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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Philip LeMasters

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Holy Prophet Elias

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

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

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St John Chrysostom – ‘Do not despair’

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

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

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

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

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Too Many Worries Make People Forget God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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SYNAXIS OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES – Hearing and Responding to “Follow Me”

Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost at which the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord’s followers, making them members of His Body, the Church. A week ago we celebrated the Sunday of All Saints, remembering all those who have become living icons of our Lord’s salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since then, we have begun the Apostles Fast, a period in which we embrace a fairly light discipline of self-restraint in our diets in order to gain the spiritual strength that we need to become more like the apostles who responded faithfully to Christ’s command “Follow Me.”

When the disciples first heard that command, they were involved in their daily work as fishermen. But the Saviour called them to the fulfillment of their fishing, for they were to learn how to catch people for the Kingdom, how to draw them into the blessing of God’s salvation. That required leaving their homes and occupations in order literally to follow Christ around in His ministry and to learn from His teaching and example as best they could. Of course, it was not until after His resurrection that they really understood who He was and were empowered by the Holy Spirit for their unique ministry.

Nonetheless, it was essential that the first disciples obeyed the command to leave home and follow the Messiah. Even though their understanding was quite limited, they were prepared by their close association with Christ for what was to come. Had they not obeyed that initial command, they would not have become His disciples. Literally leaving home and following Christ were necessary dimensions of their preparation to unite themselves with the risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as for their leadership of the Church. Their discipleship provided the context within which they would find the healing of their souls.

We live well after Christ called His first followers to leave their nets and become fishers of men. Many centuries have passed since the day of Pentecost when our ascended Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, however, we participate in the eternal truth and reality of these events. They are present to us in the life of the Church, especially as we enter into the heavenly banquet in the Divine Liturgy. That means that He calls us as He called them. That means that He enables us to share in His life as He did for those gathered at Pentecost. The Apostles Fast provides us all with a good opportunity to consider whether we are placing our lives in a context that enables us to follow their example of faithfulness to the Lord.

Even small acts of self-denial, such as abstaining from meat in the Apostles Fast, remind us that our strength comes from God, not from our own will being accomplished or our desires for pleasure being fulfilled. We humble ourselves when we put our own preferences for food or anything else aside in order to orient ourselves more fully to the Kingdom. Fasting periods are times of training, of learning to say “no” to our self-centeredness so that we will find it easier to say “yes” to Christ, especially when He calls us to follow Him in ways that challenge our inclinations to place our own comfort and desires before the demands of serving Him faithfully.

In some ways, we may think that the disciples had it easy when Christ walked up to them and told them straightforwardly what to do. They had to leave home and their livelihood, but at least the Lord made that crystal clear to them. Our challenge is a bit different because we encounter Him in our hearts and souls, which are not pure and so easily misinterpret what He wants us to do. We typically get so caught up in our thoughts and self-centered desires that we hear only what we want to hear. It is much more appealing to make God in our own image than to take up the cross of truly becoming more like Him in holiness. It is so tempting to fill our minds with whatever fuels our passions such that we have little interest in devoting ourselves to prayer, Bible reading, or the lives and teachings of the Saints. It is so easy to fill our eyes and ears with entertainment that denigrates the holiness of the intimate union of man and woman, that celebrates violence and hatred, and that worships at the altar of money and what it can buy.

In so many ways, we are caught up in nets that make it difficult for us to follow the example of the apostles who left everything behind in order to follow Christ. The good news, however, is that we have all we need in the life of the Church in order to hear and respond faithfully to the call of our Lord. The path that leads to the healing of our souls is open to all and quite obvious. We have died to sin in baptism and risen with Christ into a new life of holiness. We have received the Holy Spirit personally in chrismation and are nourished with “the medicine of immortality,” our Lord’s own Body and Blood, in the Eucharist. When we fall short of living faithfully as those who are in Christ, He Himself receives us through repentance and forgives us through Confession. Through our life together in the Church, we have innumerable opportunities to serve and love Him in one another. In a world so obviously corrupted by the worship of the false gods of power, pleasure, and possessions, we have tremendous resources in the Church for a radically different way of living in which self-righteous judgment and self-centered indulgence have no place at all.

It is tempting to think that all this is fine for the Saints, but not for people like you and me who have spent decades weakening ourselves spiritually in one way or another. We all bear the burdens of our brokenness, both personally and collectively. The Church is a hospital for us all, and the therapy is not always easy or pleasant. Old habits are hard to break, and pursuing a life of holiness can be as difficult as undergoing physical therapy for muscles that have grown weak through disuse or become mangled by disease or accident. So it is rarely going to be easy or appealing for us to embrace the healing of our souls. Work and sacrifice are required, but this is not simply a journey of self-help. It is, instead, always a matter of opening ourselves as fully as possible to the gracious healing energies of the Holy Spirit by embracing the humble path of discipleship as best we have the strength to do at this point in our journey.

It really is a simple path. If you want to discern faithfully what Christ is calling you to do in life, devote at least a few minutes regularly each day to prayer. As your physical health allows, fast as best you can according to the guidelines of the Church. Give as generously as you can to the needy and in support of the Church’s ministries. Read the Bible each day and turn your attention away from entertainment that inflames your passions. Learn more about the teaching and example of the Saints and give less attention to the rich and famous of this world. Confess your sins in humility and strive to reorient your life to Christ. Pray for those who have offended you every day and do your best to mend broken relationships. Ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. When someone asks for your forgiveness, give it readily. Pray for the departed and for everyone in need. Refuse to judge anyone else and focus on repenting of your own sins. Prepare to receive the Eucharist with prayer, fasting, and regular Confession.

Do these things persistently throughout your life as you call upon the mercy of the Lord with the humility of the Jesus Prayer. If you do so, you will be able to hear and respond to His command “Follow Me.” And, by His grace, you may even become a Saint.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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St John Maximovitch: God saves His fallen creature

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

St John Maximovitch: . . . God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary. Now the Church consists of both her earthly and heavenly parts, for the Son of God came to earth and became man that He might lead man into heaven and make him once again a citizen of Paradise, returning to him his original state of sinlessness and wholeness and uniting him unto Himself.

This is accomplished by the action of Divine grace grated through the Church, but man’s effort is also required. God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary; without it he cannot by saved. Striving towards God and cleaving unto the Lord by its humble love, the human soul obtains power to cleanse itself from sin and to strengthen itself for the struggle to complete victory over sin.

St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, “The Church as the Body of Christ,” Man of God: Saint John of Shanghai & San Francisco

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Everyday Holiness: Homily for the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Church

If you are like me, sometimes when you read the lives of the saints you shake your head and think, “I could never do anything like that.” Many endured horrible tortures to the point of death because they refused to deny Christ. Others denied themselves food, clothing, and shelter in ways that seem beyond the strength of human beings. Some accepted insult and abuse while forgiving their tormentors and turning the other cheek in a fashion that seems not of this world. As today’s epistle reading reminds us, the Old Testament saints endured such trials purely in anticipation of the coming of the Saviour. Most of us, who have received the fullness of the promise in Christ, cannot fathom how we could be nearly as faithful as was this cloud of witnesses who point us by their examples and prayers to commend our lives to Christ.

On this Sunday of All Saints, we commemorate all those who have united themselves to the Lord to the point that they have become radiant with His holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, including those whose are not formally canonized as saints by the Church. The canonized saints are like the members of the hall of fame who stand as shining examples of obedience to the Lord. We celebrate them because their lives are such vivid icons of what it means for a human being to become a partaker of the divine nature by grace. We do not know the names of all the saints, of course. Not all who are illumined with the divine glory are known publically as such; of course, the point of holiness is never simply to draw attention to oneself. It is, instead, to be faithful in offering our lives to Christ. Only He knows the names and number of those Who have done that, for He alone knows our hearts.

If we want to join their number, then we must attend carefully to Christ’s teachings today in the gospel reading. “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” No doubt, these words concern the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord even in the face of fierce persecution. Martyrs and confessors continue to refuse to deny Him, regardless of the physical abuse they suffer in many countries around the world. But we would let ourselves off the hook by thinking that this teaching refers only to those who lives are literally at risk for being faithful Christians. We must also ask whether we acknowledge Him before our neighbors every day of our lives in what we say and do. It is only our pride that makes us think that true faithfulness must be dramatic and spectacular. Most of us struggle to be faithful even in our routine trials and temptations. We will fail to unite ourselves to Christ in holiness if we fail to see that the most common challenges that we face are our opportunities to acknowledge that we belong to Him, and not simply to ourselves.

The Saviour said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” There is nothing wrong, of course with loving our parents or our children, but if we are to become radiant with the holiness of God, we must keep even our strongest loves in proper order. We must remember that our parents, children, and spouses are gifts of God to us. His love is obviously the ground of all love worthy of the name. Our calling is not to worship people or make them ends in themselves, but to relate to them in a way that fulfills God’s gracious purposes for them and us. If we make false gods out of others, we will make them miserable and probably drive them away. And since God created us in His image and likeness, we will learn the hard way that we will never find fulfillment in anyone but Him.

“People pleasing” is quite dangerous because it is ultimately a self-centred form of idolatry in which we crave the approval of others to the point that we will sacrifice anything for it. Instead of offering even our most prized and intimate relationships to the Lord for His healing and blessing, we end up offering ourselves to others, willing to compromise our faithfulness for the sake of giving whomever we want to impress what we think they want. That is not taking up our crosses, but sacrificing our obedience to the Saviour in order to serve lesser gods. And since what drives this attitude is our self-centered desire for the approval of others, it is ultimately a way of worshiping ourselves.

The Lord said that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” That is not only a promise for those who have physically given up their families and possessions, but also for those who have made the less dramatic sacrifice of putting Christ first in how they treat and speak to their spouse, children, family members, and friends. It is a promise for those who have denied themselves in order to have more time, energy, and resources to share with the poor, sick, and lonely. It is a promise for those who turn away from self-centeredness by offering themselves to the Lord in daily prayer, regular worship, and conscientious fasting.

Too often we think that holiness occurs only within the context of the four walls of the Church. If we are to take up our crosses and follow Christ, we must also learn to see the infinite opportunities of dying to self out of love for Him and our neighbors in our daily lives. That means we must take a painfully honest look at ourselves. For example, we may enjoy filling out minds with entertainment—such as news, social media, video games, film, etc.–that only inflames passions of worry, fear, hate, envy, and lust. If so, we need to turn away from it as we focus on the words of the Jesus Prayer or at least something else that does not inflame our passions. If we can-not learn to make such small sacrifices, we will never have the strength to make larger ones.

Regardless of our age, we likely are close to people whose values and way of life are apparently not consistent with obedience to Christ. Even as we must not condemn them personally, we must resist the subtle temptation to compromise our faithfulness to the Lord in what we say and do in order to gain their approval. It is one thing to show everyone Christ’s love as best we can, but another to fail to acknowledge Him by engaging in conduct and conversation that contradict our primarily loyalty to Him. That would be a form of putting other people, and ultimately ourselves, before God, which is a path only to greater weakness for them and us. We must all discern mindfully and prayerfully whether we are acknowledging Christ in situations where it is much easier to act and speak as though He were not our Lord. We must all be willing to take up the cross of obedience to Him even if it means that we will be met with disapproval.

“Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The Saviour’s statement applies to all who have put Him first in their lives, for doing so requires sacrificing much that the world worships. It is obviously the case for martyrs and confessors to this very day, but also applies to everyone who sacrifices, even in small ways, in order to seek first the Kingdom of God. When we direct our time, energy, and attention to serve Christ, His Church, and our neighbors in whom He is present, we take a lower place in the estimation of the world. When we refuse to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of conventional accounts of success and happiness, we embrace the humility of Christ. Even when we do so in seemingly ordinary ways, we take step in running “with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.” That is how, we too, may join that great cloud of witnesses who have become radiant with the holiness of our Lord. Nothing dramatic or spectacular is required, but only true faithfulness.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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