August 15, 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Dear Ones,
Nothing in the Church happens by accident. We just said “goodbye” to the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, and now we celebrate the greatest feast
of the Mother of God – her falling asleep and her translation to heaven. There is no accident in this sublime and divine arrangement. Christ reveals Himself as the deified human being, the new Adam, the second Adam, and the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15: 45 - 49). He reveals His glory to His disciples as far as they were able to bear it. His blinding light, His stunning radiance, that literally knocked His disciples off their feet, is a promise to all people, that they, too, (that we too!), may become partakers in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  However, there is no fast associated with the feast of the Transfiguration, is there? But there is one associated with the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, a fast of two weeks, fourteen days. This doubling of the holy number “7” indicates double holiness, and what do we call the Mother of God? “Most-Holy!” She is truly one of us, but she is also “double holy!” The Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos invites us climb the mountain of the virtues, the mountain of holiness, so that we might be transfigured too, so that we might become more like her, step-by-step, day-by-day. This little fast was a mere token, a small down-payment, on the path of divine ascent. Today’s feast is a foretaste of the glory that awaits us! It’s a glimpse of our soul being carried to heaven in the arms of Christ. It is also a glimpse of our bodies’ resurrection from the grave. Her “assumption” into heaven is the promise of ours – if we want it.
As with most feasts of the Virgin, there is nothing in the Bible about her death. We know from Holy Tradition, that is, by the church’s memory and through the writings of the holy fathers, that she died in 41 AD and was buried near the Garden of Gethsemane. Her tomb exists to this day and can be visited by the faithful.  Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote: “The Tradition of the Church is that Mary died as all people die, not “voluntarily” as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world. The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary is without personal sins. In the Gospel of the feast, however, in the liturgical services and in the Dormition icon, the Church proclaims as well that Mary truly needed to be saved by Christ as all human persons are saved from the trials, sufferings and death of this world; and that having truly died, she was raised up by her Son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise which is prepared and promised to all who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk11.27–28).
I will end with the conclusion of a sermon once given by St. John of Kronstadt. He said: “The Theotokos, through her humility, obedience, meekness, God-like purity, her acceptance of the Archangel's tidings, and above all through her wondrous bearing of the Son of God in her womb, attracted God's blessing upon the world by giving birth to the Savior of the world and obtaining the benevolence of the Heavenly Father towards all the faithful. Another consequence of God's damnation of mankind was death, but Christ, the Son of God, Who was born of the Theotokos in the flesh, Who suffered and died for the sins of mankind, took upon Himself our damnation, vanquished our death by His death, and removed the curse from us by crucifying our sins on the Cross and granting us incorruptibility, resurrection and immortality.
Such are comforting truths which the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos brings us: it assures us that Christ the Savior, born from the most-pure Virgin Mary, removed from us the curse of our sins and granted to all of us resurrection from the dead on the last day of the world. Is this not comforting for every Christian believer?
And having such an expectation of a general resurrection from the dead, let us try throughout our entire life to become worthy of that glorious resurrection into eternal life by means of constant repentance, battle with our passions and the temptations of the flesh and the world, and strive for success in all virtues, in order to eternally enjoy infinity, incorruptible, surpassing all understanding, all feeling and all expectation—all the blessings of the Heavenly Kingdom, together with God, the Mother of God, the Holy Angels and all the Saints. Amen.”

Matthew 18: 23-35
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Fifteen years ago, we had Dr. Fred Luskin come from Stanford and give a talk to us here at St. Nicholas. Dr. Luskin, who is not an Orthodox Christian and in fact, not a Christian at all, was co-founder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, an interpersonal forgiveness training research study. He had just published his book, “Forgive for Good.” In this book, Dr. Luskin proposed strategies and techniques for dealing with the very real psychological and even physiological damage caused by what he refers to as deeply seated “grievances.” We might call them what the Prayer Book calls “remembrances of wrongs.”
Dr. Luskin was surprised that we had asked him to come and speak. In fact, he told us that we were not the only church to have done so, and he found it all quite amazing. His book was a secular book, and it dealt with the problem in a secular way, from a secular point of view. It did not deal with the spiritual or theological aspects of grievance and forgiveness at all. However, what he had to say we all found quite useful. Much of what he said we had heard before, but some ideas and approaches were new and helpful.
The problem of forgiveness is universal, and is as ancient as Adam and Eve. Remember? Adam didn’t forgive Eve, he blamed her for what he did! Jews at the time of Christ were debating about many of the fine points of the Law of Moses, and the idea of forgiveness was to be found among them. The traditions of the early rabbis in the Talmud reflect the outcome of some of these early debates. Yoma 86b states the following: “If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven.” This rule or principle is apropos to the Jewish “Day of Atonement,” also known as Yom Kippur. On the days leading up to Yom Kippur, a devout Jew would do his best to atone for his sins against God and his neighbor by asking for forgiveness. If he kept coming back with the same transgressions, the rabbis decreed that there was a three-strike law in effect. He could only be forgiven three times, and no more.
It is in the context of such debates, that the holy apostle Peter asks the Lord:  “Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” And the Lord Jesus answers him:  “I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.”
The apostle thought he was more than doubling what was the currently accepted norm for forgiveness. The aim of Jesus was to show him how much greater is God's forgiveness than man's. And so He illustrates this teaching with today's Gospel Parable - the Unforgiving or the Ungrateful Servant. It is a story about three people: a king, a first servant and a second servant. The King is God, the servants are us sinful beings. The first servant owes 10,000 talents to the king, and the second owes 100 silver coins to the first servant.  Both amounts are multiples of ten. The first is a huge multiple of ten, the second much, much smaller. Ten represents the 10 Commandments given to Moses, a standard by which every person is judged, and by which we judge ourselves when we are preparing for Communion. Don't misunderstand this parable; WE are the ones who owe the 10,000 talents. We Christians. Aren't WE the close servants of the King? What are we called when we approach Holy Communion? “Servant of God” so-and-so. Right? Haven't we been forgiven everything by God, by virtue of our Holy Baptism, by means of Holy Confession, and in that very Sacrament of Holy Communion? 10, 000 talents, that's what we owe God in the treasury of Forgiveness. How much is 10,000 talents worth in today's money? Let's see. A denarius was a small silver coin equal to one day's wages for the common worker. (So the second guy owed 100 of these.) One talent, which is a bar of silver, is equal to 6,000 denarii, which would take an ordinary laborer 6,000 days (16 years) to earn. Let's convert that into US dollars; if an average day's wages is assumed to be 100 dollars, one talent is worth around 600,000 dollars. Since one talent is such a large amount of money, how much is ten thousand talents, worth? It is a tremendous amount of money, which is worth about 160,000 years' worth of wages! The number is, of course, astronomical! It's like our National Debt. It is, however, a symbol. It means "More money than you can imagine, and more than any slave could ever possibly repay." The depths of God's forgiveness are equally unfathomable. Christ poured out forgiveness on the Cross once and for all, saying: "Father forgive them! Forgive them all! Forgive them everything!"  But our lack of forgiveness toward others separates us from that grace of forgiveness. If we hang on to our grievances, we let go of our forgiveness. God in His mercy has forgiven us so much more than we could ever repay. Our sin in refusing to forgive our brother or sister becomes an instant impediment to our obtaining the mercy and forgiveness of God.  God's forgiveness is withheld from us unless we choose to be channels of mercy and forgiveness like He is. St Paul, who knew first hand the depths of God's forgiveness, wrote: "Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" (Ephesians 4:32). Even when it is hard to forgive for our own sake, we are still called to the unity of forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ for His love and forgiveness is "the love that loves unto the end" (See John 13:1).
When we forgive those who have hurt us we receive God's forgiveness. Forgiving others allows us to see how Christ could forgive all those who mocked Him, beat Him, lied at His trial and those who nailed Him to the Cross, which includes all of us, for we all spiritually crucify Him again and again, each and every day, each time we sin. If we live in Christ's righteousness, in His holiness and virtue, when we look upon those who have offended us, we should not see the face of our enemy, but, looking with divine compassion, we should see the face of Christ who loved us and forgave us. Love and forgiveness must be stronger than sin and offense. It must be our consistent choice. I’m going to end this morning by sharing something that St. Jerome said: “Therefore the Lord commanded Peter utilizing this parable of the king and his servant who owed him ten thousand talents, and was forgiven by his lord upon his entreaty, that he also should, in similar fashion, forgive his fellow servants their lesser trespasses.”

The Lunatick Son 8/5/18
August 5, 2018
Matthew 17:14-23
Recently I was recounting a conversation that I overheard many years ago. It involved a Protestant inquirer and an Orthodox layperson. The Protestant was asking why anyone would need to enlist the help of the Virgin Mary, when one could simply pray directly to Christ himself? It’s a good question, isn’t it? Well, it’s true, of course. We can and are even invited to pray directly to Christ, to the Father, to the Holy Spirit, and I do that. But how powerful are my prayers? How effective are my prayers? The prayer of the pharisee in the parable was weak and worthless, because he was full of pride, judgment, and vainglory. The prayer of the father with the demon-possessed son was weak, because his faith was weak, he was full of doubts, as he himself admitted. The prayers of the seven sons of the priest Sceva were ineffectual, because they used the Name of Jesus, but were not truly His disciples. As a result, they were beaten by demons and were forced to run naked and screaming out of the house (Acts 19: 11-16). So... how strong is my faith? How many doubts do I have? How much pride fills my soul, my thoughts? How effectual is my prayer? At some point it begins to dawn on us that our prayers are probably quite weak. And that’s exactly why we are compelled to ask others to pray with us and for us. We all do this, and the Lord, and the Apostles recommend it. And who do we especially ask when we feel the need for more power, more “octane” in our prayer? The bishop, the priest, monks, nuns, holy people, pious people, etc. Right? When I was a kid we went everywhere on our bikes; school, the store, friends’ houses, everywhere. We loved our bikes, but we knew that they (or rather, we) were limited as to how far we could go, or how fast we could get there. That’s why we were so jealous of the older kids in the neighborhood, the ones with cars, and especially those who had the hot rods. They could go as far as they wanted, and they could get there fast. Sometimes we would be riding our bikes when one of those hot rods would blast by...if only we could attach our bikes to that beauty and fly to where we wanted to go! And that is precisely why we enlist the help and the prayers of the Mother of God. We call out to her because she is most-holy, most-pure, and most-blessed, and most glorious human being to ever walk the planet. After he death she was taken up bodily to heaven. She is the Queen who stands at the right of her Son, wearing garments shining with the light of deification. (See Psalm 44:9 LXX). Her prayers are strong, swift, and sure. After all, by her intercession she was able to change the mind of her divine Son so that He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. She endured terrible sorrow at the Cross so that the “the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed” (Luke 2:35). What does that mean? It means so that she might present our feeble prayers, the weak groanings of our hearts, before her Son and our God. That’s why we attach ourselves to the Theotokos. That’s why we beg her for help. That’s why we plead for her intercessions. That’s why we sing supplicatory canons to her. That’s why we fast in preparation for the commemoration of her holy falling-asleep, and her glorious assumption into heaven.
Now, let’s change direction a bit and look for a moment at today’s Gospel. Here we see a man who is also praying. After all, praying and asking are often the same thing. He is a father who is asking Jesus to heal his lunatick son. Not “epileptic” as some translations have it. “Lunatick,” “moonstruck,” “σεληνιάζεται.” This father presumes to tell Jesus what the boy needs and what He, Jesus, needs to do – cure the boy of moonbeam sickness! Isn’t this just the way the world behaves? The father is utterly blind to the fact that he is speaking to the Lord Who created all things, and that his son is grievously tormented by a demon! The world seeks to disregard the presence of God. It also poo-poos the notion of devils. Instead of blaming dark and hostile forces, this father blames nature, God’s creation! This is a clear warning to us. Never presume anything in prayer! Don’t explain to God what the situation is. He knows what it really is, not what our twisted minds perceive it to be. Next, never tell God what to do. He knows what we need, and He knows what others need. Always pray: “Not my will, but Thy will be done!”
Now, on to my last theme for this morning. Today is the Pre-feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Tonight and tomorrow, on top of an earthly mountain named Tabor, the Lord Jesus will reveal to His disciples and to us a heavenly mystery. While living among them He had spoken of the kingdom and of His second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom, and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, He gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of His glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if He said to them: “As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this, I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.” Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus.”
These are the divine wonders we will soon celebrate; this is the saving revelation given us on the mountain.  Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and it is for us now to follow Him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in His radiance, that will renew our spiritual nature and transform us into His own likeness, making us forever sharers in His divine nature and raising us to heights undreamed of. Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into that cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from created things and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
It is indeed good for us to be here, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here forever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like Him and to live in His light? Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into His divine likeness, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: “Today salvation has come to this house.” With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of His eternal blessings, and there, where they are stored up for us in Him, we see reflected as in a mirror, both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear ones,
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is being followed by two blind men. It isn’t easy for them to do it. There are crowds pressing them. They must tap with sticks in order to prevent them from running into walls or trees or people. They stumble on stones, they are jostled by people, they are cursed at, yet they keep walking. I can’t help but think of an old song, a “Freedom Song” from the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960’s. It’s called “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” Now you all know me. You know what I want to do right now, don’t you? You KNOW I want to sing it. But I won’t. I’ll maintain some modicum of homiletic decorum. But I AM going to read the first stanza. It goes like this: “Ain’t gonna let nobody, Turn me 'round, Turn me 'round, Turn me ‘round, Ain’t gonna let nobody, Turn me round, I'm gonna keep on walkin', Keep on talkin’, Marchin’ to the freedom land!”
It’s a great song! It goes on to say that neither jailhouse, nor men, nor segregation laws, nor beatings, etc. will keep them from realizing their God-given rights as full citizens of this wonderful land. It talks about faith, hope, and death-defying determination to succeed. No one knows who wrote it, because it was borrowed and re-worked from an old African American Spiritual called "Don't Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round." The original song is all about God, and forgiveness, and the Kingdom of Heaven. But it’s the same when it comes to faith, hope, and determination. With faith, hope, and determination, the Kingdom of Heaven is obtainable. With faith, hope, and determination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was realized. And it’s this same spirit that we find in these two blind men.
Let’s continue.  Jesus asks the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And what happened? “Their eyes were opened.” Did Jesus know their faith? Of course He did. He could see right into the very depths of their hearts. But He asked them the question not in order to get the answer from them for Himself, but for the sake of all those standing around this scene and hearing. The healing of the blind men resulted from their faith. It was a divine AND human synergistic event.
The Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils were similarly disposed. We are celebrating their memory today. They put aside all consideration of personal gain, glory, popularity, or position. Following Christ, they were filled with faith, hope, and determination to preserve and protect the truth that was first delivered by Christ to His holy apostles, and from them to us. We honor them because they brought about the healing of the Church which had been blinded by pernicious heresies propagated by demonically-inspired men.
Likewise, we honor today Great Prince Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles.  He is also an embodiment of that faith, hope, and determination exhibited by the blind men. He is also an exemplar of the spirit of the holy fathers of the Ecumenical Councils who sacrificed all in order to be true to Christ, to save his people, and preserve the purity of the true Church. I would like to share with you some thoughts of the saintly Archbishop Averky (Taushev) on St Vladimir.
“Why is St. Vladimir eternally dear to us? Because he brought us into communion with faith in Christ and gave us, Russians, the true Church of Christ. What is this faith in Christ and true Church and what is its significance for us? This is clearly revealed to us in the touching prayer offered by St. Vladimir at the sacred moment when the Mystery of Baptism was performed for the Russian people, when, in the words of the pious chronicler, truly heaven and earth rejoiced at such a great number being saved.
"O Great God, Creator of heaven and earth!" cried out our godfather and enlightener, "Look down upon this new people, and grant them, Lord, to know Thee, the true God, as the Christian countries have known Thee; and confirm them in the true and uncorrupted faith; and aid me, Lord, against the hostile enemy, so that, trusting in Thee and in Thy power, I may defeat his intrigues."
Here everything is stated and there is an explanation of why, faith in Christ and the true Church are given to us. Faith in Christ, and the true Church as the repository and disseminator of that faith, are given to us so that we might know the true God and, knowing Him, learn to believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him.
Faith in God must be "true" and "uncorrupted," that is, not just any sort of faith thought up by people themselves according to their own taste, but correct, or orthodox, as that true Christian faith, pure and uncorrupted, undistorted by human sophistry, preached by the holy Apostles and preserved without change by the true Church, has always been called.
The criterion for this faith is this: "That is true which has been believed everywhere, at all times, by all people" (St. Vincent of Lerins). And that faith must be "uncorrupted" in us, that is, we must preserve it so steadfastly, firmly, uncompromisingly that no one will be able to seduce us or draw us away from it.
And, finally, in St. Vladimir's prayer there is an indication of the personal aim of this faith for each of us and, consequently, of the great significance of belonging to the true Church which preserves this faith.
We have a "hostile enemy who arranges "intrigues" against us and wants to destroy us. This is the enemy of God and the enemy of human salvation, the devil, with whom we must carry on an unceasing struggle, since otherwise eternal destruction awaits us. It is only through "hoping in God and in His power," that is, with the assistance of the true faith and Church, that we can carry on this struggle with the enemy of human salvation, the devil, with whom we must carry on an unceasing struggle, since otherwise eternal destruction awaits us. It is only through "hoping in God and in His power," that is, with the assistance of the true faith and Church, that we can carry on this struggle with the enemy of human salvation, the devil, until we are completely victorious. It is from this viewpoint that one must consider everything which is happening in the world at the present time.” Amen.

Romans 12: 6-14; Matthew 9: 1-8
Dear ones,
The Lord Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35).
There is no doubt about how much love the friends of the paralytic showed to him in today’s Gospel! It is an example that cannot be missed. Then there is another place where the Lord says to His disciples: “No longer do I call you slaves...but I call you friends” (John 15:15). We can call ourselves “slaves,” and indeed we should. St Paul himself in Romans 1:1 identifies himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart unto the gospel of God.” But Jesus called them, (and by extension us), “friends.” The word is φίλους in Greek. The root of it is “phil” like Phil-a delphia. And “phil-adelphia” means what? The city of what? “Brotherly love.” Our word “friend” is so shallow by comparison to the rich meaning of φίλους, the root of which means deep, “experiential, personal affection” (Strong’s). It is this deep affection which the Lord wants us to experience, and especially to demonstrate in our lives. In particular, it is toward the church, our fellow believers, that He wants us to express this love. How can we show that we are Christ’s disciples? By the love that we show toward one another, by the care and concern that we exemplify. Everyone would want to join a church like that. No one will want to join a church where the people not only ignore newcomers, but they even ignore each other! No one.
Vainglorious piety makes a show of love, but in reality it is hypocrisy. Our Lord made this point of saying to the religious leaders in Jerusalem: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:14). This means that they pretended to pray and help people, while having their hand out the whole time. So there is true affection and false affection. There is true friendship and there is false friendship. In today’s Apostol we heard St. Paul’s admonition, “Let love be without hypocrisy!” That’s what he said. In the Book of Sirach (not included in Protestant Bibles) there is a wonderful meditation on friendship. I’d like to share it with you:
"A kind mouth multiplies friends,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him
For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self, and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low,
he turns against you and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself." (Sirach 6:5–17)
St Maximus the Confessor wrote: A true friend is one who in times of trial calmly and imperturbably suffers with his neighbor the ensuing afflictions, privations and disasters as if they were his own. (Third Century on Love no. 79)
St. John Chrysostom says: “Having eating and drinking buddies does not constitute friendship: Even robbers and murderers have friends like that. But if we are friends, if we truly care for one another, let us (as Christians) help one another. This leads us to a profitable friendship: let us hinder those things which lead us away to hell.” (Homily 30 on Hebrews)
St Basil the Great says: “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
So, dear ones, we are called today to be more than acquaintances here in the Church, more than “fellow-parishioners.” Not all are called to be apostles. Not all are called to be prophets or teachers. Not all are called to work miracles (See 1 Corinthians 12:29). But we ALL are called to be friends!

1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.
Dear ones, whenever we think about St Paul, we usually think of him as the great Apostle to the Gentiles. And so he was. But what did Paul think about his own people, the Jews?  The truth is that Paul's heart was broken about his relatives, friends and acquaintances, who couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their Messiah had come. Notice, that he addresses this letter to the Roman Church to his “Brethren” “Ἀδελφοί.” It means siblings, brothers, sisters, even extends to cousins. He calls them this because he considers now that the Gentiles are his family along with all believing Jews. Why? because in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). And he confides to his Church family his great desire. And what is his desire? His desire is that the Jews will one day come around. His desire is for the Jews to be saved. It’s an interesting word, desire. It’s a bit limited in English, but “desire” in Greek is “evdokia,” meaning “good will” like the angels sang at Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!” (Luke 2:14). So Paul wants this same joy of the coming of Christ to fill the hearts of his kindred.  It is my “good will” or my “good hope” that the Jews will be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Even though there is a great rift between the majority of Jews and the Christians, Paul doesn’t fail to see the good qualities that they possess. They, too, have been a persecuted people. They too have been forced into exile. Yet in spite of it all, they maintained a zeal for God. Zeal is good, says the Apostle, but not if that zeal becomes misplaced or misguided. Proverbs 19:2 says “Even zeal is no good without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps misses the mark.” “Not according to knowledge” means two things: First the Jews misunderstand God's purpose for the Law; it was not given so that people would be “right” in relationship to IT, but so that they could learn discipline and become right with GOD. They have zeal, but their knowledge, their understanding is off. Why? Because “having eyes they see not and having ears they hear not” (Compare Mark 8:18). They refuse to see or hear what and who Jesus is. His Word is a higher word, His thoughts are higher thoughts. The Lord, through Isaiah prophesied to these people, saying: “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: ). In fact, and this is interesting, when St Paul says that the Jews have zeal but lack knowledge, he intentially uses a Greek word meaning “higher knowledge” “ἐπίγνωσιν.” In other words it means a higher, more intimate, experiential knowledge; a direct relationship not with a book, but with the living God. That’s what they were lacking!
3 For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
What does it mean? Well, it means this: that The Law should have prepared the Jews to recognize Christ when He came. But instead, they had created their own “religion” based on self-made rules and observances which they erroneously believed would lead them to righteousness. The coming Messiah became a political figure in their minds who would free them from their oppressors, the Romans, and re-establish the Jewish Kingdom. This is how they missed the mark. They didn’t know, they didn’t understand that they had become blind to true righteousness which is Jesus Himself. They chose not to believe in Him, not to follow Him, not to learn from Him. There was a phrase that I learned when I was a kid that says, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts!” That’s where they were stuck. When St Paul tries to tell them that “Christ is the end of the Law,” he means that Christ is its goal, its terminus, its fulfillment. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Romans 13:10 says “love is the fulfilling of the law,” and we all know, as the Apostle John teaches us, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). So it is God Himself, God incarnate, Who fulfills the Law for us. That is the joy of the Gospel, and the Apostle weeps for those whose minds are made up, those who are stuck, his people the Jews.
Now I’m going to skip down a bit in today’s Epistle, to verses 9 and 10. This is where Paul reminds the Roman Christians, and us, about what walking as a Christian means, as opposed to mere religious observance, mere religious “works.” He writes:
9 ... if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be-being saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Believe and confess. This is how we Orthodox understand faith and works. We believe in our hearts but we must also confess aloud with our lips. We must have faith, but we must also walk in that faith, act in that faith. What do we say in the pre-Communion Prayers? “I believe, O Lord, AND I confess...” It is an interior relationship with God that is energized by faith, and it is expressed externally by what we say, what we do, and how we live. In the General Epistle of St James the Brother of the Lord, he writes: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and they tremble." (James 2:19) St Bede, in his commentary on this verse, wrote this: “They alone know how to believe in God who love God; who are Christians, not only in name but also in action and way of life, because without love, faith is empty. With love, it is the faith of a Christian —without love, the faith of a demon.”
So let’s believe and confess. Let’s believe in Christ like Christians, let’s love Him with all our heart. Let’s trust Him with all our mind and all our being. Let’s not be fearful or ashamed to confess that we believe in Him, that His life changes our life, that His love fills us with love. Let’s not be ashamed when we make the sign of the Cross before we pray and eat our meals – at home, at the restaurant, at school. Let’s not be afraid to make the sign of the Cross before driving, taking a plane, or train, or before beginning any kind of journey, no matter who’s around. Let’s not be afraid to talk to people about our faith and our hope for eternal life in the heavenly kingdom; about miracles that have occurred in our lives or in the lives of others. After all, all people are potentially our brethren and our kinsmen in Christ. Let’s ask for the prayers of the Great Apostle Paul, that our hearts too might groan and sigh for all people who are not yet in the sheep-pasture of the Holy Church, especially our relatives, friends, co-workers, and yes, even our enemies. Why? Because it was primarily for his enemies, and the church’s enemies, that Paul was praying and grieving, and for whose salvation he so dearly yearned.  Amen.

Admonition and Goodness
From today’s Epistle:
“Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15: 14).
If there's anything that earnest Christians need, it's a combination, a balance, of goodness and knowledge. The Apostle Paul in this verse is strongly convinced (the Greek is very emphatic!) that the Roman believers at that time possessed both of these qualities. But it is also a not-so-subtle reminder that they need to keep it that way! There's nothing more dangerous than having a little knowledge while lacking the requisite goodness that must accompany it. Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina (whom I knew personally and whose intercessions I seek) once wrote to one of his spiritual sons the following warning: “No matter how ‘right’ you may be on various points, you must be diplomatic also. The first and most important thing is not ‘rightness’ at all, but Christian love and harmony. Most ‘crazy converts’ have been ‘right’ in the criticisms that led to their downfall; but they were lacking in Christian love and charity and so went off the deep end, needlessly alienating people around them, and finally finding themselves all alone in their rightness and self-righteousness. Don’t you follow them!” This message, itself, is an example of what admonition looks like. Christian admonition must come from love. It corrects gently and from love, and from a heart that seeks the salvation of the other, and not his punishment or belittlement. St. Nektarios of Aegina says: “A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breathe with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the Name of God.” St John Cassian says: “If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong, you must keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure, and you may find that the words of the Gospel now apply to you, ‘Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the rafter in your own eye?'”

Thoughts on Today's Epistle Reading
In today’s Epistle reading from Romans we hear:
“Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 16b-19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35)
It seems to me that the further our society chooses to stray from God, religion in general, and basic Judeo-Christian morals and ethics, the further it strays from basic civility. The illustrious 17th century entrepreneur William Penn once famously said: "I know no religion that destroys courtesy, civility, and kindness." He was right. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the politics of our day, in our nation. I’m not writing in order to choose sides, but simply to point out a problem common to all. When politicians choose manna above all, when material concerns eclipse divine and human concerns, then they devolve from being kind, respectful, and civil human beings. Likewise, those who follow them, if they are not careful, can devolve right along with them. A disdain for the poor and a self-serving, self-aggrandizing philosophy of politics cannot stand before the justice of God. No faux facsimile of piety can pull that truck out of the mud. And conversely, when others proclaim the superiority of science over everything, and they seem compelled to remove God and God’s Law completely from their political thinking, you get another extreme. Karl Marx said: “The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.” He also said: “The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.”
When “science” is the god of one’s politics, grotesque things like Rudolf Hess’s statement that “Nazism is applied biology” begin to blossom. Intolerance, hate, violence, and gulags result. Orthodox faith and piety cannot abide either of these. Right or Left, neither is godly. Hate, vitriol, name-calling, demeaning, throwing people out of or heckling people in restaurants - none of this behavior is compatible with Orthodox teaching or Orthodox life. St John the Baptist would have one word for all such people who call themselves Christians and yet behave like devils: “Repent!”
The great British writer, Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote: "When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency." I beg to differ with the good doctor. There is always a way back. “Repentance” means exactly that – to turn around, change your direction, do something different. Hating, screaming, violence, these are the tools of the devil, whose very name means “the one who divides” or “the Destroyer.” Christ is the opposite of that. He is the great unifier. He says: “[I pray] that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” The word “politic” comes from the Greek word “polis” meaning a city. St Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that “here we have no permanent city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). I think it safe to say, that here as Christians, we have no political city either. All are corrupt. All are of the world and not of the Kingdom. Politics is never the answer to the problems of humankind. Christ is. The ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony Bloom probably said it best when he said: “The Church cannot belong to any party, but at the same time it is neither non-partisan or post-partisan. It should be the voice of conscience, the voice that is enlightened by the divine light. In the ideal state, the Church should be able to say to any party or political current, ‘This is worthy of man and God, or this is unworthy of man and God.’”
Charles W. Colson, Watergate felon turned Evangelical leader wrote: “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government... without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well” (Colson: “How Now Shall We Live?”) The name of his book is a great question for all of us to ask ourselves, “How SHALL we live?” Shall we live our lives like Christians or like devils? The choice is ours to make.

Today is the Feast of the Birth or Nativity of St John the Baptist. On the Church calendar there are several celebrations of “nativities” – the Nativity of Christ on December 25th, the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8th, even the Nativity of St Nicholas (yes – it exists!) on July 29th. But all of these celebrate New Covenant people and events. The really unique thing about today’s feast is that it is the ONLY nativity celebration for a saint who died during the time of the Old Covenant. Did you ever think about that? We don’t have a nativity feast for Abraham, or Moses, or Elijah, or Jeremiah. Only St John the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist is celebrated on his birthday. Why is that? It is because our Lord Jesus Himself declared that “of men born of women, there is none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
St Caesarius of Arles says: “He surpassed and excelled everyone; he excelled the prophets, he surpassed the patriarchs. Anyone who is born of a woman is inferior to John...So great was the excellence in him, so great his grace, that some even believed that he was the Christ” (Sermons, Vol.III).
And St. Cyril of Alexandria says: “They had beheld with admiration the incomparable beauty of John’s mode of life: the splendor of his conduct; the unparalleled and surpassing excellence of his piety. For so great and admirable was he, that even the Jewish populace began to conjecture whether he were not himself the Christ, Whom the law had described to them in shadows, and the holy prophets had before proclaimed” (Commentary on Luke).
John the Baptist was the cousin in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is always and forever linked to Him as the one who not only announced Him with words, but even in the details of his life He points to Christ. How? By juxtaposition! Just look -
John is born of an older woman who is barren; Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is struck deaf & dumb for his doubt; that Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived in faith and obedience. Elizabeth bore her son by knowing a husband; Mary believed the angel and conceived hers of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth conceived a man, and so did Mary; but Elizabeth conceived only a man, while Mary conceived both God and man. John is the voice, but the Lord is the eternal Word which was from the beginning (See Ss. Augustine of Hippo & Caesarius of Arles).
St John the Baptist is also considered by the Church to be the father and founder of the monastic life. St John Chrysostom says: “If thou art minded to learn from the facts, consider his food, his manner of life, the loftiness of his soul. For he lived as though he were living already in heaven: and having transcended above the necessities of nature, he travelled as it were on a new path, spending all his time in hymns and prayers, and not interacting with men, but with God alone continually. For he did not so much as see any of his fellow-servants, neither was he seen by any one of them; he fed not on milk, he enjoyed not the comfort of bed, or roof, or market, or any other of the things of men; and yet he was at once mild and earnest.”
John the Baptist is also an example to all of us for our own lives. Mild. Earnest. Humble. When we think of John the Baptist, we usually think of a rough ascetic who emerged from the desert wearing a “garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt round his waist, and whose food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). He preached repentance, loudly and clearly. He accused the king and his supposed wife of adultery publicly. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers” (3:7). That doesn’t sound very humble, does it? But if we take a more careful look at the life of John the Baptist, a different picture of him emerges.
First of all, John the Baptist had no delusions when it came to answering those who questioned him about his identity or God’s purpose for his life. The temple priests wanted to know if John claimed to be the Messiah or the great prophet Elijah who was to return on the Day of the Lord according to the prophet Malachi. Even though he was immensely popular, John had no illusions about who he was. In all sincerity and humility, he said he was only a voice, crying in the wilderness, warning people to prepare their hearts for the Lord.
John is considered to be the greatest of the prophets, yet he lived as a humble and faithful servant of God. Jesus regarded John the Baptist as the greatest of all men (Matthew 11:11), yet John declared himself unworthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals (John 1:27). He was neither weak nor quiet when he saw what needed to be said or done. He wasn’t afraid to confront kings, tax collectors, soldiers, and common citizens with their need to get “right” with God. And, true to his humility, he pointed others, not to himself, but to Jesus as the answer to all their needs.
In John’s words, “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This provides a clear picture of the man’s humility and his understanding of the limits of his role. He was simply to point people toward Jesus and then get out of the way so that they could come to know and love Him for themselves. John is a great model of humility for each of us. St Sebastian Dabovich said: “The many virtues of St. John, those of a martyr, a virgin, a teacher, and a prophet, were exalted in praise by Christ Himself,” and today we praise him as well.
On this holy day of St John’s birth, let us strive to imitate him. Let us seek, especially, to acquire the virtue of humility, so that we might point others to the Lord Jesus Christ through our own words and lives. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Gospel we just heard this morning, Jesus says:
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 10:32-33)
The Greek literally says: “Whoever confesses IN me before men, I will likewise confess IN him before my Father Who is in heaven.” The “IN” is starkly missing, however, on the negative side of the equation. “But whoever denies ME,” not IN ME but just ME. How do the holy fathers understand this interesting subtlety in the language? St John Chrysostom says this: “Make note of (the Savior’s) exact care; He did not say "me," but "in me," implying that not by the person’s own power, but by the help of grace from above, the confessor makes his confession (of faith). But of him that denies, He did not say, "in me," but simply "me;" for he, having become destitute of the gift (of grace), issues his denial.” (Hom.XXXIV, Matt.) A person who is IN Christ, also has Christ dwelling withIN him! Those who are not IN Christ, do not have His grace and the Gift of the Holy Spirit within them. It's all about the outward expression of faith, aided by grace. It's about an outward confession of belief. A mental “acknowledgement” is not enough, Christ requires a physical, outward, vocal confession of faith. St. Paul echoes this very clearly when he says: “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” And again, St John Chrysostom says: “Why is it that (Christ) is not satisfied with the faith in the mind, but requires also the confession with the mouth? Answer: To train us to be bold in speech, more abundant in love and determination, and to raise us up on high” (ibid). Conclusion: If we are open about our faith in Christ, then Christ will openly declare His faith in us, at the Last Judgment.
Now, on a related subject; The saints, brothers and sisters, are the ones who have the grace and the courage always to live their faith openly. They have the courage to withstand the powerful temptation to simply go along with what the fallen world says is “right” or “reasonable.” St. Philaret of Moscow says: “A fish that is alive swims against the flow of water. One that is dead floats down with the water. A true Christian goes against the current of this sinful age. A false one is swept away by its swiftness.” St. Anthony of Optina says: “Can you place your hope in the world? Whom has it not deceived? To whom has it not lied? It promises much, but gives very little. Only those who hope in the Lord, according to the words of the Prophet David, do not sin, that is, they are not deceived in their hope!”
Today is the Sunday of All Saints. It celebrates the Mother of God, it celebrates the angels, the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs, the confessors, the unmercenary healers, holy ascetics, venerable monks and nuns, righteous bishops, priests, and deacons, Christ-loving kings and queens and other rulers, God-loving husbands, wives and children, in other words, all of the saints from the beginning of time up to this present day. Many of these saints are known to us. Their icons surround us as that “great cloud of witnesses” we heard about in today's Epistle reading. Their names fill the pages of the Synaxarion, the Menaion, and church calendars. However, many are unknown, such as the relics placed before you this morning – an unknown monk-martyr from St. Theodosius Monastery in Palestine. Their names are known to God. Their courage and their sufferings are honored by God, by the angels, by the saints, by all the Church Triumphant in heaven. Did you hear how St. Paul described them in today's epistle?  It said “out of weakness (they) were made strong, (they) became valiant in battle” (Hebrews 11:34). And we, too, the Church Militant, remember their courage today, in our hymns of praise, and in our union with them in the holy chalice. But let us be careful, beloved, and watch diligently over our own souls. Let's not forget the fearful words of the Lord when He said concerning the Scribes and Pharisees, “These people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me”  (Matthew 15:8). St Paul reminds us that we are all “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). It requires courage on our part, not to simply honour the saints, but to try to be like them. Saint Paul writes: 
“(My beloved children,) I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach, everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4: 16-17).
The courage to live what we believe, that's the message of the Sunday of All Saints. It reminds us to celebrate the fact that all of us are saints “in potentia.” Do you know what “in potentia” means? It means “having the potential that may be developed and lead to future success.” It means “having the power to get there but not yet having arrived!” We are all in the process of our journey. And what does that journey require? God gives us the power, we must supply the courage – the courage to be different, the courage to swim against the tide, the courage to confess Christ.
St. Peter of Damascus wrote: “Courage...consists in persisting in every good work, and in overcoming the passions of soul and body. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, not against is against principalities and powers, that is, against the unseen demons (Eph. 6:12). He who is victorious conquers spiritually; otherwise he is himself conquered by the passions...But the righteous man is as bold as a lion (Prov. 28:1) in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion throughout the ages. Amen.” (Philokalia, Vol.3, pg 258; Twenty Four Discourses, XIX)


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