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HOMILY: The Church of Remembering.- June 21, 2020

Readings: Epistle 1 John 3:13-18, Gospel Luke 14:16-24

Christ is in our midst! (He is, and ever shall be!)

Glory to Jesus Christ! (Glory forever!)

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

We are the Church of remembering.  We look back at the great spiritual journey which we have all endured.  We passed through a time of preparation and remembered the prodigal, the publican, and the last judgement; we turned our minds towards repentance.  We passed through the great fast, a spiritual exercise in which we remember our sins and conquer ourselves that we may be found worthy of the promises of Christ.  We remember that God the Son became incarnate in the flesh, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried, and we are mindful of our own deaths; for, death comes for us all, and so we live always mindful of it: memento mori.  We remember that Christ rose from the dead, defeating death by death, that we may no longer be held captive by the Evil One.  We remember Christ ascended into heaven, where he sits on the right hand of God the Father, and he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.  We recently remembered and celebrated the sending of the Holy Spirit, upon which our Church - the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Foundation of Truth - was established upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.  We feasted in celebration of this great gift we have been given, those gifts of the Holy Spirit of which we have all been given, that we may embolden and strengthen the Church for the work for which she was established.

Now, we enter a point of transition in our liturgical and sacramental lives, where we transition to a time where Christ walks among us and transforms us as each of us walks together towards the perfection of all things.  We have entered the Apostles fast.  This fast is unique, in that it starts relative to Pascha, but ends every year on June 29th following the old calendar.  

Anything you have left unfinished from the Great Fast, do it now. If there be anyone you have not forgiven as you should have before this moment, go and make amends.  If there persist any transgressions you have failed to confess before God, take yourself to the priest and do it without delay.  If you have not started to pray as you should, it is not too late to do so, for all things begin with prayer.  This is a time of preparation, to get ready to go forth like the saints before us; to go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord; to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.  We go forth into the world to spread the light of His gospel unto all nations, embarking on the great mission and commission for which we have been established.  

We do not go alone, for we rise together, yet we fall alone.  We rise as the body of Christ, as living stones of the Church founded by Christ’s honourable blood, but we fall away as apostates and heretics conforming to this world, following our own ideas apart from the teachings of the Church.  We march forward together with the Saints, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, loving one another not just in word or in tongue, as our Epistle exhorts us this day, but in deed and in truth.  So, we go forth with one mind, together in one accord, united in one loaf, one cup and one teaching as Saint Paul teaches in his first letter to the Corinthians, remembering that we do not go alone.  The Saints are with us, just as Christ is with us.

So it is with great cheer that today we remember All the Russian Saints of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Today is in essence the name day of all Russia, where we remember the Saints who through both sorrows and great love, labored to build the Church of Russia we hold fast to today.  Kievan Rus’ was baptized in 988 after Prince Vladimir sent ambassadors from Kiev in search of true faith, recognizing the failings of their pagan gods.  They found the Muslims of the Bulgarian lands to be without joy, and rejected the abolition of alcohol and pork, for what joy can be found in a life without Vodka and bacon - though especially Vodka?  Also, Vladimir found the Jewish faith to be weak, for they had lost Jerusalem, and as a result saw them as having been abandoned by God.  They found the services of the Romans to be relentlessly bleak and without beauty.  Yet, when they came to the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they indeed found what they had been searching for, and reported back to their lord:

“And we went into the Greek lands, and we were led into a place where they serve their God, and we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth; and do not know how to tell about this. All we know is that God lives there with people and their service is better than in any other country. We cannot forget that beauty since each person, if he eats something sweet, will not take something bitter afterwards; so we cannot remain any more in paganism.”

So, the Russian people joined Prince Vladimir through baptism into the Orthodox faith. The old pagan gods were rejected, and many churches were built in those places they once held.  The Orthodox faith united disparate tribes across the land, giving them new meaning and new life.  The Orthodox faith regenerated Russian princes and rulers, so  that in time Russia would rise from the shadows of this world to become a beacon of Orthodoxy to all men. From the Russian Church many luminaries of Truth and virtue arose to lead her into the ages to come.

We remember the likes of Saint Sergius, who founded the largest Orthodox Monastery in all of Russia, today known as the Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius. It is from him that the cultural ideals of Holy Rus emerged.  We remember Vasily the blessed, a fool for Christ, and known all across Moscow in the 15th century, now buried in the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Red Square.  We remember the holy hierarch Saint Germogen, who gave strength to the Russian peoples amidst the time of troubles; who in both faith and confession, “spiritually and morally regenerated the Russian nation, [wherein] it again started on the path of seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, the righteousness of subordinating the earthly life of the state to spiritual principles.” We remember Saint Seraphim of Sarov, that great light of Orthodox Spirituality, who exhorts us to acquire a spirit of peace, that thousands around us might be saved. We remember the likes of Saint John of Kronstadt; a model for all Orthodox priests; the great pastor of Russia who breathed into the Russian people on the eve of its great peril a lasting reserve of spirituality, a reserve that would allow it to survive and endure the coming years of atheist Soviet Russia.

So, we stand with such as these, each of us together, united in one Orthodox faith, one teaching, one mind, and one Love, for God is Love.  Love is the common denominator.  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.  The Saints have shown this to be True.  The Russian Orthodox Church has shown this to be true, having endured perhaps the greatest darkness the Church has ever known.  So, as we look forward towards the days to come, let us not be disturbed by tumults and turmoil; let us not be troubled by social unrest, revolts, and upheavals; let us not stumble by the fraying of the moral fabric of the very Republic in which we live.  Instead, as Father Seraphim Rose exhorts us to do, “let all true Orthodox Christians strengthen themselves for the battle ahead, never forgetting that in Christ the victory is already ours.”

Closing with the words of our most reverend and beloved Metropolitan Hilarion: 

“Let us pray to all the saints, especially to the saints who shone forth in the Russian land and in the Diaspora, that they might confirm in us the faith, teach us to live virtuously, and help us to bear our cross with humility and patience and to love, treasure, and hold fast what we have, unto the salvation of our souls.  Amen.

Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, our holy and God-fathers and all the saints, have mercy on us.

Amen.

All Saints of Russia - Holy Trinity Icon Studio
Icon: All Saints of Russia (Holy Trinity Studio)



HOMILY: Pentecost - Trinity Sunday - June 7th, 2020

Readings:  Epistle - 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, Gospel - John 14:23-31.

Christ is in our midst! (He is, and ever shall be!)

Glory to Jesus Christ! (Glory forever!)

In the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God!  Amen.

Today is an important day in the life of the Church, and it is a joyous day, for it is the day that the Pillar and foundation of Truth was erected upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone; it is  the day that the faithful were found and formed into living stones of this divine-human institution of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Today is the day the Holy Orthodox Church was founded and formed.  It is Trinity Sunday, the day of Pentecost.  The Church, for her birthday, received from on high the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which she (the Church) was illumined; by which the Church became the abode of the Holy Spirit, and the vehicle of Holy Revelation.  It is in the Church that we are illumined and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; it is in the Church that Christ is revealed to us, where we encounter Him in body and Spirit; and it is through Christ that the Father is revealed to us also.  The Church is the body of Christ, and it is within and a part of that body that we worship the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

We recently celebrated the Holy feast day of Christ’s Ascension, whereupon today we remember his words promising us that he “will ask the Father, and he will give [us] another Helper, to be with [us] forever.”  This is, of course, the Holy Spirit of whom he speaks.  Christ ascended that the Holy Spirit might descend and endow us with those gifts necessary to the building up of the Church in the fullness of Christ.  We all possess those gifts of God’s grace common to all, as Saint John Chrysostom highlights in his own homilies on the letter to the Ephesians: “baptism, salvation by faith, having God as Father and partaking of the same Spirit.”  We also possess diverse spiritual gifts in varying degrees; though, one must not allow one’s self to descend into arrogance at what they themselves possess, nor must one look at another’s gifts and fall into despondency that they have not been so gifted.  It is against this which Saint Paul fought in his letters written to both the Ephesians and the Corinthians, and why he used the analogy of the Church as one body consisting of many members elsewhere in scripture. This is also why Saint John Chrysostom also says “If someone has more in grace, feel no resentment, for his task is greater too.” For, if those who have been given do nothing with what they have received, they are just like the man who received the one talent, and buried it in the earth.  No, we must use the gifts we have received as tools for the building of the Church; for a gift unused is one taken for granted, and has no value to us, to the Church, and the world in which we live.  So, what can be said about these gifts?  Saint Paul tells us that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It is within this common good that we incarnate Truth to the world; bring light into the darkness; bring faith to the faithless; bring hope to the lost; bring medicine to the sick; and bring peace amidst the chaos of this world.

The Church is one in her essence; her essence of faith; her essence of spirit and the teaching received therein; but, she is diverse in both gifts and function.  Despite what the world may try to force us to believe, unity does not mean uniformity; and, equality does not mean sameness.  The Church is diversity in operation; not a diversity of faith nor truth, but of people. We are all living stones, just as Saint Peter exhorts, altogether comprising the Church.  Look at the walls of any Church, the grains of the wood, the variations in the stone, the adornments they bear, the scars they hold, and no two are alike. Likewise, we are each unique in person, yet we all strive towards the same fullness of our humanity.  It is towards this fullness of our humanity in Christ that we are “guided by gifted people for the sake of maturity and stability of the body,” those Bishops in whom the unity and continuity of the Church is ensured; for, as Saint Ignatius has said, where the Bishop is, there also is the Church.  It is the fullness of Christ towards which we all strive together, as a flock guided by her shepherd, through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit of which the Church has received, and our humility through obedience to the commands of Christ; for, as Christ himself exhorted in our Gospel reading for today, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” 

To Saint Paul, it is the Holy Spirit which both unites and strengthens the Church. The goal of our salvation is that of theosis, or deification, our continual striving towards the likeness of God where the image of God will be perfected in all mankind.   So, it is by the Holy Spirit in which we are granted the myriad gifts of the Spirit, working towards that end.  These gifts are given to the benefit of the Church, the Body of Christ.  In addition to this, it is within the Church that we come into communion with Christ, cultivating the gifts thus given to us, elevating us even further on our journey into holiness.  

 Paul saw the actions and activities of the Holy Spirit as different from both the Father and the Son, but were complementary to the Love of the Father, and the Grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Saint Paul affirmed that it was by Christ all things were made: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him;” and it is thus by the Holy Spirit all things are perfected.  It is by the Holy Spirit that Christ is revealed to us and to all men, and it is through Christ that the Father is revealed, for “He is the image of the invisible God.”

Both Saint Paul and  Saint John the Evangelist well establish the divinity of the Father and the Son, and tie the two of them together with the work of the Holy Spirit.  While the Father is the source of all things, and it is by the Son through which all things are created, the Holy Spirit  “is the very Content of the Kingdom of God”  While the Spirit functions as a luminary of Holy mysteries, the Spirit remains mysteriously hidden from all things, functioning in us to reveal the Son to us.  It is by Love that the three persons of the Trinity are connected and commune with one another, and it is within this Love that is found the salvation for all mankind; for, God is Love.  As the Trinity exists as  persons in Communion, so then must we, the Body of Christ, exist as persons in communion, so bringing us closer to the uniting and enduring love of the Father.

We have been given these gifts by the Holy Spirit, given the Holy Spirit Himself, that the Church may be duly armed with the proper tools for the struggles ahead.  We have been given the tools necessary for the labors of the fields from which God's harvest will come.  We must not and cannot neglect these tools for while iron may sharpen iron, tools soon rust when left in disuse.  For, we cannot neglect or ignore the labors at hand, because as Christ himself has said, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Though these gifts were received by us freely, at no cost to us, they were bought with an immeasurable price: Christ on the cross. So, let us live our lives worthily of such a sacrifice, that we be counted as sons and daughters of the Living God.  Let us work together with faith, and in the fullness of Truth, that all truth may abide in us and save us. 

By the prayers of our holy Fathers and Mothers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

Amen.

ICON: Pentecost.



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.

Amen.

Sermon on the Sunday of the Blind Man / OrthoChristian.Com
Icon: Sunday of the blind man.




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.

Amen.




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