MEATFARE SUNDAY
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SUNDAY OF THE LAST JUDGEMENT / MEATFARE
February 19, 2017
Beloved, Brothers and Sisters!
We just heard in the Gospel the words of our Lord Jesus Christ regarding His awesome and glorious Second Coming. We heard about how He will sit on His dread Judgement Seat and judge the whole world. St John of Kronstadt says: “All nations shall be gathered together before Him, everyone, those whose lives have passed, those who live now, and those yet to be born.” I was startled when I read those words. Even the unborn will be present at the Last Judgement? How can that be? One thing that it clearly shows is that the unborn are people too. They are part of mankind. Will the unborn be present to be judged? Are the unborn guilty of some unknown sin? No, neither is true. The unborn are not there to be judged because they are free of any sin. They will advance unhindered to heaven. But perhaps they are there to judge! Perhaps they represent those who never had the chance to be born. Perhaps they are there as witnesses to the great evil of abortion. I am not sure what the saint meant by it, he doesn’t explain, but that’s how I interpret it anyway.
The Last Judgement seems, on the surface, to be about behaviour; who has behaved mercifully and who has behaved selfishly, who has done good things and those who have done bad things. At first glance it seems like the Lord is saying that our final disposition will all depend on how well we followed the rules, the “laws” like the 10 Commandments. But the point of the Lord’s list of sins against mankind is really much deeper than that. The Lord’s teaching on the Last Judgement is more about love.
I remember back in the late 60’s (when dinosaurs ruled the earth) when a band called  “Quicksilver Messenger Service” covered an old Bo Diddley song called “Who Do You Love?” Over and over again the song asks the question, “Who do you love?” You know, it’s a question that we need to constantly asks ourselves: “Who do I love?” We are ultimately saved by love, beloved, because love is born of faith. St Paul writes this in 1st Corinthians Chapter 13:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (1 Cor. 13:1-8)
Love of God is a fountain of grace which not only fills us with more love for Him, but also fills us with love for others, even the “least of these my brethren.” Love for God teaches us how to behave toward Him, and love for God also teaches us how to behave toward our neighbour who is made in His image and likeness. If we don’t truly love God, we replace that with love of self, and thus we become selfish, self-centered, and lose all concern for others. In other words, we become goats.
St Augustine of Hippo, back in the early 5th century, wrote:
“All who do not love God are strangers and antichrists. They might come to church, but they cannot be numbered among the children of God. That fountain of life does not belong to them. A bad person can have been baptised and even prophecy. King Saul prophesied: even while he persecuted the holy David...[1 Sam. 19] A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from Himself.”
And St John of Shanghai and San Francisco said:

“God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary; without it he cannot by saved. Striving towards God and cleaving unto the Lord by means of humble love, the human soul obtains power to cleanse itself from sin and to strengthen itself for the struggle to complete victory over sin.”
At the Last Judgement there are two possible outcomes for all mankind; eternal bliss in Paradise, or eternal torment in hell. Now pay attention to this, even if you don’t pay attention to anything else - God does not send anyone to hell. We choose that for ourselves. As we heard in the Gospel today, “the everlasting fire (was) prepared for the devil and his angels,” NOT for human beings (Matthew 25:41.) We have to CHOOSE to join them, because we choose to be like them, and therefore we throw ourselves into the Lake of Fire. The persistent wish to deny God, and to be far away from Him, is ultimately a wish granted for eternity. Even what we describe as “torments” are themselves the love of God, which acts as torments to the wicked. St. Isaac the Syrian said, “I maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love...is given to all. The power of love works in two ways. It torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend. But it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability” (Ascetical Homilies #72.)
I will end with some words of St Maximus the Confessor who wrote a whole book on “Love.” He says:

“These are the marks of love, which bind human beings to God and to one another… love of humankind, brotherly and sisterly love, love of the poor, compassion, mercy, humility, meekness, gentleness, patience, freedom from anger, long-suffering, perseverance, kindness, forbearance, goodwill, and peace toward all. Out of these and through these the grace of love is fashioned, which leads one to God Who deifies the human being that He Himself fashioned” (400 Chapters on Love.)
Amen.

PRODIGAL SON
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SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Beloved,
I love music. Not all music, mind you, but I love what I consider to be “good” music. We heard, both at Vespers and in the Parish Hall last night, some magnificent music. Music is a gift of God to us. Even the Bible mentions that Jubal, a descendant of Cain, “was the father of all musicians” (Genesis 4:21). I love art too. I don’t have sophisticated tastes in art. I like art that looks like something recognizable. I DO love the great renaissance Masters – DaVinci, Michelangelo, Dürer. I like artists from other periods too. I like the Impressionists for sure. I also like a few of the Baroque artists, not all. You know, it’s said that just two years before he died, the great Dutch baroque artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), painted one of his most beautiful works, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” I was blessed to see the original in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia some years ago.  Have some of you seen it there? Most of the painting is very dark. There are shadowy figures in the background, plunged in that darkness. With only slightly better lighting, the older brother is shown – his face looking stern and disgusted. His hands are folded in a gesture of judgment and disapproval. But in the lower left quadrant of the painting, we see intense light. The light is almost blinding by it’s brilliance. And in this light we see the figure of the returned son, kneeling before his father. His face is buried in the bosom of the father. The father is shown embracing his prodigal son with both hands – signifying the fulness of forgiveness and love. His face, beaming with almost blinding light, is full of caring compassion, deep relief, and gratitude to God.
This story, this amazing scene, is the subject of today’s Gospel. And it’s a marvelous Gospel story, isn’t it? I love this Gospel because it reminds us that God the Father absolutely never gives up on us. There is always hope for us sinners. The parable tells us clearly that no matter what we’ve done in life, we have a loving Father who will always take us back with compassion. This should give us all great comfort!
While there are many layers to this story, I want to focus today on the special aspect of reconciliation and forgiveness that forms the heart of it. We often think that the parable is only about the prodigal son. We even label it “The Prodigal Son” don’t we? But sometimes we focus on the older brother. As opposed to the “sinful” younger brother, the older brother has his own struggle with sinful passions: jealousy, judgment, complacency, lukewarmness, grumbling, and a number of others. He’s no prize either, is he? But I want to focus on the father-figure in the story, the father who represents our heavenly Father. Despite the numerous sins committed against him by the son, when he sees him coming from afar off he runs out to him; and in that moment sin and mercy meet. And the mercy of the father is so overwhelming that the son can barely finish the confession he has prepared. And I want you to consider this as well, when the father really has no idea what is going on in the mind of his son. He has no idea of ran out to meet his son, he had no idea about the condition of his soul, whether he was repentant or not, whether he was sorry or not. To the father, the only thing that mattered was that his estranged son was drawing near to him again. St Theophylact writes: “Behold now, the compassion of the father. He did not wait for his son to come to him, but he went and met him on the way and embraced him.” And that “drawing near” is the first motion toward repentance. It’s the same for us too. Even when we are struggling with our sins and passions, the devil tries everything to get us to stay away from the Church. But if we resist this temptation, if we come to the church, if we pray here in God’s House, we show Him our desire to draw near, to be close to Him. And what does He do? He runs to us and embraces us! He runs toward us, He pursues us to forgive us! As David sings in the Psalms: “Thy mercy, O Lord shall pursue me all the days of my life” (Psalm 22:6 LXX). And so He does. And what else? Not only does the father forgive, but he calls the servants to bring him new clothes, sandals, and a ring. He orders the slaughter of the fattened calf and a party breaks out. Why? Because the father wished to rejoice in the reconciliation he was now experiencing with his son.
Brothers and sisters: This is how our God deals with us. This is the God we worship! This is the God we believe in. Yet we cannot see in the father in the parable as only an image of our Father in heaven; we must also see in Him a model for us to follow in forgiving others. Appreciating the attributes of God is one thing; putting those same virtues into practice in our own lives is quite another. One of the more difficult parts of life in this world is learning how to handle the hurts and offenses that occasionally assail us in our dealings with others. Because we humans are flawed and sinful, we often hurt each other: sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. But regardless of whether the people who hurt us mean to do so or not, our duty as Christians is always to forgive. For the true Christian, there can be no conditions on forgiveness. We must be willing to forgive, even when the person who hurt us has no remorse or contrition, even when the person who hurt us doesn’t even want our forgiveness.
To harbor grudges, to remember wrongs, and to hold on to past slights is truly a very selfish act that will never do anything for us except make us miserable and at the same time, bar us from the heavenly Kingdom. We must always choose to forgive, even if our emotions have not caught up with our choice. We must always forgive, even though we may not forget. To forget the sins of others is truly an attribute of God, as the Prophet Micah said,
“Who is a God like thee, cancelling iniquities, and passing over the sins of the remnant of His inheritance? and He has not kept His anger for a testimony, for He delights in mercy. He will return and have mercy upon us; he will sink our iniquities, and they shall be cast into the depth of the sea, even all our sins.” (Micah 7: 18-19)
When we humble ourselves enough to forgive those who have hurt us, we are freed from the bondage caused by our negative emotions. Forgiveness makes us free. It increases charity within our hearts. And best of all, it makes us more like God. May He grant us this grace! Amen.

SERMON FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE PUBLICAN AND THE PHARISEE
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SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF THE PUBLICAN AND THE PHARISEE, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Pride versus humility. That’s the theme of today’s parable. C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity” wrote:
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind…
… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”
A wonderful quote from a wonderful writer. Today the Triodion begins. And from today the holy Church begins our lessons in preparation for the Great Fast. One of the teachers and spiritual physicians who will be instructing us along the way, is St John Climacus, otherwise known as St. John of the Ladder. For my sermon this morning, I’m going to use his words, his wisdom gained by experience, and his light gained by living in the Light. These words are taken from his amazing book “The Ladder.” May God use them and bring healing, wisdom, and illumination to our souls as well.
"Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of (spiritual) barrenness. It is a flight from God's help, the precursor of madness, the cause of downfall. It is the cause of satanic possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the guardian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter Pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.
Pride begins where vainglory leaves off. Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be “found out.” It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.
Listen, therefore, all who wish to avoid this pit. This passion often draws strength initially from the giving of thanks, and at first it does not shamelessly urge us to renounce God. I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glorifying themselves, something demonstrated by that Pharisee with his "O God, I thank You" (Luke 18:11).
Pride takes up residence wherever we have slipped, for a slip is, in fact, an indication of pride. An admirable man said once to me, "Think of a dozen shameful passions. You only need to love one of them, pride, and it will fulfill all the other eleven."
A proud Christian argues bitterly with others. The humble Christian is loath to contradict. The cypress tree does not bend to the ground to walk, nor does the haughty Christian bend down in order to gain obedience.
The proud man wants to be in charge of things. He would feel lost otherwise.
"God resists the proud" (James 4:6). Who then could have mercy on them? Before God every proud man is unclean. Who then could purify such a person?
To reject criticism is to show pride, while to accept it is to show oneself free of this fetter.
Pride and nothing else caused an angel to fall from heaven. And so one may reasonably ask whether one might reach heaven by humility alone, without the help of any other virtue.
Pride loses the profits of all hard work and sweat (of spiritual effort.) They cried out, but there was none to save them, because they cried out with pride. They cried out to God, but He paid no heed since they were not really trying to root out the faults against which they were praying.
An elder, very experienced in these matters, once spiritually admonished a proud brother who said in his blindness, "Forgive me, father, but I am not proud." "My son," said the wise old man, "what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?"
When the demon of pride gets a foothold for himself among his own servants, he appears to them, in sleep or awake, and he looks like a holy angel or martyr and he hints at mysteries to be revealed or spiritual gifts to be granted, that the wretches may be deceived and driven utterly out of their minds.
A real Christian is one whose soul's eye is not haughty and whose bodily senses are unmoved.
A Christian is one who fights his (spiritual) enemies, like the wild beasts that they are, and harries them as he makes his escape from them.
A Christian is shaped by virtues in the way that others are shaped by pleasures.
A Christian has an unfailing light in the eye of the heart.
A Christian is an abyss of humility in which every evil spirit has been submerged and drowned.
Pride causes us to forget our sins, for the remembrance of them leads to humility.
Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginary light where in fact there is darkness. This abominable vice not only stops our progress but even tosses us down from the heights we have reached.
A proud Christian needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself."    Amen.

Sermon for the Meeting of the Lord, Feb. 2, 2017
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SERMON FOR THE MEETING OF THE LORD
February 2, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we look down the road in February we see that the Great and Holy Forty Days are quickly approaching. It is the great season of preparation, but preparation for what? The fulfillment of the resurrection. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy concerning His resurrection, and it is the fulfillment of His promise to us -  that we, too, shall rise again. We have a number of such seasons and days: preparing and then celebrating the fulfillment. The Nativity Fast and Christmas; the Dormition Fast, and the celebration of the Falling Asleep and the Carrying Away to Heaven of the Most Holy Virgin Mary; the Apostles’ Fast and the Great Feast of Ss Peter & Paul and the Synaxis of all the Apostles. The holy seasons of fasting and feasting, preparation and fulfillment are like great wheels that turn, day after day, month after month, year after year, century after century. They turned long before us and shall continue to turn long after we are gone. We occupy such a miniscule, sub-atomic space in history, that it almost seems like we don’t really matter at all in the big scheme of things, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In the heavenly vision that Ezekiel saw, he mentions seeing wheels. Let me share it with you. Mind you, it sounds a bit psychedelic to us today, but I just want you to focus on the wheels. Ezekiel says:
And I looked, and, behold, the four had each one wheel on the ground near the living creatures. And the appearance of the wheels was as the appearance of emerald: and the four had one likeness: and their work was as it were a wheel in a wheel. They went on their four sides: they turned not as they went; neither did their backs turn: and they were high: and I beheld them, and the backs of the four were full of eyes round about. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures lifted themselves off the earth, the wheels were lifted off. Wherever the cloud happened to be, there was the spirit ready to go: the wheels went and were lifted up with them; because the spirit of life was in the wheels. When those went, the wheels went; and when those stood, the wheels stood; and when those lifted themselves off the earth, they were lifted off with them: for the spirit of life was in the wheels.” (Ez.1:15-25)
I know, it sounds pretty far out, but it all makes sense once you know the key to unlock it. But that’s not what I wanted you to hear. I wanted to talk to you about the wheels. There are four creatures which stand for the Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Accompanying the four creatures are wheels; in fact, the Prophet says “wheels within wheels.” While the wheels doubtless represent angelic beings, nonetheless, they remind me what the Church looks like in its fullness: 1.) The Logos, the Word of God, as eternal Head; 2.) the Scriptures as the Gift of His life and teachings as the bedrock of reliability and truth; 3.) the Saints who through their writings (including the Scriptures) and their lives guide all people to the heavenly Kingdom; and last, but not least, 4.) the Wheels, those magnificent seasons of Sacraments and Services, of Fasting and Feasting. And I’d like to explore one of those wheels within a wheel, and I’d like to call it the wheel of “Exodos & Eisodos” Exit and Entry. Let’s look at it:
In the beginning there was nothing. And then God created Out of nothing. Right? Listen to what the Bible says in 2 Maccabees 7:28,
  "I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is
  therein, and consider that God made them out of nothing; and so was
  mankind made likewise."
So God, through His Son, the Logos, spoke the world into being: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!  For he spoke, and it came to be” (Psalm 33: 8-9). So creation came OUT from God, but now something must enter in. What? Human beings. God made creation, prepared a garden, and placed Adam within that garden. Genesis 2:15 LXX says, “And the Lord God took the man whom he had formed, and placed him in the garden of Delight, to cultivate and keep it.”
Exodos & Eisodos, Exit & Entry.
Next, let’s look at the preparation for the revelation of the Messiah in the world. God comes OUT of heaven and descends to earth, and ENTERS into the womb of the Virgin. What does the Scripture say? “Thine Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne” (Wisdom of Solomon 18:15).
Exodos from heaven; Eisodos into the womb – Annunciation!
Next, the Exodos again– Christ is born.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Child is given” (Isaiah 9:6).
And, “From out of the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee!”
And what is the Eisodos, the Entrance? Ah, it is the Lord being brought into the Temple – the very image of the Lord being carried into human hearts. Archimandrite Zacharias says:
“(God’s) aim is for our "Heart" to become His temple.  He says to us, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:20). When...the door is opened we discover the greatest of miracles. Our heart becomes united with the Holy Spirit. With an open "Heart" we can unify our mind with our heart and God will fill His Kingdom within us with His full goodness” (‘The Hidden Man of the Heart’ by Archimandrite Zacharias.)
Brothers and Sisters, in our lives in the Church, we have so much to be grateful for today.  Especially we should be grateful for those wheels within wheels that God gives us in the Church for our salvation and for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. God does not view us as small and insignificant. If He did, would he give us all of these blessings? Would He fill us with such unfathomable depths of grace? Would He have died for us on the Cross?
May the Lord Who enters into the Holy Temple and fills it with Light, always be present in our hearts bringing light and life to us and to all. Amen.

ZACCHAEUS SUNDAY
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SERMON ON ZACCHAEUS , 1/29/2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Zacchaeus was chief of the publicans – that is, “tax collectors.” What this means, or rather, what the holy fathers tell us is that this means that he had been a man entirely abandoned to his own covetousness, and whose sole objective in life was to increase his material wealth (See Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke.) St Paul calls this kind of mania for material things “idolatry” because “their appetites become their God” as he says in another place (Colossians 3:5, Philippians 3:19).  Such people are not only addicted to their desires for more and more, money and things, they are very open about it. Why? Because they have no shame. Those who have no love for God, and those who have no fear of God, also have no shame about their bad behavior. (Witness some recent news coverage!) And as the tax collectors shamelessly made open profession of their vice, the Lord very justly compared them to prostitutes when He said to the Scribes and the Pharisees, "The harlots and the publicans are entering before you into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 21:31). But Zacchaeus did not continue along this evil and destructive path. We don’t know what stirrings of the Holy Spirit finally moved him to action; we don’t know how Zacchaeus finally allowed his heart to open just enough to let God’s voice to speak to him, but this we know - suddenly, he wanted to see Jesus. And by “seeing” I don’t mean look at Him as a curiosity, as a celebrity, or as a passing fad. The Scripture says that Zacchaeus “wanted to see Jesus - Who He was!” and so he began to climb that Spiritual Ladder, that image of the Cross,  that symbol of humility, the sycamore tree. And so, the seed of salvation sprang up within him. Here again, Jesus stopped (remember what I said last week about the patience of God?) and with eyes, fully human and fully divine, he looked up at Zacchaeus and had compassion for Him. And behold what happens. The man who before was “little of stature” and small of spirit, was now placed high and lifted up to heaven because of his desire to know Jesus. What is it that St Paul said in Ephesians?
“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Himself in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6).
So, the Lord looks up to Zacchaeus and says, "Come down quickly!" We might be tempted to wonder why Jesus asked him to come down. It was humility that had allowed him to ascend, but now, the Saviour says “Come down, come back to the earth and stand close to me, because we need to be together – at this very moment and on this very spot.” What is the meaning of this? I think it means this: We can only meet Jesus, we can only encounter Jesus, we can only see “Who He is” at this very time, in this very place, in this very moment, on this very earth. So often we allow our thoughts, especially those thoughts introduced by evil and unclean spirits, to carry us away to fantasy lands which have no basis in reality. Only God lives outside of time, we do not. So when we allow our thoughts, our worries, our anxieties to carry us away to terrifying or depressing places in the “future,” we find ourselves in a place where God isn’t. Why? Because the place isn’t real. The Lord Himself says: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
So Jesus brings Zacchaeus back to earth, and places him squarely at His side. And not only that, but the Lord says to Zacchaeus: “Today I must stay in your house.” The wording is important. Some translations have “Today I must stay AT your house, but the Greek is clear, «ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου», IN your house. There is no salvation for Zacchaeus if the Lord doesn’t live “in his house!” When we make the choice to turn our heart into God’s House, the place where God dwells, then we become what God intended each of us to be. Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex has noted, “The great tragedy of our times lies in the fact that we live, speak, think, and even pray to God, outside our heart, outside our Father’s house. And truly our Father’s house is our heart, the place where ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ would find repose, that Christ may ‘be formed in us’.  Indeed, only then can we be made whole, and become “persons” (hypostases), in the image of the true and perfect “Person,” the Son and Word of God, Who created and redeemed us by the precious Blood of His ineffable sacrifice.  Yet as long as we are held captive by our passions, which distract our mind from our heart and lure it into the ever-changing and vain world of natural and created things, thus depriving us of all spiritual strength, we will not know the new birth from on High that makes us children of God and gods by grace.”
So, dear brothers and sisters, as we approach the preparatory Sundays before Lent, as we anticipate the beginning of the Triodion next week, as we draw near to the Doors of Repentance, let’s keep in mind the example of the small man who became great, the deaf man who suddenly heard God’s voice, the earthly man who soared to heaven, the empty man who became the dwelling place of God, our Father among the saints and Apostle Among the Seventy, Zacchaeus -  Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. Amen.

THE PATIENCE OF GOD
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On The Patience of God
Today I’d like to begin by sharing a story from earlier in St Luke’s Gospel, the end of chapter nine. It tells us of the time that Jesus drew near to a town in Samaria on His way to Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans would not receive Him, because “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” That meant that Jesus, as a Jew, would not be worshipping or offering any sacrifices on the sacred mountain of the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim. James and John became angry because of the way that the Samaritan treated their Master. They asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Jesus turned to them and rebuked them saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” In these few verses we see the vast difference between the impatience of man and the patience of God (See Luke 9.51–56).
We see a similar thing happen in today’s Gospel. Crowds are thronging Jesus as he enters Jericho. A blind man asks what’s going on? Someone in the mob tells him “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He begins to cry out, NOT “Jesus of Nazareth have mercy on me,” but rather, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people in the crowds tell him to shut up! Jesus has places to go, people to see! But the blind man cries out his confession of faith even louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then what happens? Jesus stopped short! And then he stood still, telling his disciples to move like angels, and bring that poor man to Him, so that He might heal Him (Luke 18:35-43). Again we see the vast difference between the impatience of man, and the patience of God.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often translated as patience is “arek.” The word arek appears about fifteen times in the Old Testament and sometimes it says "longsuffering," sometimes "patience," or sometimes "slow to anger." It literally means "patient," as in "slow." God is slow to what? Slow to react!
In the Septuagint Old Testament and in the New Testament the same word is translated into the Greek word “μακροθυμέω,” which means "takes a long time to get hot,” or a “long time to boil." In other words, God takes forever to become angry with us. And why is that? It’s because He loves us. That’s why St Paul, in his first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, says, “Love is patient,” “Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ” (1 Cor. 13:4).
God is patient with us because He want to heal us like the blind man. God is patient with us, because He longs for our salvation. Listen to what St Paul said in this morning’s Epistle reading:
1 Timothy 1:16 “For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all patience, as an example to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Did you hear that? God’s mercy toward the wicked persecutor Saul, was so that those seeing the example of the patience of Christ, might be encouraged for their own salvation, for their own everlasting life! And in another place the Apostle Peter says this:
2 Peter 3:15 “Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation for us, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”
So then, God reveals His patience to us, so that we might be saved? But how? By our acquisition of the same virtue. While it’s true that it is impossible to gain patience, or slowness to anger by our own efforts, with the help of God’s grace “what is impossible for men is possible with God.”
St Isaac the Syrian says:
“When patience greatly increases in our soul, it is a sign that we have secretly received the grace of consolation. The power of patience is stronger than the joyful thoughts that descend into the heart.”
(“Ascetical Homilies” - Homily Forty-Eight)
And St Basil the Great says:
"...And so let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God." ("Gateway to Paradise")
And finally, I’ll end with a beautiful word from the 3rd century father and martyr, St Cyprian of Carthage:
"...It is patience that both commends us to God, and saves us for God. It is that same patience which tempers anger, bridles the tongue, governs the mind, guards peace, rules discipline, breaks the onslaught of lust, suppresses the violence of pride, extinguishes the fire of dissension, restrains the power of the wealthy, renews the endurance of the poor...guards the blessed integrity of virgins, the difficult chastity of widows, and the indivisible love of husbands and wives. It makes men humble in prosperity, brave in adversity, meek in the face of injuries and insults. It teaches us to pardon our offenders quickly; if you yourself should offend, it teaches you to ask pardon often and with perseverance. It vanquishes temptations, sustains in persecutions, endures sufferings and martyrdoms to the end. It is this patience which strongly fortifies the foundations of our faith. It is this patience which sublimely promotes the growth of hope. It directs our action, so that we can keep on the path of Christ while we make progress, because of His forbearance. It ensures our perseverance as children of God while we imitate the patience of the Father.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage – “The Good of Patience”) Amen.

SUNDAY BEFORE NATIVITY 2016
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HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and sisters,
The words from this morning’s Gospel reading are the very first words of the very first Gospel that was ever written. They are the words of the Holy Apostle Matthew, who, aided by the Holy Spirit, decided that the very first thing to impress on people’s minds was the ancestry of Jesus. Don’t be confused that the lineage is traced to Joseph, who wasn’t Jesus’ biological father. Notice it says: “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” Since Joseph and Mary are from the same tribe, the vast majority of the genealogy applies to her as well as to him. This text gives a long list of Hebrew, Aramaic (and even some foreign names as well) that indicate the human family tree of Jesus. In all, there are forty-seven names mentioned. Some of them are famous Old Testament saints, others are important figures mentioned in the Bible, some are unknown, and some are actually sinners. It’s a long list of names, and very difficult to pronounce, and for this reason, it’s easy for our eyes to glaze over and our thoughts to wander. Yet these very words, these very names, are so important that they are read in every Orthodox Church, every year, on the Sunday before the Nativity. It is these names that give us the real story of Christmas, the very human story out of which Christ and Christmas came to us. All of those names are real examples of real living people who prepared the way for Christmas.
If we didn’t know anything about the Scriptures, and someone asked us “What kind of family should the Messiah come from,” we might be inclined to guess that He would descend from a family of saints – priests, prophets, and kings. But what do we find in His family tree? Well, we do find some of those, but predominantly we find ordinary people and sinners like ourselves. We find people who even when blessed by God, fell in times of weakness like King David. We even find a harlot listed there! An invented family tree would have been different. But here again we see the honesty of the Gospel writers. They don’t lie about Jesus’ ancestry, but tell it like it is. It was from this very real (and flawed!) family tree that Jesus came. What this means is that Jesus truly came from us in order to save us. As Gregory the Theologian says: “That which He has not assumed He has not healed” (Epistle 101). Because He came from this family tree full of sinners, we find we have something in common with Him. He is not a Creator who separates Himself from us. His family tree is our family tree. He is one of us. He has compassion for sinners who are part of His own family.
St Matthew also does something else quite remarkable in his genealogy – he deliberately shatters the custom of his day by including the names of five women at a time when women were simply not included in genealogies. By doing this he indicates that “in Christ there is neither male nor female,” all are equal; all are one in Christ (see Galatians 3:28). The five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and finally Mary, the Mother of God. First, who is Tamar? Well to save time let’s just say that she married two different bad-boys, and then she got pregnant by incest. The salacious details can be found in Genesis. Who is Rehab? She was a prostitute. Who is Ruth? Why, she’s not even Jewish. Who is Bathsheba? She was a Jewish woman who broke the Law of Moses by marrying a Hittite. She later becomes the victim of sexual abuse. We find in the genealogy all kinds of people; some who are constantly missing the mark, some who are mistreated or broken. Yet it is precisely out of these that there arises that dazzling flower of purity, the Most Holy Theotokos, by whom our Saviour was to be born.
So there are some skeletons in the Messianic family closet. Who doesn’t have some? Most of us want to think of our ancestors whoever they may be, as noble people, even heroes of their time. And yet everyone has a few clunkers somewhere in his or her ancestry. I have the infamous Dalton outlaw gang in mine. Others were, yes, pirates. Rrrr! In pointing out the sinners that comprise Jesus’ ancestry, it just goes to show how much like us Jesus really is! Perfect God and perfect man – do you know what that means? It means “fully God” and “fully man.” His humanity is our humanity; His ancestry is OUR ancestry.
However, we don’t leave everything stuck in the past. No, Jesus came to save us, to deliver us from the fallenness of our human nature. And because of Him, we Christians can now claim a new ancestry. Jesus is the beginning of a new blood stream, a new inheritance. The holy Apostle Peter wrote: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people to be his very own and to proclaim the wonderful deeds of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). By means of our faith and through holy baptism we now have access to the source of our new blood line, not in the tainted past of our inherited ancestry, but in the new, pure source of the Theanthropos, the God-man – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Dear ones, our ancestry may have its dark spots, because our lives certainly do. Yet through turning back to God through confession of our sins and receiving His forgiveness we can refresh this new genealogy from our new ancestor. “Drink of it all of you; this is my blood” He says. His blood flowing in our veins constantly renews this new ancestry, this new heritage, this new sense of belonging, this new life. One of the great themes of the Christmas Season is family, getting together with family, reconciling with family, right? If you doubt me, just watch the Hallmark Channel! But sometimes we forget that Christmas is all about how God made us His Family, and how all of our fellow believers are our brothers and sisters. Do you remember how I began this sermon? “Dear Brothers and Sisters!” We are all brothers and sisters in His eyes, we are all related to each other with a common bloodline. This is why it is so important for us to gather together – not only at the Great Feasts like Christmas, but throughout the Church Year on Sundays and Holy Days. May God bless you and keep you for this coming feast of His Nativity, and may He grant you health and prosperity for the New Year. Amen.

THE TEN LEPERS
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HOMILY ON THE TEN LEPERS
Brothers and Sisters,
Ten lepers were healed, yet only one returned to gives thanks to God. The message is so clear, so simple. Yet, how easy it is for us to forget God’s healing; how easy it is to be one of the nine who simply go their way as if God didn’t exist and as if God wasn’t responsible for the miracles in our lives. Let’s remember what the Apostle Paul said to us in the Epistle Reading:
Christ is our peace. He reconciles Jews and Gentiles. He fulfills the Law so as to establish a new Law of love that unites us all. He gives us new birth so that we become new creatures. He Who is un-dying died on the Cross to kill our death. He came Himself to teach and heal us. He gained access for us to the Father. He made us members of His own Family. He gave us Apostles and Prophets for a foundation. He gave us the Church. He made us the dwelling place of God. There you have it – ten cures, ten healings which God worked for us and in us. And what is our reaction? And how do we show our gratitude toward God?
First let me share with you a little story from the Life of St Macarius of Alexandria. It goes like this:
A hyena, having a blind whelp, took it in her mouth and delivered it to St. Makarios of Alexandria. She pushed open the hatch of his dwelling with her head, went inside, and threw her whelp at his feet. St. Makarios picked it up and ascertained that it was blind. He spat on its eyes and prayed; the whelp then immediately opened its eyes. After suckling it, its mother took it and departed.
On the following day, the hyena brought St. Makarios the hide of a large sheep. The Saint looked at it and said to her: Where did you find this? You must have eaten a sheep. And so, since it is the result of an injustice, I will not accept it from you. The hyena then bowed her head, knelt, and left the hide at the Saints feet.
The Saint said to her: I tell you, I will not accept it, unless you swear to me that you will never again cause distress to poor folk by eating their sheep. At this, she nodded her head, as if to agree with St.  Makarios. The Saint then accepted the hide which the hyena had, in gratitude, brought him.
What is the moral of this little story? It’s two-fold. First, it shows us that gratitude is something essential to our spiritual lives. Even God’s creatures can demonstrate it. Second, as a response to God’s beneficence, it is our responsibility to amend our lives, and to change our behavior.
Allow me, please, to share with you a reflection that comes from my patron saint, St Basil the Great. He wrote:
“As you take your seat at the table, pray. As you lift up the loaf of bread, offer thanks to the One Who gave it to you. When you strengthen your body by means of a little wine, remember Him Who supplies you with this gift, to make your heart glad and to comfort your infirmity. Has your need for food disappeared? Don’t let the thought of your Benefactor disappear too. As you are putting on your clothes, thank the Giver of them. As you put on your coat, feel even greater love for God, Who both in summer and in winter has given us appropriate coverings to preserve not only our life, but also our modesty. Is the day done? Give thanks to Him Who has given us the sun for our daily work, and has provided for us a fire to light up the night, and to serve the rest of the needs of life. Let night give the other occasion of prayer. When you look up to heaven and gaze at the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the visible world; praise and supplicate God, the Architect and Builder of the universe, Who in wisdom made them all.”
And St Theophan the Recluse writes: “Remind yourself often, that He has granted you much grace in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image...He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of His angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favour and love for you; a favour so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favours to our nothingness and worthlessness.”(Unseen Warfare)
How can we ever forget what the angels sang at the very moment when Christ was born in Bethlehem? “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. This is praise coupled with remembrance of God’s great grace. And if we acquire this same attitude of a grateful heart and if we constantly remind ourselves of God’s great benefits, we will naturally be inclined to change our lives, change our behaviour, and become different people. Do you remember the story of the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace? As they walked around in the midst of the flames, unburnt and unharmed, Azariah offered up a prayer: ““Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever. For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth...For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee, and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments; we have not observed them or done them, as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us...Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee” (Daniel 3:24 ff LXX).
So, the gratitude of the leper, the repentance and amendment of life of the hyena and the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace, all lead us to take into account all the blessings and miracles God has wrought for us and for those we love, and to change our lives because of it. Amen.

THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD 11/27/16
fr_basil
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 27, 2016
HOMILY ON THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
(Introductory remarks deleted. Reconstructed from memory and edited.)
Beloved,
The Gospel this morning tells us that the Lord was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day. The synagogues were the prayer houses scattered all over Israel. No sacrifices took place there. Sacrifices only happened in the Temple. The Temple was the meeting place of God and man, and one had to go there to offer his birds or sheep for his sins or as simple praise offerings to God. But the synagogues were for prayer and study of the Torah and the other books of the Old Testament. So, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. There was a woman present there who had an infirmity for eighteen years. Now I’ve always told you that numbers have significance in the Bible. Eighteen. Who here knows their math? What can you tell me about the number 18? That’s right. 3 x 6 is 18. What does it mean? 3 is the number of completeness or fullness. 6 is the number that represents man, humanity, mankind incomplete, mankind without God, without being deified. The Number 666 in Revelation refers to the “Beast,” the “Antichrist” who is the fullness of man without God who will come and attempt to usurp the Messiah’s throne. No, the woman in today’s Gospel is not a forerunner of Antichrist, but she does represent the fullness of humanity’s fallenness. In other words, she represents man, unredeemed. How can we know this? Well, she is bent over, isn’t she? She’s bent over so that the only thing she is looking at is this world, this earth. She does not look up with hope into heaven, she only looks at her feet planted firmly in the dirt.
The Lord calls this woman to Himself. It’s significant that He calls to her. That is His mission, that’s why the Lord took flesh and came to dwell among us. That’s the whole meaning of our celebration of Christmas; God came down in order to call us to Himself. So, what does the Lord do next? He places His hands on the woman and says: “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” He doesn’t ask her to do anything. He doesn’t ask her to say anything. He simply heals her. This is to show exactly what we heard in today’s Epistle reading: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He healed her, and Luke says, “and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” She was made straight! Now she could both look up to heaven and look to all those around her. God and neighbor. Do you see how her healing really means her salvation? She was made straight, taken from the Greek word “orthi.”!(Σοφία ορθή!) It’s like what we hear the deacon, or the priest without a deacon. Constantly crying out: “Stand aright!” Orthi! Stand up straight! Stand upright! Don’t be bent earthward! Be righteous, be “upright!” This IS, after all, what “Orthodoxy” really means – to worship God correctly, uprightly. Ortho-doxia.
Next comes the reaction of the ruler of the synagogue. He is angry, in fact, furious. Why? He’s furious for two reasons. One, HE is the leader of this synagogue. Who is this usurper who has come and stolen all of his authority, stolen all of his prominence, stolen all of his glory? He is jealous for his power and prestige. All eyes are on Jesus, and not on him. His pride is wounded. Second, by the time of our Lord’s coming, Judaism, due to the overwhelming influence of the Pharisaic tradition, had become a religion all about “observance of the rules” as defined by those very same Pharisees. It was no longer about a People and their relationship to the Living God. Here we have the Living God Himself standing in the synagogue, saving a person from their affliction, and the ruler of the synagogue merely sees it as a violation of the Sabbath work rules. What a sad religion this has become, and Jesus points this out to him, saying: “You hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath Day loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So, ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
The warning for all of us is, don’t confuse the rules with the Faith. It’s very easy for us, Orthodox Christians, to get caught up in “the rules.” Why? Because we have a lot of them, don’t we? But we mustn’t forget what the Lord said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27.) That means that the rules, the Canons, the fasting, all of these things are given to us in order to reach the goal, and the goal is a living relationship with the Living God! They are given to us as helps, divine helps to be sure, but they are not straightjackets, or clubs with which to beat out fellow human beings. Fr Seraphim (Rose) warned us against what he called the “super-correctness” or the “correctness disease” of some who seem to put rules, canonical minutiae, and liturgical precision ahead of the Gospel, ahead of faith, and ahead of relationship! The ruler of the synagogue missed the point, and so might we, if we're not careful!
Brethren, let us flee the downward-looking gaze of this world and its fallenness, and run, rather, to the healing hands of Christ Who seeks only to touch us, heal us, raise us up, and make us straight and upright, now and for all eternity. Amen.

DON'T MISS THE POINT - Saturday, November 26, 2016
fr_basil
SERMON ON “DON’T MISS THE POINT”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Before I begin speaking on today’s Gospel lesson, I’d like to read from another section of Scripture which will kind of illustrate the point. It comes from the book of Acts, chapter 19: 11-20. The story is about the seven sons of the High Priest Sceva. It goes like this:
"God was doing extraordinary miracles (in Ephesus) by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (By the way, this is an excellent illustration of the value of what we call “secondary relics.” A secondary relic is something like a cloth, or ribbon, or prayer rope that has touched the body or the bones of a saint. I’ll have more to say on this later!) Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were trying this. But the evil spirit (in the man they were trying to exorcize) answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house wounded, and with their clothes shredded off of them. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”
Then, of course, there’s the story of Simon Magus (Simon the Sorcerer) in the 8th chapter of Acts, who saw the miracles done through the Apostles and declared himself a believer. Why? Because he wanted to perform such feats himself. How did he propose to acquire such miraculous power? Not through faith, not through piety, not through righteous and ascetical living, no! He offered them money! He wanted to bribe the Apostles so that he could perform miracles. Can you imagine? The Apostle Peter said to him: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20-21).
Your heart is not right in the sight of God. What does it mean, for our hearts not to be right? It means our heart, our spiritual center, has been full of pride, self-love, self aggrandizement, self promotion, self-interest. This is what Jesus was warning his disciples about in today’s Gospel. They were given the power to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” but he didn’t want them to be lured into pride by this power. He said to them, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” The miracles won’t save you or them, but a right heart will. A right heart is a heart that is humble. St Augustine said, “It was pride that turned angels into devils; it is humility that turns men into angels.” A right heart is cleaned, swept, dusted, painted, and ready to contain God. The Lord Jesus waits for our hearts to be ready. He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote that “The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this.”
“Don’t rejoice that you can cast out demons” says Jesus to His disciples. “But rejoice that your names are written in heaven, in the Book of Life.” You know, it used to be in America, that every family had its “Family Bible.” This was usually a large edition, with a fancy cover, kept in the living room for nightly reading with the whole family present. But the family Bible had another purpose as well. In it were recorded all of the names of all of the family members, from as early as anyone could remember. This was the Book of the Life of the Family as well as the God-breathed oracles of the Old and New Testaments. Similarly for the Jews it was vitally important to keep a record of the family genealogy as far back as possible. This was to prove who you were, and from what tribe you descended. The genealogy was like the pedigree, verifying that you belonged to the family. Well, the same can be said of the Book of Life, of the “names written in heaven.” It is so much more than simply a list of who’s going to heaven. It’s a divine record of who belongs to God’s Family. What do the Scriptures say? John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” And St Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” By virtue of our being born again in the waters of holy baptism, by virtue of our faith in Christ, we are made, by grace, members of Christ and members of His family. That’s why Jesus wants His disciples to focus on that. That’s why we, too, need to focus on that. Miracles are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but if our relationship with God is based only on miracles – what God can do for me, what God can do for someone else in this temporal life, then we will have missed the point altogether. Just as Jesus was born into a family on Christmas Day, we are also called to be part of a family, His family. And that’s why we all have the same last name. Did you know that? Yes, we all have the same last name. It’s a Greek last name - “Χριστιανός” or “Christian.” Why? Because we all belong to the Family of Jesus Christ. Let’s rejoice in that today, as Jesus told His disciples to do. Amen.

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