St. Mary of Egypt

Mary of Egypt III
Sermon Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

   Today we celebrate St. Mary of Egypt: A great sinner, and a great saint. Her life brings to us a multitude of questions. 

   St. Mary was not a prostitute. To call her such would be an insult to the prostitutes of Alexandria in that day. They despised her and considered her to be an immoral woman. St. Mary was a sex addict. It was a passion that ruled her life. 

   And what we know today of addiction is that it has components that feed it. Lack of connection or isolation, shame, and usually trauma of some kind, often from childhood. St. Mary tells us that she left home at 12. That is alarming enough for us to consider today. In the sixth century it was even more so very unusual for a young lady of 12 to leave her home and go to the big city. The question hangs heavy over the narrative that she is telling St. Zossimos. We don’t really know what prompted her leaving home. She doesn’t tell us. It is problematic to speculate. And it may be that this information was withheld so that we, who hear this account centuries later, might not somehow minimize her destructive life. But something happened. She only tells us that she renounced her parents’ love. 

   Whatever event it was, St. Mary goes off to the big city. We can imagine what happens to a 12 year old girl alone in the big city, and it happens to Mary; and she begins to act out sexually. She has no connection there and no one to connect with. She follows a life of sexual excess, trying to use her physical body to bridge that isolation. She substitutes sex for love and intimacy. She commits shameful acts and then uses more shameful acts to try and forget her shame. She is isolated even from the bottom most of Alexandrian society, and though she keeps trying the same solution to her isolation and shame, it only results in more isolation and shame, and to deflect her shame, she became shameless. 

   She was a victim to passions that were inflicted upon her, and her own passions, which she let rule her for 17 years. Then someone mentions that the Exaltation of the Cross will be celebrated in Jerusalem shortly. We don’t know exactly what that touched in her, but something did; something spoke to the depth of her, and she decided to go. Often when we move towards God, that which is keeping us from Him gets louder. She used more debauchery to secure her passage even to the point of forcing herself on the sailors — a behaviour that suggests that somewhere along the way, that she had been forced. As with most addictions, it eventually takes more to get the same buzz, to get the same forgetting. But nothing she did could fill the emptiness inside her. Nothing provided the real intimacy that her soul sought.

   On the day of the Exaltation of the Cross she attempted to enter with the crowd, but she could not. Something was preventing her, whether a spiritual army or being paralyzed by her own shame, she could not proceed. After several more attempts she finds herself on the porch, unable to go further. She is confronted with a profound absence. And in it she beings to see her own self abandonment. And slowly it begins to dawn on her why she cannot proceed. She comes upon an icon of the Theotokos and weeps before it realizing the depths of her wounds and impurity before the pure one. And a space of repentance is created for her. The love of God and the Theotokos warms her heart and her soul in all the ways she had been seeking in the wrong ways. She promises that she will go wherever the Theotokos leads her if she will be permitted to venerate the precious cross of Her Son. And the way is made for her to come into the Church of the Resurrection and to fall before the Holy Cross and kiss it. 

   Then she goes back to the icon and asks for instruction. And she is told to go to the desert across the Jordan. After taking the Holy Mysteries, she enters a different kind of isolation, one from which she cannot hide herself. For 17 years she struggled in the desert, one year for each she spent in debauchery. For 17 years she and wrestled with her thoughts and desires and her wounds and even demonic attacks, until she found peace. 

   And so the Church puts St. Mary before us. This is what repentance looks like. Her story asks questions of us: What are we addicted to? Alcohol? Gambling? Internet? Being right? Pornography? Our own ego? Addicted to Chaos? What boundaries of our own and of others have we violated seeking to fill that emptiness? We try to move towards God, and it feels like a sickness. We are unaccustomed to peace. For us it feels like a disease that we must cure by applying more chaos, and more of our addiction.      

   Although the dynamics of it may not be quite as intense as it was for St. Mary, the dynamics are still there. What shame are we avoiding? How are we using behaviours or substances to avoid looking at ourselves and our own deep loneliness?  What wounds do we have that feed all this? In our shame we cannot move God-ward — St. Mary couldn’t — and we, like her medicate our shame with more of the same.

   Brothers and Sisters, our Lord wants to heal these in us. The Lord wants to take the poisonous parts of shame away from us. The Lord wants to fill up our loneliness with Himself. . .  And we are often our own worst enemy:

I have rivaled in foolishness the rich man who showed no love for others; overwhelmed by sensual pleasures and the passions, I live in luxury and self-indulgence. I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. Therefore I deserve to be condemned to the flames of Gehenna: but deliver me from them, O Master, for Thou alone art rich in mercy.  (Vespers, Monday of the 6th week)

  We starve ourselves spiritually while indulging ourselves and the noise of our culture. As the hymn from the vigil said, we have not attained the virtue of the pharisee, nor the repentance of the sinful woman. We neglect our own mind when it seeks spiritual nourishment. 

   When we are proud, we miss the Lord of the Universe. When we humble ourselves, even as St. Mary did, we are filled with the very thing we have been using our addictions to get, and that our addictions have prevented us from getting. But though we cannot move God-ward, God has taken our flesh and come to us to heal us. 

   We are in the home stretch. Jesus comes to heal the sick and raise up Lazarus from the dead. Jesus comes to be received by His people and then be betrayed by them. Christ our God comes to His Passion for our sakes. Let us journey with Him; and so let us find in Him the healing of our passions; to Whom be all glory, honour and worship.

Sunday of St. John Climacus

Sermon Sunday of St. John Climacus

Heb 6:13–20, Eph 5:9–19; Mark 9:17–31, Matt 4:25–5:12 2 

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST!!

   Today’s Gospel happens shortly after Transfiguration. It starts out with a puzzling comment. A crowd is pressing and there is an argument coming from the scribes. This is how it often is: the evil one seeks to exploit divisions among us to try to undo what we are trying to accomplish in healing, in coming together in the unity of the Faith. And indeed there is dirty work afoot. 

   And there is a young lad who is possessed. Jesus does not take a magical approach and rush to heal him. Instead He starts by addressing the father and his needs: needs that he doesn’t even know he has, because his attention has been on getting help for his son. He asks a question of his father: How long has he been like this? The answer goes to illustrate that it is not because of a particular sin that this child is possessed.  

   The father is in despair. And it is important to note that Jesus does not rush to heal his son; He starts by addressing the father’s despair. This has been going on for a long time. He has asked help of Jesus’ disciples, and they were unable to help. The faith of the disciples was still young, immature — growing, but not yet full. Jesus’ rebuke will echo in His conversation with the father, for the disciples also were in that “I believe, help Thou my unbelief” place. 

   This father asks help of Jesus in the subjunctive mood “IF you can do anything…” Jesus immediately confronts this “IF YOU CAN HELP!!?? All things are possible for the one who faiths. (and we must mention here that convincing yourself that all things are possible is not what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about a living faith.)

   The father recognizes his despair and cries to Jesus: I believe, help Thou my unbelief (I faith, help Thou my unfaith). His faith, like the disciples was not full. He had been seeking help for his child for many years. Part of him had given up. His confession was an honest admission of his immature faith and his despair. 

   And so Jesus commands by His word as the Word of God, then as a Man he reaches out to take the hand of the child. And restoring the child to his father, Jesus commends to His disciples: Prayer and Fasting. 

   And so we begin this 5th week; some of us have grown weary of the prayer and fasting, just as this father had grown weary of seeking help for his son. Yet we are told we must pray and fast. 

   And so Jesus again tells them that the Son of Man must be killed and on the third day He will rise again. This did not fall well on the disciple’s ears; it did not fit their pre-conceived notions. Their faith was not yet full enough to hear and understand what He was saying. 

   Sleepers awake, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. 

When the Light of Christ shines on us, it illumines our souls; it also shows us what was hitherto hidden in the darkness. We must expose those things and bring them to Christ for healing and in this way cleanse ourselves. But we must take care how we do this. We must be careful not to create a scandal by focusing on other people’s sins. The prayer of St. Ephraim asks God to show us our own sins and not to judge our brother. 

   Be not drunk with wine: This is also something we pray for in the prayer of St. Ephraim: Sobriety. (sometimes this is translated as “chastity”) But sobriety is not in abstinence from wine. Wine is given to gladden the heart — not for intoxication. The sobriety being asked for is a watchfulness … as we sing the Psalm at Presanctified: Set a watch, O Lord before my mouth. Indeed, the Apostle Paul commends to us the hymns and Psalms as a way of sobriety. Here is part of the richness of our faith that as we have learned the hymns and Psalms, we take them with us as we face our week. 

   We catechize ourselves through the hymns. This is why it is important to sing our hymns. We teach ourselves the faith by listening and singing. 

   For as we sing the Cherubic Hymn for Presanctified we note that “Lo the King of Glory enters, Lo the mystical sacrifice, is upbourne fulfilled.” At Holy Saturday the Cherubic Hymn tells us “the King of kings and Lord of lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food to the faithful.” 

   The Church sets before us this Sunday a great ascetic model: St. John Climacus. One of the reasons he found his place here this Sunday is that we are about to embark on the 5th week of Great Lent. We will have the “Before I perish utterly, save me” PreSanctified Liturgy; we will have the full Great Canon along with the life of St. Mary of Egypt; we will have an extra PreSanctified Liturgy and the Akathist Hymn. We need the encouragement of such an ascetic to help us through this week. And though he was an ascetic, he did not fast beyond measure, nor did he do many of the ascetic works that we often hear about. Rather he sought humility. 

   In the hymns of Vespers this week we are given the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Indeed those of us who went to Vigil or Matins have already heard the beginning of these.

   We meet all sorts of people along the Jericho Road, and some of them are victims whose only claim is that they have need. Along the Jericho Road we meet people who think that life is what they can take and what they can exact, what they can demand from us or from others. We also meet along the way people who feel that religion is one thing and the cries of humanity are another. (Rev Henry Durham)

   The hymns this coming week take a different approach. They invite us to consider ourselves the man who fell among thieves, and Christ as the Samaritan Who comes to save us from death. We will hear in the Great Canon: I am the man who fell among thieves, even my own thoughts; they have covered all my body with wounds, and I lie beaten and bruised. But come to me, O Christ my Saviour and heal me.

   We are invited by the hymns to consider that we are our own worst enemy. Our thoughts and passions have beaten us up and robbed us. Yet Christ comes to heal our self-inflicted wounds and to bind them up and to heal them. 

   He, the eternal God comes to us and offers Himself. His sacrifice is not temporary as sacrifices were in the past. Since He is eternal, His sacrifice is eternal. Therefore His sacrifice is both for all times, and beyond all times. 

   Let us take to heart these words and see how we injure ourselves far worse than any enemy. Let us accept Christ as He comes to bind our our wounds and heal us. 

To Him be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Holy Cross

Sunday of the Holy Cross

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

   We have gone almost half way in our lenten journey.

Half way through Great Lent the Church puts the Holy Cross in the middle of the Church. We are reminded what lies ahead. And it has been a difficult first half. Many of us resist Great Lent. Yet because of our current plague, all of our world has joined us in our lenten journey, even if they are mostly unwilling. 

   In the passage of Hebrews immediately prior to the reading today we have: For the Word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged-sword, piercing through even to the divisions of soul and spirit, of joint and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and heart; nor is there any creature that is not manifested in His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. 

   Jesus — the Word of God, is both our Judge and our High-Priest. He suffered with us — He knows our infirmity. He took flesh, and shares our humanity. As Simeon the New Theologian observed: He “whose majesty is beyond anyone’s endurance has not disdained to become the father, the friend, the brother, of those rejected ones — the weak and the poor…”

   Since He is both God and Man, He is our High Priest. 

   At the time of the writing of this epistle, the old priesthood had passed away; it could only be spoken of in dimness, as a memory. Indeed, during the Roman occupation, the high-priests were often chosen for political reasons and not according to the law. Today, it is best that priests be chosen by God through the Church rather than desiring the office; for no one is worthy of it. 

   Yet Christ has become our High Priest. He Who Himself being God, equal to the Father, yet He humbled Himself to our flesh. And the Father has said: Thou art my Son, “This day” —  This eternal day, the day we will celebrate in the coming feast of Pascha, — “have I begotten Thee.” This is how He begins His priestly act in time (and in three and a half weeks we will hear about it at the beginning of the service of the Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday) with “Father, the hour has come, glorify Me with the Glory I had with Thee before the world was made.” He Who has no eternal mother takes flesh from a human mother without a father and Comes to offer Himself for us.

   And He suffers with us, and for us. He takes upon Himself the fragility of our human condition. It is especially important to remember that in these days. 

   Because of this, we go confidently before the throne of grace.

   Jesus says, in the Gospel, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” We have a hard time hearing this. Our culture tells us we are supposed to be happy and to be happy we have to buy stuff. But the stuff never seems to make us happy. Our default cultural philosophy is Epicureanism: Pleasure is good; suffering is bad. Don’t delay gratification; buy now. We have a hard time hearing, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We have a hard time hearing that, even though the suffering comes from unwelcome people, places, and things, that it can never-the-less be transformed to our healing and salvation. But now our world is hearing the importance of bearing one another’s burdens; for if we do not we will perish both bodily and in soul. 

   Christ wants us to take up our cross and follow Him, for He went to the Cross. He emptied Himself and took on our flesh. He is not asking us to walk exceptionalities where He Himself has trod. Taking up our cross is to embrace our struggles and not be attached to our pleasures. Take up our cross — keep taking that next step, even when we are tired and hurting — keep taking that next step even when it makes no sense to us — even when we forget why we are stepping. St. Augustine observed that sometimes we carry our cross, and sometimes it carries us. 

   For Orthodox, we glory in the Resurrection; but we must remember the Cross and the Glory of the Resurrection together. The path to the Kingdom always goes through the Cross. The shame and despair of the Cross are never the final word, for through it we have the Kingdom of God and the Resurrection both of Christ, and the hope of resurrection for ourselves — but it comes through the Cross. 

   The Cross is our strength; the Cross is a wound to demons — but it is not magic. It becomes strong in our lives when we take it up and follow Jesus. And on our cross we must crucify not just our passions and desires, but also our will — that it may become as God wills in us. For behold, Jesus teaches us through the Cross how to be exalted in humility. 

Before the Cross, at the supper, Jesus tells His disciples that He will no more take the fruit of the vine until He tastes of  it in His Kingdom. At the beginning of His Crucifixion He is offered sour wine. He refuses it. Then after three hours He says, “I thirst.” Again He is offered the sour wine. This time He receives it; and then He declares: It has been finished; it is accomplished.

   Through His Passion, Christ establishes the Glory of His Kingdom on earth; through His death and Resurrection the way of the Kingdom is now opened to us. We are restored through the Cross. Through the Cross, He has become our Peace and reconciliation. 

This is what we are taught in the Kontakion of this day: Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; for it has been mysteriously quenched by the wood of the Cross. The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished, for Thou, O Lord, hast come and cried to those in faith: enter again into Paradise.”

   Now He calls us to follow Him and take up our Cross that we might be united to His sufferings. Let us journey with Him to Jerusalem and share in His Passion in our own meager way that we may share in the Joy of His Resurrection, which gives us hope of our own. 

Through Him may we find Paradise, and our Homeland in the Kingdom of God. To Whom be all glory and honour, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Sunday Before Nativity

Sermon Sunday before Nativity

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

O land of Zabulon, land of Nephtali, and the sea-coast, and beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. O People walking in darkness, see a great light; ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. . . . For unto us a child is born, and a son is given, whose government is upon His shoulder and His Name is called: Angel of a great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, King, Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come. 

   Today we hear of a rather lengthy genealogy. What is the point of this? other than to torture the deacon or priest who must read it?

   The point is that Jesus Christ, the Word, became flesh — real flesh with real ancestors — sharing in our humanity, putting on ALL of it. For there are some stellar names here: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David. There are also some less than stellar names: Rahab was a harlot. Ruth was a gentile outsider. We are reminded that David committed adultery with Bathsheba. We are reminded of a slew of bad kings and a few good ones. Yet He is before all generation as Isaiah told us: “who shall declare His generation?”

   Another reason for this genealogy is to put in relief the promise of God to Abraham, that in his offspring all the nations would be blessed. . . . his offspring, not his offspringS. Abraham was promised that one would arise from his lineage. 

   It is worth noting that in Luke’s genealogy that there appears some figures that were of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. Yet even Luke’s genealogy, which goes all the way back to Adam, is mostly of the tribe of Judah, the Royal line. Thus Christ is both our King and our High Priest. 

   But this genealogy starts with Abraham . . . Abraham who is called from his citizenship with his city to have his citizenship solely in God. . . Abraham who is given the promise of a son in whom all nations would be blessed . . . but Abraham had to wait. . .  and Isaac was born of Sarah when she had almost past the age of childbearing . . . so the world must wait until the Son of God is born of a young Virgin who has only recently entered the age of childbearing. Isaac is born as the son of promise. And so Jesus is born as THE PROMISE. 

   Yet He comes from prostitutes and adulterers: He took upon Himself our broken nature: ALL OF IT — that He might heal our brokenness. As Isaiah said: He bears our sins and is pained for us. . . He was wounded on account of our sins, and bruised because of our iniquities. And by His bruises we are healed. 

   And so we have 14 generations times 3. That’s 42 for all you Sci-Fi nerds and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans. 

   Just as Jesus would put the care of His mother with His disciple John, so now God puts her care with Joseph. And the language is different from her cousin Elizabeth’s experience. In Elizabeth and Zachariah’s case it is “she shall bear you a son”. In Mary’s case it is “she shall bring forth a Son”. And the Son she brought forth was not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the whole world. 

   And “He will save His people from their sins.” There had been other messiahs before, that had saved the people from this or that enemy: the barbarians, the Greeks, the Babylonians. But Jesus will save His people from their sins. This is a new type of Messiah above any other messiah. He is not A messiah; He is THE MESSIAH. 

   Mary has been chosen to bring forth God in the flesh. He takes His flesh from her. He Whom the universe cannot contain, is contained in the womb of the Virgin. This is the coming paradox that we will celebrate shortly. The paradox of God, Who IS beyond all time and culture and space, enters into time and enters a culture and inhabits a space. This is best expressed by our hymns which we will hear next week: 

Today He Who holds the whole creation in His hands is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man. God, Who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. He Who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.

O inexpressible mystery 

and unheard-of paradox; 

the Invisible is seen;

the Intangible is touched;

the Eternal Word becomes

accessible to our speech;

the Timeless steps into time;

the Son of God becomes

the Son of Man.

Today, He holds creation in the hollow of His Hand is born of a Virgin. He Who in His being cannot be handled, as a mortal is wrapped in swaddling rags. God, Who of old established the heavens in the beginning lies in a manger. He Who rained Manna on the People in the desert is nourished with milk from the breast. The Bridegroom of the Church summons Magi. The son of the Virgin accepts their gifts. We worship Thy birth, O Christ. Show us also Thy divine Epiphany. — Christmas Royal Hours, 9th hour

   And it is no accident that this last hymn echos the last half of Holy Week. The irmos that is used on Holy Saturday Matins, and again at Nocturnes, right before the Paschal Matins:

Do not Lament me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

   If we did complines for the Eve of Christmas Eve we would hear: “Be not amazed, O Mother, beholding Me now as a babe, Whom the Father begat from the womb before the morning star. For I have come openly to restore and glorify with Myself the fallen nature of mortal man, that magnifies thee in faith and love.”

The feasts of Nativity and Pascha are clearly connected. 

   We must prepare our hearts to receive Him Who comes to be born of the Virgin for our salvation, as a little child. How do we prepare? We prepare by fasting (as you are able), by prayer, by alms — by making peace with our brothers and sisters as much as we are able . . . (for we receive the King of Peace) — by softening our hard hearts by coming to confession and communion — by uniting ourselves to our neighbors and (as St. Dorotheos of Gaza said) thereby uniting ourselves to God — by humbly approaching God, Who has become Man for our sakes. 

Beatitudes

Beatitudes

   The Beatitudes are a ladder of spiritual progression; they can be used to measure where we are in our spiritual life. Augustine calls it “the perfect pattern for the Christian life”. It is a sequence of progression on our way.

   Jesus calls “blessed” the conditions of life that we consider to be wretched. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Blessed are the humble. For most of us this is a life-long struggle. If we acquire other virtues, we still must work on humility till our last breath. We must be conscious of both our sin and our need for God. Humility is the chief of virtues; without it none of the other virtues matter. We must love both God and our neighbour. It means, also, that we must not be encumbered by wealth. We must not let our stuff begin to own us.  

Blessed are they who mourn: Those who mourn for their own sin; those who morn for the sins of others, not in a judgemental way, but in a loving compassionate way. It is to see abuse and mourn the affect of it both on the abused and on the abuser. Those of us who grieve can see the pointlessness of what the world considers to be worthwhile. “Bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of  Christ.”

Most of us, myself included, are still working on these first two. 

Blessed are the meek: Those who are patient, those who do not think that they are better than others, those who are able to be taught by the simplest. The meek would rather bear an offense than to commit one. In the Epistle to the Galatians we read of patience , kindness, gentleness, self control are all aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit that meekness summarizes. 

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: Those who seek justice for not only themselves, but for others — especially for others: for often when I seek justice for myself, my ego is what is driving it. 

The Righteousness of God’s will — not my will. Here we must remember that Righteousness has to do with our covenant relationship with God. In our case the covenant is sealed by Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist; for He is our bread and He is our drink. Rather than hunger and thirst for the things the way our world wants us to do, we must hunger and thirst for communion with God. 

Blessed are the merciful: Those who love and work to know how to forgive others. Blessed are the Compassionate. We are all beggars before God. We must be compassionate to the beggar before us, for we too are a beggar before God. We visit this in the Our Father, where we ask for God’s forgiveness of our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Jesus will, in another place extend this compassion to our enemies. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness

Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God: Here Jesus sets forth for us the natural progression of Theosis. We work with God to purify and cleanse our hearts, to end our double mindedness. When we are cleansed we are illumined and can see the uncreated light. Then we proceed to unity with God. Unless the eyes of our heart are clean, the light they would see will be painful. Love is one of the ways we cleanse our heart; Love as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians 13. “Now we see in a mirror darkly but then Face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know, even also as I am known.”

Blessed are the peacemakers: This is a natural progression from having cleansed our hearts. First we make peace within ourselves, then with ourselves and others, and then between others. Through this we become sons of God. First we must make peace with ourselves; then we must make peace with others. Much of the peacemaking with ourselves happens through the cleansing of our heart. Again this points us to our relationship with Christ; for as St. Paul observes: “He Himself is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. This peace is one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit. “For if we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”

Blessed are they that are persecuted for Righteousness sake: When our lives have shown forth the previous virtues we will shine a light on those who do not want a light to be shown. We have many outstanding examples of such persecution from heathens: The royal passion bearers, St. Elizabeth of Moscow, and St. Tikhon Patriarch of Moscow, a confessor for the faith. The first three centuries of the Church has thousands of martyrs who were killed by heathens; in the last century millions of martyrs who were killed by the godless. 

But this will not only come from outside the Church, but as some of us here have experienced, it may well come from within. John Chrysostom and Kyril of Alexandria are both saints of the Church, yet Kyril persecuted John through envy. If we look at the prophets of old, they were not killed by heathens; they were killed by their own people. So also some of those who have been charged with watching over us have done evil to us.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake: Jesus tells us we will be slandered, and we have been slandered; Jesus tells us to expect witch-hunts; and there have been witch-hunts. Brothers and sisters, I say this not to incite anger in you, or fear, for the very next thing Jesus says is:

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven: Rejoice! for God’s Kingdom rules over all. Rejoice! for the reproaches here on earth are as nothing compared to the Kingdom of God. Rejoice! for our glory comes from glorifying the King of the Universe. Rejoice! for He comes to us in our poverty! Rejoice! for He is the consolation of our mourning. Rejoice! for He comes to us in meekness! Rejoice! for He is the fulfillment of Righteousness! Rejoice! for He is our mercy! Rejoice! for He is cleansing us and saving us! Rejoice! for He is our peace!

Beatitudes

Beatitudes

   The Beatitudes are a ladder of spiritual progression; they can be used to measure where we are in our spiritual life. Augustine calls it “the perfect pattern for the Christian life”. It is a sequence of progression on our way.

   Jesus calls “blessed” the conditions of life that we consider to be wretched. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Blessed are the humble. For most of us this is a life-long struggle. If we acquire other virtues, we still must work on humility till our last breath. We must be conscious of both our sin and our need for God. Humility is the chief of virtues; without it none of the other virtues matter. We must love both God and our neighbour. It means, also, that we must not be encumbered by wealth. We must not let our stuff begin to own us.  

Blessed are they who mourn: Those who mourn for their own sin; those who morn for the sins of others, not in a judgemental way, but in a loving compassionate way. It is to see abuse and mourn the affect of it both on the abused and on the abuser. Those of us who grieve can see the pointlessness of what the world considers to be worthwhile. “Bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of  Christ.”

Most of us, myself included, are still working on these first two. 

Blessed are the meek: Those who are patient, those who do not think that they are better than others, those who are able to be taught by the simplest. The meek would rather bear an offense than to commit one. In the Epistle to the Galatians we read of patience , kindness, gentleness, self control are all aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit that meekness summarizes. 

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: Those who seek justice for not only themselves, but for others — especially for others: for often when I seek justice for myself, my ego is what is driving it. 

The Righteousness of God’s will — not my will. Here we must remember that Righteousness has to do with our covenant relationship with God. In our case the covenant is sealed by Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist; for He is our bread and He is our drink. Rather than hunger and thirst for the things the way our world wants us to do, we must hunger and thirst for communion with God. 

Blessed are the merciful: Those who love and work to know how to forgive others. Blessed are the Compassionate. We are all beggars before God. We must be compassionate to the beggar before us, for we too are a beggar before God. We visit this in the Our Father, where we ask for God’s forgiveness of our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Jesus will, in another place extend this compassion to our enemies. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness

Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God: Here Jesus sets forth for us the natural progression of Theosis. We work with God to purify and cleanse our hearts, to end our double mindedness. When we are cleansed we are illumined and can see the uncreated light. Then we proceed to unity with God. Unless the eyes of our heart are clean, the light they would see will be painful. Love is one of the ways we cleanse our heart; Love as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians 13. “Now we see in a mirror darkly but then Face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know, even also as I am known.”

Blessed are the peacemakers: This is a natural progression from having cleansed our hearts. First we make peace within ourselves, then with ourselves and others, and then between others. Through this we become sons of God. First we must make peace with ourselves; then we must make peace with others. Much of the peacemaking with ourselves happens through the cleansing of our heart. Again this points us to our relationship with Christ; for as St. Paul observes: “He Himself is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. This peace is one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit. “For if we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”

Blessed are they that are persecuted for Righteousness sake: When our lives have shown forth the previous virtues we will shine a light on those who do not want a light to be shown. We have many outstanding examples of such persecution from heathens: The royal passion bearers, St. Elizabeth of Moscow, and St. Tikhon Patriarch of Moscow, a confessor for the faith. The first three centuries of the Church has thousands of martyrs who were killed by heathens; in the last century millions of martyrs who were killed by the godless. 

But this will not only come from outside the Church, but as some of us here have experienced, it may well come from within. John Chrysostom and Kyril of Alexandria are both saints of the Church, yet Kyril persecuted John through envy. If we look at the prophets of old, they were not killed by heathens; they were killed by their own people. So also some of those who have been charged with watching over us have done evil to us.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake: Jesus tells us we will be slandered, and we have been slandered; Jesus tells us to expect witch-hunts; and there have been witch-hunts. Brothers and sisters, I say this not to incite anger in you, or fear, for the very next thing Jesus says is:

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven: Rejoice! for God’s Kingdom rules over all. Rejoice! for the reproaches here on earth are as nothing compared to the Kingdom of God. Rejoice! for our glory comes from glorifying the King of the Universe. Rejoice! for He comes to us in our poverty! Rejoice! for He is the consolation of our mourning. Rejoice! for He comes to us in meekness! Rejoice! for He is the fulfillment of Righteousness! Rejoice! for He is our mercy! Rejoice! for He is cleansing us and saving us! Rejoice! for He is our peace!

Forgiveness

Most people, when they say to others “forgive”, they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes them uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain — and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen. 

Forgiveness is a process. . . it lives after the processing of grief and of facing abandonment. 

True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

Forgiveness is a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself.

Until we forgive the darkness in ourselves, we do not know what forgiveness is.