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HOLY FATHERS OF THE FIRST SIX COUNCILS
fr_basil
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY OF THE FIRST SIX COUNCILS
July 14, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is a very important day! It’s the Sunday commemorating the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils. If we wanted to give this Sunday a subtitle, we might call it “Truth Sunday.” Why? Because the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils were all about the truth. These Holy Fathers met in Councils not to create truth or to invent truth. They came together in order to make sure that what they were saying, what they were teaching and what they were preserving was the authentic truth, the truth as it had been revealed to the Church from the beginning, truth that came from Christ Himself, and disseminated from His apostles after Him. These fathers met and these Councils were called because new voices, strange voices began to be heard which said, “No, you've got it all wrong” or “Here's the real truth over here!” But St. Paul, in today’s reading from Hebrews warns the early church: “Do not be carried off by various and strange doctrines!” (Hebrews 13:9). The fathers had to preserve the truth that had been revealed from heaven, because people's salvation depended upon it! You see, truth is something divine, it is revealed from above, it's not something that our minds or our reason can produce. Truth doesn't come from science or from the world, or from society. It comes from heaven.
I am reminded of that scene near the end of the Gospel of John, where Jesus and Pontius Pilate are conversing, and Pilate, in a rather dismissive way, asks the rhetorical question: “What IS truth?” (John 18:38). But Pilate was asking the wrong question, wasn't he? He should have asked: “WHO is the truth?” If he had really been searching for an answer, he would have seen that Truth was standing right there in front of him! Remember what Jesus said? He said: “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life...” (John 14:6). Jesus is, Himself, the truth. That's why, no matter what the world says, what the culture says, what the so-called experts say, ultimately we should always defer to what the church says, what the church teaches.
“Now wait, Father Basil” you might say, “didn't you just tell us that Jesus is the Truth and now you're telling us that the church is our source for the truth. Which is it?” You are right to ask. So, where is Jesus? Isn't the church His Body? And isn't Jesus Himself the “Head of the body?” (Colossians 1:18) Isn’t this why St. Paul says that “the church of the living God, (is) the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  So for us to find Jesus, and for us to find the fullness of the Truth, we must, of necessity, come to the Church; not to the universities, not to CNN, but to the Church.
In brief, here is what happened at the first six Councils:
1. First Council, held in Nicea, (325 A.D.); repudiated Arius who called Christ a “creature.” It adopted the first part of the Nicene Creed we sing at every Divine Liturgy.
2. Held in Constantinople, (381 A.D.); completed the Nicene Creed into the present form used in the Orthodox Church.
3. Held in Ephesus, (431 A.D.); repudiated Nestorius, and proclaimed the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God (Greek, Theotokos or Θεοτόκος).
4. Held in Chalcedon, (451 A.D.); repudiated the Eutychian doctrine that Christ’s humanity was swallowed up by his divinity, called Monophysitism. It maintained and proclaimed the two natures of the One Christ, human and Divine.
5. Again held in Constantinople, (553 A.D.) reaffirmed the decisions and doctrines of the previous Councils, and condemned new Arian, Nestorian and Monophysite writings.
6. Again held in Constantinople, (680-681 A.D.); repudiated the heresy of Monothelitism, meaning “one will,” affirming, instead, that Christ had both a human and a divine will, working in concert in the one Christ. Added to this Council were the decisions and canons of a subsequent Synod called the Quinisext Council or the Council in Trullo, held again in Constantinople in 692 A.D.
Now you might have a question about this feast which I’d like to answer for you. We all know that the Church has Seven Ecumenical Councils. Right? So why are we celebrating only the first Six today? Why not include the Seventh? The OCA website tells us that the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) is not commemorated this day because of this feast’s antiquity. It means that today’s feast was established prior to the convening of the Seventh Council. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, commemorated on the Sunday nearest to October 11, was convened at Nicea in the year 787 against the Iconoclast heresy, under the emperor Constantine and his mother Irene.
Dear ones, it’s such a temptation to think of these Councils and these fathers as dusty, ancient history, but that’s what the devil wants us to think! The work and the message of the Councils is clear. The holy fathers were saving the Gospel in order to save the people! They were seeking to proclaim the Incarnation in all its glory. All these Councils are deeply important for your life and mine today, and that’s why we sing: “Most glorious art Thou, O Christ our God!  Thou hast established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth!  Through them Thou hast guided us to the true faith!  O greatly Compassionate One, glory to Thee!” Amen.

SERMON ON ALL SAINTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES & IRELAND
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Sermon on All Saints of Britain and Ireland
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last year when Matushka Ioanna and I were blessed (by you) to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, one of the sites we visited was Mary’s well in Nazareth. It is located at the site where, according to the Church’s tradition, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, the mother of God, and announced that she would bear the Son of God – an event known to us as the Annunciation. On another occasion, Joanie and I were again blessed to visit another holy place, another “Mary’s Well” located in Scotland, the village of Tobermory. Today it is a favourite tourist destination, famous for its quaint, picturesque buildings and its world famous Scotch Whisky distillery. It has some lovely shops and some great places to eat. We love this village and its people, but there is something about it that makes us a little sad. The village’s name, Tobermory, comes from the Scots Gaelic and means “Mary’s Well.” In the days prior to the cataclysmic Protestant so-called “Reformation,” this place was a holy place, a shrine, a place of pilgrimage. The Mother of God had visited this spot and a miraculous spring appeared, a spring that was full of healing and consolation for the faithful of that island of Mull. And where is that spring now? I have no idea. It was so thoroughly demolished and buried by those anti-Catholic zealots, that nobody knows where it is today. It’s so sad that it’s heart-breaking.
St, John of Shanghai and San Francisco loved the saints, their stories, their miracles, and their teachings. Hieromonk Damascene wrote of him: “St. John believed that, in whatever land an Orthodox Christian found himself, it was his responsibility to venerate and pray to its national and local Saints. Wherever St. John went—Russia, Serbia, China, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Tunisia, America—he researched the Lives of the local Orthodox Saints. He went to the churches housing their relics, performed services in their honor, and asked the Orthodox priests there to do likewise. By the end of his life, his knowledge of Orthodox Saints, both Western and Eastern, was seemingly limitless.” There is a wonderful Greek saint from the island of Paros, St Arsenios, who lived in the 19th century. He said this, “when the church of the British Isles begins to venerate her own saints, it is then that the Church will grow there.” But can the British Isles ever again become a land of saints in the same way that she once was? Who is this “church” that St. Arsenios refers to? Is it the Anglicans? Is it the Latins? I think not. The Church is always and only the Orthodox Church. So St. Arsenios must be referring, prophetically, to the growing Orthodox presence there. It is the Orthodox people in England, Scotland and Wales, and yes Ireland, that we pray will become the agents of a great spiritual re-awakening in these Isles. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, as I mentioned, had a deep love for these saints, and I believe that he, too, prays for this renewal. In 2007 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church did a strange thing, it approved what some might consider an odd new holy day, the commemoration of All Saints of the British Isles and Ireland. I think that this is the reason that it also appears in our OCA Menaion and rubrics for this Sunday, the third Sunday after Pentecost. Russia and North America are pulling for a revival of Orthodoxy in the British Isles! And why not?
How can we not admire the early missionary efforts in Britain of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware,) Dr. Nicholas Zernov, Evgenia Kadloubovsky, Gerald Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and others? And for more recent and perhaps the most profound activity, how can we not celebrate and support, with joy and treasure, the life and labours of a friend to our parish, Hieromonk Seraphim (Aldea), who is re-establishing Orthodox monastic life near Iona in Scotland? We here in North America have some profound historical ties to this region, and hence we join together with them in prayer on this day. Let me name just a few of the saints who we celebrate today:
Alban the protomartyr of Britain, who gave up his own life in order to shelter a priest from Roman persecutors. Aristobulus – one of the Seventy Apostles who eventually became Bishop of Britain. Betti, a priest and ascetic from Northumbria. Brendan the Navigator, a sixth-century Irish Orthodox monk. He was perhaps the first Orthodox Christian to set foot on North American soil, and as such, is the first saint to set foot here as well! Bridget, sixth century abbess and founder of several monasteries. Chad, a seventh century missionary, bishop, healer, and wonderworker who spread the Orthodox Catholic Faith throughout the British Isles.  Columba, considered the Apostle to Scotland.  David of Wales, sixth century bishop, ascetic, monastery builder and wonder-worker. Declan (there’s a familiar name!) a fifth century Irish evangelist and monastery builder. Deiniol the Elder, founder of Bangor Monastery in Wales. Edward the Confessor, was a right-believing English king and martyr. Edwin and Etheldreda, King and Queen of Northumbria.  Helena mother of Constantine the Great. Kenneth evangelizer of the Picts, Kevin of Glendalough, an abbot and miracle-worker. Nectan, was a 6th century Celtic saint who was martyred by a band of robbers. St. Ninian, a celtic bishop and missionary in Scotland. St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland. Richard, a pious noble from the west of England and father of Ss Willibald, Winebald and Walburga. Samson, bishop, abbot, and missionary from Wales. Werburga an abbess and ascetic from Canterbury in England, who recited the entire Psalter every day, on her knees! St. Winifred was a virgin martyr from Wales in the early seventh century.
These are just a sampling, a tiny taste, of the hundreds and hundreds of wonderful and perfectly Orthodox saints of Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland whom we remember and honor today. By their intercessions, may grace and peace come to their homelands and to us, their spiritual children. Amen.

ALL SAINTS 2019
fr_basil
ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
June 23, 2019
Delivered by Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Today is an exciting day! It’s the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday or Holy Pentecost, and on it we celebrate all of the saints. Not just one or two, not just a small group of them, but ALL of them - known and unknown. That’s why we have this particular relic out today. It’s a relic, a piece of bone, from a monk who was martyred in the early 7th century when the Persians captured Palestine. He lived in the Monastery of St. Theodosios the Cenobiarch, just a few miles from Bethlehem, and died along with his brother monks, but we don’t know his name. The relics of those martyrs were buried in a mass grave. There are many bones, but we don’t have the names that go along with those bones, but God does. God knows their names, and God knows this man’s name. God knows him and loves him for all eternity. That’s what we mean when we sing “Memory eternal!” We mean: “May they live forever in the memory of God!” And of course, they do, the saints do, the righteous do. But human memory, human remembrance is not nearly so long-lived.  After three or four generations we are nearly always forgotten. But God does not forget His righteous ones, ever!
I’d like to take a quick look at one of the Old Testament saints. This one is in the Bible, so not forgotten in that sense. But he certainly may have felt forgotten, lonely, separated from everyone and everything. And this saint is Noah. Let’s look at some of the details of his life having to do with the ark. Noah entered the ark when he was 600 years, 2 months, and 10 days old. Seven days later the rain began to fall. The rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights. The floodwaters spread across the entire earth, covering the mountains to a depth of 20 feet. All living creatures on dry land were wiped out. The flood covered the earth for 150 days. As the floodwaters receded, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, a region where modern Turkey, Iran, and Armenia converge, near the border with Russia. Seventy-four days later the very tops of the highest mountains became visible. Forty days later Noah sent out a raven. Noah then sent out a dove on three occasions. The third time it did not return. Two weeks later he saw dry land. Noah stayed in the ark another 57 days until the Lord told him it was safe to leave. Noah was 601 years, 2 months, and 27 days old when he left the ark. If we add it all up, Noah spent one year and 17 days in the ark. That’s a long time in a cramped space, with your wife, your kids, your in-laws, and yes - lots and lots of animals. It was disgusting, stifling, fly-infested, wretched in every way.

The Holy Scriptures don’t tell us anything about Noah’s feelings, emotions, or thoughts during the long time he spent in the ark. We know that he was a man of faith because St Paul, in Hebrews 11:7, says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”  Did he perhaps worry and wonder if God had forgotten him? We wouldn’t blame him if he had his doubts. We all do, on occasion. There he was. He was obedient in all things, yet he was in a giant boat bobbing up and down with the waves. One day fades into another. He cannot see the sun because of the cloud cover. There is no course to follow, just drifting on the surface of the endless, endless ocean. The ancient mariner, gone and forgotten. But what does Genesis say concerning Noah? Genesis 8:1 begins with the words “And God remembered Noah.” And then what happened? Everything dried up “And Noah came forth, and his wife and his sons, and his sons' wives with him. And all the wild beasts and all the cattle and every bird, and every reptile creeping upon the earth after their kind, came forth out of the ark. And Noah built an altar to the Lord...” (v.18-20). That’s right, God had not forgotten Noah, or his wife, or his family, or even the animals. That’s what Genesis says, not even the animals!
Have we ever felt alone, forgotten, isolated, neglected, despondent, hopeless? Let us not despair. As God never forgets the name and the life of every saint, neither does He forget us who strive to love Him, honor Him, and please Him, just like Noah did. Was Noah perfect? No he wasn’t. We know that from the Bible. But his heart was always to please God. St. Basil the Great says: “Let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God.” So we are never alone, we are never forgotten. God is always near, even if we don’t feel His presence or recognize His activity. The Mother of God is also our helper and protector, our advocate and defender, and our intercessor at the time of death. And what did the Epistle reading say today?  “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 1-2). Who are these “great cloud of witnesses?” They are the saints, all of whom we celebrate today, and all of whom care for us, pray for us, and occasionally even act on our behalf. St. John of Kronstadt says: “When your faith in the Lord, either during your life of health and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of departing this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, or from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones: St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the Prophetess, and others; the Apostles, prelates, venerable Fathers, martyrs, the holy unmercenaries, the righteous, and all the saints. See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, and then, strive to imitate them! These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord now, and unto the future life.” Amen.

SERMON FOR PENTECOST
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SERMON ON PENTECOST 2019
It was just three weeks ago when we heard the Gospel where Jesus was sitting on Jacob’s well and talking with the future St. Photini. During that conversation He said to her:
“If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). “If you knew the gift of God!” Why didn’t she know the gift of God? Jesus explains why later, saying: “The time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers that the Father seeks” (John 4:23). The “gift of God” is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out upon the world as the Prophets and indeed Jesus Himself had promised. When the Holy Spirit would be poured out, then the “true worshipers” will be revealed. Did you ever really stop to think about those two words: true worshipers? Ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταὶ? истиннии
поклонницы? Later the Church would embrace this formal term meaning “Christians,” but would utilize two different, but somewhat richer, Greek words and then contract them. The words are ορθώς and δόξα, contracted into what? Right, Orthodox! It still means true worshipers, but with the added dimensions of correctness, righteousness and glory. Without the Holy Spirit there can be no true worship, there can be no Orthodoxy. The Law of Moses was the education that taught us that we are incapable, on our own, to be completely true, or pure, or holy, or righteous. Without the Holy Spirit we can accomplish nothing at all. St. Macarius the Great, in his 24th Spiritual Homily, says: “Whatever the soul may think fit to do itself, whatever care and pains it may take, relying only upon its own power, and thinking to be able to effect a perfect success by itself, without the co-operation of the Spirit, is greatly mistaken. It is of no use for the heavenly places; it is of no use for the kingdom...the enlightenment of the Spirit will never shine in that benighted soul, or kindle in it a holy daytime; it will never awaken out of that deepest sleep of ignorance, and so come to know God truly through God’s own power and the efficacy of grace!” When the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ on that very first Christian Pentecost, everything changed. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them. He becomes one spirit with them and everything to them – light, strength, peace, joy, success in their undertakings, especially in a pious life, and everything good, and ‘can be found in every spirit that is perceptive, pure, and refined’ (Wisdom of Solomon vii, 23). ‘We have been all made to drink into one Spirit’ (I Cor. xii.13). All pious people are filled with the Spirit of God just as a sponge is filled with water.”
This brings up a very important point. All pious people are filled with the Spirit of God. In todays Gospel reading we heard these words: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, (which was Pentecost, by the way!) Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7: 37-38). Now remember, Jesus told the woman at the well that she should ask Him for a drink. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells everyone that they need to come to Him and ask to drink. The water is the Holy Spirit. The “drink” is our receiving of the Holy Spirit, but the only way that we can ever receive the Holy Spirit in a continuous, living, and ever-flowing way, is by asking Jesus, is by coming to Jesus, is by loving Jesus, is by following the commandments of Jesus, every day. St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his magnum opus entitled Christian Morality, writes: “The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized, acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of the fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more fire wood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by the passions and sins. However, the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace flames in his heart, illumines and deifies him.” And St. Simeon the New Theologian in the Philokalia writes: “The aim of all those who live in God is to please our Lord Jesus Christ and become reconciled with God the Father through receiving the Holy Spirit, thus securing their salvation, for in this consists the salvation of every soul. If this aim and this activity is lacking, all other labour is useless and all other striving is in vain. Every path of life which does not lead to this is without profit.”
So, dear ones, if we want to receive that living water of the gift of the Holy Spirit every day and for the rest of our lives, we need to act like we want to receive it. Right? The rewards are astonishing! The late and ever-memorable Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, who was Olga Dunlop’s grandfather by the way, wrote: “When the Holy Spirit visits, any labor becomes easy, unceasing prayer flows from the heart, and the eyes continuously shed tears. This may be accompanied by spiritual enlightenment and pure, sober reasoning; for it is thus that the Holy Spirit acts within a man.” * Amen!
* Quoted by Fr. Ernesto Obregon in his blog “OrthoCuban.”

SERMON FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE FATHERS OF THE FIRST COUNCIL
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Homily on the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
June 9, 2019
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Ascended!
Brothers and Sisters,
A number of years ago I was planning a trip to give a talk to the fathers at St. John's Monastery in Manton, California. The then Father Jonah Paffhausen sent me an email with very detailed instructions on how to get there which included these sobering words: “When you get to Ponderosa Drive, don't turn right as your GPS will tell you. If you turn right, you'll plunge over a cliff. Turn left, and you'll get to the Monastery safely! On a more recent trip, I was with my mother. We were taking a little vacation/roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Somewhere in the middle of Oregon I had reserved hotel rooms for us for the night, but instead of relying on the written  directions on the hotel website, I relied on my GPS. It was late at night, and we found ourselves in an overgrown field, which it turned out was part of an active landing strip, an airport! So what went wrong? What went wrong was that I put my trust in a device because I mistakenly thought it would be better, more accurate, more precise. Why? Because it was new, it was the new technology. The truth is, I should have relied on the accuracy of those who lived there and worked there, rather than on the technology. Sometimes the old way is still the better way.
Now, the holy apostle Paul was in the City of Miletus, as we heard in this morning's Apostolic Reading, and from there he called upon all of the bishops and presbyters from the region to gather together to him. This is what he said to them:
“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops (overseers,) to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking distorted, corrupt things, to draw away disciples unto themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone, night and day, with tears...I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are being sanctified.”
Today we remember the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. This great and all-important Synod was called by the Emperor, St. Constantine the Great, in the city of Nicaea, in the year 325.  The Church's bishops gathered together at that time to defend the truth, the old truth, the truth about Christ which had been handed down from those who lived there and knew Him. Dangerous new teachings and new “truths” were causing incredible fights and divisions within the Church. These supposed new truths were the product of the demon-possessed mind of a heretic named Arius, a priest from Alexandria, Egypt. What exactly did Arius say? Well, he taught that Christ was NOT one in essence with God Father. He said that Christ was only “the highest of all created beings,” in other words, a creature. With Arius there is no Holy Trinity, no divinity of Christ, no “God becoming man so that man could become god.” Arius' teaching was a false and spiritually deadly teaching. It was a doctrine that came from OUTSIDE the Church's holy tradition. That's why the bishops met. They didn't gather, as some heretics suggest, in order to create their own new teachings, their own new theology. They came to reaffirm those teachings which had been received from Christ and the Holy Apostles, and which teachings were always believed by everybody, everywhere. This is where we get the word “catholic” by the way. It comes from two Greek words:  κατά which means “according to” and ὅλος, (ὅλως) which, in this context, means “the whole church, everywhere.” As St. Vincent of Lerins said so eloquently in the early 5th century:  "Special care must taken that we hold onto that which was believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus]." In other words, the bishops gathered to confirm not only what the Church's teaching was, but also what the church's teaching had always been. Arius' teaching was something novel, something new, something radically out-of-sync with “catholic” teaching...that which was believed from the beginning, by everyone, and everywhere.
This is just what St. Paul was warning his bishops about. This is just what the 318 holy fathers gathered in Nicaea were guarding against. Arius' teaching was outside of the church's tradition, outside of the church’s memory, and outside the church’s experience. Arius was providing directions from the outside, directions that would lead to spiritual injury, to the spiritual cliff.
St. Paul, in his first epistle to Timothy, writes this: “but if I am delayed, I write, so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” In other words, the Church, because she is the Body of Christ, having Christ as her Head, is the stable and reliable source for determining the truth. Some people think it's the Bible, but that's not exactly right. The Bible still has to be understood within the context of the Church's tradition, and not independently. That's why St. Peter writes: “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation”(2 Peter 1:20). This is how Arius got into trouble. He twisted the Scriptures to conform to his own dangerous ideas, twisting them to his own destruction and the destruction of others (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).
So, beloved, as we walk on that straight and narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matt. 7:14), do not listen to words or guidance that do not conform to to the mind the Church, which is the mind of Christ. St. John of Kronstadt wrote this: “All that is pure, lawful, and holy, the impure devil endeavors to defile, or to misrepresent - to depict in an impure, perverted, and distorted manner. Oh, how evil he is, how impure, impudent, tireless, and active in his wickedness, in his malice, in his abominations! Who can escape his nets? He who believes firmly in Christ and the Church!”
And this is why we so joyfully sing today:
Most glorious art Thou O Christ our God!
Thou hast established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth!
Through them Thou hast guided us to the true faith!
O greatly Compassionate One, glory to Thee!

HOMILY FOR ASCENSION
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Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of Christ
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Ascended!
I greet you all on this warm and radiant feast of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. In addition to the Tropar (Apolytikion) of the feast, the other recurring words that we hear are these: "God has gone up in jubilation; the Lord with the voice of a trumpet!" It comes from Psalm 46: 7 in the Septuagint. The Greek word for "jubilation" is ἀλαλαγμῷ. It means a triumphant cheer, or a joyous shout. Simply translating it "shout" is really inadequate. It is the same kind of jubilant cheer and the same kind of trumpet blast that God used to send the walls of Jericho tumbling down to earth. So who is doing all this "jubilating" as the Lord ascended into heaven? The disciples? Of course the disciples, but their joy was somewhat mixed with confusion and no small amount of terror.
I remember way back on October 17,1989, the great Loma Prieta earthquake struck. Everyone who was here remembers where they were and what they were doing. I was at Candlestick Park, waiting for Game Three of the World Series. When the earthquake struck, the stadium shook back and forth, violently, like some terrifying amusement park ride. It seemed go on forever. The sound of the quake itself was like a deep roar, but the sound coming from the fans was nothing - dead silence. Once the shaking ceased, there was silence, and then an explosive cheer went up from all 50,000 fans. It was a cheer of relief and deliverance from terror; and cheer of joy, and a cheer of hope - hope that the game would begin. It was not to be, however. We were all sent home to discover what horrors and what chaos resulted from this cataclysmic event. I bring up this story, because the cheering of the disciples was mixed too. In the beginning of this morning's Gospel we heard that they were terrified and frightened at the appearance of the resurrected Christ. Doubtful thoughts were entering into their hearts. The Lord had to reassure them that it was truly He. And doubtless they were somewhat traumatized again when the Lord suddenly ascended into heaven, leaving them once again bereft of His presence. But the Lord did console them. He was true to His word that He would rise from the dead in three days, now they had to trust Him again when He says to them: "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." So they went back to Jerusalem filled with great hope and great joy.
But who were the pure "jubilators?" Who were the ones who shouted, or cheered, with fullness of confidence, fullness of joy? It was the holy angels. They were present and they participated in Christ's Ascension. How do we know this? This morning's Gospel told us: "Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven." Who carried Him up into heaven? The angels did. The angels were nearly bursting with joy, because God was coming "home." God Who had taken our form, the Lord Jesus Christ, was coming "home." Brethren, we don't really notice it, but if we pay attention we'll see that the angels are present at every major event of Christ's life. It was an angel who announced the incarnation to the Virgin. When Christ was born, angels filled the sky with their glorious voices singing "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!" It was angels who warned the Magi not to go back to Herod after they visited the newborn Christ. It was angels who directed Joseph to take Mary into Egypt, and not to return to Nazareth until after the death of Herod. It was an angel who came to minister to Christ after He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. It was an angel who strengthened Jesus during His agony in the garden of Gethsemane. It was angels who were at the tomb from which Christ had risen and who instructed the myrrh - bearing women to tell the disciples that Christ was risen. And it was angels who carried Christ into the cloud and back to His rightful place in heaven. But that's not all! It was also two angels, who appeared to the disciples as they were still looking up into the sky after Jesus had ascended. St. Luke, in Acts 1:11, tells that these two angels spoke to the disciples and said, "You men of Galilee, why are you still standing here and gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which has been taken up from you into heaven, shall also come back again in the same way as you have seen him go into heaven." This is, of course, a great consolation to them, contributing greatly to their joy as they walked back into the Holy City. And of course we know that when Jesus returns for us again, He will come accompanied by two things: The Image of the Cross, and His Holy Angels. How do we know this? In St Matthew's Gospel the Lord Himself says it: "At that time (i.e. the Second Coming) the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.…" (Matthew 24: 30-31).
Who are these tribes who will be mourning? They are the people who viciously and tenaciously chose and choose to hate Christ and Christians. They will weep because they know that their judgement is coming, but we will rejoice because our salvation and eternal life is coming. And those angels who come to find us, what will they be doing, shouting and cheering with great jubilation. Why? Because they see that we get to come "home" too! Glory to God! Amen.

SUNDAY OF THE BLIND MAN 2019
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SUNDAY OF THE BLIND MAN
John 9
What an amazing miracle, and what a multitude of important lessons to be learned! Today we see a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus if he is blind because of his own sins or the sins of his parents. Jesus answers “neither.” Then Jesus says he is blind so that the Light (which is Himself) might be revealed, not only to him, but to the whole world. After that, Jesus fashions two new eyes for the man out of clay. We know that because the holy fathers declare it and the texts to the services confirm it. Next, the blind man is sent by Jesus to wash in the pool named Sent, and miraculously, his newly-created eyes can now see! And what happens immediately after that? The formerly blind man is questioned, disbelieved, questioned again, challenged, his relatives hounded, badgered, harassed, and his healer denounced. In other words, he is persecuted, persecuted, persecuted! In the end, though, he is consoled, and with both his physical eyes and his spiritual eyes wide open, he sees God and exclaims: “Lord, I believe.”
I think that all of us can see in today’s Gospel the journey of “every Christian soul that is weary and in need of God’s mercy and help.” We are all of us born blind. Why? Because we are all born mortal, we are all able to get sick and suffer injury, and worst of all, we are all born with an inclination to sin. This is blindness, real blindness, because it is blindness toward God. This came about due to the ancient, ancestral sin that occurred in the Garden of Eden. Then what happens? Christ comes to us, not only just in history but He comes to each and every one of us. He comes to re-create us. He comes to make us new. He takes new clay and makes us over again. He sends us to the font of holy baptism to give us a new birth. And along with this new birth comes new, spiritual sight. Did you know this? Baptism, from ancient times, was called “holy illumination.” And, a newly-baptized person is called “newly-illumined.” The priest even says to the newly-baptized person. “Thou art justified. Thou art illumined. Thou art sanctified. Thou art washed: in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.” It means “we have seen the true light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith!” This “illumination,” this light of Christ applies to our thinking, our reasoning, our perception, and therefore, everything that we need to read the Bible, to understand the fathers, to discern the Holy Mysteries (see 1 Corinthians 11:29), to authentically participate in the feast days, in other words, everything that we require for salvation! If we insist on using our fallen equipment, our corrupted minds, our twisted thinking, our damaged reasoning, our faulty logic, none of the things of God will make sense, and we will drift further and further away from salvation and further and further away from the kingdom of God.
So, we have the grace of holy baptism. We are encouraged by the Apostle to continuously “re-kindle” that grace (see 2 Timothy 1:6). He admonishes us  to avoid conformity to this world, and to constantly refresh that renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) that came with holy baptism and holy chrismation. Why? Because Jesus said “In this world you will have tribulation. The Greek word is θλῖψις.” It means persecution, affliction, distress, or tribulation. What happened to the blind man as soon as he left the pool? Persecution, trials, tribulations. What happened to Jesus as soon as He was baptized by John and left the Jordan river? He was afflicted and tested by Satan. For all authentic Christians, there will be persecutions, whether small or great. For those who hide their light under a bushel basket, those who allow themselves to be perceived as just another person conforming to this world, and its thinking, they may avoid some discomforts in this life, but they won’t in the next. We should, all of us, be imitators of the blind man in today’s Gospel. St. John Chrysostom says of him, “He was not ashamed of his former blindness, nor did he fear the wrath of the people, nor did he decline showing himself in public, that he might proclaim his Benefactor.” Our personal testimony, our personal story of how God has healed us, or delivered us, or helped us, is more powerful than any discourse on theology, or recitation of church history could ever be in opening the heart of another person to the good news of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament Septuagint, God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Be ye my witnesses...saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am He: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none” (Isaiah 43:10 LXX). What does this mean? It means that we are the modern-day blind men, or women at the well, or the paralyzed people by the pool. Each of us has a story to tell, a miracle we’ve witnessed, or a gift of grace that we’ve experienced. We should be eager to share those stories, no matter the embarrassment or the ridicule we might face. Like the blind man we must choose to be bold and say along with him “Lord, I believe!”  Amen.

SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
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SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN 2019
Christ is Risen!
We are still basking in the afterglow of Pascha, aren’t we? It’s such a joyful time of year, a time filled with light and hope. The earth itself is alive, bursting with new life, green, leafy trees, colorful flowers, and even new baby animals. Right? Across the street in the field the baby bunnies are venturing out and exploring. And four young baby possums that my mother recently discovered in her shed, are being exported along with their mother to new, safer, location in the country. Yes, Bright Week in truth becomes Bright Month and beyond. If winter represents the death of the world, spring is the resurrection of the world. If winter represents hibernation and cessation, then spring represents reawakening, quickening, and healing. Now maybe you didn’t notice this, but three of the five Sundays following Pascha have been (or will be) focused around healing; water and healing. Last week we had the Paralytic by the pool and his physical healing. Today we have Jacob’s well, the Samaritan woman, and her spiritual healing. Next week we’ll have the blind man, who receives new eyes from clay fashioned by his creator, and who is told to  “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” All of these Sundays point to the new creation in Christ. As St Paul reminds us: “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come into being!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). These Sundays were appointed by the Church to explain to the newly-baptized Christians what they had just experienced. They were now forgiven, washed, and healed!
This “new creation” this new beginning was also being revealed at Jacob’s Well 2,000 years ago. Nothing happens by accident, and the future St. Photini did not arrive at the well when she did by accident. Let’s take a moment to think about this scene and about this well. By the way, Matushka and I were blessed to visit this holy place by your prayers and generosity during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year. The well can only be reached by going to Samaria, to the monastery church of St. Photini, and descending via a narrow stone stairway to what was then ground level. The well itself is a stone structure, cube shaped, about 1.4 meters square. The round hole in the center is the access to the water. There is a bucket there, and a tin cup. Pilgrims lower the bucket, bring up the water, make the sign of the cross, dip their cup into the water and drink. The water is cold and sweet, and full of grace. Today this holy site is protected by monks of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. In other words, like most of the holy places, it is under the administration of the Orthodox Church. But now, let’s go back and look at the situation at Jacob’s well at the time Christ came to visit.
You will probably recall from the Scriptures, a time when the Lord said to His disciples, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5). Why did he say that? Because when He sent them out to preach, He only wanted them to preach to the Jews, the Chosen People of God. But now look at what He does! He enters directly into Samaria, and into a Samaritan town! This goes to show that while initially the saving words of the Gospel were meant for the Jews alone, later they would be shared with the Gentiles. Jacob’s well was a Jewish holy site, but no Jew would go there because it was occupied by Gentiles. Going there would defile them, making them ritually unclean. But Jesus went there. Why? Because He had promised to do so through the prophet Hosea: “I will love her that was not loved, and will say to those who were not my people, You are my people; and they shall say, You are the Lord my God.” (Hosea 2:23 LXX). Here the Lord speaks of the Gentiles as if they were a woman, as a bride whom He loves and calls His own. It is not accidental that the Lord encounters a woman at the well, is it? No, not at all. Let’s see what happens when the encounter takes place.
“Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat on the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’”
Before Jesus would open her heart and open her mind to receive the great gifts which He had in store for her, the Samaritan woman was first asked to give something to Him. He would later give her rivers of living water, which is the Gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life, but first she must offer Him a tiny drink. And what is this drink? St Augustine says: “He who was asking for a drink was thirsting for the faith of the woman herself.”
In the Psalm 115:3 in the Orthodox Psalter, the holy King and Prophet David asks: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?” In other words, what can I possibly give to the Lord, what can I possibly offer to God as a fitting token of my gratitude for all of the overwhelming blessings which He has showered upon me? What tiny sip, what sign of faith can I show? David, in this very same Psalm, gives us the answer, the four things that we should imitate to the best of our ability. 1.) “I will take the cup of salvation.” For us this means that we should frequently receive the Holy Mysteries, preparing ourselves with Confession, the recitation of the pre-Communion rule of prayer, and fasting. This is what the Prayer Book means by approaching Holy Communion “worthily.” 2.) “I will call upon the Name of the Lord.” Prayer is our spiritual breath. Without prayer we have no spiritual life. We need to pray often, everyday, both the formal and the informal prayers, the Prayer Book and the Prayer Rope. 3.) “I will pay my vows” means I will make a regular offering of myself, in the form of my time, my talents, and my treasure, in other words, my money, to the Church. “My vows” means the same thing as “my pledge” or “my financial obligation.” And 4.) “in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the House of the Lord.” Being present in church, joining together in prayer with the people of God, this is probably the most fundamental sign of our appreciation for and love of God. Remember, we are saved together, but we fall alone. Going to church is our tithe of time for God. Praying at home cannot replace praying in the temple. Why? St. Macarius of Optina says: “Concerning prayer in church, know that it is higher than prayers at home, for it is raised by a whole group of people, among which many are most pure prayers, offered to God from humble hearts, which He accepts as fragrant incense. Along with these, our prayers are also accepted, even though they are feeble and worthless.”
So, brethren, let us offer our sip of faith to Christ. Let us come frequently to the church, let us participate in the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Communion as often as we can, preparing ourselves to the best of our ability. Let us pray more fervently at home, at work, and throughout our day, and finally, let us offer with gladness our tithes and offerings to the Lord. On these four pillars, an entire spiritual house can begin to be built. May God, through the prayers of the holy Photini (Svetlana) grant us the heart, the desire, and the strength to do it. Amen.

SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC 2019
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SERMON FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC 2019
John 5:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus asks the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be made whole, healthy, well?” The sick man answers Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am struggling to get myself down into the water, someone else always gets in before me.” What this means is that year after year this poor, sick man is brought or somehow drags himself to this pool, and year after year he is disappointed. Why does he keep coming back? Is he insane, according to the popular saying, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result? To understand his words, we first have to understand the man. St John Chrysostom helps us by asking: “What could be more sad than these circumstances? Do you see his heart, broken due to long sickness? Do you see how all violence within him is subdued? He doesn’t curse his situation. He doesn’t complain about his lot in life as many often do. He didn’t get angry at the question, nor did he say, ‘Have you come to mock me and all of us here with your question whether I desire to be made whole?’ No, not at all, but he replied gently, with great mildness, "Yes, Lord." He did not know who it was that asked him, he did not know that it would be He that would heal him, but he mildly relates all the circumstances and asks nothing further, as though he were speaking to a physician, and desired merely to tell the story of his sufferings” (Homilies on the Gospel of John, NPNF, edited by me).
So, why is this the case? What is it, about this paralyzed man, that makes him so remarkable? What is it about this man, that keeps him coming back, year after year? Answer: It is his faith in the miracle. Which miracle? Is it the miracle of healing brought by an angel? Yes, of course, but more importantly, he believes that if THAT miracle can happen, then a bigger miracle, a personal miracle, can also happen – a miracle for him. God is bigger than Bethesda’s pool. God is mightier than an angel’s touch. God is stronger than any men needed to lift him and put him in the pool. The paralytic believes that “where God wills, the order of nature is overruled, for He does whatever He wishes” as St. Andrew of Crete says. The paralytic is waiting for his own miracle. You might be surprised at this, but even the icon placed here for veneration testifies to the point. Now I know that most of you don’t read Greek, but at the top of the icon it says “Christ Heals the Paralytic.” Most of them have this at a title. But at the bottom it says “The Fourth Sunday of Pascha, the miracle of the Paralytic.” That’s right, the miracle of the paralytic!
Belief in miracles is fundamental to our Christian faith. Which miracles, you might ask? How about the miracle of Creation, the parting of the Red Sea, the bush that burned yet was not consumed? How about the miracle of God taking flesh and dwelling among us, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, His ascension into heaven? Don’t we believe in all of these things? We do! But we also know that these miracles go against all worldly logic, all earthly wisdom. For a believer, though, worldly, fleshly, and fallen logic have no place when it comes to divine things. St. Nektarios of Aegina said: “Miracles are not impossible from a logical standpoint, and right reason does not deny them. Natural laws do not have the claim to be the only ones, nor are they threatened with being overturned by the appearance of other laws, supernatural ones, which also are conducive to the development and furtherance of creation… Miracles are a consequence of the Creator’s love for his creatures.” Also, St. Augustine says: “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” And I also like this quote from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy from the first Sunday of Great Lent: “To them who do not accept with a pure and simple faith and with all their soul and heart the extraordinary miracles of our Saviour and God, and of the Most Holy Theotokos who without stain gave birth to Him, and of the other saints, but who attempt by sophistic demonstrations and words to traduce them as being impossible, or to misinterpret them according to their own way of thinking, and to present them according to their own opinion, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!” (Το Συνοδικόν της Ορθοδοξίας)
Miracles are not myths, they are not fairy tales. Miracles are not the pious imaginings of unsophisticated illiterates. They are real. We don’t need to explain them away. We don’t need to be embarrassed about recounting them. We don’t need to re-write them in order to make them more “palatable” for a skeptical, cynical, and fallen world. We need to confess them. Miracles are the reason that many came to believe in Christ, and miracles are the reason that many gave their lives for Christ. Miracles are an important part of the fabric of the Gospel. Why? Because they always point to something bigger than themselves. The late and saintly Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas wrote: “Miracles are signs that point to something – a truth – far greater and more important than the acts themselves, the restoration of all things to their pristine state, the way things were supposed to be, or should have developed, if men had obeyed God’s will in the first place” (The Miracles of Christ, pg 3-4).
Fr. Luke Veronis, in a moving sermon on the miracle-working and myrrh-streaming icon “Kardiotisa” located in Taylor, Pennsylvania (a copy of which is hanging right here in our church), concluded by saying: “Our God is a God of wonders and miracles. He is not bound by the very laws of nature which He Himself has established. Sometimes in our contemporary, secular and materialistic world we try to insist that science and reason are the only source of truth. The Church honors and appreciates science and reason, yet we know that the Creator of all stands above all. We can never try to limit or keep God confined within our own boundaries. The miracle of the Kardiotisa icon is just one small example of the unfathomable mysteries of life and of the Creator of Life, God Himself! Sometimes we can only observe in awe and wonder, and give glory to God for the way He reveals His majesty!”
The paralytic waited for God’s miracle, patiently, with faith and hope. He should inspire us today to follow his example. God loves us more than we love ourselves. He always wants to heal us, but the most important healing is the of our souls. The flesh passes away. God always hears us. He may answer today, or He may answer in 38 years. His timing is always perfect. God always wants what is best for us, best for our life; for our eternal life. The miracle of the raising of the paralytic today was not the most important miracle described in today’s Gospel, it was the encounter with Christ. The paralytic met God face to face, and today we sing together with him: “Praise God in His saints, praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts, praise Him according to the multitude of His greatness” (Psalm 150 LXX). Amen.

Reflection for THOMAS SUNDAY
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THOMAS SUNDAY 2019
Reflection written by Ever-memorable Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) of Dallas
(Edited for space and a teensy-weensy bit for clarity)

When the disciples had gathered on the new Passover (Pascha), the Lord’s Day or Resurrection Day, Jesus entered the room where they were — "the doors being shut … for fear of the Jews" — stood in the midst of them and showed them His hands and side. Christ then greeted them with that salutation, retained by the Church through the ages, with which the priest greets the faithful at each of the important parts of the Divine Liturgy and other services: "Peace be unto you."....Continuing, we are told that the apostles "were glad when they saw the Lord." Once more Christ’s words prior to His Passion are brought to mind: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you." (John 16: 22) This joy that our Lord promised His disciples is, like peace, that which is experienced in the Divine Presence. It is the same joy felt by Christians after all these centuries when they participate, through the divine worship of the Church, in the blessings of the Kingdom to come. Particularly in the Eucharist an almost inexplicable joy is experienced in an encounter with the risen Lord, in communion with His Holy Body and Blood. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." (John 6:56) In the Eucharistic gathering Christ’s glory is revealed to His disciples and they are thus strengthened and confirmed in their faith in the promises of Christ, ready to return to the world from which they were called out. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1Peter 2:9) (The Greek, “ecclesia,” from which we get the word Church means, called out.) Let’s continue:

Now "Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came," and when the others told Him, "we have seen the Lord." He, responded, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20: 24-25) Thomas is like so many of us in that he would require tangible, visible proof that Christ is really active in the lives of His people, caring for creation, and that He was what He claimed to be: "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." (John 14:9) Some today desire generally that kind of evidence even for God’s existence, "irrefutable" evidence making it impossible for man not to believe. That type of unquestionable, undeniable proof, we can say, will be put forth only at the end of this age, when "the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him" (Matthew 25:31). At that time it will indeed be quite impossible for anyone (although some may try in vain) to deny "the King of kings and the Lord of lords." (Deuteronomy 10:17; Revelation 19:16)
God’s most important gift to man, that which identifies him as a creature made in the image of God, is free will. The Lord honors this gift. He loves man and would have man love Him freely in return. God, therefore, will not force man to accept Him, but would have him approach his Creator in faith and trust. We would do well to remember the example of St. John the Baptist. He bore witness to his Lord saying, "Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Yet after being arrested, in a moment of hesitation or doubt, the Forerunner sent his disciples to Christ asking, "Are you he that we expected, or should we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) At first glance this question seems strange, indeed contradictory, for "the greatest born of women" to be asking. It is thus important to note that Jesus does not seek to answer it in some "definitive" way, irrefutable in John’s mind. Rather He responds in terms of an invitation, still beckoning His servant to place his trust freely in Him: "Go and relate to John again those things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, who does not stumble because of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
Near the end of the Gospel passage, after Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God," Jesus says to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Faith: this is the way that God would have us come to Him. "Faith," says St. Paul, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). People sometimes lament the fact that they did not live in Apostolic times when it would have been possible to see for themselves and talk face to face with the Incarnate Lord. In the minds of many, this would constitute tangible proof of God’s existence and alleviate any doubts concerning Christ. But would it? Israel was prepared for almost two thousand years for the coming of the Messiah. Miracles were performed by Him in the peoples’ midst. Yet, in the end, those who heard and saw Jesus for themselves wound up shouting, "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him." Only a few individuals stood with Him at the foot of the Cross. One really has to wonder seriously if we would have been any different given the chance. For regardless of how and when the Lord chooses to reveal Himself it is always possible, in freedom and because of sin, to explain away that revelation.

A primary emphasis here is that the historical period in which one exists makes no difference as far as one’s relationship to Christ is concerned and his or her ability to know the Truth and live by faith. We have the mystical Body of Christ, the Church’s sacramental, liturgical life, and the Lord’s promise to be with us always. We have "received the Heavenly Spirit," and are blessed with the examples, testimonies and presence of countless saints who have gone on before us. We are literally living, right now if you will, in Apostolic times. So it seems as though we are missing the mark if we begin to demand, from God or from ourselves, objective, factual knowledge in terms of "proof," before we can come to faith. At some point a "leap of faith," will be required, for as mentioned above, so-called concrete evidence can always be discarded if that is what is desired. On the other side of that "leap," though, is the knowledge that we all seek. Once there, there is no lack of proof. But without this faith no amount of knowledge or evidence will suffice. There will always be room for doubt, and opportunities for man in his "wisdom" to deny what is so plain and simple to all who have truly found the narrow path that leads to life. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."