Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sermon Sunday of Orthodoxy

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


   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: 


   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. 


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


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

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: 


   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. 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. 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Cappella Romana: Rakhmaninov Vigil

Review: Cappella Romana: Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. 

Of the times I have heard Cappella Romana do the Vigil, this was clearly the best balanced. The extra bass personnel made for a very enjoyable concert experience. Benedict Sheehan did a masterful job of piloting the choir through not just the Rachmaninov, but also several other pieces that provided a  context that gave the audience a taste of what was covered in a typical vigil. The intonation was wonderful. On Nynye Otpushchayesi the tenor solo was good if a bit nervous. The descending bass line at the end was helped by the services of Glenn Miller, the basso profundo who has become well associated with this work throughout the USA through his participation with many choirs. There was even a nice F1 at the end of Bogoroditse Dyevo. 

There was a tendency to not accent the strong syllable through much of the concert. This became most problematic with the singing of the small glorification (6 Psalms). If the choir accented SLA of “Slava” as much as Rachmaninov wrote for them to, it was lost in the acoustics of St. James Cathedral. The Bell effect that Rachmaninov composed was mostly limited to the sound of the various voices together creating the proper tones and overtones. 

On the Velichaniye (Magnificat) the sound of the men was very satisfyingly solid. The women had balance issues with the altos and 2nd sopranos overpowering the 1st sopranos. 

The Cappella Romana added many of the parts that would change from service to service to round out the concert and give a sense of context. They performed these hymns quite well.

It was overall a glorious concert with the voices accomplishing a feat of stamina and not sounding tired at the end. 

As an encore the Choir proformed Chesnokov’s Nye Otverzhi Menye with Glenn Miller singing the solo that he first premiered with the Illumni Men’s Chorale, singing the original ending the Chesnokov wrote.   Later, he won a Grammy with Conspirare with this piece. We were spoiled richly. 

Sermon 7th Week after Pentecost

Sermon 7th Week after Pentecost



Bear one another’s burdens . . . We who are strong must bear the infirmities of the weak; just as Christ has bore our infirmities. This is a beautiful turn of phrase in Greek. Paul deliberately alludes to Isaiah.

Brothers and Sisters: Most of us are strong in some areas, not so strong in other areas. This is what comes from our experience, our toil, our facing adversity. We each face, and are strengthened in one area and become mature, and yet we are still children in other areas. We should not reproach ourselves for this. We see this in Peter who in one moment confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and then at the very next moment tells Jesus that He cannot go and suffer death, and must be rebuked for this. We can be strong for others, but we also need others to be strong for us. Paul lays this upon us as an obligation we have to each other. Just as Christ bore our reproach, so we also must bear each other, pray for each other, be present and listen to each other, love each other. In Galatians, Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

So we must bear with the weakness of others and build them up and strengthen them rather than blame them for their weakness, for in other areas they are the strong and we are the weak. For we are one body; the weakness of others is our weakness — the strength of others is our strength.

For God has received us and listens and loves and is present to us even in our weaknesses, failings, and prejudices, and has born our infirmity upon Himself, and seeks our healing.

In the Gospel, Jesus heals. He has just raised the daughter of the Synagogue leader. Now He privately heals the blind, and the dumb/deaf. There are three levels of this that cause the pharisees anguish: He heals; the people follow Him; His healing fulfills prophesy. The blind men cannot see, but find out enough to know that Jesus is coming by. It is interesting how they address Jesus. Usually only the demonic address Jesus as “Son of David”. Of them, Jesus asks if they have faith. Note, that they did not see and then believe; they had faith and then saw. And Jesus does not heal them when they first cry out to Him. He waits until He has come to His own home after the crowds are gone to heal them.

The dumb one cannot hold this sort of conversation. Jesus casts out the demon who has imprisoned this one’s tongue. The word for “dumb” in Greek is interchangeable with “deaf”. And the one formerly possessed by the demon now gives glory to God.

And the people exclaim: There has never been seen this way in Israel. In putting Jesus before all, the prophets, even before Moses. The pharisees bristled.

This fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah (35). “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like an hart and the tongue of the stutterer shall speak plainly.”

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees . . .Comfort one another . . . Behold our God will come . . . and save us.

This is what Jesus points to when He gives His one sentence sermon in the synagogue. This is what Jesus points to when the disciples of John the Baptist question Him.

And what of us? Where are we strong that we need to give aid to others? Where are we weak that we need to ask for help? Where are we like the people to whom Isaiah was charged to speak: See; and in seeing perceive not: Hear, and in hearing understand not.? Where are we spiritually blind and deaf?

The Kingdom of God is come upon us. We just spent the last hour in the banquet feast of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here for our healing and the healing of our stronger and weaker brethren.

To the King be glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Music of Russia CD

Music of Russia CD – Illumni Men’s Chorale

Some 5.75 years ago Chris McCafferty and I began trading comments back and forth on mondo deep bass parts in Choral music. We listened to the many examples on Youtube and said, “What if?”

That winter the Concert hall Lagerquist was available the week before Christmas with no Christmas Concert scheduled. A few hundred phone calls by Chris later, the Illumni Men’s Chorale was born. One of the pieces we sang was from the Standard Russian Choral repertoire (It’s on this CD), Chesnokov’s “Spaseniye” This made the conversation switch from “What if?” to “What would it take?”

Thousands of hours of research, arranging, composing, transliterating, making contacts, networking, raising support and 2 years later the Illumni dared to present a concert of Russian Music, some pieces in their original key with their original ending for the first time in concert on the west coast of the USA (this claim can probably be expanded upon, but that research of earlier concerts has not been completed). A section of Bassi Profundi, some of whom could be Octavists, was developed, and the Basso Profundo Glenn Miller was engaged. After many hours of learning music that was mostly in a language that few of the men of the Illumni had spoken or sung in, the Concert was put on.

To give you a sense of what this took physically from the singers, the week after the concert, most of them complained to me that the muscles they use to support their breathing were sore.

After two years of trying to find someone to Master the CD, we finally came upon Seraphim Hanisch of Little Spot Productions, who had recorded the PaTRAM Institute with Vladimir Gorbik, (one of the top Russian Sacred Music Conductors). Seraphim Hanisch did a masterful job of mastering.

Here is the CD. You can follow the link to order your own copy as well as hear a couple of short preview tracks.

I will not provide a review of this; it would be a conflict of interest since so much of my own work has gone into this.

Thank you Chris, for being the glue that brought all this together. Thank you Sean Haley and Scott Kovacs for conducting most of the concert. Thank you Glenn Miller for coming in and putting us over the top, especially with your solo. And thank you to the men of the Illumni Men’s Chorale for all the hard work you did to put this concert together.

Link to order the CD: