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!”
Sunday of the Man Born Blind
CHRIST IS RISEN !!
Who sinned? This is a question that people have been asking for a long time, from Job, to Jeremiah, to our present day tabloids. We live in a calvinist society where we think (even though if we consciously thought about it we’d deny it), never-the-less we live and make policy as if those who were prosperous were blessed, and those who were not had somehow sinned or were not worthy. We hear of judges who excuse the crimes of the wealthy and dole out to the poor the harshest of sentences. Even though it is not our conscious thought, it is never-the-less written into our culture in ways we often do not notice. This sort of thought was not unknown in the ancient world, but there were passages from the writings and the prophets that rebutted it.
Job does not sin, yet his wealth and children, and health are gone. His friends are sure that Job did something to cause this. Job did nothing to cause it — and he is vindicated in the end.
Jeremiah: In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Jer 31:29-30
Yet this understanding still infected the disciples. And they had heard from the healing of the Paralytic Jesus say: Go and sin no more. It would have been easy for them to hear this in conjunction with their previous beliefs.
Yet, this man did not go blind; he was born blind; he did not have the opportunity to sin. This got the disciples to thinking. . . . to them, suffering was somehow evil. . . Jesus points out that it is not so, that his suffering is not the result of evil. And through his suffering God is to be glorified. . . . That the works of God might be manifest in him.
Jesus, in the previous chapter of the Gospel told the pharisees that He was the Light of the world. Now, away from the pharisees for the moment He says “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world. Part of the reason this Gospel finds its place before Ascension is that we know what will happen this coming Thursday. The Light of the world will return to His Father and will take to His Father an offering of our humanity that has been sanctified. And as Jesus had told His detractors, “The children of the bridal chamber cannot mourn So long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”
And then, to show that He is the Word by Whom all things were created, He spits in the dust and makes mud or clay and re-fashions eyes for the man born with defective eyes. Unlike the Paralytic, He does not ask the man if he wants to be healed, nor does He promise healing. He simply sends him to the pool to wash as an act of obedience. And here again, water figures into the story. And the fathers understand the pool of Siloam to be a figure of baptism.
The man comes back seeing. He is illumined, not just physically but also spiritually. Having washed, he encounters Grace.
Now, just as last week with the Samaritan Woman, the Blind man becomes an evangelist. For Jesus not only opened his physical eyes, but also his spiritual eyes. He was a simple beggar, but he confounds the pharisees (the doctors of the law) with his statements and questions — the same pharisees that were confounded by Jesus a week and a half ago in the middle of the feast. He could see. The pharisees, for all their physical sight, could not see. They were blind.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The pharisees could not see past this.
The pharisees began to use all the rhetorical tricks they knew to somehow invalidate the miracle that had been performed by Jesus. (Some of those rhetorical tricks are still used today.) They wanted to see his birth certificate; they called his parents. “Is this YOUR SON whom YOU SAY was born blind?” It was as if they were accusing the parents of blinding their son after he was born.
Then when the parents verify their son and his blindness they try again: “GIVE GLORY TO GOD! We know that this man is a sinner!” They say ‘Give glory to God.’ but they are really asking the man to blaspheme God.
The man born blind responds with humility, saying only what he knows while not agreeing with their conclusions. Then they badger the witness, asking him what they’ve already asked. This simple beggar refused to be badgered. He then turns it back on the Pharisees: “Why do you ask again? do you want to be His disciples too?”
The pharisees are still trying to “prove” Jesus to be a sinner. The man born blind puts forth that a sinner could not do what He just did. Not even Moses healed a man born blind.
And with that, this simple beggar shows himself to be wiser than the pharisees. And . . . they . . . can’t stand it. . .. “You were utterly born in sin, and you dare to teach us?”
They basically called him an S.O.B and threw him out.
Jesus then finds the man and completes his illumination. As He revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman last week, so now He reveals Himself to the man born blind. This is the first time that the man actually sees Jesus, though he recognizes His voice.
Jesus makes a reference to the prophesy of Isaiah: See and in seeing perceive not; hear and in hearing understand not. . . . “. . .and those who see may become blind.” . . . The pharisees overhear that and respond with “Oh, so we’re blind?!” Jesus tells them that because they assume they can see that they are responsible for their sin as if they could really see it. Their assumption that they can see prevents them from exploring the many ways they are blind. This miracle had been done before them, and they refused to see. And Christ calls their refusal to see a sin.
And so now that we have had this introduction we come down to the actual sermon:
In seeing the blind man was illumined in spirit. How do our eyes work for seeing the deeper things of God?
What can we not see? What can we not even perceive that we aren’t seeing?
We live in a culture that discourages personal inventory, of looking at ourselves, at what passions drive us. Our culture would rather sell stuff to our passions than have us look at what is making our choices for us. We live in a culture that would rather us not see. Yet to grow spiritually we need to look at those very things. To break the cycle of greed, lust, envy we need to look into ourselves honestly and see the uncomfortable things (both good and bad) about us, . . . and own those things . . . and bring them to God . . . and work with Him to let those things be healed.
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 !!!
How to Approach the Lenten Triodion
The Triodion is one of those dishes that is very rich meat. But it is best eaten inside the faith. It is easy to use the hymns to beat one self up, rather than to cleanse one self. It can be a satisfying meal, or it can be used to damage oneself. If that is the only way you can read it, it might be best to wait for a while. Many ills have been justified both against oneself and against others by those who have taken its hymns and not discerned the context
The Triodion assumes a certain level of self knowledge. We realize that we are capable of both extreme good, and extreme evil. We have the potential for both in us. By recognizing our potential for evil, we prevent ourselves from being blindsided by it.
Yes, given the right circumstances and opportunity, I can do just as bad, or worse, than any hitler. Give me enough adrenaline coupled with self justification and I can justify anything up unto and including the end of the world. The Triodion reminds me that I have that potential and points me in the direction of following Christ. It is not self abuse to acknowledge this; it is knowing myself well. Humility means feet on the earth, knowing how I am like the earth. Humility is not nose in the dirt.
The Great Canon will contrast these two. It will present the unrighteous Jew and how we are like that – it will present the righteous Jew and how we are called to that.
It is a bit like Peter, who enthusiastically confessed Christ, but at the courtyard of the high-priest denied him. We are like Peter: we carry in us the potential to be a great saint; we carry in us the potential to deny Christ.
Sunday of Orthodoxy
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!
Today is the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. 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 (Heb 11 and John 1:43-51). 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 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!”
Because He took flesh and dwelt among us, it is proper to depict Him in icons. For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken 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 most of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? Are we treating His Image in others remembering that He said, that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him?
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.
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. They called the people back from and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. Often 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.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. I commend to you all the reading of Isaiah.
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 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.
God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches.
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.