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HOMILY: Adoration of the Cross -March 22nd, 2020

Readings: Hebrews 4:14-5:6; Mark 8:34-9:1

The cross is ubiquitous within our day to day lives as Orthodox Christian.  I would venture to guess that most of you have one around your neck; most of you probably made the sign of the cross as you entered the nave of the Church; it is found within and throughout our iconography; it is emblazoned on our books; it adorns the church, the altar, and even our priests.  It is found within many of the rites and sacraments that take place within the Church: the blessing of the waters at baptism, the bestowing of grace and the sealing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Chrismation, the change of the hosts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the blessing of the faithful, the absolution and healing of our souls and bodies, and so on. In fact, even outside of the Church, I would dare say it is perhaps one of the most recognized symbols of any faith, even among other religious, atheists, and agnostics. To them, it is the symbol of our Christian faith.

Today is the day we celebrate the adoration of the cross, and to us Orthodox Christians the cross is more than just a symbol.  Yes, it is a symbol of Christ’s victory over death, and the triumph of good over evil; it is a symbol of the new testament; it is a symbol of the joining of heavenly and earthly things, as saint John Damascene affirms: “As the four ends of the Cross are held together and united by its center, so are the height and the depths, the length and the breadth, that is, all creation visible and invisible, held together by the power of God.”  So, we adore the cross for what it is; we adore it for what it did, what it does, and what it continues to do for us in the age to come.

Beyond this symbolism, as the Church sings, the cross is an “invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.”  It is the tree of life. The first Eve took the fruit from a tree in disobedience of God’s will, bringing death into the world. The second Eve, the holy Theotokos, put the fruit of her womb onto a tree, the cross, in perfect obedience of God’s will, and through obedience was brought into the world eternal life. The cross is the door to paradise, for through it, through Christ’s crucifixion, the will of the Father was fulfilled and the flaming swords removed from the gates of paradise.  The way is open, and the cross was the key.

The cross is a weapon of the faithful against the evils of this world, and against demons and diverse enemies that attempt to bring us harm. It is a great and “invincible weapon that conquers all.”  With the sign and power of the cross we defend ourselves and fight against the many passions and temptations of the flesh, as Saint John of Kronstadt exhorts to use in his writings: 

"Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils, from the malice of the invisible foe."

Saint John of Kronstadt

As the Stichera of Great Vespers in the byzantine tradition tells us, the Holy and life giving Cross is worthy of honor; it is the fair paradise of the Church; it stands as a tree of incorruption that brings to all of us the joy of eternal life, where there is the ceaseless sound of those that keep festival.  The Holy and life giving Cross is that unconquerable trophy of the truth and the true faith, and the helper of the faithful. It was from this Cross that Christ's honorable blood was spilled, and from it the Church was established. It is around the Church that the same cross exists as a rampart, as Saint Clement of Alexandria tells us, “We have as a limit the cross of the Lord, by which we are fenced and hedged about from our former sins. Therefore, being regenerated, let us fix ourselves to it in truth, and return to sobriety, and sanctify ourselves.”   The cross is raised.  The cross is eminent. The cross is exalted.  The cross is our implement of sanctification.

So, what then is this cross that Christ exhorts us to carry in our Gospel reading for today?  What precisely does it mean to carry our cross? What is our cross that we are to carry, and why are we to carry it? On one hand it is the forbearance and participation in the suffering that we endure in this world; for, as Saint Isaac the Syrian has said:

“The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the sufferings of the cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the cross. For, as the Apostle says, ``As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.


The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac of Syrian

So, the taking up of our cross means the willing acceptance of God’s providence, of every means of purification and healing - bitter as the means and medicine may be - that is offered to that end.  For, as Saint John Chrysostom has said, "we should not dread any human ill, save sin alone; neither poverty, nor disease, nor insult, nor malicious treatment, nor humiliation, nor death."  We fear nothing of this world, only the dread judgement in the age to come.

In carrying our cross, we must give up ourselves to His service just as Christ did, and just as we say every Sunday before partaking of the Holy mysteries.  We must become a living sacrifice, pleasing and acceptable unto Him. We must crucify our passions and evil habits, our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and carry that cross daily.  We carry it as part of our daily struggle, not partaking or participating in that which was nailed to the cross, but in the lifelong struggle to reach the end where Christ awaits. We follow him in this life through a kind of death, sacrificing this world for the one to come; we follow him by crucifying our sinful selves to the cross of our ascesis, so that we might share with Christ eternal life.

Gregory Palamas details in one of his homilies that “The Lord’s Cross discloses the entire dispensation of His coming in the flesh, and contains within it the whole mystery of this dispensation.”  Through the cross the triumph of the Church is expressed, and within the cross our theology is found, for “we preach Christ crucified.  Though, towards this end the cross is not the end to our means, but a means to our end, and it is within this understanding that the theologies of east and west soon depart.

Much of western theology points to and stops at the cross.  It never seems to move past it, and builds much of their understanding of atonement and justice upon what happens on the cross.  It is here that we find the idea of Christ offered as the atonement for our sins, a juridical transaction meant to appease God’s wrath in the fulfilment of God’s justice. It seems to present God as both angry and vengeful. Yet, the Orthodox Church looks at what takes place after the crucifixion, and towards the resurrection, not only that of Christ, but of ourselves also.  For, the Church is not a courtroom; our salvation is not our innocence and freedom from punishment, but healing from sin and the freedom to live life eternal. God’s justice is not found in a juridical exchange, but in restoration, where creation is returned to that which it was always intended to be. God’s justice is the restoration of man, his image and likeness in God, and all of the created order to what was intended at the moment of creation.

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son; Christ so loved the father that he lived in a cooperation of perfect love with the will of His Father, sacrificing Himself for the salvation of all who rightly believe in Him.  So, we should expect no less than to do what we pray every Sunday - by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee, in holiness and righteousness, all our days through Jesus Christ our Lord - so that we offer not an empty prayer, words spoken in vain, but rightly given in the expectation that a life of faith and sacrifice will follow.  Christ carried His cross, His instrument of death and crucifixion, enduring mocking, scourging, and falling no less than three times on His way to His own ignominious death. So, surely we can find the strength to pick up our own cross and endure the torments and temptations of this world, as well as our ascetical struggles, as we march towards Christ and eternal life.

By the prayers of the holy fathers and mothers, and all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us.

Amen.

The Adoration of the Holy Cross – Damascene Gallery
The Adoration of the Holy Cross




HOMILY: Forgiveness Sunday - March 1, 2020

Readings: Matthew 6:14-21, Romans 13:11 - 14:4

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  One god. Amen.

We have reached the end of our time of preparation, in which we prepare to embark on that great and spiritual endeavor of our sacramental lives: Great Lent.  The focus of the days behind us have a shared theme and focus of humility and repentance, which is ultimately the spirit of the great fast; and, if we are being honest with ourselves, it is the underlying movement of the entire Christian life. We are to live our lives continually in repentance, which is the turning away from the world, the turning away from worldly things so that we may receive the Truth - the light of life - and the Joy of His salvation.  But, in particular, the Great Fast is a time to commit ourselves more consciously, more fully, and more completely to the spirit of true repentance; for, “a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.” So, let our hearts be broken, and turn to the Lord our God.

Some of our hearts are broken, but not because of our sin. Some of our hearts are broken by others; some are broken by cruel memories that assail us; some are broken by wrongs committed against us; some are broken because of insult or injury; but, some are broken because they choose to stay broken, choosing anger over love, for “the memory of insults [or injury] is the residue of anger.”1  We must not allow the fire of anger to smolder in our hearts, and only the fire of God’s love can supplant it. As Saint Maximos the Confessor has said, “Do not befoul your intellect by clinging to thoughts filled with anger and sensual desire. Otherwise you will lose your capacity for pure prayer and fall victim to the demon of listlessness.” So we let go of anger, and forgive those who have wounded us, because it is only we who continue to be wounded by our memory of offense.  We forgive because God forgives. We forgive, that we may be forgiven.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” 

Matthew 6:14-15

Alexander Schmemann has said that “forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for, the Lenten season.”   So, it is then appropriate that we begin the great fast with forgiveness Sunday, “the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting - true fasting; our effort - true effort; our reconciliation with God - true reconciliation.”2 It is the day where we as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow heirs to the Kingdom of heaven, forgive each other  of whatever offenses we may have caused one another, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It is the renewal of relationships, but it is also a renewal of ourselves.  We cleanse our hearts and minds, our very souls, of any and all injuries that exist between we living stones of the living church; enforcing and strengthening her as we march forward  together through the Lenten season towards Christ. So, in the words of Saint Macarius of Optina, “do not allow the spark of discord and enmity to smolder. The longer you wait, the more the enemy tries to cause confusion among you. Be watchful, so that he does not mock you. Humility destroys all of his schemes.” 

Humility is the beginning of all virtue, and all virtue is necessary in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, the primary aim of our Christian lives.  Without humility there is no grace in us. Without humility there is no love, which is the fulfillment of the whole law. Without humility there is no prayer, and without prayer there is no spiritual life in us. Humility forms the foundation upon which all virtue is raised within us.  Let us consider, “an angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues."3

With humility we approach the beginning of this Lenten season, with both humility and contrition of heart.  We approach with the same humility of the public and the prodigal son, for we recognized our own sin, our own unworthiness to stand before the throne of God.  We have contrition of heart, ever mindful of the dread judgement, where no hidden and secret thing will remain hidden in the light of God’s love. We begin our Lenten journey with prayers,  for “if you are not successful in your prayer, you will not be successful in anything, for prayer is the root of everything”4

We pray because it is necessary for our spiritual lives. By prayer we unite the mind and heart, but also our minds and hearts with God.  We pray that God’s will would be done in our lives, whatever that may be; but, we must be mindful of our prayer, and in our prayer also.  Prayer consisting of words alone is of no assistance to us if the heart does not participate in it.  Our prayer should become a state of being, for it is not enough to simply say the prayer, but we must also become our prayers.  Our prayer and our lives should become two identical expressions of the same situation. “All of life, each and every act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer.  One should offer not what one has, but what one is.”  Then, through our prayer we offer ourselves up to God, for  God must be the object of our prayer, our wanting, for the intensity and elation of our prayer is often about the object of our prayer rather than the one to whom our prayer is addressed.  So, may we remember to pray without ceasing, for God never ceases to love us.

We fast, in addition to, and in conjunction with prayer, in order to train the body, to train ourselves in resisting the passions of the flesh.  For, If we cannot resist even the smallest morsel of food, then we have no hope in battling whatever greater temptations that exist in our lives.  Start with a small act of fasting, and your foundation of iniquity will erode and collapse as though a house built on sand. So, we fast from food to strengthen us in fasting from all things harmful and unneeded to our spiritual lives.  Fasting is a means in which to practice self control on our path towards conquering the passions of the flesh.  Fasting is an exercise of both penitence and sacrifice - for there is no love without sacrifice - which assists in conquering of self, and being more attentive to those in need.  Yet, it is not about fasting from food alone, as Saint Basil the Great has said, for “true fasting lies in rejecting evil, holding one’s tongue, suppressing hatred and banishing one’s lust, evil words, lying, and betrayal of vows.”  We fast from the poisoned fruits of this world, so that true spiritual fruits may grow in us.

We give Alms as a physical expression of God’s love in this world.  Saint John the Golden mouthed has said that “to do alms is a work greater than miracles.”  We give out of our excess created through our fasting.  We give excessively out of pure love. When we saw the hungry, did we feed them?  When we saw the poor, did we help them, or clothe them? When we met the stranger, did we invite them here?  When we saw anyone in need, and we had the means to help them, did we do so? “Whoever knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, for him it is sin.” Saint Basil the Great also tells us:

 “The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.”

Saint basil the Great

It costs us nothing to give and do well unto others, for our wealth is not measured in this world; but, what we gain in doing so is priceless and without measure.  What we lose in doing nothing is unthinkable.

So, we approach the lenten season with humility and repentance, wherein we pray, fast, and give alms.  With humility we forgive and repent because death brings judgement, and we weep for our iniquities, for they are many.  We pray, because by prayer alone our soul is given sufficient strength necessary to endure. We fast from food and the things of this world, that we may be freed from the fetters of our passionate lives.  We give alms because we have been given all things, and nothing in this world belongs to us. We do all these things because we were embittered by Adam and Eve eating that forbidden fruit. We were embittered that paradise was closed to us, guarded by a flaming sword. We were embittered that life was abolished through death and the grave. We were embittered that we were enslaved by sin. We partook of pride and put on death, having forsaken life. We were given paradise, and chose the world; we were given heaven, and descended into hades; we were adopted as Sons and daughters of the living God, and instead lived as sons of man.  We encountered the Evil One and and forsook heaven. We took that which was seen and forsook the unseen. We gave up life and our likeness to God, and commuted our bodies to dust.

Let us return to life by returning our life to Him who gave us life.  Our life - eternal life - is a Gift given to us freely, through the healing of soul and body.  Though, it is in love that we give our lives - our temporal lives - back to God, for it is the only gift that we can give that is equal to the one received.   “Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season.”

By the prayers of our holy fathers, and all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us and save us.

Amen.

CITATIONS:
1 -  Saint John Climacus - The brackets are my addition.
2 -  Forgiveness Sunday - Alexander Schmemann.
3 -  "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978),STEP 23: On Mad Pride, and, in the Same Step, on Unclean Blasphemous Thoughts
4 -   Theophan the Recluse,, The Art of Prayer



Image result for forgiveness Sunday




HOMILY: Love endures - February 9th, 2020.

Readings: Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 8:23-34

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen

There was much to choose from today in topics to talk about.  There is much the Church remembers on this day: The translation of the relics of Saint John Chrysostom; the venerable Peter of Egypt; new Martyr Demetrius of Constantinople; and, this is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.  For, we are the Church of remembering; remembering those who have gone before us; remembering those who walk beside us; and remembering the promises of the world to come. All of us, the Church united, bound by faith, and sealed in the bonds of love.

We have heard in our readings for today both of love, and of faith.  Love is the very essence of our Orthodox faith; this you already know.  For, God is Love; the source of all love; the fire of love that burns in each of us; and, the incarnation of Love through Jesus Christ our Lord.  As Christ is, so should we seek to be. Love is not a feeling, or an emotion, but exists and is expressed by what we do. Though, this is a point I have iterated numerous times before, so I will not repeat it here.  Even God’s act of creation was an act of love, for he needed nothing outside of himself. The created order was made by, and exists because of, the love of God. The intended order of all things is founded on love. This is why, as Paul exhorts to us in our Epistle reading for today, that love is the fulfillment of the whole law, for it is only in love that the proper order of creation exists.  Without love, we have nothing; without love, we have gained nothing; without love, we are nothing. Our faith, which we must all have and hold, in word and in deed, orients us towards Christ; but, it is in love, by love, and through love that we will reach Him. It is by faith, bound with the bonds of love to our Lord Jesus Christ, motivated by love towards our fellow man, that we each strive towards salvation. We each fight for the endurance of Truth, and that by love we change the world around us.

So what does this love look like?  I believe Saint Paul details love eloquently enough in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love is an action.  Love is something we manifest into the world.  Love is what will change the world. Love lives within the peace of God which the world cannot give. The world knows no love, for there is no love found in it.  Yet, what the world calls love is nothing more than sin polished to look alike, but crumbles the moment it is tested. Love, the Love of God, the Love that binds our faith together, this love perseveres.  This love changes the world.

This, that is love, I believe has been the mission of the Orthodox Church - the pillar and foundation of truth, and the abode of the Holy Spirit - since its foundations were laid by the prophets and the Apostles, and established by the honorable blood of Christ.  The first ten centuries the Church withstood heresies and persecutions of every kind, but the Church prevailed. The Mongols conquered Kievan Rus’ in the 13th century, but the Church prevailed. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered the great pearl of the Byzantin empire, Constantinople; but, the Church prevailed.  As the world became “enlightened” and “reason” abounded, the theology of our Fathers remade into Cataphatic visions of what once was, the Church prevailed. The Great saints and Fathers of the Russian Church set out into the world: Saint Nicholas established the Church in Japan, Father Maxim Leontiev led the first Orthodox Church in Beijing, and Saints Innocent and Herman evangelized the Alaskan territory.  Saint Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow, Saint John Maximovith of Shanghai and San Francisco, Saint Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson, all evangelized America under the direction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The faithful carried the light of life into the world, and the Church prevailed.

That light is love.

Love is the unending and enduring fire of God’s grace on earth, burning through the hearts of men, and bringing light to where there is none.  It is within the light and warmth of love that the faithful persevere in the cold, and the darkness of this world. It is this love the Church carries into the world, and it is by this love that the Church has prevailed, prevails today, and will continue to prevail in the ages to come.  For, the world is a cold and dark tempest, against which we are all tested. It is only by the fire of God’s love that we can survive and prevail.

Indeed, the Church is the boat by which we endure the tempest of this world.  Though, Christ is not sleeping, for He is with us; He is the Church, and the Church is He; and, He is present by His body and blood within the Holy Mysteries we will soon receive.  The tempest becomes the myriad trials and temptations of the world by which we are tested, the persecutions we must survive, the winds of change we must endure, and the cold Godless life we are called to live by the world in which we live.  But, despite all of these, we also learn that no storm lasts forever; we learn that no matter how far the darkness reaches, the sun will always rise. That is why we must keep love alive, for it is the fervor of our faith. “If the Fervor of Faith in our heart is not kept alight, then our apathy may entirely extinguish our faith.”

This is a lesson imbued within the Russian Orthodox Church, and embedded within her very bones.  For, today is the day we also remember the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Today is the day we commemorate the untold millions of Orthodox faithful who were killed by the Godless Soviet atheists in the wake of Bolshevik revolution.  Though no hard numbers can be provided, estimates state that up to twenty million Orthodox Christians were killed. In the first years of Soviet power, over twelve hundred Orthodox Priests were executed, including 28 Bishops.  Orthodox clergy and Orthodox faithful alike were tortured, executed, and sent to prison camps, labor camps, and even mental institutions. Churches were destroyed, sometimes with the faithful within them. Priests were crucified to the doors of their churches, or dragged into the street and shot.  Millions of Orthodox faithful were exiled, many coming to America, where the work of Saints John, Tikhon, Sebastian and others were instrumental in their care. The great missionary work that had been started by Moscow in America had been interrupted. Though, In time, the sun rose, the Soviet era ended, and the Church prevailed.  By the blood of her martyrs, the confession of the faith, and the fervor of the faith kept alive in love within the hearts of millions, the Church prevailed. Untold staretz and saints, known and unknown, rose to pierce the darkness of the storm with the uncreated light of their enduring love, and with the aid of their guiding light the Church prevailed.  It is that light we should all strive to carry. It is that light we have all received. It is that light that we are all exhorted to uphold within the darkness of this world.  

We stand upon a foundation of prophets and apostles, strengthened by the blood of uncountable martyrs, and joining the voices of confessors who never stopped speaking truth in the face of oppression and persecutions, torture, and even death.  Be courageous in speaking truth to power, be unfailing in your dedication to Christ, but most of all, become love and incarnate Christ unto the world. It is by love alone, that the Church will prevail.

Amen.

Eternal Russia



HOMILY: Theophany - A day of illumination - January 19, 2020

Readings: Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6

Thus ends the twelve days of Christmas!  Having just celebrated the birth of Christ our Savior, our God and our King, here marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth.  Today is a day of illumination, the revealing of God the Son incarnate in the flesh, and the revealing of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a day that predates our celebrations of Christmas, preserved from the second century.  It is also a public holiday in a number of European nations. If only we could be so lucky.

This is a feast which I find to be somewhat unique in the life of those Orthodox Churches who celebrate the western rite.  It is a multi faceted feast day, whose focus of celebration and remembrance differs depending on the direction you are facing.  In the western traditions, this particular feast day is referred to as the day of epiphany, where the day is identified with the visit of the Magi in Bethlehem to behold the Christ child, to which the star in the east had led them.  This is the event foretold in our lesson from Isaiah:

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah;  all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

 Isaiah 60:6

On this day, through the visitation of the Magi, is celebrated the physical manifestation of God incarnate in the flesh, and His revelation to the Gentiles.  The Magi were the first Gentiles to whom He was revealed, but this is not a revelation they could have come to on their own, for they were teachers of a false faith.  They had been illumined by the grace of God overflowing from the birth of Christ. As Saint John Chrysostom has said, “The Magi are enlightened so that the goodness of God may be made manifest: so that no one need despair, doubting that salvation through faith will be given to him, seeing He bestowed it on the Magi. The Magi therefore were the first from the Gentiles chosen for salvation, so that through them a door might be opened to all the Gentiles.”


Today is a day of illumination, or more appropriately a celebration of illumination.  We remember the illumination of the Magi in the west, but we also remember our own illumination in the east, wherein the focus of this day - the Feast of Theophany - is centered on the Baptism of our Lord and God and savior Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan river.  This is the day that Christ made himself known to all mankind, for the people had not yet known him. It is also upon this day that  the Holy Church asserts its faith in the mystery – most noble and incomprehensible to the rational mind – of the Three Persons of the triune God. Jesus Christ ascended out of the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove, with the voice of the Father echoing from above, unseen, “this is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus Christ, having no need of cleansing, having no sin to be cleansed of, and being born of a Virgin and without the corruption of Adam’s sin, was baptized in the waters of the Jordan not for His sake, but for our own.  Christ descended into the waters of the Jordan that all the waters of creation may be sanctified for our sake, for our own purification and cleansing of sin through our own baptism. His baptism is our baptism. His life is our life. His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection.

By our baptism, cleansed of our sin and joined to Jesus Christ, we renounce the world and live a new man.  So, it is not unreasonable for us to remember our own baptism on this day, remembering the vows we took, or were given on our behalf if one was blessed enough to be born into the Church.  It is within these vows, as Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) has said:

 “...in which a Christian has promised God to renounce Satan and all his works and to join himself, to unite himself with Christ, these vows are not only forgotten by people, but many in general know nothing about them or about the fact that these vows were pronounced for them and that they ought to think a little about how they must fulfill [them]... One thing is needful – only one thing is necessary – and to remember that we must join ourselves with Christ, that is, not only fulfill His commandments, but also endeavor to unite ourselves with Him.”

 Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesenksy) - Holy on Theophany.

He further exhorts us later in his Homily to think and remember what it means to each of us to renounce Satan and all his works; that we may join ourselves to Christ.  We do this through the process of theosis, which we began through our own baptisms, when we were purified of our sins, and purified of all the defilements of this world.  Having been cleansed, we began “the perfecting of Holiness in the fear of God,” just as Saint Paul exhorts in his second letter to the Corinthians.  Holiness is achieved through the path and process of Theosis, a path which begins in the Church, for the Church is Christ, and He is “the way and the Truth and the life.

The Church is humanity illumined; a humanity baptized in the grace of God; a humanity illumined by the beauty of its creator; a humanity illumined and healed by His dignity - our own dignity restored - God becoming man that we may become more like Him; a humanity illumined in His beauty, that we may incarnate His beauty into the world, becoming living icons of truth; and a humanity illumined by the Light of Life, that we may shine like morning stars, and lead others to the truth just as the Magi were led to Christ.

Theosis presupposes life within the Church, the body of Christ; the body of illumined humanity.  We enter it by following Christ through the waters of baptism, and together are illumined by the same Spirit that sanctified them.  It is within the Church that we become a part of, and partake of, the body of Christ. It is within the Church in which we partake of the sacraments, that which is necessary to acquire the sanctifying spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness of God.  It is within the Church that we come into communion with Christ, and so participate in the divine worship of the Church triumphant, the Church militant being the living icon of that Church in heaven, the living icon of Christ. It is within the Church that the meaning of the scriptures are revealed to us.  It is in the Church alone that the truth is revealed to us, and the means necessary to our salvation are provided to us. The Church is taught by the Holy Spirit, and there exists an indissoluble unity between God and His Church, for “The Church is the earthly heaven in which the heavenly God moves and dwells.”  We must choose to be where God is, in striving towards a unity of spirit.

Christ’s baptism on the Jordan River revealed this unity of spirit, the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Theophany illumined all of creation with the revelation of the Triune God: God in three persons, yet one essence; three wills, and two natures; infinite and present in all things, yet udivided; ineffable, yet knowable through Jesus Christ, our King and our God.  Christ’s baptism opened the door to follow him into unity with Him as living stones within the Church provided by his honorable blood. This Church confesses and asserts our faith in the mystery of the Trinity. It teaches to confess and glorify with equal honor and divinity each person of the Godhead.  It reveals and renders impotent the teachings of those wherein finite and human terms attempted to describe the Creator of all things. It establishes for us the place, importance, and necessity for our own baptism, a gift and grace of God granted unto us by the Holy Spirit, for as many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ." 

The world changed when Christ rose from the waters of the Jordan: the waters of creation were sanctified, the divinity of Christ was revealed, the triunity of God was made manifest unto men, and Christ went forth to begin his ministry.  Christ left the waters the same as He entered into them: God the Son incarnate in the flesh; yet, everywhere he went, the fire of God’s love molded the very hearts of men. So, go and do likewise.

By the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers, and Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.

Amen.

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Icon of the Theophany




A Desire for tears - January 15th, 2019.

It is said, the Devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Does he not hunt?  Does he not prowl nor prey upon? He roars because he is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  He devours those who have given themselves over to him, caught in the subtle snares of temptation.  For he has no power over us except that which we give him. Yet, we can avoid such traps, but often our curiosity gets the best of us.  What is behind that door?  What if? What will happen? What does this feel like, taste like, or look like?  We already know the answers to these questions, but we open the door, or pursue the answer in hoping that it will be different this time.  We continue to do the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result; a different answer.  This is a basis for insanity.  The world is insanity.

I pray for the fortitude to avoid these temptations, but from time to time my imagination gets the best of me, haunting me from the edges of my own volition.  I try to look back upon my sins with contrition, and sometimes I may get a tear or two to shed from my wearied eyes in the midst of prayer.  Though, I am not an emotional person, and lament my own lack of tears.  I do find music to be a key to the heart, and so there is a song I play when I feel the need to cry, because for the lyrics alone, I cannot but help cry.  It is not even a Christian song, but the words reverberate in my very soul.

?Shine, shine your light on me
Illuminate me, make me complete
Lay me down, and wash this world from me
Open the skies, and burn it all away
'Cause I've been waiting, all my life just waiting
For you to shine, shine your light on me?

O Lord, that I would be purified from the stains of this world; that your all consuming love would burn away the superfluities of the flesh, and my soul would be free of the passions that plague me  May your light illumine me, that I may shine your light into every dark corner of this world you lead me into.

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Sketchbook entry from 8-10 years ago.