Can We Serve Two Masters?

Sermon 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Rom 6:18–23, Matt 8:5–13, 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!

   Jesus  reminded us last week: No man can serve two masters. This week St. Paul reminds us the same thing thing. We must choose what we will serve. We can be estranged from righteousness and subject to our passions, or we can bring ourselves to God and work with Him to free us from our passions and live a righteous life. And when we say “righteous life” we don’t mean that we don’t do this sin or that sin, Paul means that we are in a covenant relationship with God. 

   As both Jesus and Paul tell us, we must choose our slavery . . . We can be enslaved to sin, passions. . . or we can choose to be a slave to righteousness, doing things God’s way. . . One way leads to death.. .the other to life.  God can free us from our slavery to the passions if we will work with Him in our relationship with Him, and with others. The result, the wages of sin is death. Notice that Life eternal is not a result of working, but is a free gift of God. God wants us to stop working for death. 

   And how can we labour to heal both ourselves and the others we meet? . . . with Love. It is God’s Love that heals us. And we are commanded to give Love of God both directly to Him, and through those we meet who are created in His Image, and love for ourselves who are also created in God’s Image. Most of us love parts of ourselves, and we loathe other parts of ourselves, just as we find certain people easy to love, and others difficult. 

   The Centurion comes to Jesus in humility. His house servant is very sick — too sick for him to bring to Jesus. This Centurion loves his servant, using terms of endearment for him. He also loves the Jewish faith; even though he is a gentile — we read in St. Luke’s account of this that he had contributed to the building of a Synagogue. 

   Jesus does something that He did not do for the others He met who were paralyzed; He volunteers to come to the Centurion’s house (a gentile) to heal his servant. Jews, especially rabbis did not generally go into the dwellings of gentiles. The Centurion, in humility, objects . . .I am not worthy that you should enter the roof of my house. . . say the word and my servant will be healed. 

   This is alluded to in St. John Chrysostom’s pre-communion prayer. “I am not worthy, Master and Lord that Thou shouldst enter under the roof of my soul; yet in-as-much as Thou desirest to live in me as the Lover of mankind, I approach with boldness. Thou hast commanded: Let the doors be opened which Thou alone hast made and Thou shalt enter with Thy love for mankind just as Thou art. . . .  

   The Centurion shows true humility — and in his humility shows faith greater than any in Israel. By his confession he recognizes that Jesus’ authority comes from the Father. It is likely that he did not appreciate the full implications of his request and certainty that Jesus could heal by His Word since He had such authority. And as a man who is both under authority and wields authority, the centurion understands obedience. 

   Humility is key. . . . The way is wide that leads to destruction. Enter the narrow way.

   In our country today we are working hard for death. We have many “other masters” screaming for our attention. We want to be comfortable — we want the latest toys. We want to be secure — we don’t like it when the order gets challenged. And sometimes the Order needs to be challenged, for the Order has a way of participating in the “principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual corruption” that St. Paul warns us against — for even if it is not killing us, it is killing others. On top of this, Abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents, of putting women, men, and children in dangerous conditions, ignoring our stewardship for the Planet God has given us; our cities are being damaged by those who love chaos; racism is actually popular among some, and those who justify racism are screaming their obscenities; desecration of holy places are being done by more than one flavour of extremists. All of these are abominations. One group seeks to justify the one sort of abominations; another group seeks to justify still another sort of  the abominations. All of them are abominations. Our nation is filled with hatred: hatred for the other, whether the other is someone from the other political camp, another race, or our own poor and hungry and homeless, or the stranger who comes to us. We are instructed to love all of these with a love that heals both them and ourselves. 

   Loving requires us to get to know the stranger; loving ourselves requires us to get to know ourselves. Both of these require us to look past our fears. To look past our fear means we must confront them in ourselves. We must move past our fears in order to love. We must move past our egos and conceits in order to love. The Centurion modeled humility, obedience, and love. 

Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, of blessed memory, summarized it this way:

   The Christ preached by the Apostles was the Christ who gave Himself out of love for mankind. He is the One who receives all who come to Him in faith and humility, those who love Him. He is not moved to respond to our petitions because of some supposed worthiness on our part. Our accomplishments, position, wealth, and fame do not commend us to Him. Neither does our belonging to a particular race or nation, and neither does membership in His Church, if we make no effort to live in accordance with His will, have no faith or humility, think of ourselves as deserving His salvation, or think only of ourselves and never earnestly desire the well-being of others. 

   Christ is not impressed by our egos. He is impressed by humility, and faith, and love. And He bids us to labour to love our world as He loved it.

   Love is not always easy; but St. Paul said: it is a more excellent way. 

   To Him Who loved us, and gave Himself for us and our salvation be all glory honour and worship, together with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy glorious and Life-Creating Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Herod: A not so stable King.

Sermon Sunday after Nativity

Galatians 1:11-19 (§200) Matthew 2:13-23 (§4) Paul’s conversion: Herod kills the children.

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

CHRIST IS BORN!!

   Today it is the Sunday after Nativity, so we celebrate the kinsmen of the Lord: Joseph the betrothed, David the King, James the brother of the Lord. Thursday we celebrate the Circumcision of our Lord: He Who gave the Law submits Himself to the law. 

   James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. When the council of Jerusalem is called, it is James who presides over it. It is likely that James was the son of Joseph from an earlier marriage. The words of that time were not so concerned with describing the precise relationship. Cousins, siblings, half siblings were covered under the same word. The icon of the escape to Egypt often will depict James prodding the donkey on while Joseph attends to Mary. 

   The Wisemen from Babylon have just left; and Joseph takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt. This is to indicate the what Christ will accomplish is for all mankind. Christ and the Holy Family leave a dangerous place to trek the desert to go into another country for safety. Just as Abraham did before Him, He leaves the city of His birth. Just as Israel (Jacob) did before Him, He goes to Egypt for safety. He becomes a fugitive. 

   And the reason for their escape into Egypt was that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. 

Herod was not a very stable person; some might call him mad. When he was troubled (which was often) Herod’s court had to find ways of dealing with him. He sees a threat to his position, and he reacts in fear. In his fear he has many young children killed, including two of his own sons. In his fear, he destroys all that he should have loved, including himself. 

   And his actions wound others — . . . . deeply. . . . with the deepest of wounds. . . . mothers watched their little sons being murdered before their eyes. Ramah was the seat of the judge Deborah; Ramah was the home of Samuel the priest, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. Ramah was the seat of the tribe of Benjamin, whose mother was Rachel. There was a memorial to Rachel near Bethlehem. The Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping and wailing; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children —  because they are no more.”

   The proto martyrs of proto martyrs. . . . all because of the ego, and fear of a madman who was their ruler. . . . .all because of his fear and obsession. . . . We will celebrate this feast tomorrow. I invite all who have buried their own innocent ones to celebrate this. 

   How can we apply this to ourselves? Herod is such an extreme case that it is easy to think that this cannot possibly apply to us. But let us not think that this is just about someone else. 

   What are some of the things we obsess about? that we have our ego bound up in, that we have let our fears make decisions for us — and don’t see how we are destroying what we love? We have to let God convert us. We heard how St. Paul was converted to Christianity; but St. Paul had rage issues that did not magically go away at his conversion. We have to look at our passions and how they are deciding for us. 

   The Word of God took on our flesh from the Theotokos — took on our wounds, but without wounding Himself as we often do — wounds that astonish the demons who would never think of what we freely do to ourselves. He took on our flesh so that He could heal our wounds and bring us to salvation. 

   The Eternal God became a little child — humbled Himself for our sake, that He might live this human life that we usually mess up, so that He could reclaim it for Himself and offer it to His Father. 

   By His death He conquered our enemy — death, . . . and made a path for us to His Kingdom. 

   By taking on our humanity, He, the Eternal invisible God the Word became visible. . . a little child. 

To that little Child be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

St. Ambrose of Milan

Some miscellaneous quotes from St. Ambrose of Milan

Evil is not a living substance, but a deviation of mind and soul from the path of true virtue. —  St Ambrose of Milan

But they, too, who would forbid the city to foreigners cannot have our approval. They would expel them at the very time when they ought to help…They would refuse them a share in the produce meant for all, and avert the intercourse that has already begun; and they are unwilling, in a time of necessity, to give those with whom they have enjoyed their rights in common, a share in what they themselves have. Beasts do not drive out beasts, yet man shuts out man. Wild beasts and animals consider food which the earth supplies to be common to all. They all give assistance to those like themselves; and man, who ought to think nothing human foreign to himself, fights against his own. — St Ambrose of Milan

A possession ought to belong to the possessor, not the possessor to the possession. Whosoever, therefore, does not use his patrimony as a possession, who does not know how to give and distribute to the poor, he is the servant of his wealth, not its master; because like a servant he watches over the wealth of another and not like a master does he use it of his own. Hence, in a disposition of this kind, we say that the man belongs to his riches, not the riches to the man. — St. Ambrose of Milan

There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering. — St. Ambrose of Milan

The poor mine gold, but they are not allowed to keep it; they are forced to work for what they cannot own. — St Ambrose of Milan

Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies. — St. Ambrose of Milan

No one heals himself by wounding another. — Saint Ambrose

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not just to the rich. —  St Ambrose of Milan

It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing alms on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt. — St. Ambrose of Milan

Feed him who is dying of hunger; if you have not fed him you have killed him. — St. Ambrose of Milan

Evil is not a living substance, but a deviation of mind and soul from the path of true virtue. —  St Ambrose of Milan

Lazarus

The Parable of Lazarus

Lazarus lay at the gate every day. The rich man could not excuse himself for not knowing about Lazarus’ condition, for he passed by him daily. 

   St. John Chrysostom says that if we do not see God in the beggar at the gate, we will not be able to see Him in the Chalice. 

   The rich man is revealed as lower than the dogs — the dogs at least showed mercy to Lazarus in the way they knew how to show mercy. The rich man shows that his soul is warped, and ugly.

   St. Augustine notes that because of the rich man’s neglect of Lazarus, he is not named in this story, for his name is not written in the book of Life. Lazarus’ name IS written. Lazarus means “one who has been helped.”

   So where does Abraham fit in this story? Abraham is the first one who was called to leave his citizenship, his city, and all the stability and comfort he had known to follow God in faith. * He became a despised Habiru, a citizenless man, not protected by the rights of being a citizen of a land — and through that became the father of a nation that would prepare the world to receive God in the flesh. This is the comfort that Lazarus finds himself in. 

   And Abraham, through his journey, acquired much wealth; yet it was not for the sake of the wealth that he kept it; he did not hold his wealth for its own sake, but for the journey that God had called him to.  This rich man had wealth also. But he held his wealth in greed, and neglect of his fellow man. Abraham, who prayed mercy for the wicked, showed mercy to the poor and hospitality to the stranger could not help this rich man.

   Even in death we see how this man’s soul has shown itself to be ugly; his first thought is for his own comfort, and relief of his pain; and he, even now, treats Lazarus like an errand boy. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian observes that this fire that torments the rich man in death is a fire from within himself. 

   By his life, he neglected the afflicted, the poor, the alien, the foreigner. These are the very ones Moses and the prophets instructed us to be merciful to. By his life, he mocked Moses and the prophets. 

   Jesus points the story even further, if we will not listen to Moses and the prophets and have mercy on the poor, the afflicted, the homeless, the hungry, that His own Death and Resurrection are meaningless to us. 

Who are the people outside the gates for us today?

   We live in a society that punishes the poor, that does its best to keep them in poverty and them blame them for it. We do our best to excuse ourselves from our duty to them. We say, “it’s MY money; I earned it; you should not compel me to help them.” We justify to ourselves why it is ok to neglect the poor. 

   We have in our community the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the afflicted. If we do nothing to help them we share in this rich man’s mocking of Moses and the prophets. Again St. John Chrysostom warns us: “If we do not find Christ in these, we will not find Him in the Chalice.”

   And, there is another one who sits outside the gate whom we continue to neglect. That one is ourselves. 

   In the last week of the 40 days of Great Lent the hymns give us meditation on this parable. 

We are told that we are the one whom we neglect at the gate. 

Joseph the Studite writes the stichera for Monday  vespers of the 6th week of Lent:

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. 

(Joseph the Studite – Monday  vespers of the 6th week)

   We neglect ourselves not only in lack of mercy to others, but also in lack of mercy to ourselves. We starve ourselves from prayer, reading of scripture, and giving alms. We neglect that part of us that “GETS” God most readily, our spiritual mind. 

   So, let us feed the hungry and show mercy to the poor; and let us also feed ourselves on the riches that God has passed on to us through the Church. 

Prayer for Peace

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, ruler of the Universe Who comest to heal us. Now visit us in this time of trouble and heal our iniquities and forgive our sins. Heal also the transgressions of our enemies. May we all come to dwell in Thy Kingdom.

Grant that we may see our transgressions and offer them to Thee in confession.

For Thou art our God and we know none other than Thee, we call upon Thy Name. Deliver us from our own sicknesses, and the sickness of our enemies.

Raise us up to glorify Thee: the Father without beginning, with Thy Only begotten Son, and Thy all holy and life creating Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

O Lord, guide our nation through the storm that lies ahead. Though the times are uncertain, and those who would bend that path to their own ends ask us to listen to our fears, may we rise above those short sighted forays into self enrichment, and rise above our fears and walk in faith, and work together for the good of all people. O Lord grant our leaders wisdom, discretion, and discernment. Grant our civil authorities to fulfilled their offices with integrity and the knowledge that they labour for something greater than narrow concerns that some seek to impose upon them. Grant unto our people strength to weather the hard times, wisdom to see not just for ourselves, but also our parents, our children, our grandchildren; and Grant us vision that we may restore our nation to integrity and not get stuck in repeating the mistakes of the past.

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst command us to love our enemies, and those who defame and injure us, and to pray for them and forgive them; Who Thyself didst pray for Thy enemies, who crucified Thee: grant us, we pray, the spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness, that we may heartily forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies. Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offenses of people with Christian meekness and true love of our neighbour. We further beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion. And help us repay evil with goodness, and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil and from all the perils which threaten us, in the form of visible and invisible enemies. Amen.

Reader Steven Clark (2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq) 

Holy Prophet Amos

Sermon 3rd Sunday after Pentecost — Amos

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

Today we celebrate the Holy Prophet Amos. Amos came from Judah, but he proclaimed his prophesy to Israel (the northern kingdom). Jeroboam II, and his father before him, had conquered much of the neighbouring territories, including parts of the kingdom of Judah, and initiated a time of relative peace and prosperity. He was not careful with his conquering and the pagan practices of those lands he conquered began to influence the people of Israel. Israel, like us today enjoyed relative prosperity, and relative ease . . . but it was a prosperity that only some enjoyed, a prosperity that was built on the backs of the poor. There was a great disparity between the rich and the poor, bribes being paid to pervert justice, cheating in business.  

He confronted the people and the king about their unjust behaviour. He was not an “official prophet” and the official prophet took offense at Amos and his words of repentance, and told Amos to go back to Judah. And so he went back to Judah and wrote down his prophecy, becoming the first of the written prophets. But before he left, he told the king of Israel and his professional prophet that Israel would be wiped out. 

In Israel the rich used their riches to take advantage of the poor. Mighty and wealthy people behaved the way they wanted to, and the poor just had to get in line and take what was dished out to them. This inequity Amos denounced. . . . Jeraboam II’s father set up altars for the recently conquered to their gods. Amos decried the cult of prostitution that became a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The religions of the neighbouring people did not care for the poor and the afflicted the way the religion of Israel’s God demanded. People treated the poor badly and still pretended to worship God on the Sabbath. 

Amos’ famous lines have been oft quoted, about how worship of God means nothing if one behaves unjustly towards the poor: “You turn judgement into wormwood and leave off righteousness in the earth. . .  I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.. . . . But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” He was saying that if we have no justice in how we treat one another then it makes our worship of God meaningless. And because they did not turn from their evil ways, God allowed them to be obliterated. Within 30 years, Israel was no more a nation. 

Amos starts his book of prophesy by reminding the neighbouring countries that they are not exempt from God’s demands that they behave justly. We must look at our nation, and how we live in relative ease, and also how the rich live off of the misery of the poor. The words of Amos 2600 years ago still apply to us. If we allow the poor to be afflicted and do nothing to help them, we too could be obliterated as a nation. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us about our darkness. He warns us that if we think our darkness is really light, then our self deception increases the darkness. . . . And when we are in darkness, we are really bad judges of what is darkness and what is light. . . . . . and . . . most of us have some degree of darkness in our mind — our νοῦς — that part of us — our mind that intuitively can see God’s glory, once we bring our darkness to God and let Him heal it. 

A man cannot serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. 

What good is any of our external finery if we are blind? What can we see of it? How can we take pleasure in it?

Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God, or be enslaved by our passions. Jesus particularly singles out greed and how it enslaves us to wealth. For the anxiety that comes from worry over wealth, wounds our vital parts. 

St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in our sufferings.” Our world has a hard time hearing that our sufferings can work for our healing. But this is what a physician does: he or she prescribes medicine, or surgery, or exercise or diet that may not be comfortable and may make part of us suffer. Rejoicing is hard, sometimes; it requires us to look at our sufferings in a different way than our culture does. 

Instead, our world tells us to care about status, material things, stuff — rather than the health of our own soul, or even the health of the world at large. Our culture encourages us to be selfish, to please ourselves, to look at what serves ourselves — but that is destructive both of ourselves and those who are wounded by our selfishness. 

The Christianity-ish-ness of our culture likes to pretend that we CAN serve two masters; so, when our culture runs at odds with God, we are told that it is somehow “OK”. And there are many who will justify why it is “OK”.  But it is not OK. What is an abomination to God is always an abomination to God, regardless of whether it moves someone’s agenda forward or not.

How do we live the Kingdom of God in this Mammon loving world? — we love; we live in a healing way for ourselves and those we encounter; we Live the presence of God, in us, in those we meet —  Putting aside hate, fear, and anxiety. We see other people as created in the Image of God, and our way of treating others is how we treat God. 

We are anxious about much. Jesus doesn’t say “don’t concern yourself with the bodies needs.” For, as St. John Chrysostom said: Though the soul needs no food, it cannot endure to remain in the body unless the body is fed.” But there is much about our body that we cannot control; how tall we are, how long we live, whether we go bald or not, what sickness we may have to endure. Yet Orthodoxy teaches us to make the body serve the mind, spirit, and soul, and not the other way around. This is why we have a fast right now. 

Yet in spite of what we must endure in this life, Jesus tells us to seek His Kingdom first, above all. This is why we are here. This service is about the Kingdom of God. When I invoke the Kingdom at the beginning of the service, the Kingdom comes to us for this moment. For the duration of this service we stand in Eternity. We worship with the angels. When we leave this service, the challenge is to bring that touch of Eternity into our everyday lives, to our work life, our family life, our playing in life. . . to actively live the grace of God . . . the grace that changes us

To Him whose grace that is, be all Glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

All Saints

Sunday of All Saints

 

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!

   Today is the Sunday of All Saints — ALL Saints, whether known or unknown. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Today’s Gospel starts with Jesus telling us that if we acknowledge Him, He will acknowledge us; if we deny Him, He will deny us. 

How do we acknowledge or deny Jesus before men? Sometimes we see this as a manipulative meme on social media to get us to copy and past someone else’s post. How do we acknowledge Christ? We must do so with our heart, mind, words, and deeds. For if we only think about God, but do nothing about what we think, then we are engaging in mental manipulation. If we do nothing about our thoughts about God, it means nothing that we think of God. This is the trap of the “spiritual but not religious”. I understand why some must say that — some have been traumatized by religious people; but it has become the number one cop-out (yes, I’m old enough to say “cop out”) The number one cop-out for not following God. We must acknowledge Christ in deeds, words, mind and heart. We cannot leave part of that out without turning our faith into an obscure meaningless mental exercise. 

   And how do we put our thoughts into action? We must realize that everyone is our neighbour, even those who we find annoying. Every human is created in God’s Image — how we treat them is how we treat God. St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris said: At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked if I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoners. 

   Jesus tells us that He has come not to bring peace but a sword. How do we understand this when so many other places He has said “Peace”?

   What is this Peace that Jesus brings us? It is not like what the world offers. We Orthodox, above all, are rightfully wary of making a peace that betrays our faith. This is not the peace that Jesus offers us; yet it is often the peace the world offers. And such is a peace that Jeremiah warns us against: “They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying: ‘Peace, peace’ And there is no peace. Were they ashamed to commit their sin? No, not ashamed at all; they did not know how to blush.” Such a peace puts a band-aid over a gushing wound and ignores it for as long as it can until it erupts. Then we wonder, “What happened?”

   Christ offers us a peace that heals our soul and body and mind and heart. How can we have peace if disease ravages our body, our soul? Yet what our culture offers us often is full of noise and disquietness, and disease. 

   Peace — We hear among our society that we should respect peace above our faith. “Don’t make audacious claims for Christ.” To them it is better to get along. And we also see the actions of some who claim to be of faith, but their actions reveal envy, jealousy, strife, anger. They seek to use religion to justify greed, murder, slander, lies and ultimately IDOLATRY. But that some abuse religion doesn’t mean that our faith must be watered down to accommodate the fears of others. Peace with righteousness is a good thing. Being at Peace with evil is a horrible thing. We regularly see people insisting on peace with a system of bigotry, racism, and inhumanity. There are many things that are going on in our society today that are an abomination: things like abortion, the traumatizing the children of immigrants, the deliberate making of the lives of the poor more difficult, the cold blooded murder of people of colour.  . . These are the sorts of things that the Kingdom of God overturns. These are the things that Jesus tells us He has come to address. We cannot make peace with the evils of our society in order to “get along”. 

   Our loyalty to God must come before our loyalty to jobs, friends, even to family. God created us. God is saving us. Our friends and family can be part of that, or they can stand against it. 

   This is the choice that the saints made time and time again. They chose Christ over getting along. They chose Christ over their own family. They chose Christ over the temporal gains of greed and the other passions. They chose Christ over monetizing their own Life. We are invited by our culture to monetize our life, to chose the right career path, to accumulate the right stuff. It is slavery. We cannot allow this — we must not let anything come before Christ. The millions of new-Martyrs of Russia would not betray the Faith to a godless government. The betrayals our culture asks of us are much more subtle. 

   This is the choice that the saints of the Old Testament made without even being able to see the result of the promise —  as the epistle said “of whom the world was not worthy”, Yet without us, their witness is not complete. In the reading last night from Isaiah, God invites us to be His witnesses. In Christ, the promise they hoped for comes to fruition. This is the choice that a disciple of Christ makes. 

   As we celebrate ALL the saints today, whether known or unknown, yet known unto God, God calls us to become saints, to become holy ones. You; me; all of us: God calls us to follow Him and become His saints — become more than we are comfortable with — become the humans that God created us to be. 

   And there is a sense that we owe it to the Church and to the world to strive to be saints. Our faith came to these parts through the work of God’s saints: St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent of Moscow (our patron), St. Sebastian of Jackson, who was the founding priest of many parishes in the Pacific NorthWest (who is our spiritual great-grandfather), St. Tikhon of Moscow who laboured in this vineyard before he went back to become Patriarch during the beginning of the Soviet era in Russia, St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco who reposed at the Cathedral in Seattle escorting the Kursk Root Icon from that very place in Russia that has blessed our mission so richly. These saints brought us the Holy Orthodox faith.  We owe it to them, and to our children to work to plant the cross here in Kitsap County, and in our own hearts. 

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

Who is my neighbour?

Sermon on the event of National Chaos

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

C Праздником

   Today is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, and the Sunday after the Ascension into Heaven of our Lord. I had intended to mention the importance of that First Council. And it is important: what they accomplished, how they accomplished it, how they stood up for the Faith once delivered — how they humbled themselves and asked not “What do you think?” But rather “What were you taught?”

   And I also intended to mention the crucial significance of the Ascension, how it completes the Incarnation, how Christ brings our humanity, sanctified, as a gift to His Father, creating for us a path to the Kingdom of Heaven, how He finishes His undoing of Adam’s sin. . . . and more of our Holy Paradox to revel in. 

   And much has happened this week. We are gathered here for the first Public Service since the “Stay At Home” order. This week we reached 100,000 deaths due to this pandemic. Some of them have been Orthodox Clergy: Archbishop Pimen, Bishop Benjamin of Zheleznogorsk died in the hospital in Kursk, ProtoPresbyter Paul and early in this pandemic ProtoDeacon Alexander in Las Vegas. While we enjoy having a public service this week we must remember those whom this disease has taken from us, and pray for them. Even though in this county we are entering Phase II, I fear that we shall see a spike soon in other places because of other things that are happening. 

   We cannot ignore the pain and unrest that is bubbling up in some places of our nation, and raging in others. We have seen privilege used to attack others this week, and we have seen a man murdered with impunity. People are angry, and rightly so. Yet the evil one often does not care if our anger is righteous or not, he can use it. And there are humans also who want to exploit our anger for their own twisted purposes. Like a forest that has been dried out by hot weather and not enough rain over time, all it takes is for someone to ignite the fire, and watch it take off. This is true today, and it was true in Jesus’ day. 

The events of our day cause us to pause and question: “Who is my neighbour?”

   One day a lawyer came to Jesus and asked Him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus throws the question back at him. The lawyer says the Sh’ma: Thou shalt love the Lord the God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. And the second: Love thy neighbour as thyself.  But the lawyer wants to justify himself and asks “Who is my neighbour?” He thinks that most of the people he meets are not his neighbour, and that he owes them nothing, that they are people that he can freely despise and hate.

Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember that in Jesus’ day the Samaritans were despised by Jews. 

We in the Orthodox Church take a number of approaches to this parable. 

   “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) We must admit that in certain ways, we are all of those people. 

   We are asked, by the Church, to look deeper and consider ourselves the man who fell among thieves, and Christ as the Samaritan Who comes to save us from death. We have visited wounds upon ourselves: “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.” In some ways 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. I would be an irresponsible priest if I did not mention this aspect. Sometimes it is we who are in need of mercy. 

   Jesus asks us, through this parable: Who is our neighbour? And we must look around us at the other people. Just as this lawyer wants to limit “who is my neighbour?”  . . . just as the priest and the levite both wanted to limit, “who is my neighbour?”  . . . so we often want to do the same. The final point of this parable is that the one who is merciful is the neighbour. Sometimes our neighbor’s wounds are obvious; sometimes it is hard to see another’s wound through their hate. We must be the one who has mercy. 

Who is our neighbour?

   Our neighbour is everyone. And in this day of internet and global communications, our neighbour may well be in another state or on another continent. We must be the one who has mercy. We must be the one who listens, who hears, who gives space for others who hide their wounds. 

   And it is easy to let our ears go deaf to Jesus’ call to be merciful when there are so many others out there wounding and leaving for dead. We see how senselessly people are despised for no reason other than they don’t look like us or don’t talk like us. It is easy to despise others. And today it is easy to despise those who do not even try to hide that they despise others. But this is not the Christian way. 

   Jesus said to the lawyer and to us: “go thou and do likewise.” Go and be merciful the same way this despised man was merciful in His parable. We, with the lawyer, still keep searching — trying to justify in our minds, finding ways in which others are not our neighbour. 

May the Lord God have mercy on us all. 

Sunday of the Man Born Blind

Sunday of the Man Born Blind

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. CHRIST IS RISEN !!

   Who sinned? This is a question that people have been asking for a long time, from Job (some of the oldest texts in the Old Testament), to Jeremiah, to our present day tabloids.  We live in a calvinist society where we think (even though if we consciously thought about it we’d deny it), never-the-less we live and make policy as if those who were prosperous were blessed, and those who were not had somehow sinned, were bad, or were not worthy. We want to blame because it makes us feel safer; because, if somewhere in our mind, people are to blame for their misfortune, then somehow we are exempt. We hear of judges who excuse the crimes of the wealthy and dole out to the poor the harshest of sentences. Even though it is not our conscious thought, it is never-the-less written into our culture in ways we often do not notice. This sort of thought was not unknown in the ancient world — but there were passages from the writings and the prophets that rebutted it.

   Job does not sin, yet his wealth and children, and health are gone. His friends are sure that Job did something to cause this. Job did nothing to cause it — and he is vindicated in the end.

   Jeremiah: In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Jer 31:29-30. Ezekiel says similar things. 

   Yet this understanding still infected the disciples. And they had heard from the healing of the Paralytic Jesus say: Go and sin no more. It would have been easy for them to hear this in conjunction with their previous beliefs. 

   Yet, this man, Celidonius, did not go blind; he was born blind; he did not have the opportunity to sin. This got the disciples to thinking. . . . to them, suffering was somehow evil. . . Jesus points out that it is not so, that his suffering is not the result of evil. And through his suffering God is to be glorified.   . . .  That the works of God might be manifest in him. This is something we need to confront in ourselves. Many of us have had sufferings.  our suffering may not be the result of evil that we have done (though it may). As with Job, God is not the author of our sufferings. Yet as we allow God to transform us, God can take our sufferings and bring out of us a beauty we did not know was there . . . if we will only let Him. 

   Jesus, in the previous chapter of the Gospel told the pharisees that He was the Light of the world. Now, away from the pharisees for the moment He says “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world. Part of the reason this Gospel finds its place before Ascension is that we know what will happen this coming Thursday. The Light of the world will return to His Father and will take to His Father an offering of our humanity that has been sanctified. And as Jesus had told His detractors, “The children of the bridal chamber cannot mourn So long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”

   And then, to show that He is the Word by Whom all things were created, He spits in the dust and makes mud or clay and re-fashions eyes for the man born with defective eyes; according to the exapositilarion from last night he had neither sight nor eyes, and they had to be made, not just healed. Unlike the Paralytic, He does not ask the man if he wants to be healed, nor does He promise healing. He simply sends him to the pool to wash as an act of obedience. And here again, water figures into the story. And the fathers understand the pool of Siloam to be a figure of baptism. 

   The man comes back seeing. He is illumined, not just physically but also spiritually. Having washed, he encounters Grace.

   Now, just as last week with the Samaritan Woman, the Blind man becomes an evangelist. For Jesus not only opened his physical eyes, but also his spiritual eyes. He was a simple beggar, but he confounds the pharisees (the doctors of the law) with his statements and questions — the same pharisees that were confounded by Jesus a week and a half ago in the middle of the feast. . . He could see. The pharisees, for all their physical sight, could not see. They were blind. 

Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The pharisees could not see past this. 

   The pharisees began to use all the rhetorical tricks they knew to somehow invalidate the miracle that had been performed by Jesus. (Some of those rhetorical tricks are still used today.) They wanted verification of his birth; they called his parents. “Is this YOUR SON whom YOU SAY was born blind?” It was as if they were accusing the parents of blinding their son after he was born. 

   Then when the parents verify their son and his blindness they try again: “GIVE GLORY TO GOD! We know that this man is a sinner!” They say ‘Give glory to God.’ but they are really asking the man to blaspheme God. 

   The man born blind responds with humility, saying only what he knows while not agreeing with their conclusions. Then they badger the witness, asking him what they’ve already asked. This simple beggar refused to be badgered. He then turns it back on the Pharisees: “Why do you ask again? do you want to be His disciples too?” 

   The pharisees are still trying to “prove” Jesus to be a sinner. The man born blind puts forth that a sinner could not do what He just did. Not even Moses healed a man born blind. 

   And with that, this simple beggar shows himself to be wiser than the pharisees. And . . . they . . . can’t stand it. . ..  “You were utterly born in sin, and you dare to teach us?” 

They basically called him an S.O.B and threw him out. 

   Jesus then finds the man and completes his illumination. As He revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman last week, so now He reveals Himself to the man born blind. This is the first time that the man actually sees Jesus, though he recognizes His voice. Celidonius would later go with Lazarus (yes, the Lazarus that Jesus raised), and Massilia, helping two Saints who became bishops in Cyprus and in Gaul.

   Jesus makes a reference to the prophesy of Isaiah: See and in seeing perceive not; hear and in hearing understand not. . . . “. . .and those who see may become blind.” . . . The pharisees overhear that and respond with “Oh, so we’re blind?!” Jesus tells them that because they assume they can see that they are responsible for their sin as if they could really see it. Their assumption that they can see prevents them from exploring the many ways they are blind. This miracle had been done before them, and they refused to see. And Christ calls their refusal to see a sin. By their inability to bring to Christ their own blindness, they kept their spiritual blindness. 

   In seeing that the blind man was illumined in spirit: How do our eyes work for seeing the deeper things of God?

   What can we not see? What can we not even perceive that we aren’t seeing?

   We live in a culture that discourages self examination, of looking at ourselves, at what passions are driving us. Our culture would rather sell stuff to our passions than have us look at what choices the passions are making for us. We live in a culture that would rather make empty accusations than examine what has really happened. We live in a culture that would rather us not see. Yet, to grow spiritually we need to look at those very things. To break the cycle of greed, lust, envy we need to look into ourselves honestly and see the uncomfortable things (both good and bad) about us, . . . and own those things . . . and bring them to God . . .  and work with Him . . . to let those things be healed.  

   Sometimes our blindness is to protect ourselves from what would be too overwhelming to see. This blindness God can also heal. . ..  as we learn to trust God, what was overwhelming becomes possible to face. 

   But, God cannot heal our blindness if we think, like the Pharisees, that we can see; we must be humble and admit to our blindness. Only then, through prayer will God take away our blindness. And then seeing, we must deal with what we see. We must cleanse ourselves of the dust and the cobwebs and dirt that we could not see before. 

   To Him Who illumined both the Blind Man and Who illumines us be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen

CHRIST IS RISEN !!!

Samaritan Woman

Sermon Samaritan Woman

John 4:1 – 42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS RISEN !!!

   We have just passed the feast of Mid-Pentecost. We are more than half way to the feast of Pentecost. In the Feast of Mid-Pentecost at Vespers we read from Isaiah: “Ho ye that thirst, go to the water, and all that have no money, go; buy; eat and drink wine and fat without money or price.”

And in the oikos of the Kontakion we also heard: Thou didst bid all to come to Thee, All-holy Word of God: draw the water of immortality; it is Living Water.

   In the town of Sychar in Samaria Jacob dug a well and worshipped God. That well survived to the time of Jesus; indeed it is still there today. There have been many churches built through the years at this site. Today there is a beautiful Church that the  Jerusalem Patriarchate built over it. Under the altar the well is still working, and the water is most delicious.

   Jesus observed that He needs must go through Samaria. Most Jews of his day journeyed around Samaria. They were viewed as half-breeds who followed a new age mish-mash of 5 different religions. Yet, they looked for the Messiah. And as a foretaste of His later instruction to Go and teach, first in Jerusalem, then Samaria, then the world, He comes to Samaria. Yet there is something more going here. Jesus goes to the despised of His nation.

   And so He comes to Sychar, and it was mid-day — noon. Gathering water was a daily chore. It had to be done.  Most of the woman of the village came early. This woman was not welcome to come with them. She was, in a certain sense, an outcast. So she came in the heat of the day, when most were inside and resting, to fetch her daily supply of water. There were many reasons she did not fit in among her people. 

   And Jesus asks of her a drink of water. For a Jew to use the same vessel to drink as a Samaritan was to make them ceremonially unclean. And she is a woman; such a direct request was irregular. This was not what she expected. Jesus treated her as one who is worthy to enter into a conversation. 

   If you knew the gift of God… Samaritans only had the ToRaH. They did not have the prophets. She had never heard of the passage from Isaiah that I quoted earlier; she would not have heard about “Living Water”; so she was genuinely puzzled at His words. 

   She meets Jesus’ respect for her by answering with respect, she calls Him “Lord”. Yet she adheres to custom, observing that He had no separate vessel with which to drink apart from the jug she carried.  She can’t yet hear what Jesus is saying to her. She questions, for although she returns His respect, she does not imagine that He is greater than Jacob who gave this well. 

   Jesus is setting forth for her noetic water — not the physical water that must be renewed constantly. “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

   She is occupied with her own predicament, shunned by the rest of the town, she must trudge to the well in the mid-day heat to get her daily water. She only sees that having water might be easier. “Lord, give me this water that I may thirst no more…” While she is concerned for her physical needs she gives a window into her spiritual needs. She is thirsting not just for water, but for something. She has not found it. She has looked for it in relationships with men. Each time her thirst has not been slaked. But this man is different. He treats her with gentleness and respect. 

   Jesus then shows He is ready to offer the Living Water by asking her to call her husband, as if he might also receive the Living Water. 

   It may not have been that big a stretch to guess why she had come in the heat of the day to the well — however, Jesus knowledge of the details took her aback. She had 5 husbands: the Samaritans had the 5 books of the ToRah. The Samaritans had 5 gods with whom they were unfaithful to the God of Israel; she had 5 husbands — and yet there was something she was looking for was not in any of these. 

   “Lord, I perceive you are a prophet.” She was looking for something;  she was thirsty for the truth, and had been looking for that in all the wrong places, that she had a genuine thirst for the living water — a thirst that Jesus was uncovering in her, even as He spoke to her.

   So she did not act shocked or indignant that Jesus knew all about her. She perceives that this is not just an ordinary man who confronts her, that makes her thirsty — thirsty for something that her life clearly wasn’t giving her. So she starts asking questions — things that had been troubling her, things that she could not make fit. She no longer cares for her physical thirst — now she begins to look towards a deeper thirst. She asks a question that indicates that she is seeking that which is holy: “Where should we worship?” Jacob came to the mountain when he was escaping Esau after he stole his blessing. In her religion’s understanding they did not ask what circumstances Jacob came to the mountain.  She can only go so far. She wants to know “who is right?”. 

   We do that often: “Who is right?” We seem to care more for THAT question and whatever answers we may contrive to it . . . rather than “what is for our health and salvation?”

   Jesus doesn’t answer her question of “who is right?”; instead He moves her past the to something infinitely deeper.  

   The hour is coming … In John’s Gospel “hour” is mostly pointing towards Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The hour is coming and now is, when both the worship that the Samaritans do and the worship the Jews do will be set aside for something greater, that time when the Temple would be thrown down — that time when the Kingdom would be inaugurated in our time and history; He tells her of a time beyond time: Worshiping God in spirit and in truth; of a time when the Liturgy of what we celebrate on earth would be what was already celebrated in the heavens. Jesus says Salvation IS of the Jews — NOT  salvation WILL BE of the Jews — for Salvation sits before her at the well. 

   Then this woman (we don’t know her Samaritan name; in baptism her name is Photini), excited by His word, sets forth her expectation of the Messiah. Even without the prophets the Samaritans get this expectation from the words of Moses. 

   Whereas, Jesus leaves most of those He encountered the question: Is this the Messiah? For this woman He plainly reveals Himself to this woman. He says, “I AM, the one speaking to thee” — not ‘I am He’ as our English translation suggests. Jesus uses the Name of God to her. 

   This had to startle her.

   But she has little time to indulge being startled. Just then the Disciples return. St. Kyril of Alexandria says of this: 

The disciples are again astonished at the Saviour’s gentleness and they wonder at His meek way. For He did not think it right to shun conversation with the woman in the manner of some who are fierce with intemperate religious scruples, but He unfolds His love for mankind to ALL, by showing that He, being in all respects One Fashioner, does not only impart the life through faith to men, but also to women.

   Now she no longer cares about her physical thirst, but leaves her water-pot as the disciples had left their nets, and goes to her city to be its evangelist. She does not give her message in declarative statements, but rather wants to draw them out the Christ, not to her message. Her question “Is this not the Christ?” was a rhetorical question demanding the response: “YES.” And like the disciples she says “Come and see.” Instinctively she knows how to give the message in a way that will encourage her townsfolk to check Jesus out. She did not want them to trust her report, but to come and see for themselves. She becomes the first apostle to the Church of the gentiles, the first bearer of the Gospel to them. 

   Photini will, in time, become a powerful preacher of the Gospel to her land. After the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul, she and her family will go to North Africa as an apostle to preach the Gospel with her sons and sisters. Nero’s people will arrest her and bring her to Rome where she and her family will be martyred, but not before she converts Nero’s daughter to the Faith. 

   What keeps us from leaving aside our worldly cares? our water-pot? And what of the many things in our world that are distracting to us? that take us away from prayer? Our world tells us we must acquire STUFF — stuff that does not satisfy our soul’s yearning for God, just as Photini’s many husbands did not satisfy her longing for God. The evidence of how fragile our stuff is . . . shows itself to us in the instability brought upon our own land by those who seek to exploit it for their own greed — and also by our current pandemic. What we, and our world have counted important, is shown to be worthless.  

   Let us be like the Samaritan woman; let us thirst for Christ, and not be ashamed when He shows us our sin; let us accept the Living Water and healing, and then go and point others to Him Who heals us. And so let us become illumination — Photini. 

   To Him Who heals us, be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. 

CHRIST IS RISEN !!!