Sunday of St. Thomas

Sermon Sunday of St. Thomas


   Today we celebrate Anti-Pascha. Bright week is over. We can go back to eating vegetables. The Cycle of Tones starts again. And we must begin to struggle with living the Glories of Pascha in the time of our daily lives. 

   We hear in the Acts of the Apostles that the faithful were meeting constantly, in one of the porches of the Temple. This was an audacious act that was not safe. This will not be the only time that the Apostles are put in prison for ministering the Word and healing the sick. By meeting together they emboldened each other in the Faith. And by their example many were added to the Body of Christ. We hear that with almost envious ears today. They met together; we cannot. 

   In the Gospel today we hear of Thomas. We know the story. Thomas did not want to believe unless he saw it with his own eyes and touched Jesus with his own hands. We all can identify with Thomas’ desires to know. Origen says that Thomas was called Didymus (the Twin) because above all the other disciples, he adopted Jesus manner of speaking parables in public and explaining them to his disciples in private.

   Thomas was not satisfied to see an apparition. He wanted to verify the story that Jesus had risen in the flesh. His mind was very precise; he knew what questions he had for Jesus. He had heard that Jesus appeared even though the doors were locked. He wondered if this were an apparition.

   But, how did Thomas know that Jesus had been pierced with a spear? He was not there at the crucifixion. He heard it from the other disciples. Why did he believe them about the wounds but not believe that Jesus appeared to them in the flesh?  Jesus gave him 8 days to ponder. Yet when Jesus appears, St. John Chrysostom points out that He does not let Thomas get his speech out. He invites him to fulfill his desire. By doing so, Jesus demonstrates that He is risen bodily. Jesus demonstrates that though He came in the room with the doors shut that He was Resurrected in the Flesh. 

   We live in a culture that is obsessed with wanting to know how and why: How does it all work? Why do certain things happen? We have a pandemic that is scaring people precisely because we do not know what to expect and how it will act; it is not very good at being predictable. But when we look at how God does things, most often He does not tell us how and why. In the Old Testament Job wanted to know why; God did not tell him. In the New Testament, the Theotokos wanted to know how; God did not tell her. 

   There is doubt that leads to faith, as in the case of Thomas; there is doubt which leads to estrangement from faith. We are told in another Gospel that even as Jesus charges His disciples to go into the world, some doubted. 

   Pope Gregory Dialogos said that Thomas doubted on behalf of us all, and that his confirmation of Christ’s Resurrection is a confirmation on behalf of us all. . . Yet even though he doubted, it fell to Thomas to be the first to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and God. Nathaniel and Peter had proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, and Son of God. Thomas is the first to declare that Jesus is Lord and God. He leaps from doubt to the fullness of Faith. 

   Notice that when Thomas is absent from the company of the disciples, he doubts; in the presence of the disciples he finds faith beyond measure. So it is with us too. We must come together to confess our common Faith, supporting each other in love. Very few of us are called to be hermits. And this is difficult for us right now, since because of the pandemic, we cannot all meet together to celebrate the Resurrection, to scream out: CHRIST IS RISEN, and hear that thunderous reply: Truly He Is Risen. 

   St. Gregory Palamas notes that though Christ rose bodily, that because He had defeated death that His body was not limited by the usual things that limit bodies. He had destroyed the power of corruption, therefore He could show His wounds to Thomas, for the wounds did not fester and did not pain Jesus. His wounds and scars had become glorious by the Resurrection. And Jesus’ words “Blessed are they who have not seen yet have believed. Blessed are they that HAVE BELIEVED. Christ speaks of our own belief today, having a full perspective as having already happened. In His Kingdom, which is Eternal, we already believe and faith Him. 

   Today we realize what a precious thing being able to meet together is — we notice and are grateful for those things we cannot do. . . this is part of the healing that comes from fasting. We generally are not grateful for events until we can no longer do them. There will come a time when we CAN meet together. We must notice with St. Gregory that while Thomas was alone, his faith was not full. When he met with the Apostles his faith is confirmed. This will happen again at the Dormition of the Theotokos where Thomas is again absent at the beginning. Yet his tardiness always results in a deeper faith. So when we are again allowed to meet, let us not take that precious gift for granted. 

   “May we all attain unto this in Him Who has now died and is risen for us, and will come in glory: Christ the King of the Ages, to Whom belongs all glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

Palm Sunday

Sermon Palm Sunday

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

   Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together; and we all take up Thy Cross and say : Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. 

   We must admit a certain amount of irony today, for because of a plague we cannot all be gathered together. Most of us must stay home so that we do not endanger those who are vulnerable. 

   This current plague has raised many a question for us. Being forced to stay home, being forced to quiet ourselves, being forced to take a break from our usual busyness has made us look at our priorities. What is it that we do that is important? What is it that we do. . .  that we really can find better ways to do? It is a deeper asking of the sorts of questions that we asked 50 years ago. Then, many of us thought the solution was to simplify by uglifying.  The assumption was made that beauty was an unnecessary extravagance. This was a solution put forward by a culture that thought that everything important happened only in the brain.

   We have all, as a whole culture been forced to observe a Lent of simplifying and solitude. And what do we miss the most? Do we miss going to work and sitting in our cubical? Do we miss the traffic jams? No, we miss the beauty of connecting with others; we miss the beauty of being close with others; we miss the beauty of going to concerts and listening to live music; we miss the beauty of our favourite restaurants, and the people that we interact with daily, even if casually. We are being smacked over the head with what is really important. Function over beauty is showing itself to be a false dichotomy. 

 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

   Today we remember a very beautiful act, and we remember that someone said that it wasn’t very practical. Judas commits what he thinks is a powerful “WhatAboutIsm”. . .  “Yes this was a very beautiful act; but what about the poor?” It is not a zero-sum game. We can, and MUST have beauty to express our love for He Who IS beyond all beauty. The beauty of what we do is a poor reflection of the beauty of Him Whom we worship. Yet we must give it all the beauty we can. And at the same time we MUST minister to the poor, to the afflicted, to the hungry, to the sick, to those who have been traumatized by life. 

We must beatify our temple — we must care for the poor. The time is coming very quickly when we must consider the building of our own temple. As we move towards that we must both consider the poor, and consider that we are honouring our Lord, just as Mary did in today’s gospel. 

   And through the epistle, the Church tells us “REJOICE! The Lord is near.” We rejoice, for in our unity, the Lord is present. This is a Rejoicing that can exist even when we are grieved. It is a choice: REJOICE! even when the circumstances do not seem to be joyful. REJOICE! even in the midst of grief and pain — for “The Lord is near.” 

   St. Paul commends to us the virtues. It is best to focus on them — to consider them, to consider the things that have been learned and received, heard and seen; and peace beyond knowing will be with us, and will guard our hearts and thoughts.

   And now Jesus come to be anointed before His death. It is both for His death and to indicate Him as the anointed One, the Christ, that He is anointed. He is offered a very beautiful gift. 

   And Judas takes offense. Jesus rebukes him. Jesus paraphrases Deuteronomy: “The Poor you shall always have with you.” This has been used by some as a justification for doing nothing for the poor. But the rest of that verse in Deuteronomy says: “Therefore, I command thee saying: thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother and to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” Jesus makes reference to our duty to the poor, but indicates that His time with them in the flesh is limited — that it must be savoured. 

   And so we must beatify our temple; we must beatify our singing; but we must not ignore the poor while we are doing it. Neither, as Judas suggested, may we ignore the first two. Jesus’ rebuke to Judas was also a rebuke to any who would travel the path of wickedness: “You will not always have Me with you.” Jesus is telling them that there will be plenty of opportunities to minister to Him indirectly by ministering to the poor — but this is a unique opportunity to minister to Him directly. But Judas did not understand. 

   And so Jesus mounts upon the colt of a donkey. Here Jesus is performing the traditional triumphal entry of a king into a city; but He does it with humility riding on the foal of an ass. In doing so He fulfills the prophesy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King is coming to thee, a Just One, and a Saviour; He is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal.”

   The people, most of whom had been hanging out in Bethany with Jesus and Lazarus, immediately recognize the prophesy, and cry out HOSANNA! HOSANNA! In Hebrew, Hosanna means “Save now” They are recognizing Him to be the long awaited Saviour. They are asking Him to save them: “Save us, O Son of David.” It may be likely that they understood this salvation to be in political terms. They may have expected this Messiah to be a new and improved earthly king. Many have, and continue to have this misunderstanding. But the people did not understand. 

   The King of the Universe enters Jerusalem in humility — He even had to borrow a donkey to ride. 

   And the Saducees and Pharisees of the Sanhedrin are upset. This One Whom they had counted as an enemy is now proclaimed King of Israel. The Sanhedrin did not understand.

   Thus begins Holy Week. Jesus comes as a humble King. And Time as we know it begins to pass away. In the Eucharist, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God breaks into our time. That which is without Time comes to dwell in time. The fathers of the Church underline this by having no assigned Tone to this week. The Octoechos has ceased. Time, as we usually measure it, is beginning to expire.

   In one of the Gospels, Jesus will say at the supper: “I will no more taste of the fruit of the vine until I taste it in the Kingdom. At His Passion when He is crucified, He will be offered sour wine on a stick, which He will refuse. Then at the end of His Passion, after three hours, He, knowing all things are accomplished will say: “I thirst.” Again, He will be offered sour wine on a stick — this time He will drink it. And He will say “It has been finished (It has been accomplished)”, and deliver up His spirit. With this the Kingdom of God, that timeless Kingdom, invades time.

   And He will be in the Body — in the tomb; in Hades — with the soul; in Paradise — with the thief; on the throne — with the Father and the Spirit — He Who fillest all things. 

   And then we will celebrate His resurrection from the dead; His trampling down death by death. We will begin another week without a set tone, in which we must, never-the-less, SING EVERYTHING. This is to show us that since Time as we know it has passed away, a new Time beyond Time is inaugurated — an eighth day. Our Homeland is come — a week is as if it were a single day — That which Jesus has called us to has been made known to us. The Kingdom of God is made present to us continually. 

   Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together; and we all take up Thy Cross and say : Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest to Him, together with His Father Who IS without beginning, and the Holy glorious and Life-creating Spirit be all glory and honour, now and ever and unto ages of ages. 

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.



   Today the Church sets before us two spiritual athletes: One, a monk battling his own spiritual pride, and the other, an addict. St. Zossimos was an ascetic who was tempted by pride: He was a good enough monk that he knew the danger of it, and asked God for help. God sent him to the monastery of St. Savas the Sanctified. The other — St. Mary of Egypt: A great sinner, and a great saint. They represent the sort of temptation we face during this time of Great Lent, but also in our life in general. She faced a life of temptation to gluttony, drunkenness, and physical lust. He faced a life of temptation to vainglory, pride, self conceit, and hypocrisy. 

   St Mary’s life brings to us a multitude of questions. She 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 and an alcoholic. These were the passions 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 self-destructive life. But something happened. She only tells us that she renounced her parents’ love. 

   Whatever event it was, or possibly recurring events, 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 part 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. . . .  And she tells us that she drank quite a lot of wine. She lived a life devoid of any healthy boundaries. 

   She was a victim to passions that were inflicted upon her, and a victim of her own passions, which she let rule her for 17 years. . . . Then someone mentions one fall that the Exaltation of the Cross will be celebrated in Jerusalem shortly. We don’t know exactly what about the Cross touched in her, but somehow it did; somehow it 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 begins to see her own self abandonment. And slowly it begins to dawn on her why she cannot proceed; and as with the Prodigal Son, she comes to herself. 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. She was granted a new desire — a desire for the Cross.

   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? Raging (as was St Paul when he first became a Christian)? Gambling? Internet? Being right? Pornography? Our own ego? Are we addicted to Chaos? What boundaries of our own and of others have we violated seeking to fill that emptiness? When we try to move towards God, it feels like a sickness. We are unaccustomed to peace. For us it feels like a sickness, 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:

We will sing at Vespers tomorrow: 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, as St. Zossimos was getting perilously close to, 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. 

   Through the power of God we can change our life, whether we are a seasoned ascetic or a broken addict. But it must be through God’s power. If we attempt on our own, we will reap frustration, and more shame. We must also have a listening and humble heart. Zossimos did not expect to be instructed in the faith by an addict, yet he was. 

   And as Zossimos headed back to the monastery of St Savas the Sanctified, so we are also in the home stretch. The hymns ask us, this week to notice how we starve ourselves spiritually, as the rich man starved Lazarus. At the end of this week we will hear in the hymns to assemble ourselves. Jesus also is in a journey — a journey towards Jerusalem where He will confront and defeat death. He 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, now and ever and unto ages of ages. 

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 


   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.