Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

   In the epistle we’re told to PAY ATTENTION, much like when the deacon says “Let us Attend”. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? What does it mean to PAY ATTENTION? We shall explore this towards the end of the sermon. 

   Christ is our High Priest. He is both the One Who offers, and the One Who is offered. 

   In the Gospel Jesus has left the region of the Gerasenes. In a previous Gospel reading, they had asked Him to leave. They met God and asked Him to leave. And so He went home. Back at home we have one of the three instances where Christ heals a Paralytic. In the healing of this Paralytic, —  Jesus honours the faith of those who brought him there. He heals not entirely because of the Paralytic’s faith, for surely the Paralytic desired healing,  but because of the faith of his friends who brought him to Jesus. . . . And we must also ask why it is that the people did not move aside to allow the friends to bring the Paralytic in. It is important for us to enter into one another’s struggle and not stand in their way,  but to pray for each other and act to get ourselves and them to the Physician, that He may heal us.

   Jesus says a couple of  very interesting things to the paralytic: “Be of good cheer, child, thy sins are forgiven.” Jesus speaks words of relation to this man whose plight was ignored by many others; He calls him “son”; He brings him into the household of God. When we don’t see others, we dehumanize them. In our society the disabled are treated as if they were not there. They are invisible; often if someone is with them, we will speak to the other as if the disabled person is not there. We don’t see the other for who they are. In many ways, such an attitude is just as paralyzing to all. 

   Jesus words do not imply that there was some sin that caused this man to be paralyzed; His words are words of restoration. “Thy sins are forgiven”, means that this one who is paralyzed is restored. He is welcomed as a child of God. And by restoring this paralyzed man, Jesus lets people know Who He is: . . . In Isaiah the prophet says of God: “I AM, I am He that blots out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and thy sins, I will not remember.”

   Jesus challenges the pharisee’s understanding by forgiving the paralytic’s sin; for they lacked compassion for this paralytic and his condition. They were more interested in proving themselves right. It is not the paralytic who says: “I came for healing and you forgave my sins?” This thought does not occur to the paralytic. But it is in the hearts of the pharisees. Another thing that annoyed the pharisees is that prophesy was fulfilled in their presence. 

   The second thing Jesus says to the Paralytic is: “Arise take up thy pallet and go home.” Not “take up thy pallet and walk” as He instructed another paralytic, but rather “go home.” And when we think of “home”, for many of us, this too is a place of wounding. But Jesus Himself has opened our path to our home, not an earthly city but a home in the city to come, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has healed not just the body, but also the soul of the paralytic. 

   Who are we in this story? What has us paralyzed? . . . What attitudes and relationships do we have where we are paralyzed? . . . What fears do we have that paralyze us? . . . Do we treat ourselves like the crowd who will not move out of the way so that Jesus can heal us? . . . Will we allow four friends to help us?: Fasting, Prayer, Alms, Humility? . . . Are we willing to remove whatever roof is keeping us from Jesus? . . . Or How are we helping our friends who are paralyzed find healing? . . . Are we the ones who don’t think others are worthy of being healed? . . . Do we take offense at how Jesus heals? . . . When Jesus tells us to go home, what home do we go to? Is it a good healthy home?

   In the second Gospel we have Jesus teaching about the Good Shepherd. 

   The Hireling is not concerned with the sheep but with himself, with his own position and pay. 

   Jesus gives up His life for His sheep. 

   The wolf tests the shepherd to see if he be hireling or true shepherd. . . . When the wolf comes the hireling abandons the sheep. Christ is the good shepherd, not because He has good sheep, but that He gives His life for them. . . for their health and salvation. And Jesus ordained that some be shepherds — but only He is the door. 

   And many of us have experienced good shepherds,. . .  and we have experienced hirelings. . . . And as we look out at how various priests and bishops are handling the current crisis, we see very good shepherds, who are doing their best to take care of their flock in impossible circumstances. . . and we see hirelings. And we marvel at the care of the good shepherds. . . . and we feel the emptiness of the hirelings. . . Even if they be hirelings, we must love them and pray for them. This is hard. It is hard to pray the prayer of St. Ephraim “not to judge my brother” when we feel the sting of their judgement . . . and of their poor judgement, . . . and our own judgement on them. 

   Those good shepherds we have been under should be treasured — those that held themselves accountable to God for the sheep He had put them over. And we must glorify God Who brought us to such shepherds. . . . In that we have experienced hirelings, we must heal — or more accurately, we must allow God to heal us. And we must acknowledge that the wounds that the hireling inflicts on us: abuse, abandonment, . . . these are deep wounds that will take time to heal. 

   And whether our shepherds be good or bad, we have a High Priest who knows what we are going through and Who offers Himself for us and for our salvation. For He guides us by walking ahead. He heals us: . . . even our death He heals by trampling down death by His own death. He leads us beside calm waters, in green pastures. He nurtures us in ways only He knows. He provides for us our needs that are hidden from us. 

   And finally, today is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was archbishop of Thessalonica. He spent some time on Mt Athos. We remember him for this Sunday is a second triumph of Orthodoxy. Last week we celebrated the Victory of the Icon, of God becoming Man, whom He Himself created in His own Image. This week we celebrate our call to complete this — to become like God. This all started when a monk from Calabria named Barlaam, who brought his scholasticism to the east. He thought that God should be understandable and that we should be able to figure Him out logically. He thought that the monks of Mt. Athos were wasting their time. He thought they should be using his scholastic method to approach God using reasoning and rationalism. St. Gregory debated him and pointed out that though we may attain purity of heart and see God, just as Jesus promised, that we saw God’s glory, His energie. (Just as Moses and Elijah saw) Yet we cannot know God in essence as He knows Himself. But we can see His uncreated light, as the three disciples saw at Mt. Tabor at the transfiguration. Barlaam’s approach to God is common in our western culture. We even sadly see some Orthodox who have adopted it. . . . But that is not what we are up to. . . . We are to have a relationship with God — not analyze God. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once said: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

But God is both beyond in His essence, and deeply involved with the world through His grace as manifested in His energie. 

   St. Gregory defended Hesychasm (or quietness). Hesychasts recognize that we must watch over our rational faculties; we must make them serve us rather than enslave us. We must collect our minds that have been darkened and distracted by our senses. One of the ways that we collect our minds and make it serve us is to put our mind in our hearts and in the presence of Jesus. This is usually done with the aid of the Jesus prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. 

   This prayer has been commended to us by the fathers of the Church as a way of focusing on Jesus and gathering our distracted minds, and so to obtain sobriety. The idea is to fulfill the commandment of St. Paul to pray without ceasing. It is commended with some caveats: We can expect things to come up for us that we need to deal with. If we are to make extensive constant use of this prayer we need regular access to a father confessor. 

   But we can still make use of it, when we feel attacked from within by our minds, or distracted from without by the noise of the world. 

   Hesychasm (the practice of quietness) asks a question of us: What is it in our life that distracts us? that causes us to lose focus? . . . What can we do to turn down the noise? . . . What things, that should be our servants, have we allowed to enslave us?

   Great Lent bids us to turn down the noise, and to flee from the slavery of our own reasonings and desires. And to move toward Christ:  to Whom belong glory, dominion, honor, and worship, with His Father Who IS without beginning and the most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sermon Sunday of Orthodoxy

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

   We have made it through the first week of Great Lent. This has been a hard week. But we made it. And the Church has given us these weekends as a time to fast, but not quite as rigourously. We have a couple of days each weekend, and then . . .  the rigours of the week day return. Tonight we have Washingto Orthodox Clergy Association vespers of Sunday evening to help us transition back into the rigours of the weekday. Two years ago we were at the beginning of the Pandemic; this was the last WOCA vespers that we did.  This year we start again. The weekend is an important time to catch our breath and then once again face the journey to Pascha, preparing to face another week. 

   I would be remiss as your priest if I did not acknowledge the conflict in the world; a conflict that has brought Orthodox brother against Orthodox brethren. The history of the Church has always been messy. We can see this in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians. St. Kyril of Alexandria had some problems with St. John Chrysostom. Indeed, the very thing we celebrate today started in AD 726 with an emperor who attempted to abolish icons. This action of the political leader had some support in earlier times by some of the Monophysite and Nestorian bishops. It was also fueled by fear of Islam and their proscription of images. For 117 years icons were removed from parishes and cathedrals. Illuminated manuscripts were destroyed. Some people (created in God’s Image, were killed, and monks were forcibly married to women; churches and monasteries were burned. Some bishops even got together to fashion a robber council to prohibit icons. This went back and forth for many years. At one point the emperor deposed the patriarch and forbade priests from preaching. Eventually the Orthodox way prevailed; and we call the victory of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts: The Triumph of Orthodoxy.

   Today we celebrate a great feast of the Incarnation of Christ. The Prophets proclaimed and prophesied the coming of our Lord in the flesh. And because of that it is both proper and necessary to depict that flesh in images. Hitherto no one had seen God in any form and it was not proper to depict Him. 

   Today we celebrate the return of icons to the worship of Christ our God on earth. Today we commemorate the restoration in AD 843 of Icons. They went in procession to the Church of Theotokos ton Blakhernós, and restored the icons. 

   The scriptures we read were catechistic. They are pointing those who will be baptised at the end of Great Lent to what the beginning of the journey was for the disciples, and reminding them of the prophets of old that looked forward to the Kingdom and the coming of the Messiah but never saw it themselves. We celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God Who took flesh for our sake. The indescribable deigned to become describable. As we will hear in the Gospel on Bright Monday: “No man has ever seen God; the only begotten Son Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

   He Who is the very radiance of the glory of God, the very Icon of His Person has shown Himself. As we sing in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us!” For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken that flesh that He Himself created in His Image, and joined the two together without confusion. 

   We venerate icons by kissing them as we would kiss a revered friend. We venerate them by bowing, again as to a revered friend. We also venerate them by censing them with incense. When we cense icons we are recognizing that the person depicted was created in God’s Image and reflected His likeness. 

   But we also cense us — we humans. We are created in God’s Image; by censing ourselves we honour that Image of God in ourselves. 

   So as we honour the Image of God in ourselves by censing we must ask ourselves: “Do we honour God’s Image in us?” Is how we live a reflection of that Image of God in us? Do we seek God’s will in our lives? Do we honour His image in ourselves? our family members? Our co-workers? The people we meet everyday? Do we see God’s image in the Barista who makes our coffee drink? Do we see the Image of God in the homeless person whose path we cross? Do we see the Image of God in the person whose politics we despise? In the eyes of the refugee who asks for a safe place? Do we see God’s Image in the face of those people we don’t like? 

   For all of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? How are we treating His Image in others . . .  remembering that He said that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him? By how we treat ourselves and others we often are guilty of being iconoclasts. 

   These are questions that this Sunday requires us to look at. While we are celebrating the Triumph this evening we must pause and take stock at where we are. Celebrating the restoration of Icons means we must work on restoring God’s Likeness in us. 

   The older themes of this Sunday can help us. Before the restoration of Icons, this Sunday was dedicated to the prophets. If you read or sing the hymns of this Sunday you will notice that it bounces between Icons and the Prophets. If we were to do Complines tonight we would hear the older canon of the Prophets. The prophets called Israel and Judah to repentance. They called the people to treat the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner with respect. They called the people to treat their children as precious gifts from God, and not as a thing that can be disposed of to appease a Ba-al, or to appease our gods of material gain and convenience. They called the people back from, and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. And the people did not repent and had to pay the cost in exile. We are encouraged during Lent to read the prophet Isaiah. No matter what age we live in, the book of Isaiah has some sobering criticism of our society. 

   He sandwiches his prophecies of destruction with consolation, with the message: “It doesn’t have to be that way; you can repent.”; in someway he is saying to us today: “It doesn’t have to be this way; we can repent.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. Great Lent is a period of exile and return from exile. 

   This is what the Church asks us to chew on as we journey towards Pascha. God calls us in this period to work with Him to restore His likeness in us. The prayers are all a part of that. The Presanctified Liturgy and other services are all a part of that. Fasting is all a part of that. Alms are all a part of that. The Triodion is part of that. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is part of that. These are the tools we have been given. These tools must be applied with love, or they will be useless to us. These tools help us see clearly. Very often we have a distorted view of ourselves, either overlooking or excusing *our own sin with pride, or aggrandizing our sin (making it bigger and unsurmountable in our eyes) . . .  and falling into despair. But we can repent. . . it doesn’t have to be this way. 

   All of this takes place, today on a canvass of war — of war in which one Orthodox country has invaded another Orthodox country. A grave sin is being set forth. War is always a grave sin. And we hear this war both decried and justified. And some of the noise of war is being spoken by Orthodox bishops and clerics — a noise that we sometimes hear from our own mouths. 

   Brothers and sisters, the war is out there. It is real; it is serious. It, like the iconoclast controversy of 1400 years ago threatens the unity of the Church. In addition to actual icons and churches being bombed, people created in God’s Image are dying. This is a wound that, if we take the Incarnation seriously, runs very deep. And, at the same time that we must grieve that wound, please, do not let the war come into our heads. Let us not fight with our brothers and sisters and so perpetuate the grievous sin that comes with war. But most importantly, do not let the war into our own heads; do not fight it out in ourselves. As I said last week, this will be one of the hardest of Great Lents for us. The needs of our brothers and sisters in the war-torn country of Ukraine are real; and, if you wish to help, there are ways to make sure assistance gets to Ukraine through Metropolitan Onuphry. Be careful; choose the news outlets that you use carefully; some of them gain following and revenue by stoking the flames of fear and anger; . . . and they are working over-time. Or better yet fast from too much news — for this distracts us from our work of coming to God in repentance. We are being given the temptation of replacing God with our own fear and need to feel in control. We are being invited to a new iconoclasm within ourselves. For when we are in control, we push God out of our lives. 

   God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches. … to Him be glory and honour, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Forgiveness Sunday

Sermon Forgiveness Sunday

[Rom. 13:11-14:4 (§112)] ; [Matt. 6:14-21 (§17)]

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

   It is time: The time is now. It is time for the Lord to act. 

   WAKE UP!! The night is far spent. St. Paul tells us to put aside all excesses both of our bodies and of our passions. But rather to put on our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of our passions are of the body: rebelling — drunkenness, sexual excess; . . . some passions are of our mind: arguing, strife, jealousy, judgement. We are beginning the strictest time of fasting in our Church Year. We each will fast: fasting not just from food but also from these passions. Or we will distain the fast, and will lose the opportunity to war against those things that come between us and God. The Church gives us this opportunity to journey with Christ to Jerusalem. 

   Today is Forgiveness Sunday. At Vespers after Trapeza, we will have the service of mutual forgiveness. The Gospel we are reminds us of the importance of forgiveness — that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. We are also instructed to keep our fasting a secret. Those of us who are new to fasting, it is good to have one person that we hold ourselves accountable to. Those of us who are old hat at fasting should tell no one how well or how badly we do it. Our fasting is supposed to reflect the simplicity of Paradise; the peace of Paradise.

   Keep our eyes on our own plates. It is none of our business how others are keeping the fast. For those of us who are traveling, or visiting, or in situations where someone else is putting food in front of us: eat what is placed in front of you. If someone puts a plate of steak in front of you, it is THE FAST to eat it, to accept their hospitality without hinting that you are observing a fast. 

   As we increase our fasting, prayers, and alms — expect resistance: resistance from our society, from our friends and family, . . . resistance from the evil one and from the demons; . . . but most of all let us expect resistance in ourselves, If you fall in your observance of the Fast, do not use that as an excuse to invalidate yourselves, the Church’s appointed fast, or others. Get back up and begin again. 

   Let us fast as a way of drawing close to God, to let our hunger remind us of God. Let us not fast for its own sake, for remember that the Pharisee fasted, and his fasting was worthless, for he was proud of his fasting.

   I invite you to fast from the glut of information that we feast on daily, especially what we have experienced for the last 10 days. I realize many of us need to be on-line for work. Still it is good to turn down the volume on all the news and stories and issues and noise that assails us daily. Even if we must be on-line, if we can spend as little time the first week of lent and during Holy Week we will do well. 

There are lots of people out there who have a vested interest in us being angry, upset. They want to manipulate our passions for their cause whether it be political, for profit, for power. I invite you to fast from political arguments. The noise that is getting louder keeps us from seeing our own contribution to that very noise, so that we can’t see ourselves and repent. 

And what of repentance? Menoia (the Greek word that is translated) means to change our nous, our spiritual mind. It is also used to describe a profound bow to the ground. It is the posture of humility. If we force our bodies to be humble, our spirits and minds will follow. 

I invite you to listen to the Quiet. In the Quiet it is easier to see the meaninglessness of it all — the boredom and the fear. And I invite you to treasure the Kingdom of God above all. As Elijah met God’s glory in the quiet still voice, so let us meet God through stillness. 

   Forgiveness — entering the fast with forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that what was done was OK — just that you are not going to let it rent space in your head. 

   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 grieving 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.

   We begin this time of fasting in a time of conflict and war. We feel helpless, as if there is little we can do in a drama that is being directed by three powers who have not consulted us. What can we do?

   As St. Silouan said: We can stand before the Lord in prayer, praying for the world that is shedding blood.

   Metropolitan Anthony Bloom adds that we pray, “Not in that easy prayer that we offer out of our comfort, but in a prayer that rushes to heaven from sleepless nights; in a prayer that does not give rest; in a prayer that is born from the horror of compassion; in a prayer that no longer allows us to continue living our insignificant and empty life. That prayer requires us to finally understand that life is deep and that we are spending it racing about something unworthy and also became unworthy of ourselves, unworthy of God, unworthy of sorrow and joy, the torment on the Cross and the Glory of Resurrection, which constantly alternate and intertwine on our earth.”

“In the face of what is going on in front of the Cross, death, and spiritual agony of people, let us renounce the pettiness and insignificance of our life—and then we will be able to do something: by our prayer, by way of our life, and perhaps even by something braver and more creative.”

   It is a very difficult time, . . . and there will be much to distract us from focusing on prayer and our own repentence. We have to be more vigilant to our own spiritual needs. . . And the parts of us that deal with fear, want us to focus on that instead. . .  This is going to be one of the most difficult Great Lents that any of us do. Be sober: watch and pray  that we enter not into temptation. 

   To Him Who comes to His Passion for our sakes, be all glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto the ages of ages. 

Peace, and the Rich Fool

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

For He is our peace, Who has made us both one.

   Jesus Himself took on our flesh, and in His circumcision he became a Jew; and in His death on the Cross he took upon Himself the curse of our mortality and became as One outside the law, as One Whom the law condemned, that He might unite all mankind in Himself, both Jew and Greek. And He didn’t just change us so that we might be new and improved Jews; He created us a new man, breaking the fragmentation that divides us from God, and from each other — not just bringing the enmity to and end, but KILLING IT.

   And He proclaimed Peace to those who were far off and Peace to those who were near. We see this even in His Nativity, where it is announced by the angels to the shepherds — those near, and by a star to those who came from a distant land. 

   And we are made fellow citizens with the saints. We are being built into a holy temple in the Lord; a tabernacle, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We are given citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We proclaim it in this Divine Service; we participate with it in communion; we live it in our day-to-day lives. 

   He is our peace, having made us one: Male — Female, Jew — Greek, English — Russian, White — Black … HE has made us one; reconciling us to God, making us Fellow-citizens of the Household of God. It spite of our differences, God has called us together to stand as members of His house as we worship Him together. He has called us to be His body through communion. We may get on each others’ nerves from time to time; but God is building us into a community of His Body, here in Silverdale, here in Central Kitsap County. not as another organization, but as an organism, a living, breathing microcosm of Christ’s Body; to incarnate His Body in our lives, and His ministry in our encounter with others. 

   And we do not figure all this out on our own by reading about it — our foundation of faith is in the Apostles and Prophets. The foundation is in both the Old and the New Covenant. We must be obedient to the teachings of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets. Those teachings are not easy to do; those teachings constantly challenge us to live a life of repentance. 

   Christ Himself is the cornerstone, and we are His temple being built together. Sometimes we irritate each other; sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. Yet we are being built into His dwelling. In our worship we humans stand with the angels, offering up the noetic worship which is offered by the angels at all time, and we this morning come together to offer it with the angels.  And we live our lives from this offering — offering ourselves as a living sacrifice — our reasoned worship.

   We together are the Temple of God. We can’t do that alone. We need each other, to pray for each other, to love each other, and yes, sometimes to annoy each other and learn to overcome our differences so that we realize His unity in us. 

   We must do this together. It is for this purpose that God has called us here. 

  Therefore we must bear one another’s burdens. For just as we are in need of healing, so all of us are. In bearing our own burdens and the burdens of each other, we fulfill the law of the Kingdom of God. 

   And Christ heals us; He restores us to the likeness of His Image in Whom we are created, if we will let Him; if we will cooperate with Him. 

   Let us use this time of the Nativity fast to cleanse ourselves of bitterness, anger, falsehood, impurity, uncleanliness, and covetousness. Most especially in this time of year, when commercial interests want us to be greedy and consume more, we must guard ourselves in moderation, for our soul is in this battle between virtue and vice — and there are many who want to make money on our vices. We are to give thanks in all things and be grateful. Which brings us to our Gospel. 

   The Gospel reminds us of this as well. The parable tells us the man had more than enough. The Rich Fool is only concerned with himself, and how things effect him; he does not look at how his behavior affects others. He only considers himself, and what life can give him. He is like Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”; he only looks out for himself and his own petty concerns. 

   Instead of building bigger tables to share his wealth, he decided on bigger barns – barns where his harvest would accumulate, and spoil. 

   He seems to think that he is the owner of his soul and that he is in charge . . . of everything! 

   Jesus then continues the parable, deliberately using the line “Eat; Drink and be merry.” He knew that those listening to Him would recall how that line from Isaiah continued: “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”

   St. Basil the Great says of this very Gospel: “if you fill these larger ones, what do you intend to do next? Will you tear them down yet again only to build them up once more? What could be more ridiculous than this incessant toil, labouring to build and then labouring to tear down again? If you want storehouses, you have them in the stomachs of the poor.” 

   The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor.”

   On this same passage, St. Leo the Great points out that this passage should read: “Fool; in this night they demand your soul from you.” These things that you own, now own you. Many of the fathers remind us that the only thing we get to take with us to the grave is whatever virtue we may have acquired in this life. 

   And so the Rich Fool dies without learning mercy and generosity. And the wealth of his harvest is left to rot. 

   We must guard our relationship to the many things our world tells us we MUST HAVE, especially this time of year. We have only to look at the average relationship with the smart phone to see how easy it is to be owned by our things. 

   As we are now in the Nativity Fast, let us guard against the noise of acquiring. And when we find ourselves having a surplus, let us find a way to build a table that invites others to partake of our good fortune. 

   So, let us guard our souls in sobriety, and turn down the volume of the noise from the world through prayer, fasting, and alms. And, let us not get so involved in whether our particular political side won today that we ignore the friends and family that we have. Let us spend less time on the internet, and more time loving the people whom God has given us. Let us not fall for the desires to have things that are very loud right now (Black Friday seems to have lasted two weeks this year). Let us rather BE . . . together . . . with those people God has given us and put in our lives. And with the current pandemic, we must find more creative ways to do this. As St Paul reminds us, we must bear one another’s burdens. 

To Him Who gives us all good things in due season, be all Glory honour and worship. Always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Love

The world doesn’t have much use for love. It cannot be traded on the stock market. It cannot satisfy any lust for power or any lust for anything. Love will not make us skinny, will not increase our 401K fund. It will not make money for corporations. It will not be a useful weapon in the many wars that we think we must attent to. It will not make us comfortable. It will not buy us the latest toys. It cannot be used as a wedge to gain political advantage. Love will not support the hate that is used by many to manipulate poeople to do their bidding. Love will not keep the immigrant out. Love will not sacrifice the very young and the very old to the god of convenience. As our world counts it, love is mostly useless. Yet it is the highst of Jesus’ comandments. Love is a direct challenge to the chaos of our world

Forgiveness

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

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 process, . . .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. 

Last Judgement

Last Judgement

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

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST!! 

   Amen, I say to you, in as much as ye did not to the least of these, neither did ye to Me. 

   Today we hear about fasting in the epistle. If we read the hymns from Vespers and Matins for this coming cheese week we will also hear words of instruction about fasting. 

If thou dost fast from food, O my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thy abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned towards amendment of life, as a liar thou art hateful in God’s sight, and thou doest resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou art standing beside the crucified Saviour, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him Who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. (Wednesday Matins)

   The hymns of the Katavasia of the Canon for last night’s Vigil are already the hymns of the irmosoi of the Great Canon of St. Andrew.  

   This Wednesday at Vespers, and Friday at the Moleben, we will already say the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. 

   This week we already begin fasting from meat. If you have access to the daily sections of the Triodion, they start this week. I commend them to you. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a different sort of teaching. Instead of speaking of Himself and the Kingdom obliquely or through Parables, He confronts us with a vision of the Last Judgement. This Glorious vision is of Him, the Son of Man, as King of all nations, for ALL nations will be judged, those we like, and those we do not like. All nations before the Throne of Glory are judged based on how they recognized the Image of God in the least of them. 

The Lord sent the Law, and the Prophets, and we have disregarded them. And finally He spoke to us through His Son, and we disregarded Him too. Our Physician has taken careful measures for our healing, even conquering death by His death, and dulling its sting. And as in the days of Noah, Christ has flooded the world with His Righteousness, Grace, and Mercy. 

The King comes with both Justice and Mercy. And we recall all of Jesus’ teachings and parables reminding us that, to the merciful, God will show mercy; — to the merciless, God will show no mercy, but only judgement.  Some will see the King as joy and bliss; others will see the King as judgement and condemnation. And the dividing line is: . . .  “How did we treat others.” When we get to Holy Week we will see this theme repeated: for the Foolish Virgins did not have enough oil. . . .  Oil is a pun for mercy. 

And He divides the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. The Sheep are sheep because their likeness is as to the Lamb of God. One thing to note is that neither the righteous nor the wicked are aware of who is which. The righteous question being considered righteous; the wicked question being considered wicked. The righteous are unaware that by ministering to the least of these, they ministered to the King. 

He was: hungry, and they fed; thirsty and they gave drink; a foreigner, and they welcomed Him; naked, and they clothed Him; sick and imprisoned and they visited Him. The righteous ministered to Him by ministering to the least of these. They didn’t know that by ministering to the Image of God in the least of these, that they ministered to God, the King. For God does not need food, drink, asylum, clothing, a physician, or liberty — but the least of those created in His Image do. When you sum it all up, what they did for their fellows who are created in God’s Image and likeness — they loved. . . . Come ye blessed, inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation. The Kingdom of God is what we were all created for. . . And the righteous do not react as if they have been vindicated; instead they react with humility.

To the goats, the wicked He says: Depart you cursed ones. He does not curse them. They have cursed themselves. Depart to a place that was NOT prepared for you, but for the devil and his demons. The fire of punishment was not designed for you, but you have brought it upon yourself; you have chosen it.  They choose it by refusing to do all the things the righteous did. And the impious react with self justification: “Lord when did we see Thee…” In this is a warning to us, not to seek to justify ourselves. DEPART! . . . for you preferred wealth and power and things over your brothers. . . and that is hatred for your brothers. 

St. Gregory Palamas says, “Observe this last evil: pride is yoked with callous behavior, as humility is with compassion. When the righteous are praised for doing good, they humble themselves the more, without justifying themselves. When these others are accused of being devoid of compassion by Him Who cannot lie, they do not humbly throw themselves to the ground, but answer back and justify themselves.”

   The first commandment is that we love God with all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The only way we can prove we love God is by loving our neighbor.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture dominated by protestant calvinism: the idea that wealth is virtue. If you read social theory you will find that they have divided the poor into “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor”. And we do our best as a culture to withhold aid to those we deem “undeserving.  But SS John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Ambrose of Milan will have nothing of this:

For most people, when they see someone in hunger, chronic illness, and the extremes of misfortune, do not even allow him a good reputation but judge his life by his troubles, and think that he is surely in such misery because of wickedness.  — St. John Chrysostom 

Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing . — St John Chrysostom

Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead. —  St John Chrysostom

If you see any one in affliction, ask no more questions. His being in affliction involves a just claim on your aid. For if when you see a beast of burden choking you raise him up, and do not curiously inquire whose he is, much more about a human being one ought not to be over-curious in enquiring whose he is. He is God’s, be he heathen or be he Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help… . . . If you see him in affliction, do not say that he is wicked. For when a person is in calamity, and needs help, it is not right to say that he is wicked. For this is cruelty, inhumanity, and arrogance. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need. —  St. Basil the Great

He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him who is able to dress the naked and doesn’t do it. — St. Basil the Great

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

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

I was hungry and you took my food away, and arrested those who were trying to feed me; I was thirsty and you dumped my water in the desert, or you gave my water to someone who paid you; I was a foreigner and you sent me back to the perils of the country I escaped, I was naked and you condemned my morality; I was sick and you made it impossible for me to see the physician; I was in prison and you forgot me. 

Rather than take Jesus’ words to heart, we try to find a way to justify our greed, our hard heartedness, our neglect, our theft of the resources that belong to all mankind.

   During the Lenten season that will soon be upon us, we are instructed to increase prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When we give alms we should thank the one we give to, because through them we have the blessing to give to God.  

   We are beginning a time when we are asked by the Church to simplify our lives, to soften our hearts, to be generous with alms, to turn down the volume of our noisy world.

Brothers and sisters, listen. Our souls are on the line. Jesus taught us to pray that our debts be forgiven as we forgive our debtors — our debts, those things we should have done but didn’t. Jesus did not accuse the goat people of adultery or murder; He accused them of lack of mercy. 

I would be guilty of not clothing you if I soft-pedalled this. This is what our Lord expects of us. This is the criteria by which we are judged. 

The Kingdom which was prepared for you from the beginning, the joy of all joys — or, … the punishment that was not prepared for you but rather for the devil and his angels. Which will we decide? We must decide whether to let the medicine of these commandments be a healing for us. Or by not applying the medicine, a fate which was never ours to begin with awaits. 

But by our actions or inactions, we decide.

May we attain unto the lot of the sheep through the mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to Whom be all glory, honour, and worship; always 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.