a very impoverished understanding of how to share in the eternal life of our Saviour even as we remain in the world as we know it. Continue reading

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The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus did not live with his disciples after his resurrection as he had before his death. Filled with the glory of his divinity, he appeared at different times and places to his people, assuring them that it was he, truly alive in his risen and glorified body.

To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Continue reading

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