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Lepers, Gratitude & Faith
fr_basil
Sermon for Sunday December 9th, 2018 “The Ten Lepers”
Luke 17: 12-19
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Gospel concerning the ten lepers is about nothing if it is not about Gratitude. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”
The healed leper came back to thank Jesus, but even more than that, he came back to prostrate and worship Him. That’s why Jesus says to him, “Your faith has...” what? “Made you well?” No. “Made you whole?” No, that’s not it. That’s what the translations say, but that’s not what the original Greek says. It says that the Saviour says to the healed leper, “Your faith has SAVED you!” It means so much more than a simple cure of a disease. It means the healing of soul and body, it means the salvation of the whole man, due to his faith and due to his gratitude.
What are we doing during this Advent season dear ones? What is the purpose of our fasting? What is purpose of the Church singing the Christmas Canon at Matins? Why are we singing Christmas carols and preparing delightful Christmas treats? Why are we busying ourselves with decorating, putting up Christmas lights, and shopping for gifts? Why are we making an effort to share our treasure with the poor and with the church? Why? In order to generate gratitude and faith in preparation for the coming feast of the Nativity. We need to be grateful to God because He sent Jesus to us to heal us and to save us from our sins. And we need to rekindle and to share our faith that Jesus is God incarnate Who came to restore our broken and sin-inclined nature to the joy of communion and union with God!
This brings me to one of the icons that is out for veneration today. It’s called the Icon of the Mother of God “Unexpected Joy” and today is one of the days that it is commemorated. Let me tell you a little about it. The history of this icon is related by the Holy Hierarch Dimitry of Rostov in his work, "The Bedewed Fleece." There once was a man, a sinner, (the saint tells us,) who despite living a sinful life, nonetheless had a pious love and devotion to the Mother of God. Without fail, he daily prayed before her icon, saying those words once spoken by the Archangel Gabriel: "Rejoice, thou who art full of grace!" It came to pass that as he was about to go off to engage in some sinful (some say “criminal”) activity, he turned to pray before the icon of the Mother of God. Immediately he began to tremble, as he saw the image of the Mother of God appear to move, and gaze at him. He also saw wounds opening up on the hands, feet and side of the image of the Divine Infant which then dripped blood. Falling to the ground, the transgressor shouted: "O Lady, who has done this?" The Mother of God answered: "You and other sinners who, again and again, are crucifying my Son. You call me merciful. But then why do you insult me with your lawless acts?” “O Mistress,” answered the sinner, “may my sins not overcome your inexpressible goodness! You are the only hope of all sinners. Please, entreat your Son and our God on my behalf.” Our Mistress twice entreated her Son, Christ that the sinner be forgiven, but He remained adamant in His refusal, until finally, the third time, he responded to the persistent entreaties of the Mother of God: “I will fulfill your request. May your will be granted. Because of you, this person’s sins are remitted. Let him, in token of forgiveness, kiss My wounds.” And lo, the forgiven sinner, before whom the inexhaustible mercy of the Mother of God was manifest in such a wonderful manner, raised himself up from the ground, and with inexpressible joy kissed the wounds of his Saviour. From that moment, he lived a clean, righteous and pious life. This event provided the faithful with the inspiration to produce the "Unexpected Joy" icon of the Mother of God. On this icon, as you can see, is depicted a man, on his knees, praying before the icon of the Mother of God. Below the icon is written the opening words of the story: "There was a certain transgressor...etc." So, Advent, too, is all about the coming of the Divine Infant Christ to save all of us sinners from our sins through the agency of the Mother of God, and to change the weeping of our repentance into exquisite and unexpected joy.
The coming of the Christ Child is all about the incarnation, and all about deification. Christ clothed Himself in our humanity, in order that we might be clothed in His Divinity. There is something else here that we can learn from the holy icons. Fr Chad Hatfield reminded me about this at yesterday’s retreat at Holy Trinity Cathedral. You all know, without doubt, that there are very strict canons governing how icons should and should not be made. One such strict area has to do with how colors are used. Did you ever notice, how traditionally, Jesus is always depicted in a long red tunic as an undergarment, and a blue mantle or cloak as His outer garment? And what about His Most-Holy Mother? She is usually, traditionally, clothed in a blue under-tunic and a red maphorion, which is a more shaped mantle with a hood that covers the head. The color scheme is exactly the opposite of Jesus. Did you ever wonder why? In order to understand this, we have to understand the meaning of the colors! Red represents the Divine. Blue represents humanity. Red means the fire of divinity, blue means us because we are made dust and what? Water! Blue stands for water. Some say that a human being is around 65 percent water. Babies are 78 percent. And what’s the rest? Carbon, calcium, various other minerals, in other words, dust, dirt. But I digress. Blue stands for humanity and red for divinity. Christ’s red tunic represents His divinity. The cloak that He puts on, is our humanity, which He takes from the Virgin. For the Virgin, she is human, so her undergarment is blue. The red maphorion that she puts on, is divinity, deification, given to her by Christ. And there you have it...the Gospel. In these two icons we see the Gospel, and we see what Christmas proclaims: God becomes man so that man might become God, that is, deified! And that is the message of Advent. That is the Unexpected Joy of Divine Forgiveness, and that is the Healing of our leprosy of sin and death. Glory to God for all things! Amen.

THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD
fr_basil
HOMILY ON “THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD”
Sunday December 2, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Beloved,
Do you know who Sun Tsu was? Sun Tsu was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher who lived between 544–496 BC. He wrote a famous book entitled “The Art of War” which has had a profound influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, and even legal strategy to this day! In this ancient book, Sun Tsu made the following observation: "Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." Think about this. The point is, when you take the time to properly prepare for battle, the more likely you are to win. The Lord Jesus makes a similar point when He was teaching about discipleship. He asked: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able... to meet him who comes against him...?” (Luke 14:31). Preparation for battle is essential in war, and it doesn’t matter whether the war is physical or spiritual. For most of us, physical combat is not something that we have to face every day, but spiritual combat, that’s a different matter.
The Lord Jesus said: “‘The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and those who are forceful will seize it” (Matt 11:12). How can we seize the Kingdom? How can we take it by force? By using spiritual weapons, the spiritual weapons that Christ provides to us. The Apostle says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down logismoi, and every haughty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every purpose to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10: 4-6).
So we are called to do spiritual battle, and we are called to engage in it constantly. Why? The chief of the Apostles tells us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And as Satan himself confirmed to St Macarius the Great: “You keep vigil, and I never sleep!” So, struggle, warfare, conflict with Satan and against his wicked demons, is something that any authentic Orthodox Christian must endure on a regular basis. The holy fathers teach that if the devil is not attacking us, then he already has us!
So now let’s look at our Apostolic lesson for today. It is given to us precisely to prepare us and to arm us for spiritual combat, which Advent is all about. It comes from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, 6:10-17.
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparedness of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Put on the whole armour of God! And what is this armour? It is God’s own armour which Isaiah describes in chapter 59. It is His armour, the armour of virtues, the armour of righteousness,  and St Paul tells us how to use it. The first thing that the Apostle tells us is to be strong! But we aren’t strong, are we? We feel weak and we are weak in our efforts against Satan. How does that old children’s song go? “Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong!” It’s true, we ARE weak but HE IS strong, and in Him we can be strong too! What does Isaiah say? “He (God) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). And in another place the Apostle says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And let’s not forget what we heard from the Lord in the Gospel reading this morning: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). But if we aren’t close to Christ, if we aren’t connected to Christ, then we remain without power; we remain weak. “My help cometh from the Lord” says the Psalm, it does not come from me (Psalm 120:2 LXX).
After this, we are told to put on a belt, a strong, wide belt which is “truth.” One cannot be a liar and then hope to fight against the “Father of Lies” who is Satan himself (John 8:44). Christ is the Truth, and we must always imitate Him.
Next, St. Paul tells us to “put on the whole armour of God.” Partial armour won’t do. If any piece of the armour is missing, Satan will furiously attack just that spot! If any piece is lacking, our defeat is certain. So we must be careful that as we prepare ourselves for spiritual battle, that we don’t forget any piece, no matter how insignificant or trivial it might seem. So what’s the first piece? The breastplate. The breastplate protects the warrior against wounds to his heart. The “breastplate of righteousness” is the same for the spiritual warrior. By living a God-pleasing and righteous life our hearts are protected against the “fiery arrows of the evil one” and they become, instead, the dwelling place of God.
Next, we need to protect “our feet with the preparedness of the gospel of peace.” That’s literally what it says. It means that the words of the Gospel must be very, very familiar to us. If we know the Gospel, we are protected from walking “in the counsel of the ungodly” (Ps.1:1) or walking where we should not go. If the Scriptures are not our constant food, as Jesus recommends, then we are defenseless against the mental, verbal, and written assaults of the enemy (see Matthew 4:4).
After that, I need to take up the “Shield of Faith.” What does a shield do? It protects us against all sorts of weapons of the enemy: arrows, swords, axes, maces, spears, you name it. It is a super-important piece of defensive equipment. The fiery darts of the evil one are the satanic arrows launched against our minds as well as our bodies. And what is this particular shield made-of? Faith! Faith, especially faith without doubt, is critical to our salvation and our deliverance from the enemy. Remember what Jesus said to blind Bartimaeus? “Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee, delivered thee, rescued thee!” (Mark 10:46-52). Faith protects me. Faith defeats and drives back the enemy. Faith gives me power over Satan and his minions.
What comes next? The “Helmet of Salvation.” A helmet guards my head; my brain, my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my tongue. If we apply a spiritual helmet over our head, we are seeking, with God’s help, to overcome the passions which have to do with the senses. My eyes and brain from viewing and being tempted by evil thoughts and evil sights, my ears from hearing unclean or inappropriate words, my nose from craving evermore exotic foods, or perfumes, guarding my tongue from unseemly speech, harsh, crude, or judgmental words.
Last, I must make sure to take up the “Sword of the Spirit – The Word of God.” This is not simply the Bible as some think, but it is reliance on God’s promises to do what He says He will do. Confidence and trust in God will cut to bits every spiritual adversary. Remember, our enemies are always spiritual, never human. Spiritual enemies do work through human beings, true, but our job is to pray for the human beings, forgive the human beings. But when it comes to the passions, the demons, the logismoi, we are to fight with everything in us, plus enlisting the assistance of the grace of God.
I will end with a quote from St Anatoly of Optina:
“Are you fighting against your passions? Fight, fight, and be good soldiers of Christ! Do not give in to evil and do not be carried away by the weakness of the flesh. During the time of temptation, flee to the Physician, crying out with the Holy Church, our mother: “O God, number me with the thief, the harlot, and the publican (i.e., with the repentant), and save me!” Amen.

The Woman Bent Earthward 2018
fr_basil
HOMILY ON THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD 2018
Luke 13: 10 – 17
“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.” (Canon of St. Andrew, Ode 5, Troparion 1; Thursday of the 1st Week)
Today’s Gospel lesson begins with these words:
10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
The Lord Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, literally Saturday, which is equivalent to our Sunday or Lord's Day. It was the day set aside  by the Law to worship God and to study His Word, as opposed to working. On an ordinary Sabbath Day, most devout Jews went to the local synagogue. Synagogues were not like the Temple in Jerusalem. There was only ONE Temple, only one place of meeting for God and man; only one place on earth where the sacrifices could be offered and sins forgiven. But synagogues were numerous, kind of like neighborhood chapels, where the Jews would gather to pray, to chant the Psalter, to sing hymns, to hear the Sacred Scriptures read and interpreted. Both men and women would gather in the synagogues, but the women were always physically separated from the men, either behind a screen in the rear or to the sides, or even in a gallery above in especially large synagogues. The men sat in seats in a semicircle around a center podium on which the scrolls of the Scriptures were placed to be read. Behind the main teacher or reader's podium was a niche, in which the Law was safely stored behind a veil.
11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
This woman is especially noticed by the Lord, even though she is separated and away from where He stands, teaching in the center of the synagogue. It is not so much the infirmity, but the “spirit” which causes the infirmity, that draws His attention. Her terrible deformity is either being caused by or greatly increased by an evil spirit. St. Luke is careful to note how many years she has suffered from this demonic affliction: 18 years. I'll say more about this number in a bit.
The King James translators have very literally said that she was “bowed together” almost like her nose was on her knees, but the Greek does not give this impression. The Greek says that she was bent over and had “no strength” to right or unbend herself. She ’s too weak to look up, so, she looks not at her knees but toward the ground, toward the earth.
While the Lord did not heal every sick person in Palestine, most of the people that He did heal were healed in order to teach a larger lesson to a much wider audience, even up to and including ourselves! This woman represents all human beings, all of us, because she is crippled by the effects of sin and the influence of evil spirits. We aren’t told what she did or how she lived in order to be in such a state. The “18 years” may give us a clue. 18 represents three sixes, like 666, the number of Antichrist. The Antichrist, as we are learning in our lessons, is the servant of Satan. In her case, it means that she listened to and became afflicted by demons But we also know two positive things about her: 1.) she's a “church” person. By this I mean that she was there, at the Synagogue. She wanted to be near God.  2.) She wanted to be healed, but no matter how hard she tried to “straighten herself up,” she was utterly unable to do so. Why? Because none of us can. We do not have the “strength.” This is the word used in the Gospel, “dynamis,” “power.” We don't have the power to free ourselves from sin, and from our own spiritual infirmities.
She looks down at the earth, this world, and that's what WE do. Because of our sins, and the inclination toward sin in us which was the result of Adam's transgression, we are “bent earthward” too, our instinct is to look down to this world rather than up to heaven. As long as we rely on our own strength, we will fail over and over again like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, who, although he was a king, was doomed for eternity to push a huge boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down again and he's got to start all over.
12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
Jesus calls the woman away from her obscurity, her separation from Him. He calls her right to the center of the synagogue, where only the men are supposed to be, He calls her to be close to Him,
the only place where she can find deliverance. “Without Me you can do nothing” the Lord said in John 15:5.  And as the Apostle James writes: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8) When she comes near to Him, the Lord simply says: “You are loosed from your infirmity!”
13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
Like shackles falling off the feet of a prisoner, or like the grave linens being removed from Lazarus, or like a bridle being gently removed from horse, her crippling spirit was removed, fell away,
vanished...and she was able to straighten herself up...without pain, without effort. First came the Word of Christ, speaking the Divine Authorization, and second came His All-Holy Hands. The Word comes from the Head, and the Healing is effected via the Hands, i.e. the Body. From Head comes the Power, and through the Body, the Church, comes salvation, deliverance, and wholeness.
In the Divine Services, it seems like the Deacon is constantly crying out two things: “Stand Aright!” and “Wisdom!” We need to be spiritually as well as physically standing up straight, standing at attention. Not looking to the world, but looking to Christ. And “Wisdom!” this is a title of Christ. St Paul calls Christ “the Wisdom of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:24. Also he commands each of us to acquire the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). The deacon reminds us to always cry out to Christ, always desire to be near to Christ, to think like Christ, to act like Christ.
14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
Remember the piggies? Remember how the Legion of demons wanted to leave the demoniac and go into the herd of swine? Well, the holy fathers say that the demon here also jumped from one place to another: from the bent-over woman into the Ruler of the Synagogue. He was already inflamed with hate, jealousy and lust for power while Jesus was teaching, drawing the spotlight away from him. But now, he becomes completely unhinged by the miracle. His jealousy and lust for vain-glory and power left a door open for this demon to enter into him, turning him into an inferno of rage.
15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
What is a hypocrite? You know! I’ve told you many times. This Greek word means “an Actor,” a “wearer of a mask,” in other words, a “Poser.” A hypocrite is somebody who appears to be one kind of person, but is actually another. He or she is a phony. The life they show is artificial, a hoax. This Ruler of the Synagogue appeared to be a lover of God to the people, yet, he doesn't recognize God Who is standing right in front of him. This Ruler of the synagogue appears to be an expert in and teacher of the Law, yet, he doesn't even recognize the One Who with His own finger wrote the Law, standing right in front of him. St Cyril of Alexandria writes as if speaking directly to the Ruler: “You aren't really angry because of the Sabbath. You are angry because you see Christ being honored, and in fact, worshipped as God. You are hysterical and choked with rage and envy…and you are most-appropriately convicted by the Lord Who knows your vain reasonings. Receive, then, your title, the one that fits you perfectly - ‘hypocrite.’”
So, come, all ye faithful! Let us continue our journey towards the Feast of the birth of Christ! Let’s endeavor to retain the lessons that we learned today. Let us not listen to the voices of the demons. Let us not look downward, at the earth, but upward toward heaven. Let us pray that God gives us the strength and the grace to see that heavenly Star, that guiding angel, and find ourselves bathed in glory, in that cave and at that manger. Amen!

Entrance of the Virgin Into the Temple
fr_basil
HOMILY ON THE ENTRANCE OF THE THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE (2018)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Ones,
Today we are celebrating the saving festival of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. I remember, back in my Seminary days, how this feast had suddenly become “controversial.” How? It became controversial when some “Orthodox” scholars were suggesting that the feast was a “pious myth,” not to be taken at face value as an historical event, but as a fable from which one might draw some valuable insight into their own spiritual life and struggle. I don't deny that there is much to be gleaned here. What could be a more powerful image than a three year old girl who represents our souls which need to become child-like in our love and action toward God? What could be a stronger image than the surrender of that child to the High Priest who leads her into the Holy of Holies? Is it not the image of our own surrender and desire to be lead by the Great High Priest Who is Christ Himself? And isn't the Holy of Holies a type of our own hearts, where the fathers teach us is the meeting place of God and man? Yes. All of these types and images are supremely important. But what about the actual event itself? Should scholarly speculations derail us from our confidence in what the church teaches us? What about similar speculations? For instance that the parting of the Red Sea was simply a very explainable combination of very low water and very high winds? If the scholars feel that the entrance of the virgin is a myth, and the parting of the Red Sea is a meteorological phenomenon, and the summoning of the Apostles on clouds for the Dormition of the Virgin is just “poetic license,” I would propose that the church's tradition is not what is unreliable, but the faith of the scholars, the academics, the “theologians.” They simply have no faith, or, their faith is so weak that it is not in evidence. To be a Christian, after all, a person must be able to confess that Jesus was dead, Jesus was buried, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and sits, bodily, at the right hand of the Father.
Without this, there is no Christianity, and we are all just wasting our time.
I'd like to share with you something that blessed Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote in his Introduction to the book “The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God” written by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Fr. Seraphim writes:
“NOT TOO MANY years ago the Abbess of a con­vent of the Rus­sian Ort­ho­dox Church, a woman of righ­teous life, was deli­ve­ring a ser­mon in the con­vent church on the feast of the Dor­mi­tion of the Most Holy Mot­her of God. With tears she entre­a­ted her nuns and the pil­grims who had come for the feast to accept enti­rely and who­le­hear­tedly what the Church hands down to us, taking such pains to pre­serve this tra­di­tion sacredly all these centuries-and not to choose for one­self what is “important” and what is “dis­pensable;” for by thin­king one­self wiser than the tra­di­tion, one may end by losing the tra­di­tion. Thus, when the Church tells us in her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.
A young Western con­vert who had lear­ned Rus­sian was pre­sent when this ser­mon was deli­ve­red. He him­self had thought about this very sub­ject, having seen icons in the tra­di­tio­nal ico­no­grap­hic style depi­cting the Apost­les being trans­por­ted on clouds to behold the Dor­mi­tion of the Theo­tokos;* and he had asked him­self the question: are we actu­ally to under­stand this “lite­rally,” as a mira­culous event, or is it only a “poe­tic” way of expres­sing the com­ing toget­her of the Apost­les for this event … or per­haps even an imag­i­na­tive or “ideal” depi­ction of an event that never occur­red in fact? (Such, indeed, are some of the questions with which “Ort­ho­dox the­o­lo­gi­ans” occupy them­sel­ves in our days.) The words of the righ­teous Abbess there­fore struck him to the heart, and he under­stood that there was something dee­per to the recep­tion and under­stan­ding of Ort­ho­doxy than what our own mind and fee­lings tell us. In that instant the tra­di­tion was being han­ded down to him, not from books but from a living ves­sel which con­tai­ned it; and it had to be recei­ved, not with mind or fee­lings only, but above all with the heart, which in this way began to receive its dee­per trai­ning in Orthodoxy.”
This is a very important lesson for all of us contemporary Orthodox to learn and understand. Our Orthodox faith does not require that our minds understand it, our reason accepts it, or our “wisdom” approves of it. Faith, according to St Paul, is the “substance of things hoped-for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is far better for us to rely on the church's tradition, than on “sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). This is why St. Irenaeus of Lyons said: “One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life”(+ St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4).  Amen.

PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL 2018
fr_basil
THE RICH FOOL WHO BUILT BIGGER BARNS
Luke 12:16-21
November 18, 2018
Today, beloved, we heard the Lord's parable about the rich man who found himself with a super-abundant harvest. What was his solution to this overflowing blessing? His solution was to hoard them for himself, to tear down his storehouses and build bigger ones in which to stockpile them. He rested on what he assumed to be his good fortune. He trusted in his wealth. He kicked back. He relaxed. Life was good. His future seemed secure. Then, he died, and what did he have then? He had nothing. In fact, he had less than nothing; he died in debt...horrible debt. Not monetary debt, mind you, but spiritual debt, and his judgment, his salvation, was largely determined by that debt. So, how are we to understand this? What does this parable teach us?
In order to answer this question, let’s first ask what was the context for this parable? Jesus had just finished railing against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and a huge crowd had gathered to listen. Jesus was then asked by a man in the crowd to act as a Scribe or what the Bible calls a “lawyer.” He had a dispute with his brother concerning his part of the inheritance from his recently deceased father. Jesus answered: “who made Me a judge or an arbiter between you?” And He said unto them, “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all greediness: for a man's life is not derived from his having an over-abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:13). And following this exchange, the Lord shared the Parable of the Rich Fool.
The point of the parable is not that money or possessions are, in themselves, evil. But it's what we DO with our wealth that determines our spiritual condition. It's the LOVE of money that St Paul says is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), not the money itself. Wealth is given by the Lord for us to do good with, to share, not to hoard exclusively for ourselves or for our posterity.
Hoarding wealth is considered by God, to be robbery of the poor; and robbery of the poor is considered robbery of God. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me” Jesus said (Matthew 25:40)
Hoarding of wealth is also considered to be robbery the Church. The Lord, through the holy prophet Haggai, asks: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your fancy and well-built houses, while My temple lies in ruins?" (Haggai 1:4)
St Cyril of Alexandria, in the early 5th century, wrote:
“Our virtue-loving Master wishes us to depart far from all earthly and temporal matters; to flee from the love of the flesh, and from the vain anxiety of business, and from base lusts; to set no value on hoards, to despise wealth, and the love of gain; to be good and loving unto one another; not to lay up treasures upon earth; to be superior to strife and envy, not quarrelling with the brethren, but rather giving way to them, even though they seek to gain an advantage over us; 'for from him,' He says, 'who takes away what is yours, demand it not again;' and rather to strive after all those things which are useful and necessary for the salvation of the soul.” (Sermon 89 on Luke)
The Lord Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21, says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Fancy clothing, gold, silver, houses, property, portfolios, hedge funds, IRA's, bank accounts, investments, these are not evil in themselves, but we are called to look at how much of what we have goes to the poor? to the church? to charity? and how much we spend on ourselves. Where are our hearts? Each one must look at his or her own life and ask: where is my treasure? Where have I invested most heavily? Where have I placed my hope, my confidence, my trust?
St Augustine says: “If... your heart is on this earth, that is, if you do everything with a heart that is bent on obtaining some earthly advantage, how then will your heart, which wallows on the earth, be clean? But if your heart is in heaven, it will be clean, because whatever things are heavenly are clean.”
St John Chrysostom says that if our minds are nailed to our money, then we are like dogs chained to a tomb. If anyone draws near to us, (i.e. the poor, the church, the charities), we bark and foam at the mouth as if mad, not realizing that the money that we are hoarding for ourselves, actually belongs to them!
The holy fathers teach that possessiveness is linked to gluttony. It is an insatiable craving for MORE. It has nothing to do with need, but everything to do with a screaming addiction. St. John Climacus says: “Non-possessiveness is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered wayfarer, alienation from sorrow, fidelity to the commandments” ("The Ladder of Divine Ascent," Step 17). The fathers also say that possessiveness is connected directly to vainglory. “Men possess more than they need,” says St Theophylact, “because of vainglory.” In other words, they like to show off their wealth, their possessions, their newest toys, their latest gadgets. They are deluded into thinking that their value, in the eyes of others, depends on their things. Did you ever hear or see the slogan: “He who dies with the most toys, wins!?” This was uttered by multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes back in the 1980’s, I think. What was Malcolm Forbes known for? His fabulous wealth, his extravagant lifestyle, his spending on parties, ballooning, globe-trotting, and his collections of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs. Where is his soul now? That’s for God to say, not me. I don’t know much about his life, and even less about any charities he may have supported. I pray that his generosity and philanthropy has saved his soul. This is the prayer that we must also have for our own souls as well.
So, keeping this valuable and soul-profiting Parable of the Rich Fool in our minds, “Let us journey towards the Feast of Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, with joyous hearts! Let us prepare with fasting, not only from food, but also from every passion and fear. Let us bring forth goodness and kindness to all. Forgive. Be generous. Persevere in Love. In all things, give glory to God who sends His Son into the world to save us!” Amen.

The Demoniac & the Herd of Swine in Luke
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A Homily on the Demoniac & the Herd of Swine
Luke 8: 26-39
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Beloved,
There is a famous Parable of the Lord's that talks about a young man who leaves his home, goes to live  with a stranger where he's dying of hunger, and then, finally, he returns to his home, where there is joy and lots of merry-making. Remember it? What is this parable called? (The Prodigal Son.)
Well, today, we see an example of this parable actually being lived-out by somebody, albeit in a different context. Let's look at it:
Verse 27 says: “And when (Jesus) went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils a long time, and wore no clothes, neither lived in any house, but in the tombs.”
This man in the Gospels had left his home. Like the prodigal son, he no could no longer stay under the roof of his family. It's not accidental that the Gospel, when it tells us about the life of our Saviour, is silent about His growing up. Why? It's taken for granted, in devout Jewish society, that a young man, (and naturally a young woman too) remains at home until he is ready to marry, and create his own home. In fact, the Scriptures even say it plainly: “For this cause (marriage) shall a man leave father and mother and be united to his wife.” That's Genesis chapter 2! That's Adam and Eve! It's repeated again by the Lord in both St Matthew's and St Mark's Gospels, word-for-word. This is certainly NOT the prevailing “wisdom”of our “modern times,” is it? I've even heard Orthodox people talking about their own children and saying: “Well, when they're eighteen, they're going to be out of here and on their own. This is what they need.” Imagine that! Jesus wasn't out of his home until He was 30 years old!
While the Gospel gives us no details about this, we can guess that that the demon-possessed man is at least fairly young. He can live out in the elements. Aided by demon power, he can break chains and leather straps. He has left the safety of his home. He has abandoned the wisdom and direction of his parents, the love and support of siblings. He thinks he's on his own, but he is very much surrounded by company. He is being “directed” or “driven”  by other voices, evil voices. The Gospel says in verse 29: “he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.” He is getting his advise and his false feeling of freedom from devils.
You know, I  recently read a quote from somewhere that says something like this:  “Television spreads the gospel of the spirit of this age.” Now this isn't going to be an anti-television rant. BUT, look at what's being promoted there: promiscuity, fornication, so-called alternative lifestyles, misogyny, crudeness of all kinds, anti-social behaviour, and the list goes on and on. Are these the values of the Church? Are these the values promoted by God for the salvation of our souls? But I digress...
The safety of his home was exchanged for the false home of the tombs. On Tuesday evening at the Bible Study, we learned about ancient Jewish tombs. Jesus said that the Scribes and Pharisees were like “whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23: 27) Sometimes people lived in these. They were big, sometimes even the size of houses. They were made to glisten with layers of whitewash to make them look beautiful, even pure. But inside there was death, stench, and corruption. It's a counterfeit home; a home that devils would drive us to...a house of sin, death and corruption. Here the demoniac exchanges the truth of God for a lie, as St Paul says in Romans (1:25.) Isn't that what we do when we listen to the “spirit of this age?” Don't we spiritually leave the safety of God's House, and set up our own, very separate house, where God is not the judge but we are? Where God's Law is not embraced, but we create our own law, based on our own reasoning, or the reasoning of others...friends or relatives...whose reasoning is contrary to divinely-revealed truth? What does the Bible say? “There is a way which seems to be right with men, but the ends of it reach to the depths of hell,” or as the Hebrew says, it “leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We create our own House of Death. We are spiritually and intellectually living in the tombs.
So what becomes of the demon-possessed man after he is delivered from his “legion” of demons? He desperately wants to become a disciple and follow Jesus. But Jesus doesn't permit him. Instead, He said to him: “ “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” (verse 39) “Return to your own house.” As in the case of the Prodigal Son, this can mean return to your father's house. Or, in a spiritual sense, it means return to the Church, to the Mind of the Church, to the THINKING OF CHRIST.
Now, by way of finishing up, we might ask ourselves this question: Why do the Gospels seems to recount so many cases of demon-possession? I will end with the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria:
“The God of all, sometimes permits people to fall into the power of demons, not that they may suffer, but that we may learn by their example in what way the demons deal with us, and so we may avoid the wish of being subject to them.” (Commentary on Luke; Sermon 44)
Amen.

RICH MAN & LAZARUS 2018
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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.” What did Paul just tell us in Galatians? “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” By holy baptism we are crucified and buried with Christ. We are supposed to live as though we were dead to this world, and to it’s lust for things. We have another example, we have Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, where Jesus says to him: “If you want to be perfect, if you want to be unworldly, unchained to material things, go, sell your possessions and give the proceeds 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 today we see another rich man. Rich in treasure, wide in fame. 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! 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 his desire was only for crumbs, crumbs the rich man refused to give. And so, after a while, they both die—Lazarus is rewarded with a heavenly life, bliss, rest, and a blessed life in the kingdom, in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, however, finds himself in burning hell fire. So, what do we learn from this parable? What is Jesus teaching us here? There’s no particular virtue in being poor. And there’s no particular vice in being rich. The Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil, not the money itself.  LOVE of money, the passion for money, the worship of money, the enslavement to money and material things, this is the root of all evil. 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 hearts. From a human perspective, Lazarus lives a life that’s less than human. But from God’s perspective, the rich man is the one living like a sub-human. He’s living a life that's even lower than animals—note how his own dogs have more pity on Lazarus than he does! He’s the one living a life contrary to nature. He is so INHUMAN, that Christ doesn’t even give him a name—the rich man has rejected his humanity. He has forfeited his right to have a name. 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 gift from God which could lead him to 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, more than the priests and scribes did. 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.
The Lord said: Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Matthew 25:40).
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).
St Nikolai Velimirovich says:  “In almsgiving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy.”  Amen.

Resurrection & Creation
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"So, God created the world out of nothing. He did it in stages, and at each stage He declared it to be "good." Let's not let our contemporary English cloud our understanding of this word. "Good" to us, usually means adequate, or a little better than adequate. There is the good tea, then there's the better tea, then there's the best tea. However, 'kalos,' the word the Bible uses, means so much more than good, it means beautiful, fair, noble, the highest form of 'the best,' even encompassing the notion of virtue! These descriptive definitions, which I took from the Liddle and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, sound more like the attributes of God than a description of the physical world, don't they? That's because they are! The world came into being by means of the very life of God, and it reflects His life. The Creator shared Himself with His creation." (Taken from a talk on "Resurrection & Creation”)

THE SOWER & THE SOILS
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HOMILY ON THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER IN LUKE
Luke 8: 5-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today, dear ones, the Lord tells us a story, a parable, which was given originally before a large crowd in Galilee. It was a mixed crowd of many men, women and children. They had gathered from every city, town and village in the region, and all of them were excited and eager to hear what Jesus had to say. But Jesus wanted them to know that there are different ways of receiving His word, and the different ways are the four soils mentioned in the parable: 1. The road, 2. the rocks, 3. the thorns and 4. the good soil. Jesus says that His words are the seeds. The four soils are our hearts and minds. Let’s go through each of these and see how they might apply to us.
1. The Road. A road is flat and hard. It’s surface is hard and impermeable. Roman highways were paved with stones, large, flat stones. Ordinary roads were packed earth, constantly trodden under the feet of men and beasts. St Cyril of Alexandria says: “No sacred or divine word will be able to penetrate those who have minds that are hard and closed; and without the aid of such words, the joyful fruit of virtue cannot grow. People who are like this are highways that are trodden by unclean spirits, and by Satan himself, and they shall never be producers of holy fruit, because their hearts are sterile and unfaithful (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 41).” Are we closed and impenetrable? Are our minds fixed, our own opinions hard like rock, our fallen thinking enshrined like a golden calf, a statue, unmoving and unbending? Then we are highways. We may listen to the words of God, but we will never hear them. Those holy and saving words will never, ever penetrate our hearts and our souls. We have made gods of ourselves.
2. The second soil is rocky. This has very little soil but lots of rocks. It has only very limited and shriveled growth. What does this represent? There are many people who have “religion” but don’t really have much faith. They have a connection to the Church, but not necessarily to Christ. This may result because of a sense of responsibility for “raising the children” in church, or a sense of cultural or ethnic duty, but it is only the thinnest and most malnourished connection. St. Cyril says this kind of thin religion “is sapless and without root. For when they enter the churches, they feel happy, seeing so many of their friends assembled. They joyfully receive instruction in the mysteries from the priest, and laud him with praises: but they do this without discretion or judgment, but rather, with unpurified wills: and when they have gone out of the churches, they forget at once those holy teachings, and proceed in their customary way of life; not having stored up within themselves anything for their future benefit. And if Christians are living in peace, and no trials disturb them, they maintain only the weakest and most tottering faith. But if persecution troubles them, and the enemies of the truth attack...their hearts creep away from the battle, and their mind throws away the shield and flees. Such people have no authentic zeal for God, and are destitute of love towards Him, but are always ready for desertion.
3. The third soil is full of thorns. These thorns are like bramble bushes. They take over. There is very little room for anything else to grow there. “We must not be deceived, thinking that thorns and new shoots can exist side by side.” says the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, (The Parables, p. 14). And St. Cyril says that these kind of Christians are: “choked by worldly cares, and dry up, being overgrown by empty occupations, and as the prophet Jeremiah said, "become a handful, that can produce no meal."
If we love the world, it’s allurements, it’s morality, it’s passions, we gain it, but we lose our souls (Matt.16:26). The Apostle John wrote: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1 John 2:15). This doesn’t mean the creation. It means the fallen, broken and sick world that resulted from the devil’s deception and the fall of Adam. We can’t really have it both ways. The Lord Himself said: “No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon means material wealth, or any entity that promises wealth, and is associated with the greedy pursuit of gain. We can’t serve both. We can be citizens of heaven or citizens of the world. We can be children of God or children of fallen Adam, and by extention, the disciples of the evil one. If he, Satan, can distract us from focusing on heaven, we will become his children, focused on this world.
4. The good soil. If we are to benefit, receive grace from, or be saved by the powerful and healing words of the Saviour, we must become attentive farmers over our minds and hearts. As St. Cyril says:
“In these things therefore we must be like skillful farmers: who having diligently pulled out the thorns, and torn up by the root whatever is injurious, then scatter the seed in clean furrows; and therefore one can say with confidence, ‘doubtless they shall come with joy, bearing their sheaves with them’ (Psalm 126:6). But if a man casts his seed in ground that is rich in thorns, and fruitful in briars, and densely covered with useless stubble, he sustains a double loss: of his seed first, and also of his trouble. In order, therefore, that the divine seed may blossom well in us, let us first cast out of our minds worldly cares, and the unprofitable anxiety which makes us seek to be rich, ‘For we brought nothing into the world, nor can we take any thing out’ (1 Timothy 6:7). What profit is there in possessing superabundance? The disciple of the Saviour has said, "Everything that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; and this world passes away, and its lusts; but he that does the will of God abides for ever" (1 John 2:16).” What does all of that mean? It means that the fallen world only offers a craving for physical pleasure, a craving to have everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this fallen world. This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be!
So, what kind of soil do we want to be? Certainly we don’t want to be hard and impenetrable. We also don’t want to be shallow and thin in our faith – like watered soup. We also don’t want to be so immersed in the world with it’s cares and lusts, that the Spirit gets choked off and we are left without grace. So what must we do? We must be vigilant over our thoughts, careful with our dreams, wise in our pursuits, attentive in our prayers, thirsty in reading of holy books, present at divine services, and always armed and ready to do battle with our spiritual foes, the demons. If we do, then "all nations shall congratulate you; because ye are a desirable land" says the Prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:12). And St. Cyril says: “For when the divine word falls upon a mind that is pure, that is skillful in cleansing itself from harmful things, then it sinks its roots deeply, and shoots up like tall stalks of wheat,...strong in blade, and well flowered, bringing its fruit to perfection.” Amen.

POLITICS AND PRAVOSLAVIE
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HOMILY: POLITICS AND PRAVOSLAVIE (Russian for “Orthodoxy”)
(Reconstructed from a sermon delivered extemporaneously)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Ones,
I have a prepared sermon, all ready to go, and you can read it on Facebook today, maybe tomorrow. But I’m not going to use that one today. Instead I’ve decided to go a different direction. Beloved, every Saturday evening during Vespers, at the Prokeimenon, we hear these words: “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty!” “The Lord is King!” It’s a prayer and it’s also a declaration. What we pray is what we believe: The Lord is King! But is the Lord our King? I’m afraid that too often He is not, He is not the King in our lives. This has been the problem since the beginning of time. The Lord and King gave Adam and Eve a commandment, but they crowned themselves King and Queen by valuing their own opinion, their own judment on the matter. The result was what? Disaster, blame, and yes division. Adam and Eve were separated from Paradise and the whole creation fell. In the days of Noah, the people made kings and queens of themselves, disregarding not only God’s moral law, but even severing their relationship with Him. They made their own morality. They mocked the need for a relationship with God. The result was, again, destruction. In the Old Testament the Israelites demanded of God that they should have a king. All of the other nations around them had kings. But God makes it clear that the reasoning for their request was wrong and wicked. He says in 1 Samuel 8:7: “They have rejected me from being king over them.” And in the New Testament, God’s people also rejected having God as their king, and instead allowed Him to be crucified on the Cross. The Lord must be our king. By crowing ourselves as the ultimate arbiters of morality, truth, and law, we essentially deprive the Lord of His Kingship in our lives and we separate ourselves from a true relationship with Him.
This morning you’re going to hear two additional petitions added to the Litany of Fervent Supplication. They are petitions approved by the hierarchs to be offered in our parishes, if desired. They are petitions for peace in the Orthodox Church, especially dealing with the situation in Ukraine. Have you been following this story? There is a mighty upheaval going on between the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and factions within Ukraine. As the Orthodox Church in America, we don’t have any part in this dispute really. We have a canonical opinion, but the dispute is not ours to argue. Suffice it to say, there is a growing division and a growing bitterness between the parties involved, and it’s a very, VERY sad thing to see.
We might be tempted to ask ourselves: how can it be that such divisions and such passions can manifest themselves in the Orthodox Church? This is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church! This is where the fullness of grace resides. This is the Church founded by Christ, the unblemished Bride of the Bridegroom without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27). How can there be such fierce divisions? Christ Himself, prayed for His disciples and by extension, for the Church and indeed the whole world, “Father, I pray that they may be one, as you and I are one!” (John 17: 21-23). The answer, of course, is easy. The Church is pure, but WE are not. The Church is sinless but we are sinners. St. Augustine famously lamented: “behold how many sheep there are outside, and how many wolves inside!” (Tractate 45 on John). The answer is that Satan works hardest in the Church. He loves the world but he hates the church. Where the most good can be accomplished, there Satan works his hardest to destroy and divide. That’s what his name means, Diabolos – the Divider, the Destroyer.
I think I see the same thing happening in our country today. When I enter into the words of these new petitions, I’m going to be thinking about our nation as well. I don’t think that any of us have missed the news lately. It seems that the nation is unravelling. The country roils with strife, division, enflamed passions, name-calling, death threats, etc. And who is behind all of this? It is clearly Satan. What is our job as Christians? Is it to enter in, to take sides, to name-call and bad mouth people? No! It is exactly the opposite. We are called to pray! In every service, and I mean EVERY service, do we not pray for the President, the government, the armed forces? It’s not accidental. As Christians, that is our job. Politics and politicians have nothing to do with our salvation. You know, a few years ago Joanie and I were in Victoria, British Columbia. We were taking a little “rickshaw” tour of the downtown area. When we entered the wonderful Chinatown area, the guide pointed out two massive stone statues of Chinese lions on each side of the gateway. He said that local legend suggested that whenever an honest politician would pass between them, they would stand and roar! He immediately informed us that it hadn’t happened yet! What’s the point? Politics can never save us. Politicians will never satisfy our thirst for an honest king, a just king and a divine king. “Put not your trust in princes or sons of men, in whom there is no salvation!” (Psalm 145:3 LXX). God must be our king! The Lord must be our king! Our job is to pray for the haters and not become them. Our response should be to have faith and confidence in God, rather than in worldly people or political machinations. If you find you have been drawn into this storm and whirlpool of demonic activity, pray to God to deliver you, as He once did Peter from the Sea of Galilee. If you want peace in your soul, rather than agitation, animosity, or vitriol, you should say the Jesus Prayer or even better, the Prayer of St. Efrem the Syrian. Did you ever notice how many times we pray for peace, or the priest bestows a blessing of peace during the services? More than I can count. Why is this? Because this is what Jesus brings to us. What does He say? “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me...Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14: 1, 27).
So, do not hate, but love. Do not hang onto anger but forgive. Do not crown yourself as King by trusting in your own reasoning, but trust in the Lord Who is truly King. Amen.