SERMON: SUNDAY OF ST JOHN CLIMACUS 2021


SERMON FOR SUNDAY of ST JOHN CLIMACUS

April 11, 2021

When I was a kid in public school, we used to have an amazing choral music program run by Miss Allen. Her enthusiasm for teaching music was boundless, and her joy was infectious! In those days we learned all kinds of patriotic and Christian spiritual songs. It was a different world back then! One of the songs that we learned was an African American song called “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” The words that I learned go like this:

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

Soldiers of the Cross.

Every rung goes higher, higher

Every rung goes higher, higher

Every rung goes higher, higher

Soldiers of the Cross.

Sinner do you love my Jesus?

Sinner do you love my Jesus?

Sinner do you love my Jesus?

Soldiers of the Cross.

If you love Him, why not serve Him?

If you love Him, why not serve Him?

If you love Him, why not serve Him?

Soldiers of the Cross

Keep on climbing, we will make it

Keep on climbing, we will make it

Keep on climbing, we will make it

Soldiers of the Cross.

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SUNDAY OF GREGORY PALAMAS

SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF ST GREGORY PALAMAS

March 28, 2021

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Have you ever wondered about where or how St Gregory Palamas got his last name? You know, people in the 14th century didn’t actually have last names like we do today, right? So, how did St Gregory, Archbishop of Thessalonica, manage to get one, “Palamas?” Well, people in ancient times did, often, have descriptors or nicknames that helped to identify one individual from another. Sometimes it was a patronymic, like “John the son of Zebedee” or “Joshua ben Sirach.” Sometimes it was a physical distinction, like John the Dwarf or Didymus the Blind. Sometimes people were distinguished from others by an honorific, a title that described something about them, about their achievements or about their character. Some examples: “Simon Peter” which means “Simon the Rock,” or “Basil the Great,” or “John the Theologian.” But “Palamas?” What does that mean?

When my kids were little, Matushka Joanie taught them a number of Greek children’s songs. One she taught them when they were both very young. It was a song that required an action from them, a clapping action. The song went: “Παλαμάκια παίξετε / κι ο μπαμπάς του έρχεται / και του φέρνει κατιτί / κουλουράκια (or λουκουμάκια) στο χαρτί!” This is the first verse. It roughly translates:

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Sermon on Mark 1: 35-44

SERMON ON MARK 1: 35-44

Saturday of Souls, March 27, 2021

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In this morning’s Gospel we heard these words:

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

The encounter with the leper must have taken place as Jesus and His disciples were walking between towns, because lepers were required by the Law of Moses to wear loose garments, have their heads uncovered, wear a mask over their mouths, and live isolated, outside of the towns and villages (see Leviticus 13: 45-46 LXX). According to the text, the leper was the one who sought Jesus. Doubtless the leper communities had also heard the reports that Jesus had been casting out demons in the neighboring towns, but only this one man had the courage to approach Him and ask Him for help. “If you want to, you can cleanse me from this hideous disease” he said. Before answering, Jesus did something first. The Gospel says that He reached out His hand and touched the leper. Only after this did Jesus say, “I DO want to.”  What is the significance of this action?


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Sermon on Annunciation, 3/25/21

Sermon for Annunciation

March 25, 2021

Brothers and Sisters!

When Adam and Eve were faced with a choice, either to obey God and inherit eternal life and glory, or to disobey God and inherit death they chose disobedience and death. When the children of Israel rebelled against God, Moses said to them, “Behold, I have set before thee this day life and death, good and evil. If thou wilt hearken to the commands of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his ordinances, and his judgments; then ye shall live...But if thy heart change, and thou wilt not hearken, and thou shalt go astray and worship other gods, and serve them, I declare to you this day, that ye shall utterly perish...I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: choose thou life, that thou and thy seed may live; to love the Lord thy God, to hearken to his voice, and cleave to him; for this is thy life” (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 LXX).

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Sermon: St Theodore Saturday Liturgy 2021

SERMON FOR THE FIRST SATURDAY OF LENT 2021

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

This morning we heard two Gospel readings. The first, from John, was in honor of St Theodore the Recruit who miraculously appeared to the Patriarch of Constantinople to save the Orthodox faithful from defilement during the first week of the Fast. The second reading, from Mark, is the one prescribed for the day, the first Saturday of Lent. In this second reading, Jesus had just been sparring with the Pharisees over the meaning of the Sabbath, when He discovers a man in the Synagogue with a withered hand. St. Luke tells us that it was his right hand. That’s important. Why? Well, what Psalm were we singing the last three weeks? Psalm 136/137 which in part reads: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. May my tongue cleave to my throat, if I do not remember thee; if I do not prefer Jerusalem as the chief of my joy” (verses 5 & 6).

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SERMON FOR FORGIVENESS SUNDAY 2021

SERMON FOR FORGIVENESS SUNDAY 2021

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

"The Lord took a handful of dust from the earth.

He breathed into it and created me, a living man.

He made me lord and master of everything on earth;

truly I enjoyed the life of the angels.

But Satan the deceiver tempted me in the guise of a serpent;

I ate the forbidden fruit and forfeited the glory of God.

Now I have been delivered to the earth through death.

O my compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!"

"When the Enemy tempted me, I disobeyed Thy command, O Lord.

I exchanged the glory of my mortal body for shame and nakedness.

Now I must wear garments of skins and fig-leaves;

I am condemned to eat the bread of bitter hardship by the sweat of my brow. The earth is cursed and brings forth thorns and husks for me. O Lord, Who didst take on flesh from the Virgin in the fullness of time; call me back and restore me to Eden!"

These words from last night’s Vespers express Adam’s agony. His heart breaks because of his sin and his expulsion from Paradise. Instead of being a citizen of Eden, Adam finds himself a stranger in a foreign and hostile world. Adam was in exile, and all we, by extension, went into exile with him. Why? Because the blood of Adam and Eve flows in our veins too. From them came the whole human race, and all the peoples of the world. 

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SERMON FOR MEATFARE (LAST JUDGMENT) SUNDAY 2021

SERMON: SUNDAY OF THE LAST JUDGMENT (MEATFARE) 2021

In the book of Ecclesiastes we read, “To everything there is a time, and a season for every matter under heaven” (3:1). Great Lent is such a time. It is a holy season, when we are called upon to pray more, go to church more, fast more, and give more to the poor and the Church, right? But that’s not enough. Today, in the Gospel, we are being called upon to do something in addition, we’re being asked to stand before God in profound silence and contemplate our own death, and then, the Last Judgment which will take place when Christ appears at the Second Coming. This spiritual exercise is every bit as important as any other good work that we might do! Why? St. John of Kronstadt says this,

“Many of us live as if we don’t have to die and give an account of our lives. What does this mean? Doesn’t this happen because such people think that all they have to do is to repent just before they die, and they will receive a full pardon? Of course, God does not turn away those who come to him even at the eleventh hour, that is, if they turn to him with all their hearts. However, if your heart was far away from God for the longest part of your life, do you think that you will be able to move it toward God, to arouse in you a feeling of repentance before you die? Oh, brothers (and sisters)! It will be exactly then that your heart will be set against you, for your perdition.”

In today’s Gospel we read: “When (Jesus) comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” Many translations have it like this. But is that what it really says? (Now you didn’t miss this, did you…his sheep and the goats? The sheep are His, but the goats have chosen to belong to somebody else…Satan.) In the Greek original it says “sheep,” yes, but does it say “goats?” No. The Greek word “ἐρίφων,” means, young goats, or “kids.” Big difference! It’s the same word we heard last week when the older brother of the prodigal son complained to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a kid (young goat, ἔριφος) that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). So, what’s the difference? Goat…kid…what does it matter? St. John Chrysostom says,

“(Christ) indicates the dispositions of each group, calling the one group kids, the other sheep, that He might indicate the unfruitfulness of the one, for no fruit will come from kids; and the great profit from the other, for indeed from sheep great is the profit, as well from the milk, as from the wool, and from the young, of all which things the kid is destitute. But while the brutes have from nature their unfruitfulness, and fruitfulness, these have it from choice, wherefore some are punished, and the others crowned.”

Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the fig tree? He said,
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13: 6-9).

We are the fig tree, aren’t we? The vinedresser is the Church, supplying all that is necessary for our health, growth, and fruitfulness. If we choose to remain immature, like the baby goat, we remain fruitless. This means that we have no serious love for God, and we have no love for our neighbor either. The fruit of love for God is care for our neighbor. Father Alexander Schmemann, in his wonderful book Great Lent, writes “sin is always the absence of love, (and) Christian love aims beyond this world. It is, itself, a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all conditions of this world because its motivations as well as its goals and consummation is in God…The Parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love…and each one of us has been made responsible…(and we will be judged, as to) whether we have loved or refused to love.”

This is the heart, this is the clear message, of today’s Gospel reading. Therefore, let us focus ourselves on good deeds of love. Let us become more conscious of our mortality and reflect more frequently on our judgment. The Holy Fathers have shown us the direction we need to take on our Lenten journey, and which paths to follow. They are like road signs showing us the way to the Heavenly Kingdom, to the Lord’s eternal and unceasing Pascha. Amen.

The Prodigal Son 2021

SERMON ON THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
February 28, 2021

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

Brothers and Sisters, Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today is the third preparatory Sunday prior to the beginning of the Great Fast, the Sunday of the Lord’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. We call it “The Prodigal Son,” but what does the word “prodigal” mean? It means someone who is living a totally dissolute life, lax in morals, degrading every aspect of human decency. A prodigal person spends and spends, buying what he or she can’t really afford, living extravagantly beyond their means, and squandering all that they have. We know people like that, right? We are people like that sometimes, right? St. John of Kronstadt says: “All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God.”

Prodigality is one of the many lessons that we can extract from this multi-layered and multi-faceted parable. Prodigality is a passion related to the very first sin that occurred in Paradise. It begins with a lust for something which is not ours to have. Then, the sin of prodigality results when we forget that everything that we have is a gift from God. The Holy Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord wrote: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The prodigal son wanted everything he could get from his father. He took everything, and then traveled far away from his father and squandered all of it, all of his wealth, all of his inheritance, all of his loving father’s beneficence toward him, and then…he had nothing. He was suddenly alone, his only company, pigs, illustrating his own brutish nature. He was hungry, in fact, he was starving to death. He had hit bottom, and the gaping maw of hell was ready to swallow him alive.

Then something happened. Jesus says, “he came to himself.” What does that mean? St. Theophylact says,

“The man who until now had been prodigal came to himself. This is because he was ‘outside himself,’ and had taken leave of his true self so long as he committed foul deeds. Rightly is it said that he wasted and spent all that was essential (οὐσίαν) to him. This why he was outside himself, for he who is not governed by reason/logos, but lives irrationally without reason/logos, and teaches others to do the same, is outside of himself and has abandoned his reason, which is his very essence. But when a man regains his reason/logos (αναλογίζεται), so as to see who he is and into what state of wretchedness he has fallen, then he becomes himself again, and using his reason, he comes to repent and returns from his wanderings outside reason.”

And St. Justin Popovich says,
“How did he come to himself? He came to himself through repentance. Through sin, man becomes mad, insane. Every sin, even the most seemingly insignificant one, is always an insanity of the soul. Through repentance, man comes to his senses becomes complete again, comes to himself. Then he cries out loud to God, runs to Him, and cries towards Heaven, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight’ (Luke 15:21).

Brothers and Sisters, the Great and Holy 40-Day Fast will be here in two weeks! Let’s begin to prepare ourselves to do battle against our weak nature and against “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Let us not dishonor our Heavenly Father by robbing Him and then squandering His gifts of life, grace, the Church, and even our own salvation. Let us repent and come back to ourselves, relying on the Logos - the Son of God, rather than our own reasoning. Let us flee from the insanity of sin and seek rather the warm embrace of the ever-forgiving Father. Amen.

BIGGER BARNS

BIGGER BARNS, Luke 12:16-21, November 22, 2020

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit +

We heard in today’s Gospel about a fabulously successful farmer. He’s rich, and he was becoming even richer because his land was producing a bumper crop. So, what happens? The rich guy is bombarded with logismoi. We know that because Jesus describes it - “he thought to himself.” Actually, the Greek says “he thought within himself.” He took a demonic thought, embraced it, and took it into his heart, and made it his own. And what is the result of the thought, the logismos? It caused him to focus, selfishly, only on himself! He thinks, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’” He’s totally self-interested, self-absorbed, self-centered, isn’t he? He becomes, at the devil’s instigation, a hoarder. He hoards because he thinks that this is the goal of life: to rest, to relax, to eat, to drink, and to be merry.

There are three problems with this: First, he is going to die, and then what will become of his riches?

The Second problem is this: the rich man’s attitude is selfish, and blind to the poor, and yet he is pleased. To this St. Ambrose says to us, "Wealth, which so often leads men the wrong way, is seen less for its qualities than for the human misery it stands for. The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. In truth, even if the voice of the poor were heard, it would be ignored.” St. Basil adds, “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."

The third problem with the rich man’s attitude is his belief that his material wealth will give rest to his soul. He’s wrong. It’s a deception. He has deceived himself. Saving and saving, buying and buying, accumulating and accumulating will not bring rest to anyone’s soul. Don’t be fooled. The only thing that happens when you accumulate more and more is that your soul becomes desperate for more and more. The soul finds no rest, and so it becomes unsatisfied and spiritually dead to Grace, while our neighbor, our brother, our Church, starves.

St. Paul expected the imminent return of Christ when he said “The time is short, so that from now on, even…those who [buy, should be] as those who did not possess…for the form of this world is passing away.” In other words, we need to live in such a way that we do not allow our current possessions, dealings, and life-situations to keep us from Christ. This world is passing away, and Christ could come tomorrow. He might not. But He will come to us all, individually when we die. He will come like a thief in the night. We will not know the day or the hour. We must not allow ourselves to be caught spiritually asleep. The time is short for us. The time is short for our parish. The time is short for this world. We need to drive off the selfish logismoi and buckle down, chip in, ante-up; and not just with our finances, but with our commitment as well. The time is short. Blessed Seraphim of Platina used to say, “It’s later than you think!” The time is such that we need flee the empty self-indulgence of the rich man, and rather, conform to the likeness of the self- emptying Christ. It is time to live with the riches and pleasures of this world as though we did not have those things. See, when we live like the rich man, like the world, we have to make hard choices: Online Vespers or the Hallmark Channel, sleeping in or the Divine Liturgy, reaching out to the community or grasping for ourselves, tithing or building bigger barns, excuses or solutions, the world or the Church, ourselves or God, ourselves or each other? The choice is the way of this fallen and distorted world which leads to death, or the way of the Cross which leads to eternal life. When we live from the cross, from our baptism, from the empty tomb, we don’t have to make those decisions, because we already know that for us “to live, is Christ!” We don’t even have to ask the question “this or that” or “A or B?” because as Orthodox Christians we have already made the choice.

In his famous book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” St. John Climacus provides this example:
There was once a monk, a negligent monk, who paid no attention to his soul. After a time, the monk become ill, to the point of death, and left his body for an hour. When the monk came to himself he sent everyone away and shut himself up in his cell, motionless, for twelve years; speaking to no one and eating only bread and water. When the monk was again about to die, the brethren came to him and asked many questions, but he said only this, “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.”

Only by dying to our selfishness, breaking our self-indulgent pride, do we come to the point of truly living out our baptism - the death and resurrection of Christ. Only by picking up our cross and dying to ourselves daily, with each breath and thought, only then will hoarding farmer within us die and our souls find everlasting rest. Amen.

SERMON ON SENDING OUT OF THE APOSTLES

Sermon: The Sending Out of the Apostles
Luke 9:1-6, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020

Brothers and Sisters,
Glory to Jesus Christ!

This morning we heard in the Gospel how Jesus sent out his disciples to preach, to teach, to cast out demons, and to heal the sick. But first he had to prepare them. How did He do that?
What did the Gospel say? It says He first “called His twelve disciples together.” Unity. Harmony. This is a prerequisite. Like Paul said, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” You can’t be empowered by the Holy Spirit if you are at odds with everyone. That goes for us, too, of course! This is what Jesus needed to do – empower His disciples by the Holy Spirit, so He needed them unified!

Second, the Lord told them, “Don’t take your walking sticks, your satchels, your money, or even extra clothes. Why? Because He wanted them to express outwardly the message He wanted them to convey inwardly. The walking stick represents walking…walking by, passing through. Jesus wanted the people to know that His disciples were not just “passing through.” They want to stop, they want to stay, they want to talk to you – share with you the good news of the Kingdom with you. “Don’t carry your satchels,” Jesus said. Why? Your satchel contains your possessions, carried on your back. Jesus wanted them to show people that they need to be unburdened from their material possessions, become poor in spirit. The Kingdom of Heaven is not the trap of this fallen world. Don’t love this world, Jesus taught His disciples, nor the “things” of this world (1 John 2:15). Hence, “don’t carry your satchel.” Next, Jesus told them “don’t take any money with you.” Why? Jesus taught through St. Paul, “love of money is the root of all of evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The disciples needed to demonstrate their dependence on God alone. If people received them into their homes and showed them hospitality, then, glory to God! If people didn’t receive them, then they were to leave town and shake the dust off of their feet. They were not to fund-raise along the way, either. Take no money, receive no money.

Next, Jesus tells them not to take more than one tunic, more than one outer garment. Again, Jesus had taught them not to be anxious about food or clothing, that God would take care of them. They had to trust in God and demonstrate that faith to those to whom they would preach and offer healing.

The apostles of Christ needed to demonstrate that they were authentic disciples of their Master, obedient to His teachings. Only then would the grace of the Holy Spirit descend on them to accomplish all that Christ asked them to do. It’s the same for us, too, isn’t it? We, too, need to be of one mind with Christ, with the Church, and with each other. We too must live righteously, making ourselves conformable with the teachings of Christ. In doing so, we too will be instruments of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, sharing the good news of the Kingdom, putting demons to flight, and bringing healing wherever we go.
Amen.