The Ten Lepers

Homily on the Virtue of Gratitude
Luke 17:11-19; Sunday, December 8, 2019

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

What’s going on in the Gospel today? The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples are nearing a village. On the outskirts of town they encounter a group of lepers from a colony outside of the village. Lepers, in ancient times, were considered both physically and ritually “unclean” by the Law of Moses. Leviticus 13 says: “And the leper in whom the plague is, let his garments hang loose, and his head uncovered; and let him have a covering put upon his mouth, and he shall be called unclean. All the days in which the plague shall be upon him, being unclean, he shall be accounted as unclean; he shall dwell apart, his place of sojourn shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13: 45-46). Because the disease was so communicable, lepers had to keep away from people and could not live in the same communities as the healthy. The holy fathers suggest that the lepers represent, in a spiritual way, the whole of humanity, because the number ten suggests “fullness.” How many commandments did God give to Moses? Ten. What percentage of a person’s income did God require to be given for the support of the temple and the priesthood. Ten percent! There are many other such examples. So, their leprosy represents the fullness of human sin, corruption, and fallenness leading to death and that afflicts us all. The ten lepers had to keep their distance. They came as close as they dared to come. Even so, they had to shout to be heard by Jesus. St. Theophylact of Ochrid says:
“In their physical location they were standing far away, but in their request they were very near, for as David sings: 'The Lord is near unto all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth' (Psalm 144:18 LXX).”

Interestingly, they don't ask to be healed. Did you notice that? They only cry out for mercy. But ‘mercy’ is a very broad word. It can mean “compassion,” it can mean “forgiveness,” it can mean “charity,” or it can mean “healing.” It means each of these and all of these. What do you think we mean when we continuously sing, chant, and pray “Lord have mercy?” We mean all of these!

How does Jesus answer them? He simply responds by telling them to go the priests. He does not say, "You are healed." There's no promise of future healing. He doesn't approach them, He doesn't touch them. He doesn’t give them any money. He does nothing to lead them to think they might get better. What did He say to them? He said very simply, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' By these few words Jesus puts these men to the test. By going to the priests it means that they believe they will be healed by the time they get there! It's a test of their faith. Will they go or not? Do they believe that healing will take place? All we see is that they go. And in the going they notice they're healed. We read, "As they went they were made clean."

Their response is interesting. Amongst the ten lepers there is only one who jubilantly returns. He doesn't wait for the priest's certification of his healing. He turns around and returns to Jesus. He's praising God and his praises were heard by everybody. Loud calls for mercy have now turned to loud shouts of thanks and praise. In this praising the leper shows that he realizes where this merciful act of Jesus comes from. It comes from the very heart of God. He acknowledges God as the source of his healing and he recognizes the
God-Man Jesus as the vehicle of that healing. St. Theophylact writes:
“Of the ten lepers, the nine who were Israelites showed themselves to be ungrateful, while it was the Samaritan, the hated foreigner...who returned to voice his gratitude.”

When the one, healed, former-leper returns to Jesus, his gratitude is full of humility as he prostrates himself before Him. He knows that he has been healed at a much deeper level than the others, but that was because he embraced that deeper healing. For the Jews the test was about the observance of the Law, but for the Samaritan, the test was more about his heart. He is “whole” because not only his body, but his soul is also cured; the whole man was healed. Jesus recognizes in this man the attitude that enables salvation to come to him. And that same attitude needs to be present in us as well. That’s why the Holy Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Church in Philippi:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 4-7).

And Joshua ben Sira writes:

“I will praise your name continually, and will sing hymns of thanksgiving. My prayer was heard, for you saved me from destruction and rescued me in time of trouble. For this reason I thank you and praise you, and I bless the name of the Lord” (Sirach 51: 11-12).

As we go on our way in life, let’s make sure that part of that way is God's way, the way of Gratitude, the Way of Grace, the way of the Samaritan, the way of the former leper. May we also discover our calls for mercy turning into great shouts of praise -- praise to our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

FROM TODAY’S LECTIONARY

“God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2: 13b).

What an amazing statement! God ‘from the beginning’ chose us for salvation. What does this mean? Does it mean that God, from the beginning of time, chose me (us) to be saved? Does it mean that what I have done or been in this life has had no effect on my salvation? No, not at all. This would be the heresy of “double-predestination” which teaches that God, from the beginning, chose some people to be saved and some to be condemned. No. What we do, what we choose matters. Free will, the ability to choose right and wrong, good and bad, is the hallmark of what makes a human being, created in the image of God. That’s why Moses exhorts the Hebrews: “I call both heaven and earth to witness this day against you, 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, and the length of thy days, that thou shouldest dwell upon the land, which the Lord swore to thy fathers, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 LXX). What do we learn from this? We learn that God made promises to His people, but the fulfillment of those promises depended on the behavior, the choices, of the people. And what were those choices? 1.) To love the Lord; 2.) To listen to what He says and do what He tells you; and 3.) Cleave to Him. That means to be close to God, to be inseparable from God, to be intimately and eternally united to Him.

So let’s return to the Apostle and today’s epistle verse. What choices does St. Paul lay before us? He tells us that God chose us all to be saved “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” In other words, God’s promise of salvation depends on our choices and our behavior, just like the ancient Hebrews. And what are they? “Sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” This reminds me of another place in Scripture where the Lord said: “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). Sanctification by means of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and believing (and speaking) the Truth, these are what Christ and the Apostle both recommend for salvation. Righteous living attracts the Holy Spirit, and constant attention to the Scriptures, the services, the prayers, the fathers, inform us as to what and Who the truth is. “Many are called but few are chosen” the Lord says in another place (Matthew 22:14). It means that everyone has been invited to salvation, but most have not accepted the invitation (see Luke 14: 16-24).

So, as the Letter of Barnabas instructs us, “It behooves us therefore to...search out the things which have power to save us. Let us therefore flee altogether from all the works of lawlessness, lest the works of lawlessness overpower us; and let us loathe the errors of the present time, that we may be loved for that which is to come” (Epistle of Barnabas, 4:1). Amen.

THE RICH YOUNG RULER Luke 18: 18-27

HOMILY ON THE RICH YOUNG RULER

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

"If you want to enter into life," said Jesus to the rich young man, "keep the commandments.” The young ruler said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 'Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth up."

Jesus says to the rich young ruler, Just keep the commandments and you will inherit eternal life. Simple, right? Absolutely! But the young man wants to make sure WHICH commandments are most critical. He asks, "Which ones?" What he really wants to know is which commandments are essential, and which are not. What he really wants to know is can he ignore the "non-essential" ones and just focus on the big ones? I remember years ago seeing a copy of an Orthodox Prayer Book in English. I forget now who published it, but I do remember looking through the various prayers and seeing asterisks next to some and not next to others. "How odd," I thought, so I hunted around the book for an explanation. In the front of the book there was a little note saying that the asterisk indicates the prayers that "must be said." I saw the same thing once in a little service book for the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Asterisks. These prayers are essential, and presumably, the others may be skipped. I wondered to myself, "Who makes these decisions? Who decides which prayers are sufficient and which may be discarded? The rich young ruler wanted to know from Jesus, which commandments have the asterisks? Which commandments are sufficient and which may be discarded?

Jesus gave the answer: The basic commandments of the Law, the Ten commandments, and the additional one to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Now here's a little interesting aside. I don't know if you noticed, but when Jesus listed the Ten Commandments, He left out all the ones with reference to God. In other words He left the first part, the first 4, if you will. He left out Number 1.) "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," Number 2.) "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," Number 3.) "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," and number 4.) "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." He only gave him the moral laws, the second part, or the second tablet. Also, remember, He only gave him the second part of the two greatest laws given by Jesus in Matthew 22: 36-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." He omitted the first half, the part about God. Why? St Jerome, earlier in his commentary, says "But because he had styled Him Good Master, and had not confessed Him as God, or as the Son of God, He tells him, that in comparison of God there is no holy person to be called good, of whom it is said, "Confess unto the Lord, for he is good; (Ps. 118:1) and therefore He says, "There is one good, that is, God.""

So, perhaps the Lord is pointing out, in a didactical, pedagogical way, that the rich man has a relationship with rules, but not with the Ruler of heaven and earth. He has a zeal for God, but not according to any direct knowledge of God, to paraphrase St Paul (see Romans 10:2). He has no idea that he is talking to God incarnate. He has no idea that he is speaking to the Messiah, the Saviour promised by God. He is pursuing asterisks. He has no idea that the Living God is pursuing him! So what does the rich young man do next? He says to Jesus, "I have kept these commandments; I have obeyed these commandments from the time I was a small child. What am I lacking?"

Sometimes, no, all the time, when we are trying to learn from the Scriptures, we have to look at the context of the reading. Especially, we have to look at what came just before our reading. Do you know what happened just before this rich young man approached Jesus? It'll blow your minds. Listen to what happened just prior to today's reading: "Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it’”(Luke 18: 15-17). This placement is no accident. This chronology speaks volumes. Here the little children are seen flocking to Jesus and He blesses them. The rich young man boasts that even from his childhood he did everything right, he assumed that he lacked nothing. But in fact, he lacked everything! There was nothing he needed to DO, no asterisks to search out, no information to be gathered. All he needed to do was to become like one of those dear little children and run to Jesus, be embraced by Jesus, be blessed by Jesus. But, he didn't do that, did he? In fact, he walked away from Jesus, in sorrow. And why did he do that? Because Jesus showed him who he really worshiped. Jesus showed him who his "god" really was. And perhaps this, above all other reasons, was why Jesus left the "God" bits out of His list of commandments given to this rich young man. Why? Because he himself had left God out. And why had he left God out? Because his "god" was his possessions. His "god" was his wealth and his easy life. Listen to what St John Chrysostom says: "Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest. (For a Christian) to be engrossed with the present life is foreign to our confession and calling...To some their wealth...is a god. Are not these too idolaters?" Solomon in Proverbs says, "Those who trust in their riches will fall" (Proverbs 11:28). And St Paul, writing to Timothy, says, "Command those who are rich in this present world not... to put their hope in wealth...but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything" (1 Timothy 6:17). The rich young man walked away sad because his heart was with his treasure, rather than with God (Cf. Matthew 6:21). He missed out on the one thing needful, to sit at the feet of Jesus and cling to His every word, like Mary, the Sister of Martha and Lazarus (see Luke 10: 39-41). St. Ignatius Brianchaninov makes this observation, he says: "It is only necessary to seek one thing: to be with Jesus. The man who remains with Jesus is rich, even if he is poor with regard to material things. Whoever desires the earthly more than the heavenly loses both the earthly and the heavenly. But whoever seeks the heavenly, is Lord of the whole world." (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, Patericon). Amen.

SERMON: THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD 2019

SERMON ON THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD 11/24/2019
Text: Luke 13:10-17

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters, you know how much I love the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. It’s so rich and has so much to say to us not only about repentance, but about all aspects of our spiritual life. In it we find lots of examples from the Scriptures that correspond to the bad things that we do, and the bad ways that we think. For example, “You have imitated Ham, that spurner of his father, my soul. You have not covered your neighbor’s shame by returning to him looking backwards.” That’s Ode 3, verse 7, from Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent. But there are other verses that urge us to imitate the righteous figures in the Bible. Let me share a few of those. ODE 3, verse 20: “Imitate that Priest of God and solitary King (Melchizedek) who was an image of the life of Christ...” And another, Ode 5, verse 5: “Imitate, wretched and worthless soul, righteous Joseph and his pure mind, and do not be wanton with irrational desires, ever transgressing.” And another from Ode 5, verse 18: “Imitate, wretched soul, the woman with the issue of blood. Run to Christ and grasp His hem, that you may be healed of your maladies and hear from Him, ‘Your faith has saved you.’" And now this one, from the same Ode, verse 19. “Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.”

Did you hear that? “Imitate... the woman bent earthward!” Now we just heard the Gospel about what happened on that Sabbath day in the synagogue. We heard about the healing, and about the anger of the ruler of the synagogue. We heard how Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of that ruler. We have also read or heard sermons on the condition of the woman who was healed, how her affliction was brought about by demons, how her being bent over represents the brokenness of humanity, and how the number 18, three sixes, the number of her years of sickness, represents the whole of mankind, three meaning completeness and six, the number of man. But have we ever thought about the righteousness of the woman bent earthward? Have we ever thought that we needed to imitate her, as St. Andrew of Crete recommends? Let’s take a look and see what the Gospel shows us.

“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”

So where is Jesus? He’s in the synagogue, a local house of prayer, study and teaching. He’s in the main section where the ruler and the elders sat in the “chief seats,” where the men were seated, where the central platform was located where the Scriptures would be read and teaching would be given. Jesus was standing on this platform. (Can you think of a similar image in Orthodox Christian worship?). So where is the woman who is bent over? She is in the section designated for the women. We don’t know if that’s in a gallery above (as was the case in the Temple in Jerusalem), or behind a barrier at the rear of the building, we just don’t know. What we do know is that she came that Sabbath Day to the synagogue in spite of what must have been excruciating pain from her infirmity, and in spite of her embarrassment from being stared at, whispered about, made fun of. She was determined to be there at all costs that day. Why? Because she believed in Jesus. She believed in Him with every ounce of her being, and nothing was going to deter her from hearing His Life-giving words. Was she only there to be healed? The ruler of the synagogue assumed that to be the case, based on nothing. She didn’t ask to be healed. She didn’t cry out, she didn’t make a spectacle of herself by disrupting the teaching. She was just there to listen, to hear, and to be saved. It was Jesus Who spotted her. It was Jesus Who truly saw her! It was Jesus who recognized her humble and attentive heart. She remained in the women’s section of the synagogue, Jesus didn’t go to her. The Bible makes it clear that He called her to come to Him. He laid His hands on her, in front of all the elders and all the men, and said to her, literally, “You are set free!” What an amazing display of faith! What a priceless exemplar of humility! But now you might well ask me, if she is so holy and devout, how did it happen that she was so terribly afflicted by demons? Well, who says that the righteous aren’t afflicted by demons? Even the holy apostle Paul says that he begged the Lord to take away from him a bodily “thorn in the flesh,” given to him by Satan, which troubled him, but the Lord said “No. My grace is sufficient for you” (See 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9). And who knows, even the most devout can slip. Who can forget Noah getting drunk and naked, or David’s adultery and murder of Uriah, or even Peter’s thrice-denial of Christ? Who can forget that terrifying icon from Sinai of the Ladder to Paradise, and all those monks, near the top, near to their reward, who are being pulled off by the snares and hooks of the demons. St Cyril of Alexandria says: “by what happened to her we may see that Satan often receives authority over certain persons, such, namely, as fall into sin, and have grown lax in their efforts after piety. Whomsoever therefore he gets into his power, he might afflict with bodily diseases, since he delights in punishment and is merciless.” We don’t know that she slipped, or if she did, what her slip might have been. We are not told what bad choices she may have made, but we are shown how she never gave up, she never lost faith, she never quit. She came seeking Christ. She came seeking eternal life. She came in faith and in humility. If these are not the qualities that all of us should emulate, then I don’t know what they might be! So again I remind us of the words of St. Andrew of Crete:

“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.” Amen!

ENTRANCE OF THE THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE

ENTRANCE OF THE THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE 2019

Dear Ones,

It was about 8 months ago, March the 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrated that precious moment when “in quiet silence, in the middle of the night, God’s Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of (His) royal throne, as a powerful conqueror, into the midst of a land of destruction” (see Wisdom of Solomon 18:11). At that very moment, at that holy instant, God was with us. And in about a month’s time, we will celebrate the revelation of the fruition of that divine and human pregnancy – the birth of the Theanthropos, the God-Man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These are special days, brothers and sisters. These are the church’s memories of the history of our salvation. The Word of God entered into the womb of this holy girl, this holy maiden, the Virgin Mary, and united Himself to her humanity and our humanity, and as a mighty conqueror, enters into the fallen world of destruction. What does that mean? Satan is the destroyer (see 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 9:11). He is called Abaddon in the Bible, “the one who destroys” or the “one who ruins.” God the word entered into the womb of Mary, and then was born of her, to free us from the destruction of Satan, the ruin of sin and death. But wait! This didn’t all just happen at once. No, there was a time of preparation, a time of formation and groundwork. And that is the focus of today’s Feast.

Before the time when God entered into the temple of the Virgin’s womb, turning it into Heaven, the Virgin first had to enter into the earthly Heaven, the Temple and House of God. Even though she was only three years old, she did so completely willingly, completely joyfully. In the Protoevangelium of St. James it says “And when the child was three years old, Joachim said: ‘Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning’...And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her” (Protoevangelium of James, ch.7).

St. Gregory Palamas, reflecting on this, said: “By her demeanor she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it most desirable and appropriate that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just on one occasion, but was accepted by God to dwell there permanently with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving” (St. Gregory Palamas, Excerpt from the Discourse on the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Holy of Holies).

For us, the faithful, there is a clear message, a clear analogy. In order for Christ to dwell in us, and in order for Christ to be born in us, we must first prepare ourselves in order to make that happen. And how do we do it? The last tropar of the first Ode of the Canon at Vigil last night told us: “Having opened the gates of the temple of God, the Glorious Gate, through which human thoughts cannot pass, now urges us to to enter with her and to delight in her divine wonders.”
We must enter with her into the Temple, the House of God. And we are doing that today, and our sweet and all-loving God is here to pour out the miracle of grace upon us. But we must strive to become more. We must strive, like Mary, to become “fans” of God. Do you know what that means? “Fan” comes from the word “fanum” in Latin, which means “temple.” So a fan is someone who is always in the temple, super-enthusiastic about being in the House of God, a continual resident not an occasional visitor! Next, St Gregory Palamas told us that the High Priest recognized “the divine grace within her.” We too must strive with all our might to be like the Virgin by being free from sin and our passions, and becoming instead receptacles of grace, temples of the Holy Spirit, light-bearers and Christ-bearers. By this we will come to see many wonders, many miracles; miracles of God, miracles through the Mother of God, miracles through the saints, miracles all around us. How do we know that? What did Jesus say? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!” And what about this familiar verse from the Psalms, which talks about God’s Temple: “O God, in the Sanctuary is Thy way. Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who workest wonders!” (Psalm 76/77: 13). Amen.

The Rich Fool

SERMON ON THE RICH FOOL  Luke 12:16-21
November 17, 2019
Brothers & Sisters,
St Gregory Palamas, the great champion of the Jesus Prayer and the steadfast guide to holy theosis, in one of his homilies gave a commandment to his flock saying: “You should secretly give from what you have to those in need, so that you receive from God, Who sees in secret, a hundred times more, as well as life eternal in the age to come (cf. Mt. 6:4; Mk. 10:30).” This commandment to give is the antidote to greed, miserliness, and coveteousness, which is the theme of today’s Gospel as well. This morning’s Gospel just gives us the parable, but I’d like to start with a little background, a few verses earlier. And what do we find there? We find a man in the crowd who is elbowing his way forward in order to get close enough to Jesus to get His attention. When he did so, he cried out demanding that Jesus settle a dispute between himself and his brother. It seems that their father had died, and he suspected his brother was hogging-up more than his fair share of the inheritance, and he wanted Jesus to render a ruling about how much each should get. Jesus responded by saying: “Who appointed me to be a judge or an arbiter between the two of you?” And then he issued not a ruling but a warning to the two of them: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then the Lord, by way of illustration, shares the parable of the rich fool with the brother, and with the rest of the crowd as well.
What’s going on here? In this chapter of Luke, chapter 12, Jesus is warning the people about the dangers of what the pharisees are teaching. He tells the people that they need to hear Him, believe in Him, stick with Him, and to disregard the fury and the threats of the religious establishment. (I’m paraphrasing...can you tell?) Suddenly, out of the blue, this unhappy brother shows up. And what does he do? He treats Jesus exactly like a pharisee, like a lawyer, as if His only job is to interpret the Law of Moses for people and render judgments. It demonstrates that the man was not listening at all to Jesus! He had no idea Who Jesus was! How could he? He was blinded and made deaf by his one-track mind, his “idée fixe,” on his problem, which was his desire for more of the inheritance, which is his covetousness. And what does Jesus do? Does he chastise the intruder for interrupting? Does He call him names or demand that His disciples grab him and haul him away? Not at all. St Cyril of Alexandria says that He: “found a seasonable opportunity, (i.e. a “teachable moment”), so He frames a profitable and saving discourse; and protesting as it were against them, declares, ‘Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness.’ He reveals to us that pitfall of the devil, covetousness, a thing hateful to God, and which the wise Paul even calls idolatry, perhaps as being suitable for those only who do not know God, or as being equal on the whole with the defilement of those who choose to worship idols made of wood and stone. It is a snare of evil spirits, by which they drag down man's soul to the meshes of hell. For this reason He says very justly, as if to set them on their guard, ‘Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness:’ that is, from great and small, and from defrauding anyone whoever he may be” (Sermon 89 on Luke).
Covetousness is related to a first cousin - lust. It is an insatiable desire for more, a desire for what we don’t have or shouldn’t have. It it the first of three siblings, triplets if you will, named Covetousness, Greed and Avarice. It was the very first transgression committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was the cause of Judas’ betrayal of Christ and his own suicide. It is number 10 of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet.” To covet is to want what others have, it means to hoard. It also means robbing God by being stingy with either the church or with the poor.
In the Old Testament, in Haggai 1:3-5, the Lord speaks through the prophet and chastises God’s People for taking care of themselves while neglecting the House of God. He says: “Is it right for you to dwell in your finished houses, and for Our temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” And that’s what the Lord wants us to take away from today’s Gospel. “Consider your ways!” or as He put it this morning, “He is a fool who lays up treasures for himself and is not rich toward God” (cf Luke 12:21). Amen.

The Good Samaritan 2019

Sermon on the Parable of “The Good Samaritan” 11/10/19
Luke 10:25-37
Have we all read the little book “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives?” I hope we have. In one place in it, the Elder Thaddeus says: “It seems that we do not understand one thing: it is not good when we return the love of those who love us, yet hate those who hate us. We are not on the right path if we do this. We are the sons of light and love, we are the sons of God, His children. As such we must possess His qualities and His attributes of love, peace, and kindness towards all.”
The Lord Jesus Christ says to all of us, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Perhaps the most difficult of His commandments is to love our enemies, to love those who are unloveable, to love those who hate us. It is a commandment that soars high above the prevailing wisdom of the day which said that you only have to love your near and dear ones, your own people, but it’s perfectly okay to hate, disregard, or abuse others, especially your enemies. In Matthew 5: 43-44 Jesus says "You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He is saying “You have heard it said.” Who said such a thing? Some among the pharisees and the religious leaders were suggesting it. But trust me, Jesus isn’t suggesting that “hate your enemies” comes from the Old Testament, from the Law of Moses. It doesn’t. In fact, in Exodus 23:4-5 it says: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.” In Proverbs 25:21 it says “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” This is the way of the Lord. Whereas, trickery, robbery, violence, abuse, or neglect of our fellow human beings, even if they are our “enemies,” this is the way of Satan, and the inclination of a fallen and worldly person, not a new creature in Christ! Today’s parable is a rebuke to the pharisees, yes, but more importantly, it is a challenge to us.
It is very easy to hate and get angry. In essence, anger does not require self-control, whereas forgiveness and love are more difficult because they require self-control and enormous spiritual strength. Hence, this commandment is really what distinguishes Christianity from any other religion or belief and cannot be accomplished without Divine help. Therefore, it is very difficult for those who depend on themselves, their worldly minds and their earthly strength and quite easy for those who depend on and unite with the Lord Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. So, let’s get back to the parable, shall we?
At the time of Christ, the Jews did not like the Samaritans. They considered them to be covenant breakers, race-traitors, and in all things, basically, despicable. The Pharisees on several occasions accused the Lord Jesus of being a Samaritan because they hated him too, and his teaching. They also knew that he was headquartered with his disciples in the north country, nearby Samaria, and with a little bit of misdirection, a little bit of “fake news,” they tried to turn the people against Jesus by calling him a “Samaritan.” The pharisees also accused Jesus of being an agent of Satan, demon-possessed. It’s interesting that the Lord denied that He was demon-possessed, but He didn’t bother to deny that He was a Samaritan. For the purposes of the parable, He embraces the role of the Samaritan, the outcast, the despised man, the “enemy.”
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jerusalem, a town on top of a mountain range, represents the City of the God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Jericho, which sits 846 feet below sea level, represents the world in darkness, in the clutches of the devil. The man who was traveling represents all of humanity in one sense, and in the other, any individual among us as well. The traveler can represent any person whose faith is growing weak and who is starting to go astray from the path of the Lord. The thieves represent Satan and his demonic minions. The clothing that the man was wearing represent the robe of light which was given to us by the Lord Jesus at our baptism and with which nothing could harm us if we kept it pure, and undefiled. The wounds represent our succumbing to demonic trials and temptations and falling into sin. The Priest and the Levite represent the Levitical priesthood and the temple service of the Old Testament. In addition, they represent the Law and the prophets who wept for mankind but could not save it. Finally, the Good Samaritan is the Lord Jesus, the awaited Savior, who not only loves, but He saves mankind. It is this Good Samaritan, who bent down so low, all the way from heaven to earth, in order to lift up and carry the wounded man. He applied the oil of mercy and forgiveness to his wounds to sooth his pains, and He added the wine of His own blood in the Holy Eucharist, to purify him from sins, those wounds inflicted by Satan. He carried him to an inn, which is His Church. He spent the whole day and night caring for him until he began to revive. He later handed him over to the owner of the inn and his family, who represents the Bishop and the presbyters of the Church, who continued to care for him until the Good Samaritan comes again to take him to the place which He prepared for him and all those who love Him, who confess Him, and who abide in His commandments. This parable is a story of true love and self-sacrifice. Many times we think that only our family members, our closest friends, or our co-religionists are our neighbors, but the Lord has shown us today that whoever shares our common humanity is our neighbor. Our love should be directed to everyone without prejudice, even to those who hate us. “Go and do likewise” says the Lord. In other words, follow the example of the Good Samaritan, that is, follow and be an imitator of Christ. Amen.

Today's Gospel - God's Providence

From Today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 12: 22-31)
“Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The Lord Jesus is teaching us today about trusting in God's providential care for us. If we are not supposed to put our trust and confidence in earthly wealth or things, (which is the inclination of our fallen minds), we must learn to trust that God will honour His promises to us. The Lord takes examples from nature to show how God takes care of Creation. If we human beings are the Crown of Creation,* then it follows that He will take even better care of us! The “nations of the world,” (who represent those who do not have a relationship with the true God,) “seek” after various fancy foods, exotic beverages, fabulously expensive and trendy clothing, etc. Should Christ's disciples want to live like them? The word “seek” here, is actually a much stronger word. It is “ἐπιζητοῦσιν” (epizitousin). It means that the Gentiles are super-zealous for these things, or literally they seek out these things almost maniacally. It's not that eating is bad, or having clothing is bad, it's about luxury, it's about addiction, it's about excess, it’s about vainglory.  Many of the fathers say that those things which we have in excess of what we truly need, are not actually ours at all. They are stolen property. We have robbed them from the poor. St. Basil the Great says: “Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received (from God) for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation?” **
* Psalm 8: 5-6; Ephesians 2:10
** Homily on the saying in the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A.

SERMON ON HEALERS & HEALING

SERMON ON HEALERS AND HEALING
November 3, 2019
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, dear ones, we celebrate healing. In the Gospel of St. Luke this morning we heard about the raising of Jairus’ daughter from sickness and death, and about the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage, the “issue of blood.” In the reading from St. Matthew we heard how Jesus sent out his disciples to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, (and) cast out demons.” On the church calendar today, and on this holy icon before us, we commemorate the “Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenaries.” And what does that mean? “Synaxis” means “gathering together” and “unmercenaries” are those Christian physicians who treated people without taking payment. So it means that today we celebrate Christ’s miracles of healing in the Gospels as well as all those doctor-saints who worked “pro bono” all the time for the sake of the love of Christ.
Healing is an interesting thing. Crowds would throng around Jesus all of the time because they had heard of his miraculous healing power. We heard about this in the Gospel this morning too. But physical healing was NOT what Jesus was primarily concerned with. He was far more interested in spiritual healing. That’s why He spent much more time speaking to people rather than healing them. Spiritual healing will result in eternal life and a new resurrection body in the Kingdom. Physical healing is only temporary. Even Lazarus the Resurrected-One died again and was buried. No, Jesus used physical healing in this world in order to draw people toward the eternal healing of the Gospel message, His message. The Lord Himself said to the Jews: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe" (John 4:48). And St. Paul wrote that: “the Jews require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22). So Jesus gave them signs, but not every sick person in Israel was healed. In fact, where no faith was shown, He didn’t heal anybody, like in His hometown of Nazareth. In St Matthew’s Gospel we read: “Jesus said to (the Nazarenes), “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 57-58).
So, OK, we understand that physical healing is not foremost in the Gospel message. But physical health and physical healing are not antithetical to the Gospel message either. If Jesus thought physical healing was bad or inappropriate, He wouldn’t have healed as many people as He did. Also, He did not oppose or condemn the work of physicians at any time. While Jesus was never seen to refer anyone to a medical doctor (why would He?) He does refer to Himself as both a physical AND spiritual healer. Where? Mark 2:17 & Luke 4:23. I’m not going to recite them, but take my word for it, or look them up. The Lord DOES care about our physical as well as spiritual well-being, and that’s obvious. One early church father, Clement of Alexandria writing about Christ said: “The good Instructor, the Wisdom, the Word of the Father, who made man, cares for the whole nature of His creature; the all-sufficient Physician of humanity, the Saviour, heals both body and soul.”
So what does it all mean? Well, it means for a Christian, attention to the healing of the soul is our first priority, but, healing of the body should not be neglected. I knew a young man, years ago, who was so “pious” that he refused to go to the dentist when he was suffering from an absolutely horrible toothache. “I believe that God will heal it,” he said, “if I only have enough faith!” “Go to the dentist!” we all said, but no...he was going to wait for God’s miracle. And wait he did, in agony, until every last tooth in his head had to be pulled due to fear of brain infection. Brothers and sisters, that’s not “piety,” that’s stupidity. Father Schmemann used to say to us that God is not some kind of cosmic coke machine where you deposit your coin of prayer and your desired product, your desired result, comes falling down to you. It’s preposterous! God gave us a brain, He gave us reason. That’s why the church is called the rational flock, the reason-endowed sheep. In the trebnik, the priest’s service book, there is a prayer in which we ask God to bless the means employed to effect the cure of a sick person. That means the doctors, nurses, surgeons, medications etc. God is not opposed to medicine. Not at all, but He loves to work with doctors, especially those who acknowledge Him. I am going to end with a section from the Bible you’ve probably never read or heard before. It Sirach, chapter 38, verses 1 through 15, and it goes like this:
“Honour the doctor with the honour due to him, and for the services he provides to you; God has established him in his profession. From God the doctor has the wisdom to heal, and from the king he receives accolades. Knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives him access to those in authority. God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent should not neglect; Was not the water sweetened by wood, so that all might learn his power? He endows people with knowledge, to glory in his mighty works, through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth. My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals. Flee wickedness and purify your hands; cleanse your heart of every sin. Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and memorial, a generous offering according to your means. Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; you need him too, for there are times when recovery is in his hands. He too prays to God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. Whoever is a sinner before his Maker
will be defiant toward the doctor also.” Amen.

SERMON ON BOASTING

SERMON ON BOASTING
October 27, 2019
On the Sunday Apostolic Reading: (2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9)
In the Summer of 1972, in Corinth, Greece, something terrible happened to me...I lost my glasses. I took them off to read a menu at a roadside cafe on our way to Sparta, and got distracted. I left them on the table. Oh, it wasn’t the fact that I could no longer see things in the distance that troubled me so. I WAS in Greece after all, on vacation, and my ability to see churches, monuments, and even countryside was now greatly impaired. But no, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that those glasses, my glasses, were John Lennon glasses. They were expensive, silver wire-rimmed, John Lennon-style glasses. No one had glasses like these glasses...except John Lennon of course. None of my friends had them. None of my fellow students in college had them, Only I had them. I loved them. I was proud of them. I was only too happy to show them off, to brag about them. They made me feel just a little bit superior to others, just a little bit “hipper” than others. And now...they were gone. I had lost them. I was careless, and I lost them. Or did I? Maybe the truth is, God took them away from me for the salvation of my soul!
The Holy Apostle Paul, in today’s epistle, is writing to the faithful in the city of Corinth, some 2,000 years before I stopped there and lost my glasses. He writes to them in order to bolster their confidence in him and in his status as an apostle. He reminds them how he has suffered, being beaten, being whipped, being stoned, being shipwrecked, being imprisoned, etc. And he’s horrified that he has to boast about his persecution, and he says that “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast” (2 Corinthians 12:1). But then he moves on to describe an experience that he had, being carried up into Paradise, seeing heavenly things and hearing unspeakable mysteries.
This experience of the divine he relates in the third person, as if it happened to somebody else. Both kinds of “boasting” if you will, were employed by the Apostle for the well-being and salvation of the Christians in Corinth, but the first, concerning persecution and suffering, was the common experience of all, while the second was only the experience of Paul.
In a practical way, the holy Apostle is showing us that our testimony, our sharing of our experiences as a Christian, ought to be shared with others if it is for their edification, their growth in Christ, and not as a means to puff up ourselves personally in their estimation. Sharing “our story” with others, especially when we’ve had some common experiences with them, can be very helpful and even healing for them. But the other kind of boasting, the kind that might give the impression that we consider ourselves superior, more holy, or somehow more “worthy” in God’s eyes, should be avoided, ordinarily. However, St. Paul, writing to the persecuted believers in Corinth, wanted to reinforce what he had  also written to the Christians in Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5). In other words, he wants to remind them that glory, deification, the heavenly mansions, eternal light and life, these are the true goals of the followers of Jesus. This is the hope that gives us the courage to carry on. That’s why the Apostle feels compelled to share his heavenly as well as his earthly experiences. That’s why St John Chrysostom says of this sharing: “he so frames his language in the best manner he possibly could, so as at once to mention the fact, and to avoid speaking of himself directly” (Homily 26 on 2 Corinthians).
So, wrapping-up, what about those glasses? Boasting or being proud, or feeling superior about our “things” is not virtuous. Bragging about our things, our homes, our kids, our jobs, etc. in order to puff-up ourselves, is the same thing as that Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, but only prayed to himself, boasting about how much better he was than other people. Or it is the same as those others about whom the Lord says: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; They love the places of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues...” (Matthew 23:5).
St Macarius the Great said: “If you see someone exalting himself and is arrogant about his abilities, know that even if he created great signs and resurrected the dead….he is being robbed by an evil spirit without realizing it. Even if he performs miracles — do not believe him because the sign of a Christian is to hide from others any gifts that God has deemed him worthy to receive.”
Dear ones, let us flee from all arrogance, all pride, and all boasting. The true Christian humbles himself, rather than elevating himself. The true Christian is a dove, not a peacock.  The true Christian boasts in the Lord, and not in himself. St. Basil the Great writes (and I’ll end with this): “The wise man must not boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his riches. What then is the right kind of boasting? What is the source of man’s greatness? Scripture says: The man who boasts must boast of this, that He knows and understands that “I am the Lord.” Here is man’s greatness, here is man’s glory and majesty: to know in truth what is great, to hold fast to it, and to seek glory from the Lord of glory. The Apostle tells us: The man who boasts must boast of the Lord. He has just said: Christ was appointed by God to be our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written, a man who boasts must boast of the Lord.” Amen.