Sometimes we indulge our passions as a substitute for sitting with uncomfortable feelings. It is helpful to note those feelings and inquire in oneself what their origin might be. Sometimes our passions are formed by being around abuse. We may not see it or notice it, but it affects us. Next time passion comes knocking, don’t fast – fasting may feed it; don’t indulge either. Sit quietly with the knocking and ask questions of it. — Fr. Steven Clark
THE NATIVITY SERMON OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…
“ My ears resound to the shepherd’s song,
piping no soft melody,
but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!
The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…on earth and man in heaven. He Who IS above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!
Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness!
Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.
Today, He Who IS, is born. And He Who IS becomes what He was not! For though He is God, He becomes man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the Heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. Behold, kings have come, that they might serve the leader of the hosts of heaven; women come, that they might adore Him who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; virgins come, to the son of the virgin…infants come, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; children come, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men come, to Him who became Man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds come, to the good shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests come, to Him Who has become a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek; servants come, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom; fishermen come, to the Fisher of humanity; publicans come, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; sinful women come, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman.
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice!, I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! but I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!
For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation. This is my pipe, my harp!
And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too with the angels and shepherds sing:
Glory to God in the highest! and on earth peace good will to men!”
Sermon Sunday of the Paralytic
CHRIST IS RISEN !!!
Do you want to be healed?
This is the question Jesus asks of the paralytic. He has lain daily by the pool for 38 years. 38 years of having to eke by a minimal existence; 38 years of being paralyzed; 38 years of surviving life. Even though it has been hard he has made it these 38 years.
And Jesus asks “Do you want to be healed?”
Surviving life after 38 years of being paralyzed, he says: “I have no man.” He doesn’t yet know that the Man he seeks is standing in front of him — the God-man who asks him this simple but difficult question. Tuesday Vespers we will hear how the Church understands Christ as a response to this:
For thee, I became man; for thee I am clothed in the flesh; yet sayest thou to me ‘I have no man’. Arise take up thy bed and walk.
And so God in the flesh as a man asks him: Do you want to be healed? This is not quite so obvious a question as it may appear on the surface. What will being healed mean to this man? It will mean a drastic change in his life. He would now need to work for a living. His life, as he knew it would be over. He would have to start a new life at an age when most had settled into a stable life. He would have to leave many of his friends who also lived daily with many forms of incapacity. They would still be his friends, but he would no longer see them daily. Healing for him will cost him many of his daily comforts. Healing for him means that his survival skills no longer have any meaning. He must develop new skills at an older age.
And yet Jesus asks him: Do you want to be healed?
And as a healed man he encounters people who have no interest in his healing — people who are toxic to his spiritual health. For him the scribes and pharisees come asking the wrong question: Instead of asking “who healed you?”, they asked “who bid you carry your bed?”
It is important to the life of the Church that this reading is put here at the beginning of the fourth week of our Pascha celebration. The paralytic is beside the pool of Siloam. This Sunday and the rest of the Sundays of Pascha will feature water. Holy Week and Pascha was a time when many were baptized and began their journey in the Church. The fathers of the Church point to water in these weeks as a symbol of baptism and of the new journey in Christ as participating in His Body.
And so Jesus asks us today: Do you want to be healed?
Well of course we want to be healed. But as this was not a simple question for the Paralytic, it is not a simple question for us. Jesus looks at our wounds and seeks to heal us. For some of us, we do not know ourselves well enough to even know the depths of our wounds. For others of us, we know well our wounds. Like the paralytic we have developed survival strategies that help us get through our life. Our survival strategies work — they help us get through. To be healed of our wounds means that we must develop new strategies for survival. But our old strategies worked. Giving them up feels like we are giving up survival. We hold on to them because somewhere in us it feels that to give up the survival strategies is to give up surviving.
Jesus asks us: Do you want to be healed?
How are we paralyzed? What has us stuck? How are we like this man’s blind friends — not able to see what we need to see?
Do we want to be healed?
Do we want to step out of our comfort, our familiar ways of dealing with our wounds, to seek a new life?
Just as this man encountered toxic people, so we will encounter people who are uncomfortable with us being healed. They too have developed survival strategies. Our healing puts a monkey wrench into their plans. They would rather we still be paralyzed. Our healing means that their way of life must change too. They will do their best to keep us in our place — not because they are mean evil people, but because our healing means their lives change too.
Yet Jesus asks: Do you want to be healed?
And this question, at this time of the year, when Healing has broken through for all mankind is a question we must address ourselves to. CHRIST IS RISEN!!! Will we remain in our self made graves? CHRIST IS RISEN !!! He seeks to heal our wounds. CHRIST IS RISEN !!! He bids us rise with Him. He bids us answer His question, “YES!”, and not give Him the story we well know of why it has not happened: “we have no man…” Behold, the God-man has come to us and asks: Do you want to be healed?
CHRIST IS RISEN !!!
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.
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.”
And He divides the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. 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. Come ye blessed, inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation.
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.
Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture dominated by protestant calvinism. If you read social theory you will find that they have divided the poor into “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor” 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. For if indeed you had been charged by God to investigate and to judge, well and good, but, as it is, the fact that he has fallen into misfortune is all you need to know. 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
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. — St. Basil The Great
There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering. — St. Ambrose of Milan
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; I was thirsty and 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.
In a week we will begin 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-peddled 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.
A presidential candidate of a major US political party has commented that he has sexually assaulted women; there are women who will corroborate his claim. This is not about the language he used; this is about what he said, and that he has acted on what he said multiple times.
Some of you are already knee-jerk reacting to this. You are not letting this sink in. In our political process, this is the person who has risen to the top of the heap.
We, as a nation are seriously broken. In earlier times no one would question that this person’s political career was over. Yet we are busy trying to justify it, to find reasons for why it is OK.
Most of us know women who have been sexually assaulted. If the women felt they could trust the culture more, I suspect that more would admit to it.
This has a horrible and lasting effect on women. Yes, many have risen above it — and many still battle what was done. It is especially hard on those women who were betrayed by someone they trust. I know of one who daily battles thoughts of suicide over being raped when she was a teenager. The damage it does is immense.
We owe it to all women to take this seriously. Healing is much easier when women are validated and believed. Minimizing and victim blaming serve only to re-offend the abuse at the hands of those who should be helping.
I think there is a fear (and a legitimate one) that the Orthodox faith will be coopted by people for political purposes. The Orthodox faith tends to restrain and anchor liberals among us and kick conservatives in the pants. It is not something that can be tamed to fit in one political camp or the other. There are horrors that are justified by both extremes of our political spectrum.
We need to have an Orthodox conversation about the things that are done in our society. We should be a prophetic voice to our culture. Instead we are remixing various protestant criticisms of our culture. Thus we find ourselves in camps where we condemn one kind of sin and find justification for why another is not worth condemning. By re-running poorly thought out heterodox issues that were really designed to polarize our political landscape (yes, deliberately designed) we have lost our unique calling of mankind to be transformed and reflect the Image of God in Whom we are created. — Fr. Steven Clark
I am republishing my Meditation on the Sandy Hook Massacre
It seems appropriate for this day.
On Dec 14 2012 20 children and 6 teachers were murdered. My choir, the Illumni Men’s Choral, had a concert that very evening, a Christmas Concert. How do we sing of Christmas in the midst of such tragedy. This is my…
Meditation on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary
REJOICE !!!. The Hymn says. REJOICE !!!
And yet it is hard to rejoice. Innocent Children die at the hand of a person that we are most comfortable calling “Mad”, because we cannot understand “why?”.
REJOICE !!!! the Hymn Says. But how can the parents, who must bury their child, the joy of their hearts, the expectation of their dreams, who are going though the worst thing a parent can go though, rejoice?
REJOICE !!!! the Hymn almost demands. But how can our communities rejoice that will never know the contribution of the little ones who now lie dead?
This is much more like the Carol that is proper to the days of Christmas (Dec 28th or 29th, depending on which calendar you keep), the Coventry Carol. “Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Indeed we must celebrate these young lives that have been cut off; and I can think of no better time than the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
REJOICE !!! the Hymn remonstrates.
How can we rejoice when there is so much pain? The poet muses about that in one of our Christmas Carols: “And in despair I bowed my head; there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on Earth good will to men.
REJOICE!!! the Hymn almost mocks
There is no sense to the violence that has visited us. It is an insult to truth to assign it a meaning. How can we rejoice?
And yet when we look at that hymn, it speaks of exile, of mourning, of a captivity that needs God Himself to come and undo. As we mourn the fallen innocents, we also mourn our own fallen innocence. It touches the tender part of us that does its best to trust in a world that cannot be trusted. It is that part of us, the part that is still child like, that feels the wound most deeply. We feel the violence done to these dear ones deeply in ourselves. On some level we share in that wound, a wound that is not easily healed
The Hymn acknowledges all that, and still confronts us: REJOICE !!!!
Sometimes “REJOICE” is an act of defiance.