THE RICH MAN & LAZARUS

The Rich Man & Lazarus

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

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.”

It is the teaching of the Gospel and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, that one of the most difficult passions for human beings to overcome is the enslavement to “possessions.” As an example, we have Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, where Jesus says to him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19: 16-30.)

So, we have this rich man. And then there’s Lazarus. The poorest of the poor—a beggar. Lazarus sat at the gate of the rich man's home, his estate. He is so destitute that even the dogs had compassion on him and came to lick his sores. The rich man is bound to his possessions. His possessions possess him like demons! He is so possessed, that he refuses to spare even the crumbs from his table to feed the poor man at his gate. Lazarus was so poor that he dreamed about those crumbs, those scraps from the rich man’s table. Crumbs the rich man refused to give. And so, they both die—Lazarus is carried off by angels and rewarded with eternal life in the kingdom, and the rich man is punished in burning Gehenna. So, what do we learn from this parable? What’s Christ teaching here? There’s no particular virtue in being poor, and there’s no particular vice in being rich. The Scriptures DO tell us that the love of money is the root of all evil, not the money itself, the LOVE of the money, the passion for the money, the enslavement to the money. The virtue, or the vice, lies in what we do with our money, our possessions. The virtue or the vice, that's about what's in our heart. From a human perspective, Lazarus lives a life that’s less than human. He waits in patience, not grumbling, not complaining. He trusts in God. This is what it is to be a true human being. From God’s perspective, it is the rich man who is living like a sub-human. He’s living a life that's even lower than animals—note how even his own dogs have pity on Lazarus! He’s the one living a life contrary to nature. He is so INHUMAN, that Christ doesn’t even give him a name in the parable—the rich man has rejected his humanity. Bishop Michael of New York once said that Lazarus was given by God to the rich man so that he would have the opportunity to share his riches. And the rich man, likewise, was given to Lazarus to care for his earthly needs. But the rich man rejects his salvation.

So, why is the poor man, Lazarus, the model that Christ sets before us? Because we need to break the bonds of avarice, the bonds of miserliness, the bonds of greed, the bonds of possessions. We need to break the addiction to our “stuff.” We need to understand that Lazarus represents Christ. Why? He has nothing. What did Jesus say of Himself? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20.) Where was Lazarus laying his head? Outside, at the gate of the rich man. Lazarus suffers terrible bodily pain and is covered with wounds. Who was wounded for us? Who suffered for us? It is Christ.

So, Christ teaches us to be liberal in our giving. He tells us to bring our tithes to the temple, even more liberally than the pharisees did. He tells us to give to the poor. Why? Because our giving is for our salvation. Our giving frees us from bondage to possessions. And we are to see in this giving, that inasmuch as we are giving to the church and to the poor, we are giving it to Him.

St. John Chrysostom says this to us: “If your riches are to be collected, don’t hoard them yourself, for you will surely lose them. But entrust them to God, for no one can touch them. Don’t try to be your own manager of your riches, for you don’t really know what you are doing. Rather, lend to Him Who gives an interest greater than the principal. Lend [to heaven] where there is no envy, no accusation, no behind-the-scenes plots, and nothing to fear. Lend to Him who has no needs, but for your sake became poor: he feeds all, yet is hungry, who is poor that you may be rich” (Homilies on Matthew 5.8; PG 58, 61). Amen.

Christian, Forgive Yourself!

CHRISTIAN, FORGIVE YOURSELF!
(Tea Talk from June 2, 2020)

Hi everybody!

I want to talk to you today about forgiveness. Now wait, don’t click off. I know that we priests seem to talk about forgiveness a lot. But today I’m not going to ask you to work on forgiving your family members who have hurt you, or your friends who betrayed you, your co-workers who conspired against you, or motorists who endangered you. Today I’m not going to ask you to forgive your priest who disappointed you or your boss who persecuted you. No. Today I’m going to ask you, to ask God, to help you to forgive yourself.

Forgive myself? Wait. Doesn’t that kind of go against everything we hear in church or see in our prayer books? Isn’t guilt good for our souls and good for our salvation? No! In fact, the reason that Christ came was to free us from guilt, giving us Holy Baptism and Holy Confession to accomplish exactly that!

Now I’m not naïve. I realize that all of us have sinned, all of us have fallen short. All of us committed sins and actions that left us carrying a heavy burden of regret and yes, guilt. But we also believe in Christ and the forgiveness that pours forth from the cross, don’t we? Sure we do...intellectually. But sometimes our feelings and our thoughts haven’t quite caught-up with what we know intellectually. Sometimes we are still tortured by our past sins. But what does our faith teach us? Our faith teaches us that if we confess our sins and acknowledge our faults, that God not only forgives, but He also “forgets.” In Jeremiah 31:34 God says: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” And Micah 7: 19 says “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.” Also, God wants us to put our confessed and repented-of sins in the past, far behind us! We learn this from Isaiah 38:17 “For thou hast chosen my soul, that it should not perish: and thou hast cast all my sins behind me.”

OK. I believe it. But why is it SO HARD for me to forgive myself?
St. Makarios of Egypt might give us a big part of the answer. He says:

“Reminding us of our past sins is a trick of the devil to lead us to despair.” (St. Makarios of Egypt)

Satan, our constant spiritual enemy, loves the past. He can’t see the future, although he pretends to. He hates the future because he fears his own destruction. But he loves the past. He loves the past, especially our past, because he can use it against us and against our efforts to get closer to God. He loves it because he can stir-up feelings of guilt, bone-crushing guilt, for past sins, and derail us on our road to the heavenly kingdom. He is also the greatest projectionist in the world. He loves to constantly project on our minds his “home movies,” mental images recalling our past sins, our past failures, our past terrible decisions, in hopes of creating deep despondency and a feeling of hopelessness in our souls. This is what “looking” back does to us. God puts our sins far behind us, but we keep getting nudged to look back. But we don’t just look, we linger, we stare. Looking back is what Lot's wife did, remember? She looked back with sorrow and regret on her former life. The Hebrew for “looked back” means more than to glance over one’s shoulder. It means “to regard, to consider, to pay attention to.” She turned into a pillar of salt as a result (Genesis 19:26).

So, don’t let the devil succeed in his efforts. Don’t look back. Don’t let demonic logismoi invade your mind and destroy your peace. When he shows up with his movies dismiss him, spit over your left shoulder, behind you, and say “Behind me, Satan!” Forgive yourself.
And maybe when the devil is attacking you with his fiery arrows, you might remember this little bit of truth: the Hebrew word for “forgiveness” is “kaphar.” It literally means to cover, to overspread, to protect. So when God has forgiven you, He has covered you and protected you beneath the shelter of His wings. You are safe! The devil’s darts cannot harm you. Dismiss them. Reject them. You are God’s beloved child. You are precious to him. Embrace His forgiveness and make that forgiveness your own. Forgive yourself as He has forgiven you!

SERMON: ST. LUKE & THE "SEVENTY"

SERMON ON THE GOSPEL FOR THE HOLY APOSTLE & EVANGELIST LUKE, Luke 10: 16-21

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Beloved,

Today we are celebrating the memory of the holy apostle and evangelist Luke. St Luke was one of the Seventy Apostles appointed by Christ to preach the Good News in cities and towns where the Saviour Himself would shortly visit. This is the context of the Gospel read for his celebration, Luke 10: 16-21.
Jesus was preparing to send out the Seventy to preach and to heal the sick. He warned them that some towns would receive them, while others would reject them utterly. He told them to remain and spend time in the receptive towns, but to denounce the towns that rejected them, and say: “‘The very dust of your city which clings to our feet we shake off against you” (Luke 10:11). The Lord then said to the Seventy, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

This is where our Gospel reading for St Luke begins. Then the text continues:

17 “Then the Seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

Even though the Saviour had sent the Seventy out to preach and to heal the sick, their experience was that demons were also being cast out. The reaction of the Seventy was joyful amazement. There’s also something else going on here, the Seventy did not become puffed-up themselves because of what happened. They recognized that all of their power, all of their ability to preach, all of their authority to cast out demons, came from the grace of God, and the all-mighty name of Jesus! Now for the next verse:

18 And He (Jesus) said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!”

What does this mean? Remember, our Lord Jesus Christ is the “Theanthropos,” perfect God and perfect man. As God, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He was there, and He participated, in throwing Satan out of Heaven. Right? And what was Satan’s name when he was an Archangel? “Lucifer,” meaning “the light-bearer.” When he was cast out of Heaven, his light flashed like lightening in his descent and then he became darkness. His removal from Heaven was his removal from glory, and light, and everything good. That’s why the demons fled from the Name of Jesus. That’s why the demons scurried and slithered away from the Seventy Apostles. Now the next verse:

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
The Lord had given this power to the Seventy to make it clear to them and to us that the primary enemy of mankind is Satan and his evil minions the demons. St. Theophylact of Ohrid says that the word “serpents” represent the demons that attack in a very outward and visible way. The word “scorpions” means those demons whose attacks are more subtle, invisible. The rage and passion to murder, for instance, comes from the temptations of the very outward “serpents.” The subtle temptation to render aid to a very attractive person, for instance, begins with an almost imperceptible sting, which then can lead to calamitous results. These are the “scorpions.” But the authority of grace, and the power of the Name, can help us repel any kind of attack. Now, the next verse:

20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Beware of the invisible and imperceptible scorpion sting! Today (Jesus says) you are humble about your experiences of grace. Don’t allow the subtle demon of pride to infect you. Satan and his demons were cast down from Heaven. You, however, have been raised up to Heaven! That’s what Jesus is telling St. Luke and the Seventy. Rejoice that your names are ensconced in the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem! And lastly, this verse:

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

Jesus rejoices, as any parent would, over the success of His spiritual children. The conclusion of this morning’s Gospel reading shows our Lord raising His eyes to Heaven and thanking His Father for the sincere, eager, and humble disciples that He gave to Him. The “wise” and “prudent” are the religious “experts” of the day: the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.” Almost none of these were willing, nor were they able, to receive the words of life or the power of grace that came from Jesus Christ.

May we also, dear brothers and sisters, find ourselves humble, sincere, and eager disciples of the Lord, like the holy, apostle and evangelist Luke, hearing and sharing His word, and manifesting His power in this wounded and demon-afflicted world. Amen.

THE MIRACULOUS CATCH OF FISH Luke 5: 1-11

SERMON ON THE MIRACULOUS CATCH OF FISH
September 27, 2020

Dear Ones,

Some 600 years before Christ, God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah saying:

Behold, I will send many fishermen, saith the Lord, and they shall fish for them; and afterward I will send many hunters, and they shall hunt for them upon every mountain, and upon every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways; and their iniquities have not been hidden from mine eyes. (Jeremiah 16:16-17).

The holy fathers explain that this prophesy began to be fulfilled on this very day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. On this day, He Who created the waters and every creature living therein, became, Himself, a fisherman, snagging in His dragnet the Holy Apostles Simon-Peter and Andrew, and along with them, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Four Apostles were caught. Four professional fishermen suddenly beached their boats, left behind their nets, and walked away from them in order follow Jesus.

What happened? Well, the expert fishermen were out-fished! The young rabbi from Nazareth, Who had never fished a day in His life, asked these seasoned and highly knowledgeable men to go back out fishing, even though they had only recently come back in. He asked them to fish, even though it was totally the wrong time of day to fish. He told them where to lower their nets, even though it went against everything that they knew to be logical, reasonable, or sensible. These were proud men, these fishermen, but they had heard Jesus preach. His words moved them. His words changed them. His words caused them to reflect on their lives, urging them to repent. And what was the result? They obeyed the words of Jesus, even about fishing! St. John Chrysostom says:

“But mark their faith and obedience. For though they were eagerly engaged in the employment of fishing, yet when they heard the command of Jesus, they delayed not, but forsook all and followed Him. Such is the obedience which Christ demands of us; we must not forego it, even though some great necessity urges us.”

They thought Jesus was wrong, no doubt! Did Peter grumble in his heart? Most likely. That’s why when the nets were breaking from the amount of fish taken, and helpers had to called, Peter’s reaction was:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “For this reason Peter was reminded of his former sins, and filled with fear and trembling, realized that he was impure, and unworthy to receive Him Who is pure: and his fear was commendable: for he had been taught by the law to distinguish between what was holy and what was of the world.”

Relying on our own reasoning when it comes to heavenly things is foolish. Joshua ben Sirach says, “Many people have been misled by their own opinions; their wrong ideas have warped their judgment (Sirach 3:24).

St. Makarii of Optina wrote, “Do not trust yourself, do not depend on your own understanding, reject your own will, and the Lord will give you true understanding.” (Russian Letters)

St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain wrote: “Not to rely on oneself is so necessary in our struggle, my beloved brother, that without this, be assured, not only will you fail to gain the desired victory, but you will be unable to resist the smallest attack of the enemy. Engrave this deeply in your mind and heart” (Unseen Warfare).

Being obedient to Christ is the first sign that we are truly His faithful disciples. St Mark the Ascetic wrote, “a faithful servant is he who professes his faith by obedience to Christ, Who gave the commandments.”

So how can we set aside our own opinions and instead follow Christ? He tells us in the Scriptures. 1.) Love God. Love Him with the entirety of your being; more than family, more than friends, more than jobs. 2.) Love everyone, EVERYONE, even the most unlovable. This also includes forgiving everyone as you wish to be forgiven by God! 3.) Have the attitude that everything that you have comes from God and actually belongs to God. 4.) Live righteously, ethically, honorably. 5.) Be merciful and give alms. 6.) Be a peacemaker and try to bring about reconciliation between people. 7.) Go to church. You constitute an irreplaceable part or member of the very Body of Christ. This also means living by and confessing the church’s moral teachings, confessing her dogmas, and following her Sacred Canons. It also means supporting her with your tithes and offerings.

These seven commandments are not exhaustive, but they are bedrock. These are the things that distinguish an Orthodox Christian from just any other person living in the world. This is how we beach our boats. This is how we leave our nets. This is how we follow Jesus and become His faithful disciples. And isn’t that the true goal of our lives, to follow Jesus? It should be. After all, where has the Lord gone that we should follow Him? St. Augustine tells us:
“And to what place must the Lord be followed? Where He went, we know…He has… ascended into heaven. He must be followed there!…And who would be unwilling to follow Him to such an abode? Especially seeing that we suffer such terrible ordeals on earth with fears and pains. Who would be unwilling to follow Christ there, where there is supreme happiness, supreme peace, and perpetual security? It is good to to follow Him there!” (Sermon 46 on the New Testament.
It is, indeed!
Amen!

LIGHT OF THE WORLD

SERMON ON 2 CORINTHIANS 4:6

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters,

The Lord Jesus, our Master, Saviour and God, once said:

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”

Way back in 1979, Matushka Joanie and I were newly installed in our second assignment, the mission of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Sacramento. I didn’t listen to the pop radio stations much in those days. I was a late fifties and sixties guy. The Clash, Supertramp, AC/DC, The Talking Heads, anyone or anything Disco was not my taste at all. Yes, by 1979 I had become my parents. “Oh, this music these kids listen to today is just terrible. Music was SO much better back in my day!” 1979 wasn’t entirely a musical wasteland, though. Occasionally someone would play a track or two for me…Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac. Pretty good. Not bad. But for me, 1979 pop music will always be about one song, “Love is the Answer” by England Dan (that’s Dan Seals) and John Ford Coley. The chorus of the song goes, “Light of the world, shine on me, Love is the answer. Shine on us all, set us free. Love is the answer.”

The rest of the song has a clear Gospel message, and I loved it that it was being played on ordinary pop radio stations! And this is what it meant to me:

“Light of the world, Lord Jesus Christ, shine on me, and in me, and through me! You Who are love incarnate, You are the only answer for this sad and lonely world. You are the only answer for this divided and angry nation. You are the only answer for my troubled and sinful soul!”

Brothers and Sisters, this is exactly the point that St. Paul made in our Epistle reading this morning. He didn’t package it in a catchy tune, but the message is the same:

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

When those disciples, Peter, James, and John looked into the face of Jesus on top of Mount Tabor, what did they see? Matthew 17:2 tells us, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” And why did the Light of the World reveal His light and glory to those disciples? St. Peter tells us: So that “you might become communicants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). That’s right. That’s what it says in Greek. That we all might become communicants, κοινωνοὶ, of the Divine Nature! Not just partakers, not just participants in the Divine Nature, but becoming communicants, ourselves being transformed by the Light. We, being many, become one with Him in the most intimate and transforming way! And in the same way, David says this in Psalm 35:9, “For in Thee is the fountain of Life, and In Thy Light shall we see Light.” In this Psalm verse we understand the word “see,” (“shall we see light) to mean “becoming acquainted with God’s light by experience,” by interaction and communion with it! ὀψόμεθα φῶς!

The Church fathers have a lot to say about the Light of Christ
and our participation and communion with it. I’ll share just 4 patristic snippets:

St Macarius of Egypt says, “The brilliant shining forth of the Holy Spirit is not merely some kind of revelation on the level of conceptual images or merely an illumination of grace. It is the true and unceasing radiance of God’s own light in the soul. (The Freedom of the Nous, Philokalia, vol. III, p 348)

St. Hesychios the Priest writes, “In such souls as behold the beauty of the glory of God Himself…it reveals the Beloved, He Who sits at the right hand of God, and floods them with Light, as the sun’s rays flood the white clouds” (On Watchfulness. Philokalia, vol. 1, pg 168)

St Maximus the Confessor writes, “Just as ignorance divides those who are deluded, so the presence of spiritual light draws together and unites those whom it enlightens. It makes them perfect and brings them back to what really exists; converting them from a multiplicity of opinions, it unites their varied points of view…into one, simple, true and pure spiritual knowledge, and fills them with a single, unifying Light” (V Century on Various Texts; Philokalia, pg 280).

And Abba Philemon said, “The person engaged in spiritual struggle (podvig, ascesis), who has grown close to God, who partakes of the Holy Light, and is wounded by his longing for it, delights in the Lord with an inconceivable spiritual joy!” (Philokalia; vol II, pg 356-357).

So, brothers and sisters, the teaching is easy and the burden is light. Love God. Seek His shing face. Love your neighbor, he is Christ to you! Pray and struggle against your sins and passions, and the Light will come. As Solomon says, “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).

“Light of the world, shine on me! Love IS the answer,” Amen.

PATRISTIC SERMON ON DEDICATION OF CHURCH OF RESURRECTION IN JERUSALEM

The Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ Homily on the Dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre St. Dimitry of Rostov On this day we celebrate the dedication of the glorious and great new temple of Jerusalem – not the one which King Solomon built on Mount Moriah [2 Chron. 3] but rather the one which the pious Emperor Constantine and his praiseworthy mother Helen wondrously built on Mount Golgotha after cleansing and renewing that holy place which was once defiled by impious idolatry. After the voluntary Passion of Christ and His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, the holy passion where our salvation was wrought was scorned and profaned by the enemies of Christ, especially by the impious Emperor Hadrian, who defiled all the holy places with demonic idols and unclean sacrifices. He built a city named after himself called Aelia (his name being Aelius Hadrian) where the beautiful city of Jerusalem had once stood, and he commanded that the Lord’s Sepulchre be covered with dirt and rubble. On the mount where Christ was crucified, he erected a temple to his vile goddess Venus, setting up her idol in it, and over the Grave of God he set an idol, the god Jupiter. And where the Lamb of God offered Himself in sacrifice to God the Father for our sins, defiled sacrifices were offered to the demons and filthy iniquities were committed. Likewise in Bethlehem, where the Most Pure One was born of a pure womb, an idol of Adonis was erected so that the holy place might be polluted by shameful deeds. Where the Temple of Solomon had stood, a temple of the idols was built, and it was decreed that no one was to call that city Jerusalem, but instead, Aelia. All these things were done so that the remembrance of the name of Jesus Christ might vanish from the earth. For this reason, the City where Christ worked many signs was renamed, and the places where He was born, crucified, and buried were made to be the dwelling-places of demons so that every nation would forget Christ and so that the places where Christ had walked would never serve to remind anyone of Him. However, the wretches who did these things themselves perished with a resounding noise, and the King of Glory again glorified the holy places. When He had elevated the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen to the throne and had enlightened them with the light of the holy Orthodox Faith, the Lord placed in their hearts the desire to re-establish the holy city of Jerusalem, to found a beautiful temple of God at the place where the temple of Christ’s body was destroyed and rebuilt after three days, and to cleanse all the holy places of the defilement of demons, consecrating them once more to God. To this end, the pious Emperor Constantine sent his mother Helen with much gold to Jerusalem to carry out his intention, and he wrote to the holy Patriarch Macarius, instructing him to speed the construction of churches at the holy places. When Saint Helen arrived in Jerusalem, she destroyed all the temples of the idols and smashed the idols themselves. She cleansed the holy city of all impious defilement, altogether renewing it. She found the precious Cross and Tomb of the Lord, from which she had removed the dirt and stones with which they had been covered, and she erected a great church there which enclosed both of those places within a single structure. For the spot where Christ was crucified is not far from the place where He was buried, as Saint John says, Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand [Jn. 19]. A single church encompassed Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and that church was named The Martyrium, that is, The Testimony, for it bore witness to the Resurrection of Christ, inasmuch as Christ died and arose at that place [St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 14]. Saint Helen erected other churches: in Bethlehem, on the Mount of Olives, in Gethsemane, and at many other holy places, adorning them with every embellishment. Notwithstanding, the church which stood over the Grave of the Lord was the greatest and most beautiful of all. But the Empress Helen herself did not see its completion, for she returned to her son and reposed in the Lord before it was finished. It was not possible that such a wondrous and immense building should be completed within a short time: the church required almost ten years for its construction. When it was completed, the pious Emperor summoned bishops from every land to consecrate it. Thus, a multitude of hierarchs came from Bithynia and Thrace, from Cilicia and Cappadocia, Syria and Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Arabia, and Palestine; from Egypt and Africa, and from the Thebaid; and a single bishop arrived from Persia. Moreover, an innumerable multitude of people from throughout the world gathered together, such as could not be accommodated within Jerusalem. Thus, the Temple of the Resurrection was consecrated on the thirteenth day of this month [September], and all Jerusalem was renewed in that thirtieth year of Constantine’s reign [335 AD]. The holy fathers who had assembled there ordained, as had Solomon, that the day of the consecration be kept as a feast. In the Old Testament, when he had completed the building of the Holy Holies of the most glorious temple, Solomon ordained that each September, the month in which it was consecrated, a feast should be kept (concerning which the Gospel says, It was at Jerusalem the feast of the Dedication [Jn. 10]). So, too, the holy Emperor and equal-to-the-apostles Constantine, having erected, as it were, a second Holy of Holies during this present era of the New Grace, ordained together with the holy fathers that the dedication of the great Church of Jerusalem, which is the mother of all churches, be celebrated in all the churches throughout the whole world. Let us, therefore, celebrate this feast, rendering thanks to Christ God, Who by His Passion and Resurrection has renewed all creation and cleansed His holy Church from idolatrous defilement. Let us be renewed, and, let us lay aside the sin which besets us (Heb 12:1). Let us do good works, walking in newness of life, so that as men celebrate the feast of the dedication of the temple made by human hands, the angels may celebrate the renewal of the temple of our soul, not made by the hands of man. For there is joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner who is renewed by repentance. Amen.

SERMON ON THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN

SERMON ON THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN

September 6, 2020; Matthew 21:33-42; 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Dear Ones,

In today’s Gospel we heard the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, or Husbandmen, or Vinedressers. They’re all the same nasty folks. The parable is addressed to the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem who are questioning Jesus as to where His authority came from (21:23). Jesus then says to them, “I’ll tell you if you tell me from whence John the Baptist got his authority.” They were caught. Why? Because they largely ignored John because they saw him as a threat to their authority. Yet the people all believed that John was a prophet. So, they refused to answer. The answer was either Heaven, meaning from God, or Earth, meaning that John was a phony, and derived his authority from his own pride. The same thing, of course, applied to Jesus: Heaven or Earth?

The parable begins with a wealthy landowner who established a vineyard on his property. This beautiful vineyard was complete with a wall around it, a winepress, and even a watchtower for protection and safety. He then became an absentee landowner, allowing tenants to be in charge of overseeing the productivity of the vineyard and paying their rent to the owner at harvest time, in the form of a share of the produce or the profits derived therefrom. Simple. But things didn’t work out simply, did they? The tenants ignored the terms of the agreement, or the covenant that they agreed to.

When the owner sent his servants to collect his share, the tenants attacked them savagely. They beat one and killed another. The owner of the vineyard, out of an over-abundance of love and mercy, (and seeking to redeem those tenants more than to get what was due Him,) sent another delegation of servants to collect the rent. And what happened?
Those servants were treated even worse than the first. We would assume by now that the owner would send in armed troops, right? Wrong, instead he sends in his first-born Son and Heir, thinking that somehow those wicked tenants might finally come to their senses. Why? Because he hoped when they saw his Son’s face, they would see in it his face, the face that was so kind to them, the face that was so generous to them, giving them the vineyard, steady employment, a good life, and the face that forgave them all of their wickedness. He hoped that those tenants would see in his Son’s face his own love, his own compassion, and his own goodness. And what was their response? They reasoned, foolishly and selfishly, that if they killed the son, they would acquire his inheritance. How? They assumed the father was never going to return. Apparently unaware of how ridiculous their notion was, and filled with demonic, greedy avarice, they killed the Son.

What happens next? Well, Jesus asks his audience (the chief priests and elders), "Now when the owner of the vineyard does return, what will he do to those tenants?" The answer is simple, and the chief priests and elders offer it themselves: "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce when it is due!” (verse 41). They of course understand that He is gearing this parable toward them. They are the wicked tenants. They will plot to kill the Son. They will be the ones who at Judgment Day will reap the death that is worse than death, and the new tenants will be the Gentiles. However, there is much more to the parable than that. The same principles apply to each and every human being, and especially each and every member of the People of God. The parable speaks of betrayal, a betrayal of love. The chief priests and elders betrayed the great love and
providence of God for wicked and self-centered reasons. That’s why St. Paul in today’s Epistle reminds us,

“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16: 13-14). Remember, that the first and greatest commandment according to Christ begins with loving God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). If we don’t have that we have no hope of salvation. That’s why Paul, further on in today’s epistle writes, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed” (v.22). If we, the People of God, betray the love of God because of our wicked selfishness, how are we any different than those chief priests and elders who betrayed Christ? Do we think that everything we have belongs to us, that we own it? Do we resent that the church asks us for tithes and offerings in gratitude for His love for us? God help us if we do! Do we live our lives as if Christ has no influence, no say, in how we live or what we do, or how we think, or what we believe? Isn’t that the same as killing the “Son and Heir” as far as our lives are concerned? Let’s be careful, brothers and sisters, and heed the warning given in today’s Gospel and Epistle. If we do not have love for God we have and we are nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13: 2). But if we love Him and show it by “paying our rent” both to Him and to the poor, who are His emissaries.

I will leave off with three quotes from the Holy Fathers for your consideration. The first is from St. John (Maximovitch) of San Francisco:

“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.”

St. Innocent of Moscow (and Alaska) says:

“To deny oneself means…not to desire to do anything out of self-love, but to do everything out of love for God.”

And finally, St. Herman of Alaska says,

“For our good, for our happiness, at least let us make a vow that from this day, from this hour, from this minute we shall strive to love God above all else and to fulfill His holy will.'”

AMEN.

SERMON ON THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT

PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT AUGUST 23, 2020 This morning’s Gospel reading is a parable, given by Jesus, in answer to Peter’s question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but seventy times seven.” Why seven? According to Jewish tradition, one must forgive a person who has sinned against them three times, so Peter thinks he is going above and beyond by suggesting seven! Jesus responds by saying one should forgive them up to seventy-seven times, a hyperbole meaning that there's really no limit to forgiveness! So, to illustrate His point, Jesus tells Peter the story of a servant, actually a slave, and a king. The servant owes the king ten thousand bars of silver, a clearly un-payable debt. Since the servant can't ever hope to repay the debt, the king orders him and his family sold. The servant begs for time and patience. The king, being merciful, not only agrees, but in his compassion and mercy, cancels the servant’s entire debt! Later on, this same servant leaves and encounters another one of the king’s servants, who just happens to owe him a hundred silver coins (a much smaller amount). This man also can't pay, so the unforgiving servant grabs him, chokes him, shakes him, and demands that payment be made immediately! When he is unable to comply, the first servant has him thrown into prison and has him tortured, hoping to secure the money. How can a man hope to receive money from a debtor who is broke? By throwing him into prison and having him tortured? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Yes, unfortunately, it does. How? Unfortunately via his family, relatives, friends, etc. It’s a shakedown of all who love him, all who are desperate to bring him home healthy out of prison. The king hears about these goings-on and calls the unforgiving servant back, and denounces him as wicked, Δοῦλε πονηρέ! he calls him, Servant! Sinner!! and asks him why he didn't show the same mercy that was shown to him? The unforgiving servant made no reply. He had no answer. He had no excuse. He is then thrown in prison to be tortured in order to pay off his original debt. The key to understanding the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is the analogy of sin as a debt. Christ's message in Matthew frequently revolves around the idea that we human beings, because of the fall of Adam, are constantly battling against the effects of that fall – the inclination toward sin. We sin. We fall. The more we sin, the more debt we collect. It piles up and piles up. We are imperfect and we inevitably sin against God and against our neighbor. In the parable, the king (God) has a servant (any human being) who has more debt than he could ever repay; more sins than could ever be atoned for on his own. It's only because the king forgives the servant, that the debt is expunged. Brothers and Sisters! Why are we so easy on ourselves and so unforgiving of others? Why do we think our own transgressions are such minor offenses, and yet regard the same or similar transgressions by others towards us to be capital crimes? Who are we “to judge another man’s servant” asks St. Paul in Romans 14:4. That other servant belongs to God the King, not to us! If we react with mercy rather than maliciousness toward the sins and transgressions of others towards us, what benefit will there be? St. John Chrysostom tells us: “First and greatest, deliverance from sins; secondly, fortitude and patience; thirdly, mildness and benevolence; for he that knoweth not how to be angry with them that grieve him, much more will he be ready to serve them that love him. Fourthly, to be free from anger continually, to which nothing can be equal. For of him that is free from anger, it is quite clear that he is delivered also from the despondency that arises out of it, and will not spend his life on vain labors and sorrows. For he that knows not how to hate, neither doth he know how to grieve, but will enjoy pleasure, and ten thousand blessings. So, we punish ourselves by hating others, even as on the other hand we benefit ourselves by loving them. Having considered all these things, let us cast away all anger, resentment, bitterness, and harsh judgement, that God may forgive us also all our trespasses by the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

SERMON: ON THE LUNATICK SON

SERMON: MATTHEW 17: 14-21
8/16/2020

14 And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatick and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

Bad translations make our work to understand the Bible much more difficult. The word used by the father to describe his son is σεληνιάζεται. It comes from the word “selini” which means the moon. The old King James has it right. It translates it “lunatick.” “Luna” in Latin, is the Moon. This father is faithless. We know this because Jesus will say so. This father believes the superstition that moon beams can cause severe illness. It's bad enough that he believes this, but what's worse, he doesn't have a clue that this is a demon possessing his son. And what do demons want for us? Suicide. Pigs over the cliff into the sea. Remember? So, what does the Son do? He throws himself into fire and water.

Notice, too, how the father is unwilling to ascribe any failure, any lack of faith to himself. He shifts the blame to the apostles. "They” couldn't cure the boy! Of course, it appears he went to the disciples first. That was his mistake. Formerly Jesus had given the power to cast out demons and to heal diseases to His disciples when he sent them out to preach. But Jesus did not go with them. Here, Jesus is present, yet the man goes to the disciples. When a person comes to seek something, one goes to the Master, not the disciples to request it. The same principle holds when the Bishop is present; one does not ask a blessing from the priests. They won't give it to you.

17 Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.

The faithless and perverse generation refers to the father, but not only his father. It also refers to all of those who are standing there who are so willing to exchange the truth for a lie, who are so deeply in the camp of Satan, even if they are unaware of it, that they find themselves or their loved ones in such a condition as this child.

How long shall I be with you? Not much longer. The Lord is already looking toward Golgotha and His Passion. He is clearly concerned that He is running out of time to prepare His disciples.

Jesus rebuked the demon. What is a rebuke? The Greek word used here is ἐπετίμησεν. It means to rebuke in the sense of imposing a consequence for sin. Sometimes a father-confessor will impose a “penance,” an “epitmia” on a penitent, so we are familiar with this word. Obviously Jesus is directing this "correction" to the father, and to his son, and to the crowds, more than to the demon, who will accept no correction. Psalm 38:12 says: "With rebukes hast Thou chastened man for sin." The Gospel doesn't give us the words of the rebuke. But the word of truth spoken by the Lord caused the demon to flee from the boy. Isaiah 55:11 says:
"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." And Psalm 32:9 says: “For he spoke, and they came to be; He commanded and they were created."

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

What happened here? Hadn’t Christ given the power over the demons to His disciples when He sent them out two-by-two to preach in Galilee? Yes! But now, they were utterly unable to cast the demon out of the boy. The reason? Jesus says it was due to their unbelief. St Theophylact says that the"unbelief" here means faith not yet perfected, or immature. His Word had given them the power in the past. He withdrew that power now. It's important to know that spiritual gifts do not belong to us, they belong to Christ. We do not exercise any spiritual gift in accordance with our own will or for our own glory. We do not rob God of His glory, especially when He's standing nearby! This is their unbelief. They still don't fully grasp who Jesus is. A mustard seed is tiny, but it’s not invisible. Faith, if it is to attract grace, must have some substance to it!

The mountain is a metaphor for the seemingly impossible. In this case, it means a powerful demon. Did any of the Apostles ever move a mountain? Not that I am aware of. It doesn't mean that they didn't, though. Evidently Marco Polo encountered a group of believers in his travels who reported that in the past a local magistrate had ordered them to either prove their Christian faith by casting a real mountain into the sea, or be killed. When the Christians prayed, the mountain hurled itself into the sea and their lives were spared. There are numerous accounts from the lives of the saints, in which mountains were moved, or mountains opened up to protect the saints. One of my favorite stories, though, comes from the life of St. Mark the Anchorite, a fourth century ascetic. Saint related his life to Abba Serapion who, by the will of God, visited him before his death.

During his conversation with Abba Serapion, St Mark inquired how things stood in the world. He asked about the Church of Christ, and whether persecutions against Christians still continued. Hearing that persecutions had ceased long ago, the saint rejoiced and asked, "Are there now in the world saints working miracles, as the Lord spoke of in His Gospel, 'If ye have faith even as a grain of mustard seed, ye will say to this mountain, move from that place, and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you' (Mt.17:20)?"

As the saint spoke these words, a nearby mountain began to move from its place, heading toward the sea. When St Mark saw that the mountain had moved, he said, "I did not order you to move from your place! I was conversing with a brother. Go back to where you were before!" After this, the mountain reversed its course and returned to its place. Abba Serapion fell down in fright. St Mark took him by the hand and asked, "Have you never seen such miracles in your lifetime?" "No, Father," Abba Serapion replied. Then St Mark wept bitterly and said, "Alas, in the world today there are Christians in name only, but not in deeds."

“Prayer and fasting.” Without some degree of ascesis, some amount of struggle or “podvig,” some effort to discipline ourselves in soul and body, faith is not empowered. “Faith without works is dead,” says James the Lord’s Brother (James 2:26). St. Paisios the Athonite says, “the mind of man cannot grasp the divine energies if he does not first practice ascesis and LIVE the divine energies, that the grace of God might be energized within him” (Epistles, p. 129).

May God grant us the grace to be wary of the devil and his wiles, to admit our sins and failures, and to energize our faith by true discipleship, especially in the area of prayer and fasting. Amen.

THE STONE IS CHRIST

TODAY’S GOSPEL READING Matthew 21:43-46

“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.”

This quote about the Stone rejected by the builders is Psalm 118: 22-23, taken from the Septuagint. The Stone is Christ.

Exodus 17:6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

1 Corinthians 10:3-4 They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

In Isaiah the Lord says: “And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit. Therefore, many among them shall be weak, and fall, and be crushed; and they shall draw nigh, and men shall be taken securely. Isaiah 8: 14-15 LXX).

Christ is the Rock of the Church, but He is also the rock or stone that was rejected. It is interesting to note that the place of the crucifixion was once a rock quarry. This is testified-to by ancient writers but also confirmed by modern geologists and archaeologists. The reason for the “skull” shaped feature of the place was due to the good rock for building having been already removed, and the “rejected” stone remaining in place.

Christ is the rejected stone, yet He is, in actuality, the strongest stone of all. The corner stone was always supposed to be the strongest and best stone. The whole building depended on this stone, and that's why the cornerstone is always blessed when we begin new construction. The building here, is of course, the church. St Paul understands it this way saying “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).