Courage and Cowardice: On St. George the Trophy-Bearer

by St. Luke (Voyno-Yasenetsky) of Simferopol; delivered 4/23/54

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you… If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also (John 15:19-20).

These words of the Lord Jesus Christ were spoken not only for His Holy Apostles, but to all those whom He so often called His “little flock.”The little flock is made up of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who take His law of love into their hearts, who try to live according to His beatitudes, which are all commandments of love, and who do their best to fulfill His word. In this little flock of His, the holy martyrs shine as stars of the brightest magnitude (1 Corinthians 15:41), serving as great examples for us of the most profound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, of boundless love for Him, and of self-denial in sufferings and unimaginable torments and tortures.

Among the myriads of holy martyrs, there shine the holy Great Martyrs, those who endured especially terrible sufferings for Christ and whose sacrifices have the greatest significance for the entire Christian world. And even among the great martyrs, the great George the Trophy-Bearer, whom we are now honoring, stands out as one of the very greatest. Why do I attach such great importance to the podvig of the holy martyrs? First of all, because by their blood, and their boundless love for the Lord Jesus Christ, they contributed greatly to the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel. Think of it: had it not been for the tens of thousands of holy martyrs, would the preaching of the Resurrection of Christ, the Resurrection of the crucified Lord, really have had such all-conquering power? Could so many nations, over the course of a few centuries, really have come to believe in a crucified Jewish Teacher as the True Son of God, as the Savior of the entire human race? The pagans would have laughed at faith in the Crucified One had it not been confirmed by His Resurrection from the dead; had the Apostles not possessed the right to preach Him as having been Crucified and Resurrected, as having died and risen again, as the Conqueror of death and the devil.

The holy martyrs played a most profound and effective role in this great work, for you all know what a tremendous impression their sufferings had on pagan witnesses and even on the executioners themselves, when they underwent horrific torture fearlessly and silently, sometimes even with thanksgiving on their lips.

Today, along with the memory of St. George the Trophy-Bearer, we also celebrate the memory of the empress Alexandra, wife of the wicked Diocletian who tortured and tormented more Christians than all the other Roman emperors. You know that witnessing the sufferings of the Great-Martyr George immediately converted this pure-hearted woman to faith in Christ. She fearlessly declared herself a Christian before her terrible spouse, suffering death for our Lord Christ along with the Great-Martyr George.

Why does the blood of the martyrs have such enormous significance for the entire Christian world? Because this blood blessed and sanctified the earth; because this blood makes the devil himself along with his evil angels fear and tremble more than anything else. The feats of the holy martyrs have a most profound significance in other regards as well. They serve as the most vivid examples for us of absolutely unwavering faith in Christ and of love for Him. We should be ashamed if we show cowardice, fearing with fear where there is no fear (Psalm 13:15). The martyrs themselves did not fear anyone or anything; they were not seduced by anyone or anything. The Emperor Diocletian, who martyred St. George, loved him very much in the beginning, considering him his bravest and most essential soldier. When he saw that the severest torments could not break his faith in Christ, he even reached the point of offering George the second place in his great Roman Empire if he offered sacrifice to the gods. In reply, St. George only laughed at this pledge; he, of course, rejected even the first place in glory and honor after the Roman Emperor, for his fidelity to Christ was stronger than diamonds and His love for Him was boundless. You have heard more than once...about the terrible torments the holy Trophy-Bearer George underwent for Christ. I will not enlarge on them. You yourselves will remember well how he was tortured for days on end with his legs fixed in stocks, with an enormous stone placed on his chest that nearly crushed him; you will remember how he was broken on the wheel, being tied to an enormous wheel under which a plank with nails and blades was placed, which cut and tore his holy body; how iron boots with sharp nails inside were placed on him, and how he was driven to run through the streets of the city in these boots; how he was thrown into a pit filled to the top with lime. He was supposed to have been burned in the lime; but when, three days later, Diocletian ordered a report on St. George’s condition, the messengers returned to report to him that George was unharmed. When the Great-Martyr was brought alive before Diocletian, the latter could not believe his eyes.

The Great-Martyr George’s podvig was a difficult one. The good favor of the Lord Jesus Christ towards him for this great struggle was shown by how He, Himself, came to him in prison, encouraging and blessing him for the completion of his martyrdom. The Great-martyr George the Trophy-Bearer feared nothing. But do we, weak and worthless Christians, face in like manner that which, in whatever small and insignificant measure, threatens us with some difficulty? Did it not happen quite recently that there were hundreds of thousands of people among us that easily renounced faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, declaring in questionnaires that they were unbelievers, fearing something that did not in any way threaten them? They were not threatened in any way; they were required only to write in the questionnaire whether they believed or did not believe. And this was enough for them to commit the terribly grave sin of denying the Lord Jesus Christ, forgetting His dread words: “whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father Which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

Do we not really prefer the worthless and quickly fleeting “things” of this world to those of eternity? Do we really desire to walk the path He pointed out to us as the goal of our lives? Do we really always remember Christ’s words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)? For the holy martyr and Trophy-Bearer George, He was truly the Way and the Life; he didn’t follow any other way, nor did he wish to know of any other way. He was not frightened by threats or fears, boldly following the way of Christ.

That’s why we bow down before all the martyrs, and especially such great ones as George the Trophy-Bearer, commending them by our ardent love for them. They strengthen our faith and love by their miracles, for the majority of them work miracles. You should know already about the miracle performed three times by the Great-Martyr George, freeing from bondage the youths who were languishing and suffering in captivity. You will remember how, as they were thinking about their native home and the Great-Martyr’s feast day while they were supposed to be serving food or wine to their masters, George the Trophy-Bearer suddenly carried them away on a white horse, transporting them in an instant to the home of their parents, who were then celebrating the memory of the Great-Martyr. Do not such miracles serve as a great and powerful fortification of your faith in that which the Lord Jesus Christ said? After all, He said that those who believed in Him could perform not only such miracles as did He, but even greater ones. The martyrs accomplished great deeds, confirming the truth of these words of Christ.

Let us then be ashamed of our cowardice in the face of the slightest fear presented to us by our imaginations. Let us love the Lord Jesus Christ and His martyrs with all our hearts, and especially the Holy Great-Martyr George the Trophy-Bearer, whose memory we celebrate today. AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the first Gospel we heard this morning we learned about a Pharisee. Now remember, the Pharisees were very proud and very strict teachers of the Jewish religion, who held themselves, and others, to a very high standard of behaviour. This Pharisee, whose name was Simon, invited Jesus to his house for dinner. Why? Well Jesus was a celebrity. He was the up-and-coming thing. A kind of religious rock star of the day. Please don’t think that’s how I think about Him, God forbid! But some did. He attracted huge crowds wherever he went and His popularity was growing. People were very eager not only to see Him, but to be seen with Him. Thus, the dinner invitation. As they were eating, a woman, a very sinful woman, a woman whose life reminds us of the wicked life that Mary of Egypt lived before her miraculous conversion, crashed the dinner party and fell down at the feet of Jesus. She had brought with her a bottle of the most expensive perfume oil available. Weeping, she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when Simon the Pharisee saw what was going on, he was horrified, he was embarrassed, he was beside himself with anger. This horrible woman crashed his party, ruined the impression he wanted to make on everyone, and was stealing everyone’s attention away from him! His mind, filled with with every malevolent thought, began to search for someone to blame for this hideous breach of social and religious correctness. His eyes, like daggers, fix on Jesus. “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
In the second Gospel reading we see Jesus exhorting His disciples not to be the kind of people who need to “lord it over” other people. He says to them, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In the first reading salvation was happening. Mercy and grace were flowing. Forgiveness was flowering like a Spring garden. But Simon the Pharisee, whose sole purpose was to help people to get closer to God, was actually doing the opposite. He was so full of himself, that he got angry when the Lord allowed this holy scene to unfold. In the second reading, the disciples are warned not to follow such examples, or they too will be guilty of the same pride, the same arrogance, as Simon, and actually stifle the grace of God in the lives of those wishing to be saved.
Dear ones,  I want us to hold these thoughts in our minds, but now I want us to think about something else – about the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. Her life, her conversion, her ascesis, these are all things that astonish us, fill us with wonder, inspire us, and make us want to make deeper changes in our own lives too. I’ve heard the story, every year for close to fifty years now. Each time I hear it I still find it stirring; each time I am brought to tears. And that’s how it should be. But a couple of days ago, a dear priest friend, Fr Paul Yerger from Holy Resurrection OCA church in Clinton, Mississippi, sent out a little email to his priest friends, and this is, in essence, what he said:
“I love the Great Canon and I notice something new about every time I hear it. For what it’s worth, I’ll share what I noticed tonight. It struck me how many times St. Mary reminds Fr. Zosimas that he is a priest. Just listen:
“Abba Zosimas, it is YOU who must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord.”
Abba Zosimas, as you are a priest, it is for you to pray for me and for the whole world.”
“What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God.”
“Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”
Prior to his encounter with St. Mary in the desert, Fr Zosimas didn’t seem to think much about his priesthood, or his ministry to anyone else, or love, or even God, really. It seems to me that he yearned for some kind of spiritual perfection as an end in itself, as someone might yearn for perfection in golf or writing or music. St. Mary did not need a perfect ascetic, she did not need a spiritual teacher. What she needed and wanted from him is what priests do: bless people, pray for people, hear peoples’ confessions, give them the Holy Gifts, bury them. These are things the priest can do purely because God and the Church have given him authority to do them; he cannot take any credit for it. Zosimas, suffering from the vice of vainglory, thought that no one on earth had accomplished what he had accomplished in the spiritual life. He was wrong, of course, as the story shows. And St. Mary certainly knew his spiritual state and honored him and loved him anyway, and thereby teaches him to honor and to love.
I know that I minister every day to some people who are far more pure and holy than I am. But they still need me, and I am grateful that I can give them priestly ministry in spite of my own unworthiness. Amen! Just for fun, I have included the Oath for candidates for ordination:
Oath Sworn by the Candidate for Ordination to the Holy Priesthood
I, the undersigned, being now called to the priestly ministry, do swear an
oath by Almighty God, before His Holy Cross and Gospel, that I desire, and will do my best, to conduct my ministry according to the will of God,  the canons of the Church and the instructions of my ecclesiastical authorities:  to perform the liturgical services with diligence and piety, according to the prescriptions of the Typikon,  without altering anything arbitrarily;  to uphold  the doctrines of the Faith, and to instruct others in the precepts of the Holy Orthodox Church and the teachings of the Holy Fathers; to protect from heresies and schisms the souls that will be entrusted to me,  and to enlighten and bring to the path of Truth those who will fall into error;  to lead a life which is pious, sober, far removed from sinful, worldly habits, in the spirit of humility, wisdom, meekness, and to bring others to piety by my example; in all aspects of my labor to have in mind not my personal dignity or profit, but the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the salvation of my neighbors. In all of this, may the Lord God help me by His grace, through the supplications of the Mother of God and of all the saints. In confirmation of this my oath, I kiss the words and Cross of my Savior. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today I’m going to deviate a bit from my usual sermon style, and talk about two fictional characters. The first one comes from the old comic strip in the newspapers called Li’l Abner, and the second one comes from the animated film Yellow Submarine. Now I realize that these two figures that I’ll examine are unknown to most of you. That’s OK. It’s just maybe a bit more fun if you know who they are.
The first character from the satirical Li’l Abner comic strip is named Joe Btfsplk. First I’ll spell it. Now, I’ll pronounce it (raspberry; Bronx cheer!). Joe was always well-meaning, but he was the world’s worst jinx, bringing disastrous misfortune to everyone around him. A small, dark rain cloud perpetually hovered over his head to symbolize his bad luck. Hapless Btfsplk and his ever-present cloud became one of the most iconic images in Li’l Abner.
One storyline in the early 1970s features him trapping his cloud in a special anti-pollution jar so that Joe can become romantically involved with a woman for the first time in his life—until her crazed ex-boyfriend shows up to kill him. Joe reluctantly opens the jar and releases his cloud in order to take care of the boyfriend, which of course means it also takes care of him. The dark storm cloud returns to its place above his head, and he wistfully realizes that he wasn’t meant for any other kind of life. As he returns to his previous, loner existence, his cloud once again in tow, he is, for the moment, resigned to be who he thinks he really is. Al Capp, the creator of the Li’l Abner series, has created a tragic character in Joe. His life is negative, his world is negative, his relationships are negative, his self-image is negative. Joe’s existence is even worse than Sisyphus because he can’t even get the stone rolling at all. This image fits in very well with our understanding of humankind. If left to ourselves, the dark cloud of the “fall,” the reign of the darker inclinations of our souls, the lusts of the flesh and the lust for power, not only left us without hope, but also a sad resignation to the idea that this is how it would always be.
Now I want to examine another character, this time from the film The Yellow Submarine. His name is Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D. He’s a hyper-brilliant, highly educated, koala shaped fur ball with a blue clown’s face. He describes himself as an "eminent physicist, polyglot classicist, prize-winning botanist, hard-biting satirist, talented pianist, good dentist too." In spite of his intellectual and artistic prowess, he is depicted a rather lonely and isolated character in the early part of the film. The Beatles, who are the heroes of the film, recognize his plight and sing the song “Nowhere Man.” But in the end, the positivity of the band, and their loving concern for Jeremy, change him completely, and he follows the band as they go off on their adventure to save Pepperland from the clutches of the Blue Meanies.
For Joe Btfsplk everything was negative, everything was about “no.” For Jeremy Hillary Boob PhD, the “no” turned around and became a “yes!” Listen to what Jeremy himself says in the movie:
“Yes! Ah, ‘yes’ is a word with a glorious ring!
A true universal, euphonious thing!
Engenders embracing and chasing of blues!
The very best word for the whole world to use!”
If the Feast of the Annunciation is about anything, it certainly is about the power of “yes.” When the world and the human race first fell into calamity, it was due to the fact that Adam and Eve said “no” to God. That’s when they declared that they knew better who and what they were meant to be. That’s when the first dark and rainy cloud came to sit over the heads of the whole human race. That’s when our names became unpronounceable and distorted, a cause for ridicule, because we had become twisted, distorted, and ridiculous  ourselves. But Mary does not leave us in that condition. She un-does the “no” of Adam and Eve by her “yes” to the Archangel Gabriel. This is why the Church calls her the “New Eve” because without her consent and faithful agreement, there would be no Mystery of the Incarnation as we know it. Only after she said “yes” did the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, condescend to take our human nature from her and reveal Himself as our Lord Jesus Christ, taking our humanity and uniting it with His Divinity in an ineffable mystery. God in His free will desired to become man and the Holy Virgin Mary, in her free will, desired to give herself to Him and bear Him, which is why she is called Theotokos or “bearer of God.”
What, exactly, did she say “yes” to? Clearly, she said yes to the Incarnation of the Son of God in her womb, but there’s more to it than that. She said “yes” to pregnancy, even though she was a virgin, and even though she would have to endure the shame of society, including the doubts of her own betrothed, St. Joseph, who was troubled at first.  She said “yes” to raising a Child Who was was destined for suffering, persecution, and the Cross from the first moments of His life. She said “yes” to raising Him as Her only source of support, knowing that she would eventually have to give Him up for the salvation of the world. In short, she said “yes” to giving up everything that a girl her age normally desired in life, things like basic comfort and support, in favor of living a life that was wholly consecrated to God in the most intimate way.
Not only did she say “yes” to God, for her own sake, but the Holy Virgin Mary said “yes” to God on behalf of the entire human race. Last night, in the 9th Ode of the Canon, we heard how Daniel prophetically refers to the Mother of God as the “gate of the king.”  By saying “yes” to God on behalf of mankind, she became the gate by which Christ entered and enlightened our world.  As St. Ambrose of Milan said,
“What is that gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate facing the East and remaining closed: ‘And no man,’ it says, ‘shall pass through it except the God of Israel’? Is not Mary the gate through whom the Redeemer entered this world?…The Most-Holy Virgin is that gate of which it is written: ‘The Lord will pass through it, and it will remain shut,’ after birth, for as a virgin she conceived and gave birth. Because she said “yes,” God dwelt among us, taught us, healed us, suffered for us, died for us, and was raised from the dead for us. Because she said “yes” the dark cloud is removed, loneliness is abolished, and joy bursts forth. It is no wonder, then, why we magnify her as we do, why we enthrone her icons in our churches and in our homes, why we sing praises to her, and why we take her as our own mother. Isn’t it obvious? “She said yes!”

MARCH 19, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a boy, it was always a huge treat whenever we got to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was the City! I lived in a small, mostly agricultural town of 11,000 people. San Francisco was massive, it was spell-binding, it was magical, it was exciting! Whenever we went to the City it was to do something fun. There were plays, symphonies, concerts of all kinds. There were great restaurants, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Wax Museum, shopping at Macy’s on Union Square, the City of Paris, Gump’s...all sorts of wonderful and dazzling sights and sounds. And then, there were Giant’s games. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and so many others.
What thrills we had!
The trip itself, driving from Yuba City to San Francisco took about 3 hours in those days. It was a long time in the car, especially when you’re a kid. It seemed like forever. Our parents had to constantly deal with high-pitched, whiney voices asking over and over, “Are we there yet?” Luckily, there was a respite, a way-station of sorts, that had existed in Vacaville since 1921, The Nut Tree. Originally a fruit stand located beneath the shady branches of a gigantic walnut tree, the Nut Tree evolved into the perfect half way stop for kids, and adults, on the way to the Foggy Metropolis. At the Nut Tree there was a great restaurant, there were shops with dried fruits, nuts, jams and jellies, loads and loads of candy, toys, hats, books, and there was a miniature railroad which ran around the entire property. As kids, we were almost as excited to go to the Nut Tree, as we were to visit The City.
Today, the 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast, represents the half-way point of our journey to Holy Week and the bright and glorious Feast of Feasts, Holy Pascha. The Sunday of the Holy Cross sees us resting beneath its shady branches, protected by its broad leaves, regaining our strength, refreshing ourselves with the energy of grace that can only come from the power of the precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord. Without the Cross there can be no Pascha. Without the Cross, there is no Christianity. Without the Cross there is no point to Great Lent, to fasting, to asceticism, to prayer. Without the Cross, the devil wins, death conquers, and the passions run rampant - unchecked and unimpeded. Without the Cross, (to borrow from the Great Canon) the mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word loses its power, life ebbs, the Law grows weak, the Gospel goes unpracticed, the whole of the Scripture is ignored; and the words of the Prophets and of all the Righteous lose their power” (cf. Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, Ode 9, Thursday of the 5th Week.)
But Christ died on the Cross so that we might be saved; so that we might be empowered for our journey not only to Pascha but ultimately to heaven. Listen to these verses from last night’s Vespers:
“Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection.
Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, aid to the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.
See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all..! Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our helper; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.”
(From the Great Vespers on Saturday Evening before the Third Sunday of Lent)
St John Chrysostom said that "The Cross, is wood which lifts us up and makes us great...The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue."
St John of Kronstadt wrote in his diary: “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.”
So, beloved, if the Nut Tree was a welcome and refreshing rest stop half way through a worldly journey, how much more is this rest stop of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of the Lord, half way on our journey to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ! Amen.

God Resists the Proud
Proverbs 3: 33 – 4:22
Today’s reading has a lot to say about many things, but this familiar quote caught my eye:
 “The Lord resists the proud; but he gives grace to the humble. The wise shall inherit glory; but the ungodly have exalted their own dishonour (Proverbs 3: 34-35 LXX).
What does it mean, God resists the proud? The Greek word in the Septuagint is ἀντιτάσσεται. It means to resist or oppose like magnets resist each other when we try to join them together at their polar opposites. Their very nature creates a resistance, an oppositional repulsion to each other. The proud and arrogant person creates a kind of spiritual forcefield around himself, constructed by his own selfish free will. God, Who is of an entirely different nature, will not draw near to such a person, but instead will ward him off. The opposite is true for the humble person. God draws near to the humble person, granting them great grace. St. Pachomius said, "Be humble so that God guards and strengthens you, because God looks to the humble. Be humble so that God fills you with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, because it is written that He guides the humble and teaches His ways to the meek." Also St. Pachomius said, "Be humble in order to be joyful, because joy goes hand in hand with humility."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Tomorrow we begin the Second Week of the Holy Forty-Day Fast. The week just past has produced much good fruit for our souls; the discipline in food, the attendance at the soul-profiting services, the haunting melodies, the dark colors, the prostrations and bows, the tiredness. All of this combines to evoke an atmosphere conducive to reflection, deep soul-searching, and most of all, repentance. This is the beauty of our faith. This is the glory of the Church. It’s richness is utterly inexhaustible. St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) wrote,
“Orthodoxy is the true knowledge of God and reverence of God. Orthodoxy is the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. Orthodoxy is the glorification of the true God, the knowledge of Him, and worship of Him. Orthodoxy is the glorification of God by man...given to him through the grace of the Holy Spirit; (and) the Spirit is the glory of the Christian” (cf. Jn 7:39).
The word “Orthodoxy” is a compound Greek word coming from “orthos” meaning straight or correct; and  “doxa” meaning glory. When combined the word literally means two things at once: correct faith & correct worship. Now, some might complain to us and say:  “What utter arrogance! Who do you think you are??” But the fact is that Orthodoxy isn’t anything about us. It isn’t about anything that we have done. Orthodoxy is about what God has done! “Our Orthodox Faith” is just another way of saying “What God has revealed for the salvation of mankind.” What, do we think that politicians are going to save us? Do we think that the space program is going to save humanity by whisking us off to remote planets in remote galaxies? No. This world passes away. This world will be destroyed. The holy apostle Peter says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). The Lord Himself says that “heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And about politics, political persons, political ideologies, David says, “Trust not in princes, nor in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. His breath shall go forth, and he shall return to his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish. Blessed is he whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God: who made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all things in them” Psalm 145: 3-6).
The world has nothing to offer to us. Why? Because it is fallen, it is corrupt, its thinking is twisted, its reasoning is skewed. Only God can be trusted to know what is best for us. Only God’s way is the right way, as He Himself says through the prophet Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9). Orthodoxy is only true if it is filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no Orthodox teaching unless it is Spirit-breathed like the Scriptures which are part of it. Orthodox is true because the Spirit revealed it to mankind; it was not their creation! St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) continues:
“Where there is no Spirit, there is no Orthodoxy. There is no Orthodoxy in human teachings and philosophies; false reason reigns in them—the fruit of the fall. Orthodoxy is the teaching of the Holy Spirit given by God to man for his salvation. Where there is no Orthodoxy, there is no salvation. ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things, it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Those who shall not preserve this Faith whole and undefiled shall, without doubt, perish for eternity’ (from the Creed of St. Athanasius). The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! It was taught in the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! In it is the guarantee of our salvation. Our blessed allocation in eternity is precious; nothing can take its place, and it is comparable to nothing. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is just as precious, just as high above all other values, and a guarantee of our blessedness.”
In order to preserve this guarantee for us, the holy Church recounts for us on this day the teachings of those holy people who preserved our holy faith, often at great cost to themselves. There is a special service held today, called the “Rite of Orthodoxy” which is usually performed in cathedrals and monasteries. In it, the righteous truth-bearers of the past are remembered and praised with the three-fold chanting of “Eternal Memory!” Also remembered on this day are the heretics who sought to corrupt, defile, or otherwise weaken the power of the revealed word of God. These the Church denounces with a three-fold singing of “Anathema!” Anathema literally means to be separated-out or cut-off. It is a declaration that poisonous teaching cannot be tolerated in the Church. St Paul was the first to use the word in Galatians 1:9 where he said: “If anyone preaches any other gospel unto you than what ye have received, let him be anathema!” Such people as insist on perpetuating soul-corrupting and blasphemous heresies are declared to be outside of the Church, under a “curse” of separation, until they repent. This “anathema” is meant to be medicinal or curative, rather than punitive. But believe me, there is nothing more bone-chilling than to hear that fearsome pronouncement of “Anathema!” in the service of the Rite of Orthodoxy.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is not focused on the negative, however. It is focused on the positive – what great gifts of Truth God has bestowed upon us unworthy ones, namely, our Orthodox Christian Faith! Soon we will have a procession around the temple. In this procession we will remember how the holy icons were once again restored to adorn God’s holy churches. It is a joyous procession for a joyous day. Let’s hear some final words that may be familiar to many of us who have attended the pan-Orthodox Vespers services in the past. It comes from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy:
“As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers dogmatized, as the Universe agreed, as Grace illumined, as the Truth revealed, as falsehood passed away, as Wisdom presented, as Christ awarded, thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we proclaim Christ our true God and honor His saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in holy icons. On the one hand, worshiping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord. And on the other hand, honoring and venerating His Saints as true servants of the same Lord.
  This is the Faith of the Apostles.
  This is the Faith of the Fathers.
  This is the Faith of the Orthodox.
  This is the Faith which has established the Universe.”  Amen.

February 26, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
A few days ago there was a terrible scandal that was reported in the papers, on the internet, on TV. This particular scandal had nothing to do with politicians, or Town Hall Meetings, or poisoned North Koreans. It was a scandal involving a Marathon. Did you hear about it? It was actually a Half Marathon held this past Sunday in Fort Lauderdale Florida. The facts in brief are these:
A runner, who initially claimed the 2nd place award, admitted this week to cheating. J. S. was disqualified after race officials questioned her run data. The New York food blogger, and former Huffington Post contributor, later confessed to cutting the course in a long statement posted to Instagram.  In the post, Ms. S. explained why she cheated, saying it was because she "wasn't feeling well." The runner also admitted that she got caught up in the moment and that’s why she pretended she ran the entire course. (As a side note, the photos and videos showing her accepting the second place prize do not reveal any discomfort or health concerns on her part, just broad smiles and “hamming” it up in front of the camera.) According to a company that investigates marathon cheating, Ms. S. cut about 1 1/2 miles off of the course. How did she do it? By diverting from the authorized path and riding a bike. That’s right, you heard it, riding a bike. She tried to cover up her dishonesty by rigging her GPS tracker, but it didn’t work. Only after being caught did the runner admit to and apologize for her actions. Needless to say, J. S. was stripped of her medal and released from her running association.
So, we’ve got to ask ourselves, what made her do it? We can’t know with any degree of certainty what was going on in her head. But we can speculate for the purpose of illustration only, that it was to “appear to men” to be running, and running in such a way as to be admired.
St Paul talks about our ascetical effort as being like a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
And in 2 Timothy 4:7, written shortly before his death, the Apostle wrote to his spiritual son, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
In the Gospel this morning, our Lord teaches us the right way and the wrong way to enter into the race course that is the Great and Holy Fast. Did you know that the Church calls Lent a race course? It does. Listen to the “Prayer Behind the Ambo” which comes at the end of the Presanctified Liturgy:
O Almighty Lord, who hast made all created things in wisdom, and by Thine inexpressible Providence and great goodness hast brought us to these all-holy days, for the purification of body and soul, for the controlling of carnal passions, and for the hope of the Resurrection; who, during the forty days didst give into the hand of Thy servant Moses the Tables of the Law, in characters divinely traced by Thee: Enable us also, O Good One, to fight the good fight; to complete the course of the Fast; to preserve inviolate the faith; to crush under foot the heads of invisible serpents; to be accounted victors over sin; and uncondemned to attain unto and adore the holy Resurrection.  For blessed and glorified is Thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
So what does Jesus tell us about how we are to run this race of the Fast?
1.) Start off by forgiving everyone. We’ll do that this evening, liturgically, but we should have begun this work already in our hearts. If we forgive, God will forgive us. Tonight we will pray fervently for the extra grace required to truly forgive.
2.) Don’t make a big show about your fasting. Keep it to yourselves. Keep it private. Don’t look at what anybody else is doing. Wash your face, don’t look sad. Don’t cover yourself with sackcloth and ashes, except inwardly.
3.) Supplement your fasting with almsgiving. We increase our treasure in heaven by distributing our earthly treasure among the poor. Have you heard that caffeine will increase the effectiveness of aspirin? So will almsgiving enliven and empower your fasting and prayer.  These are our instructions from the Lord. Forgive, pray, fast, and give alms. This is the Marathon of Great Lent. Don’t cut out anything. Don’t cheat. Just run. Everyone who runs, wins! Let me conclude by reading an anonymous work, a poem, if you will. It is called “Old Man, Why Do You Fast?” And this is how it goes:
“A son once approached his father and asked, ‘Old man, why do you fast?’ The father stood silent, bringing heart and mind together, and then said:
‘Beloved son, I fast to know what it is I lack. For day by day I sit in abundance, and all is well before me; I want not, I suffer not, and I lack but that for which I invent a need. But my heart is empty of true joy, filled, yet overflowing with dry waters. There is no room left for love. I have no needs, and so my needs are never met, no longings, and so my desires are never fulfilled. Where all the fruits of the earth could dwell, I have filled the house with dust and clouds; It is full, so I am content—But it is empty, and so I weep. Thus I fast, beloved, to know the dust in which I dwell. I take not from that which I might take, for in its absence I am left empty, and what is empty stands ready to be filled. I turn from what I love, for my love is barren, and by it I curse the earth. I turn from what I love, that I may purify my loving,
and move from curse to blessing. From my abundance I turn to want, as the soldier leaves the comfort of home, of family and love, to know the barrenness of war. For it is only in the midst of the fight, in the torture of loss, in the fire of battle, that lies are lost and the blind man clearly sees. In hunger of body and mind, I see the vanity of food, for I have loved food as food, and have never been fed. In weary, waking vigil, I see the vanity of sleep, for I have embraced sleep as a desire, and have never found rest. In sorrow, with eyes of tears I see the vanity of pleasure, for I have treasured happiness above all, and have never known joy.
I fast, my beloved child, to crush the wall that is my self; For I am not who I am, just as these passions are not treasures of gold but of clay. I fast to die, for it is not the living who are raised, but the dead. I fast to crucify my desires, for He who was crucified was He who lived, and He who conquered,
and He who lives forever.’”  Amen.

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. 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.)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
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.

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.


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