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HOMILY: Sunday of the Blind Man - May 24, 2020
Readings: Acts 20:17-38, Epistle James 1:22-27, Gospel Reading John 9:1-38
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
So, today is the Sunday of the Blind man, and I am sure that the irony of my giving the homily on this day is not lost on any of you. Yet, as we remember this story, I cannot help but look back towards Pascha, where Christ rose from the dead, and also forward toward ascension where Christ will rise to sit at the right hand of God the Father, from whence “He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” Yet, in between these days we follow a thread of Sundays and stories tracing a path of faith, and restoration. Pascha was a season of penitence, a season of turning ourselves to God. The weeks that follow are a season of receiving, of acceptance, and of healing, for indeed the Church is the very hospital for our souls.
The first Sunday after Pascha is the Sunday of St. Thomas, wherein Thomas believed when he saw Christ’s hands, feet, and pierced side. Then came the Sunday of the Myrrh bearing women, who saw Christ’s Tomb, and preached Christ is Risen to the Apostles. After this, we have the healing of the Paralytic, who by some transgression of his own was left paralyzed for a lengthy season of his life. Christ gave a command, and he obeyed, and so he was healed. Then today, we have the Sunday of the blind man, who disadvantaged by no fault of his own, was rendered without sight, that the Glory of God may be made manifest at this very moment, not only for the blind man’s sake, but for the sake of those who followed.
Great and Holy Pascha saw the brilliant light of Christ’s resurrection dispel the terrible darkness of the tomb, mankind having been trapped within, because the wages of sin is death. Christ’s resurrection illuminated the path that man had wandered for so long in spiritual darkness, becoming a lamplight at our feet. Yet, a blind man cannot see the light of the sun, but only feel the warmth of its radiance upon his face. He knows it is there, but that is enough. A blind man cannot walk the path, lest one who can see it leads him on the way. One cannot see what lies ahead, unless his eyes are opened, for even in being led down the path, one may still encounter the unexpected, and stumble over the unknown. Even though we who are present here today can see the light of life, and the very joy of our salvation, Jesus Christ, we should not forget that we too were once blind. We should all see ourselves in the blind man. We should see in the blind man a faith expected of us from the gift we have received, and our expectations of the world to whom the cross is foolishness.
Let us remember in the chapter before this, Christ was in the temple with the Jews. He had spoken to the Jews, saying “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” But, who will follow what they cannot see? The Jews did not believe because they were spiritually blind, and their eyes were closed. So, the Jews rejecting the revelations of Christ, left the temple. Christ and the Apostles encountered the blind man, whereon the Apostles asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Now, it is a reasonable question given that at the healing of the paralytic some time before, of which we celebrated last Sunday, the words of Christ attributed his ailment to his sins, where upon his healing he was told “behold, you are made whole, sin no more.”
Christ came to him unbidden; Christ did not ask if he wished to be healed for the blind man knew nothing else, having been born with his infirmity. Yet, if we look back to the healing of the paralytic, Christ asked him if he wished to be healed, for he was fully aware of his state, and how he ended up where he was. The blind man was given without request, without prayer, and without any sign of faith. This is grace. This is the free gift of healing, or σῴζω, often translated as salvation in the scriptures. Christ, who created the heavens and the earth, who authored all of creation, He who spoke all things into existence, He who created man from the dust of the earth, knelt down and fashioned clay with his own spittle and dirt, then placed it over the blind man’s eyes. Some say he fashioned new eyes with the very clay. Then, Christ’s work complete, commanded him to wash in the pool at siloam. The blind man was bidden by the unseen, and by faith he obeyed, and in his obedience his eyes were opened. Such is our own life in Christ.
The story of the blind man is the story of us all. We were all blind, but now we can see. We were all blind, but healed by the grace of God, and by our own obedience and contrition of heart, our eyes were opened in the waters of baptism, for which the blind man’s bathing in the pools of siloam is a typology. We were blind, but now we can see the light of life, and fully see, receive, and experience the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is within this joy that we proclaim Christ to the world, much like the myrrh bearing women preached the Risen Christ to the apostles; and the blind man, once healed, proclaimed Christ to the Pharisees, even though he did not yet know who Christ was as the Son of the living God. For, it was not by great knowledge of God that he was healed and brought to Truth, but by faith. All knowledge of Truth can be brought by faith. Indeed, the Pharisees had all knowledge of Truth, but not Truth itself; they possessed great intellectual wealth, but were poor in spirit. They lacked faith.
Our Epistle reading for today tells us about this faith; a faith in action and what it looks like (in part), giving us an idea of what the Pharisees lacked. They were hearers of the word, but not doers. The Pharisees thought themselves religious, but their praxis of faith was empty, and without justification. For the θρησκεία, or religion, of the Pharisees was one of intellect alone. They knew the prayers, but did not live them. They knew of love, for God is Love, but possessed none themselves. They possessed the Law, but did not follow it. They worshiped God, but their offering was empty, because they lacked a “broken and contrite heart,” of which God will not despise.
We, as the body of Christ, are to manifest Christ into the world; we as the body of Christ are to live out and manifest the light Truth and the joy of salvation into this world. This is why we hear James, the same who penned that “faith without works is dead,” also wrote in our epistle reading for today that “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
So as we regard the courageousness declarations of the blind man before the Pharisees, we look forward to the ascension of Christ, only a few days ahead of us, whereupon we receive our great commission to go forth into the world and “ make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” For, the joys of Holy Pascha are not confined to a season; the joy of our salvation is not confined to us alone who have received it; the light of Christ is not confined to the Church, for one does not light a lamp to hide it under a basket; the light of Christ is for the whole world, for whom Christ came to save.
The way is open. It was made by He who gave life, and the living keep it until the end of days. So, lead the blind to the hospital for our souls, the Holy Orthodox Church, wherein Christ the great physician will heal them of their blindness and infirmities. May we all walk the way together and keep it, that the blind shall not stumble on their way to be healed. May we not stumble in our own journeys, keeping Christ’s commandments and true religion through contrition of heart, prayer, humility, obedience, and our participation in the Holy Mysteries of the Church.
Our participation in our faith is required. For, If the paralytic did not pick up his mat and walk, would he have been healed? If the blind man had not washed, would he have received his sight? We can receive the free gift of God’s grace, but if we do nothing with it, then it is of no benefit to us. So, just as Paul lived out his faith among the Ephesians; as James has exhorted us to incarnate our faith in deeds beyond words; as the blind main proclaimed Christ in the face of great opposition; as Paul instructs us to run the race, and work out our faith with fear and trembling; as Christ himself begins his ministry with the words “follow me,” go and do likewise.
By the prayers of our holy Fathers and Mothers, and all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.
HOMILY: Sharing in Christ’s loneliness - April 12, 2020
Readings: Readings: Philippians 9:4-9, John 12:1-18
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen
This Lenten season has taken on a unique character of its own, especially in light of the situation in which we live; and the societal problems and disruptions caused by the threat of a pandemic pestilence. Many people have been forced to go without certain foods and other necessities as the foolish people of the world descended on the stores in panic, buying everything that they saw. To those in the world, it was a massive blow, and a great struggle, but to those in the Church it was just more of the same. Society has been shut down, preventing many from partaking of those activities that consumed and often composed their daily lives, enforcing a solitude that many found unsettling, and even uncomfortable; but, those within the Church carried on, for we live in the world, but not of it. As the threat of contagion bore down upon states and cities, churches shuttered their doors, leaving many without a Church to attend; yet, those Orthodox Churches still permitted to do so, carry on within their liturgical life, fearing not death nor disease, but remembering the promises of Christ, ever looking forward towards the life to come. The world has accused us and ridiculed us for our faith, but we carried on because the Church will prevail. The world called us crazy, but we know the cross is foolishness to ones such as they. At times like these we remember it was once said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack them, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'” These words of Saint Athony the Great were prescient. So. we go forward into the week ahead with a sense of isolation, a sense of loneliness, but we are not alone in our loneliness.
Today begins the final week of our Lenten struggle. Today is the day of the triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into the City of Jerusalem. Christ, who so wondrously forshew the light of life and the Kingdom of Heaven through the merits of his earthly ministry, has entered the dark days of His Passion week, wherein he is shrouded in a terrible loneliness. He has come as a conquering King, but not as the Jews had hoped. He came not to free them from the slavery of godless pagans that ruled over them, but to free them from the bonds of death that ruled beneath them. They did not understand Him, and what he came to do, so Christ stood alone in his conviction in what He came to do. Christ found the money changers and in righteous anger overturned their tables and drove them out, and Christ was further despaired for they had turned away from Him, using and abusing what they had been given. He came to give them life abundantly, but they came to make a profit, using holy places and holy things for their own gain. They turned their back on God in pursuit of worldly things. Later, after speaking to all the disciples for the final time, he chose His closest disciples - Peter, John and James - to go with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, but they fell asleep, not able to remain with him even in prayer. His disciples would later abandon him in his greatest time of need, and Peter would deny Him three times. The people, who once greeted him with praise and adoration, would turn around to cry "crucify Him." Then, on the cross, crucified with abandoned men, forsaken by the people of the nation he had come to save, Christ would cry out “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Christ died alone, without anyone or anything, save His love for His Father, His love for all mankind, and His Mother's love for Him. \
Even in the greatest depths of despair and loneliness, love remains.
Christ lived in this world so that we may not see death in the next. Christ died so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Christ endured unbearable loneliness, so that we may never be alone in this life. For as Paul exhorted the Romans, “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” and so “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” So let our time of peril amidst our Lenten struggle be for the strengthening of our spirit, and the fostering of our faith. Though, as we sit in this shadow of circumstance, let our hearts not remain there; let our spirits not dwell on the darkness of the world, but heed the words of our epistle reading for today:
“...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”Philippians 9:8-9
As we move forward towards the end of our Lenten season, and step forward with Christ into this week of his ignominious passion, we must ask where we ourselves stand within the crowd. Do we approach Christ with hopeful expectation, or step back in hopeless despair? Do we stand with indifference amongst the world, not realizing that by doing so we too are equal members of that terrifying crowd that condemned Him, for did not Christ Himself say, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Do we see the cross and fear the death that it may bring, or do we carry our cross likewise, and join him on the hill? When Christ is in the tomb, will we remember him when we go home; when we eat; when we rest, and endure the fatigues of the coming day? May we never forget the light of Christ as we endure the darkness of the days ahead. May Christ remain in us always, even when the world has abandoned us, or when we have been cut away from the world. May the Truth remain in us, even as the world shouts against us. May the light of life and the joy of His salvation be with us always, even as the days rain on both the just, and the unjust. Run the race, enduring till the end so that you may receive the prize. Endure this time of trial, remaining steadfast in the faith, so that when you have stood the test, you will receive the crown of everlasting life, promise to all those who love him,
When the days are darkest, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Those words of Paul stand for us as true today as they did for those he wrote them to; for, the light of Christ is eternal, and no darkness shall remain wherever it shines.
Christ came as a conquering King, but He is our King, opening the Kingdom of heaven to all who believe. He came as high priest, by who’s honorable blood the Church was established. He came as prophet, where through the healing of Lazarus proclaimed and forshew the resurrection that was to come. As He soon faces down the crowds who cry out “crucify Him,” we will soon look upon Christ crucified with great compunction and remorse, but also with hopeful expectation for the hour in which we can praise and proclaim that “He is Risen!”
By the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers, and all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.
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.
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.
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
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.