Dear Ones,
Christ is Risen! Xpucmoc Bockpece!
Do you know what this day is called in the Orthodox Church? It’s called “Antipascha.” Isn’t that a funny name? Sounds like it’s somehow “opposed” to Pascha, an enemy of the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Can you imagine? Well, that can’t be right! And it isn’t. Antipascha also sounds a little like “antipasto” which, in Italian meals, are the light snacks, the pickled veggies and light “hors d’oeuvres” that come before the pasta course. Truth be told, maybe that makes a little more sense...light veggie thingies as an antidote to the luscious richness of Sirnaya Paskha...anti-pascha. Hmmmm. Well, forget it. Antipascha just means that this Sunday is the conclusion, the close of Bright Week. Pascha Day was the front bookend, and this is the last bookend. The 8-day Feast of Pascha ended before the 9th Hour last evening, although the Paschal Season will last another month, until Ascension. Now there’s another name for this day other than Antipascha. Do you know what it is? It’s “Thomas Sunday.”  Notice that I didn’t say “Doubting Thomas Sunday” as this nickname for the saint is the first thing we need to toss into the rubbish bin. Forget that somewhere along the way you came to believe that Thomas’ principal claim to fame is the passion of “doubt.” Forget that you still might think of him as a somehow inferior disciple. Forget that you’re pretty sure Jesus rebukes him for his lack of faith. Forget all of that. Why? Because in each case the opposite is true.
First, in St. John’s Gospel, (the only Gospel that has much of anything to say about him,) St Thomas is never described as “the doubter.” Rather, he is called  “Didymus, the Twin,” a name most of us have long forgotten. Further, when Jesus had declared his intention to return to Judea – and the other disciples tried to dissuade him because they knew it would mean his death – it is Thomas who urges the others to follow Jesus “so that we all may die with him.” (11:16) Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a pious and faithful skeptic. He remembered the words of Jesus very well: “If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There He is!' do not believe it!” (Mark 13:21). Thomas is also what some today might call a realist. Only a few days earlier, he’d encountered reality like never before as he saw his Master and Lord nailed to the cross and die. Now, when his fellow disciples tell him that they’ve seen the Lord, he reacts with a realist’s skepticism.
Second, did you ever notice that what Thomas asked-for was exactly what all the other disciples had already received? When Jesus appeared to the other disciples, he showed them his hands and his side and only then, John records, did the disciples rejoice “because they had seen the Lord.” (20:20) What does this tell us? One conclusion we might draw is that, despite his undeserved bad reputation, Thomas is really no different than the other disciples. Faith, after all, isn’t about having more knowledge of things, but instead it “is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews: 11:1)
By the way, some icons depicting this event are inscribed “The Doubting Thomas.” This is totally incorrect. In Greek, the proper and canonical inscription reads, “The Touching of Thomas.” The Slavonic inscription is even more positive, “The Belief of Thomas.”
Third, Jesus’ words at the end of this passage aren’t really about Thomas, are they? After all, who are “those who have not seen and yet believed?” Well, He’s not talking about the first Christians. The Scriptures tell us that the Lord appeared to His Mother, Mary Magdalen, the Mother of James and John, all of the apostles, and 500 people at once. In other words, almost everybody in the primordial church saw the Lord during His forty-day stay. No, Jesus isn’t really rebuking Thomas, He’s blessing those of us who would come later.
Looked at this way, far from standing as the inferior “doubter,” Thomas emerges as a model disciple in St. John’s Gospel. Or more accurately, he’s the model of how one becomes a disciple. He loves the Lord with his whole heart. He knows the word of God. He lives his life in obedience to those words. He knows who Christ really is. He tests and proves everything that comes his way in order to discern what is from God. He tries the spirits. He is no fool. In other words he is an example for us all. May the Lord grant us, through the prayers of the Holy Apostle Thomas, the grace to acquire these same, God-pleasing virtues. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Ones,
I remember as a kid back in 1961, seeing the movie “King of Kings” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. It was a lavish Hollywood production with a lot to dazzle the senses and a lot to stimulate the mind. Later, in my teenage years, I would see this film again, on TV, and it would have a very profound effect on my life and ultimately yours as well. But that’s a story for another day. The spectacle of the film impressed me, sure. But one part of the film, a small, quiet part, (if my memory serves me), made a lasting impression. It was the prayer at the breaking of the bread, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.” It’s a contemporary Jewish prayer superimposed on the first century, but I didn’t know that until decades later. But that’s not the point. At that time I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s really profound – King of the Universe!” I think that little prayer gave me a much deeper sense of the bigness of God. “King of the Universe!” That’s big.
But today we don’t see the King of the Universe. Today we really witness the “small” king, don’t we? Today we witness the little king, the humble king. Today we see the King of the Universe as the very incarnation of meekness and lowliness. He rides on the back of the lowest of creatures, a young donkey, which symbolizes our immature, temperamental and stubborn nature. And the children and their parents wave common palm branches, not banners of silk or flags woven with gold. The palm branches symbolize the People of God. They are green because only God truly gives them life, and their “v” shaped leaves symbolize the prayerful arms of the faithful that stretch up, reaching toward heaven, begging God for His mercy and help. These symbols, these powerful symbols, are all given for our contemplation, consideration, and action. We must be humble, meek and gentle if we are to follow this King. We must struggle against our fallen flesh which is stubborn and bestial and immature, if we want to hear the words of life spoken by the Saviour in the Temple. We must continuously raise our hands and our hearts to heaven, if we want to be found truly “alive,” vital, and worthy to stand in the rainy earthquakes of Golgotha. We also have to be willing to shed the garments of the “old man” and lay them at the feet of the humble King if we hope to see the vision of the empty tomb and the Risen Lord. And all of this requires ascesis on our part, holy efforts, spiritual podvig. For this week especially, it means being present, here, inside the church, inside the temple, inside of the “earthly heaven” as St Germanus of Constantinople (7th c.) calls it. For this week especially, this Great and Holy Week, the Church calls us to leave our lives in this world and follow Christ. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we will hear Christ teaching in the Temple and begin to participate in the dramatic events unfolding in Jerusalem. On Thursday morning we come to the celebration of the Last Supper where Christ first gave the Eucharist mystically to His disciples. On Thursday evening we will take part in the stirring Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels when the Church recounts all the details of Christ's betrayal by Judas, of His trial, of Pilate, of the scourging and the Crucifixion. On Friday afternoon Christ is taken down from the Cross and buried in the tomb. On Friday evening we see that which was unseen - Christ revealing Himself as the Liberator of those in Hades, and together we shall sing the meditative “Praises” around His Tomb. On Saturday morning, we shall witness the first Resurrection Liturgy with the changing of vestments from black into white and the tossing of the laurel leaves and rose petals symbolizing victory over death, the smashing of the gates of brass, and the sweet fragrance of Paradise re-opened. Then on Saturday night we will walk in the darkness like the Myrrh-bearing Women going to the tomb, and at midnight Christ will make clear His Resurrection. Never is His presence more clearly felt that at that very moment. How can we “skip” these services and still call ourselves Orthodox? How can we “skip” being with Christ through all the events of this Holy Week which changed the history of the whole world? Let us become those babes and sucklings and perfect our praise! Let us put away all those enslaving worldly cares, free ourselves from our lethargy, and come to be with the Mother of God and St John, and follow Christ to the Cross, so that we can then follow Him to His Resurrection, to Victory and Triumph, and so be resurrected in spirit together with Him.
I’ll end with the words of St Andrew of Caesarea (7th c.) who said this:  “Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation...Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish us to live....let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in Him. We who have been baptized into Christ must, ourselves, be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the Conqueror of Death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of His victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.’” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Ones – Earlier this week there was a message left on the parish answering machine. A man had died and the family was looking for an Orthodox priest to come and pray. The name they gave was unfamiliar to me, but nevertheless I met with the daughter of the deceased who told me an absolutely tragic tale. It seems that her newly-departed father had been very sick back in Moldova where the family came from. Over the course of many months, she was trying to obtain a visa for her Dad to come to the US for medical treatment, because health care was “not good” back in Moldova. Unfortunately, it took too long, and the visa only arrived in time for him to be brought to America to die, surrounded by his family. As you can imagine, the family was devastated. They could’t help but wonder out loud “If only we could have gotten him here earlier, our father/husband would not have died.” It sound lot like Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel, doesn’t it? “Lord, if you had only been here, our brother would not have died!” Such sadness. Such suffering. The man’s name is Nicolae. Please pray for his soul.
Then, just yesterday a young couple, Byelorussians, stopped by the church to light candles. They came to pray for the soul of the young woman’s teacher back in Belarus. Not just any teacher, mind you, but a teacher who had been a profound influence, mentor and friend. She had just learned of the death, and it was already the ninth day. The young woman rushed to get here to St Nicholas church, praying to God that the church would be open. It was about 5:00 in the afternoon. Aaron let the young pair into the church. I came in shortly thereafter. When the girl told me her story, I was heartbroken too, and offered to do a memorial service (Panikhida) for her. She cried thru the whole service. The name of this wonderful teacher is Inessa. Please pray for her too.
Fr Florovsky once wrote that the greatest tragedy to afflict mankind is death. It crushes, devastates and wounds. It confuses and discombobulates us. Death gives us that deep and sick feeling that cries out “This is wrong, very wrong, ALL wrong!” And os it is. Now we are embarking upon a new journey. Great Lent is over. The emphasis on “me” and my “spiritual life” is over. Now we are to look at life’s biggest question. Holy Week is all about this, because it’s all about death. It addresses death, it confronts death. It starts with the death of Lazarus and proceeds to the death of Jesus. But it doesn’t remain there, of course. It ends with the “good news,” the “gospel.” And what is this?
We say that Jesus came in order to share with us the Gospel...good news..”god’s spell.” “Spell” is a good old Anglo-Saxon word, related to German word “spiel.” It doesn’t mean a hex, or a witches curse, or the effects of a love potion. Not at all! Originally it meant,  “a speech or recitation in order to promote a thing or an idea.” So what is the “idea” or “thing” that Christ comes to promote or to demonstrate? It is this: that God has come in the flesh in order to crush death, to defeat mankind’s greatest and most tragic enemy. By His life, and by His death, Christ will destroy death, and wipe away every tear from every face “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will pass away” (Rev. 21:4) “And He will swallow up death for all time” (Isaiah 25:8).
According to Fr. Thomas Hopko, the Lazarus narrative forms the very heart of John’s Gospel, crucial in establishing the divinity of Christ. But beyond showing us the love of God and the deity of Christ, it also reminds us of the future that awaits all mankind in the final resurrection. To Martha, Christ says:
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha’s response even serves as the basis for the beginning of our pre-communion prayer today: “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.”
Even in his very name “Lazarus” (or “Eleazar” in Hebrew), we find the promise of the resurrection because it means: “God is my helper.” God himself, the God-Man,  came to the aid of Lazarus—the four-days-dead, Lazarus, the friend of God who would be truly helped by God.  That’s why we heard in today’s epistle reading these words of St Paul quoting Psalm 118:6 in the Septuagint: “The LORD is my helper; and I will not fear what man shall do to me”  (Hebrews 13:6).
The raising of Lazarus is God’s promise to us, it is God’s message and word for us. Ff we are His friends then He will help us too! That’s why the epistle is so full of warnings about our behaviour. In order to be the friends of Christ we need to imitate Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1). If we love Christ, as we claim to, then we must follow His commandments (John 14:15). Only such friends will reap the benefits of the bodily resurrection. Christ promises not merely to raise us up, but He will resurrect us to everlasting life and bliss in His heavenly Kingdom! That, my friends, is the Gospel. That’s the good news!
After the ascension of Christ, Lazarus continued on this earth another thirty years. When persecution arose, Lazarus relocated to Cyprus, an island once home to the Greek philosopher Zeno. While there, the apostle Paul appointed him as the first bishop of Kition, which is the modern city named Larnaca.
Lazarus reportedly spoke very little during his final years, rarely smiled (perhaps due to things witnessed in hades), and lived a quiet and peaceful life. The only time he laughed was when he saw a man stealing a clay pot. He is said to have remarked, “Behold, clay stealing clay!”
When Lazarus reposed (for the second time), he was buried in a marble tomb on Cyprus. A church was constructed to house his relics, the Church of Saint Lazarus, in Larnaca. On his ancient tomb, which still exists, it is written:
“The Fourth Day Lazarus, a Friend of Christ.”
His relics were transferred to Constantinople in 898 by Emperor Leo VI. They remained in Constantinople until the Fourth Crusade (A.D. 1204), taken by the Western Crusaders and then eventually lost. But more recently, excavations uncovered another “reliquary” much smaller than the first, but containing a portion of the relics NOT carried off to Constantinople, much to the delight and joy of the citizens of Larnaca, and to all pilgrims everywhere.
The Apolytikion (Tropar) to Lazarus is the same as that for Palm Sunday. It’s central theme is what? That Christ is the “Vanquisher of Death!” This is how it reads:
“By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!”

Homily: The Beatitudes - A Spiritual Ladder for All
Today we celebrate the memory of our venerable father, St John Climacus, or St John of the Ladder. It’s the same thing in Greek. The word “klimax” means “ladder.” “The Ladder” we know refers to the book.
When St John wrote his amazing book "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," around 600 AD, he intended it as a guide for monks, and it remains a bedrock, cornerstone reading for all monastics even to this day. However, it has also been used quite successfully by people living "in the world" unto great spiritual benefit, by applying its guidance and principles to their own lives. This requires a certain amount of filtration, discernment, and wisdom which can sometimes be illusive, requiring the guidance of an experienced spiritual father. For example, much of the extreme asceticism described in this work in the section called “The Prison,” is no longer practiced or even allowed in the Orthodox Church.
Perhaps a more "user-friendly" Spiritual Ladder for most of us "worldlings" is the one provided to us by the Lord Himself in the Gospels, and in fact, the very Gospel that we heard this morning - the Beatitudes. In fact, the Church intentionally assigned this very text for today’s commemoration of St John! Instead of 30 rungs covering the passions and the causes of the passions, and their opposite virtues, the Beatitudes have only eight rungs. Or at least eight is the traditional number. What are they?
Number 1 is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What does it mean? It means that we should have the heart of someone who has nothing. In other words, we should struggle to be free from greed, miserliness, and attachment to things, no matter what our wealth or station in life.
Number 2 is: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." If we weep over our sins, truly repent, and make a good Confession, the Holy Spirit will console us with the knowledge, and the certainty, of our forgiveness. Also it means that even though we weep over the deaths of our dear ones, if they have loved Christ and loved their neighbors, we are comforted with the condifenhat we shall see them again.
Number 3 is: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."  Here, meekness does not mean weakness. The Greek here means gentle. Strong yet gentle. It's the gentle people, not the angry, cruel bullies that will inherit the New Heaven and the New Earth. Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).
Number 4 is: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." Don't try to fill that yearning hole in your soul with diversions, pleasures, entertainments, drugs, alcohol, or fleshly lusts. You could pour the whole world into that hole, but it will never be satisfied. Only by hungering and thirsting for Christ will we be satisfied. As St Paul reminds us: “ Because of (God) you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us Godly-wisdom, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption” (See 1 Corinthians 1:30). If we yearn for Christ, if we long for Christ, He will fill us with Himself, He will fill us with righteousness!
Number 5 is: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Being “merciful” means two things: 1) Forgiving and refusing to inflict pain on others, and 2) Generous in almsgiving. Bestowing a "mercy" in the Bible frequently means being liberal in giving to the poor, to the church, etc. Some people are confused in the Divine Liturgy when we sing: “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” But here we mean “mercy” in the same way. It’s an offering of peace. We are offering a mercy of peace. Don’t we wish that everyone in the world was offering a mercy of peace?
Number 6 is: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Purification of the heart, according to the holy fathers, is driving out passions and sins from our heart, especially by means of the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is the "whip of Christ" which drives out the "money-changers" of the logismoi, the evil thoughts. When the heart is cleaned-out and purified, Christ Himself knocks and enters in. (Revelation 3:20)
Number 7 is: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." What kind of peacemakers are we called to be? First of all we should seek to bring peace between those who are at enmity with one another. This has to begin first with us. It's more important to be righteous than "right." Second, we must enter into the very work of Christ Himself, to unite the divided, and to reconcile back to God those alienated from Him. How? By making sure that we live like children of the light, so that our “light so shines before people that they see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (see Matthew 5:16).
And finally, number 8: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This Beatitude includes the next line: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account." Willingness to endure embarrassment, humiliation, and yes, even suffering and death for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel, assures us of the Kingdom of Heaven!
But wait... I don't want to end here, on eight! I want to end with nine! Nine is a holy number, representing the nine ranks of saints and angels described by Dionysius the Areopagite, and celebrated at the Proskomedia at every Divine Liturgy. For me there has to be a number nine representing the very top of the Spiritual Ladder of the Beatitudes. Is there one? Is there a number nine? Yes there is!
Number 9: "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” The top of the Ladder is "Rejoice!" The top of the Ladder is JOY!Those who have experienced this joy, know that they have been united to Christ. Look at those on the top rungs in icon of The Ladder. They have already tasted heaven. They are already filled with joy and light. St. Paul in Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say: Rejoice!”  We can only do this if we have made some efforts to climb the spiritual ladder. We can only experience this if we, aided by the power and grace of God, struggle to live as authentic Christians. I will end with the words of St Seraphim of Sarov, who said:
“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn another person, not even those whom you catch committing an evil deed. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a morass of filth that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make a big deal of the faults of others. Keep away from the spilling of speech. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace yourself. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, outrage, and will shield your glowing hearts against the evil that creeps around.” Amen.

Sermon: Gregory Palamas 2018
St Gregory Palamas
Mark 2: 1-12; John 10: 9-16
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, in Psalm 126:5 we are told that: "Those who sow with tears will reap with joy."
In these weeks of preparation and finally our initial entry into the contest of the Great Fast, we have been shown everything that is dark, everything that is evil, everything that is twisted and everything that is broken, in our fallen human condition. First there was the avarice of Zacchaeus, then the pride of the Pharisee, the rebellious party-animal-the Prodigal Son, and the goats on the left who had no care for their fellow human beings or Christ's commandments. We learned about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise because they listened to Satan rather than God. We were told about the power of forgiveness, and equally, about the power of un-forgiveness. We have heard the heart-wrenching lament of the human soul crying out to God, presented in the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, who showed us that really all of these terrible things live inside of us. If we have paid any attention at all, if we have had any ears to hear, if we have scrambled to find at least some crumb which has fallen from the Master's table, then we have sown, at least in a small way, some first tears for our salvation. If we have not, if we neglected the services, if we remain unmoved, if we are still grounded and bolted to this world, distracted by every demonic whisper and dark, illusive thought; if we are still critical and judgmental of everything and everyone; if we find ourselves still uncaring, unfeeling, and unforgiving; if we find ourselves still proud and still fatally self-centered…WE MUST NOT DESPAIR. As long as we are still breathing there is time to repent. As long as we desire to confront the truth about ourselves, and as long as we run to Confession, there is still time for forgiveness. There is still time, even though we are near the time of the harvest. God will give us many, many opportunities. As we progress towards the Kingdom of God, towards the Day of the Resurrection, we can still, at every moment, turn to Him with broken hearts, and say, ‘No, Lord! Wait! I know that I am the poorest worker, coming at the eleventh hour, but please receive me too, in accordance with Your promise.'  And He will not despise either our tardiness or our brokenness. We will hear His gentle voice saying to us "Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive your inheritance, the kingdom, prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
Last Sunday we celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the day when the Church proclaimed and re-asserted that it was proper and God-pleasing to create and venerate icons of Christ. It was not a declaration about art, it was a proclamation of the joy of the Incarnation.
The Old Testament said to us that God cannot be represented by any image because He is an unfathomable mystery; He didn't even have a Name, except the mysterious name the Sacred Tetragrammaton, four Hebrew letters…all consonants (I'd like to buy a vowel please!) which only the High Priests knew, but no one would dare to pronounce.
But in the New Testament we have learned, and we know from experience, that God has become Man, that the fullness of the Divinity became flesh and remains forever in the flesh. So, now, God has a Name, a Name that everybody may pronounce; a Name that is above every other name (Philippians 2:9): Jesus. And more than this - He has a human face that can be depicted in the holy icons. And what is an icon? It is a proclamation of our certainty that God has become man; and He has become man to achieve ultimate, tragic and glorious solidarity with us, to be one of us that we may be one with Him and become His adopted children. He became man that we might be deified, as the St. Athanasius the Great tells us. He became earthly that we might become heavenly.
And so, last week, we already began to have a taste of heavenly joy. And, if you think about it, even a week before that, when we were already prostrating and asking one another for forgiveness-- softly, quietly, the Church was singing the canon of Pascha: "It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord!"  We were only just barely entering the first minutes of Great Lent, and yet…we were singing about the joy of Pascha, the joy that Christ is risen from the dead! We don’t do this simply because it's a promise for the future, no!  It is the certainty of the present. The Doors of Repentance are, in fact, the Doors of Resurrection, the Doors of the Kingdom, and the Gateway to JOY.
And today too, on this Second Sunday of the Great Fast, our lamentation pauses, and joy, like a ray of the sun, peeks through the dark clouds. Today we remember Saint Gregory Palamas, one of the greatest Saints of our Orthodox Church, who, against heresy and head-knowledge, proclaimed, from the experience of the ascetics and of all the saints and righteous ones from all the ages, that the grace of God is not a created Gift – it is God Himself. Gregory defended the notion that we human beings can have direct experience of God, that we can be permeated with His Life and become radiant with His Light. We can, by grace, become partakers of the Divine nature, as the Holy Apostle Peter says (2 Peter 1:4).
Today the Church brings us one step closer to the joy, to the glory of Pascha. Next week we will sing the praises of the Life-Giving Tree of the Cross, the Tree of Life which God once planted in the Garden; the Cross which was, at one time, a symbol of Roman terrorism, but now has become a sign of victory and salvation. The image of the Cross signifies this to us because it shows that God’s love has no measure, no limits. God's love is higher than high; it is as deep as God is deep, it is as all-embracing as God is all-embracing. 
Let's enter into the grace-filled tears and the joy of this season by attending the lenten services this week. Let’s prepare ourselves for next Sunday, the veneration and vision of the precious Cross of the Lord. Let's prepare to really look at it, and see in it God's sign of Divine love, and new certainty of salvation. And later on, at the end of our journey, when the choir sings the canon of the Resurrection, this time more loudly, let us realize that step by step, God has lead us not merely into tears and sorrow this Lent, but by means of steppingstones of joy, has shared with us everything that He is and everything that He has.

Sermon given on the First Sunday of Lent 2018
Last Sunday, Forgiveness Sunday, was the Last Sunday of Cheese Week or Maslenitsa. Today is the first actual Sunday of the Great Fast. Today our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the triumph of true faith and true worship. That means that today we thank God and celebrate that saving and holy faith which trampled down all heresies and exalted the truth for all ages. It is a celebration of that Church against which the gates of hell have never prevailed, and against which they will never prevail, as Christ promised to Peter (Matthew 16:18.) That Church may have been beaten, it may have been bruised, it may have been bloodied, but for two-thousand years this same Church, this same faith, has stood as an historical and visible witness to the saving power of Christ.
Heretics assailed the Church even from her apostolic beginnings. St. Paul said that heresies would have to come, in order to reveal who the real truth-tellers were. He wrote: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Gnostics, Judaizers, Nicolaitians, and others, attempted to bring division and confusion into the Church even from the very beginning.  Then later there were Pelagians, Sabellians, Manachaeists, Nestorians, Arians, Monophysites, on and on, until the wicked iconoclasts, the spiritual descendants of that false prophet of the Hagarenes, attempted to strip the Church of the doctrine of the incarnation and the sanctification of matter. Heresies have come and heresies have gone, but none have defeated the Church.
Satan is never one to give up, though. He continues to work his wickedness to divide and confuse, even to this day. His methodology is no longer about theology. No. Today’s modern and “enlightened” people have no need of theology. If fact, they have no real need of God – or so they think! No, he works on the minds of people in the Church as well as those outside. He strives, and is often successful, in luring the undisciplined and non-theological minds of modern human beings into substituting godly-mindedness with worldly-thinking. What does that mean? It means to embrace as “true” everything that this fallen, sinful, corrupt and murderous world says is true. For instance: We don’t need to believe in God, but we must believe in science. This is a good example. Of course most people don’t know that in Hitler’s Germany, the top scientists believed in the racist and de-humanizing theories of Naziism. Or in the old Soviet Union, the government said there is no God. People who were considered too religious, too Orthodox, were deemed by the official psychiatric community to be mentally ill. They were locked-up in mental facilities, or shipped-off into exile to live in camps for the insane, or worse, they were killed. All must embrace the world-think, or you will be considered not only aberrational, but you will be considered anti-social, anti-modern, anti-American, “anti-normal.” The same goes for the Law of God, Judeo-Christian Morals (I prefer to call them “God-revealed morals!), or anything else that goes against the grain of modern-think. And oh, how easy it is just to “go with the flow,” to “not make waves” to avoid the embarrassment, the shame, the ridicule, the snarky comments, and yes, even hostility and persecution. How easy indeed. Venerable Seraphim of Platina said of these kind of pseudo-Orthodox Christians: “they just blend in with the anti-Christian world around them and cease to be examples of any kind of Christianity for those around them. The Christian must be different from the world, above all, from today's weird, abnormal world.”
The Triumph of Orthodoxy is about the triumph of the icon-hangers over the icon-smashers, true. But it’s about so much more. It’s about the triumph of truth against the lies; it’s about the triumph of light against the darkness. And no matter how much Satan tries to appear as an angel of light, he isn’t, and he never will be. The Sunday of Orthodoxy is about right over wrong, God’s righteousness over the world’s iniquity, the Queen of Sciences over false and corrupt science. Ultimately, the Triumph of Orthodoxy is about the triumph of Life over death, the calm haven over the Lake of Fire, and deification over damnation. It’s not about how great we are, it’s about how great the Faith is, how great the Church is, how great God’s grace is, and how great the truth is.
If there were no truth, there would no longer be any who worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth”  (John 4:24). This is our joy today. This is the cause of our celebration!
In Matins for the Feast we hear the following words:
“A feast of joy and gladness is revealed to us today. For the teachings of the true Faith shine forth in all their glory, and the Church of Christ is bright with splendour, adorned with the holy icons which now have been restored; and God has granted to the faithful unity of mind.” (Praises. Tone 4)
And to conclude, I will read from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy which will be read later today in Cathedrals, Monasteries, and some parishes:
“As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught,... as the Church has received... as the teachers have dogmatized,... as the Universe has agreed,... as Grace has shown forth,... as Truth has revealed,... as falsehood has been dissolved,... as Wisdom has presented,... as Christ Awarded,... thus we declare,... thus we assert,... thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons...This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.”

Matthew 25: 31-46
It was forty-three years ago when Los Gatos resident Gary Dahl was sitting with some friends in a bar up in Bonny Doon. During the course of their conversation, Gary’s friends began to complain about their pets – the time required, the expense, the walking, the cleaning-up, etc. This gave Gary an idea for the perfect pet – a rock. A pet rock would require no food, would not have to be walked, bathed, or taken to the vet. A pet rock would not be disobedient, it would not get sick, and best of all, it would not die. So, a fad was born, the Pet Rock. Gary designed packaging out of cardboard that looked like a pet carrier, with air holes on the sides and straw on the bottom. An instruction booklet was included with tips on the care and training of your Pet Rock. Gary sold about one and a half million Pet Rocks, imported from Rosarito Beach in Baja California practically for free, for around $4 each. Gary made a small fortune. The fad was great fun for about six months and then quickly faded away. Why? Because the Pet Rock didn’t DO anything. Oh, it could “sit” and “stay” magnificently. But to get it to “roll over” you had to prod it with a stick or a spoon. It was great as an attack or guard pet, as long as you threw it! By itself, the Pet Rock did nothing. Hence, it was good for nothing.
One of the Lord’s big complaints about the Pharisees was that they didn’t do anything either. They made a big show of religiosity, but they didn’t really do anything to help anyone. He said: “they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to assist them. All their deeds are done to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:4).
The truth is, faith is demonstrated by deeds; faith is verified by works. The Holy Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord and First Bishop of Jerusalem wrote: “What good is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what good is it? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Today is the fourth of the Pre-lenten Sundays. We often hear it called Meatfare Sunday, because it is the last day before Great Lent that we can eat meat. More properly though, it is called the Sunday of the Last Judgment because liturgically the Church focuses on the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment, derived from St Matthew’s Gospel which we just heard. Today the Church reminds us where we will all ultimately find ourselves: standing before the “dread judgment seat of Christ.”
The texts from the services are powerful and unambiguous. For example, here are some verses from the 3rd Ode of the Canon at Matins:
The Lord cometh, and who can endure the fear of Him? Who can appear before His face? But be thou ready to meet Him, O my soul.
Let us hasten, let us weep, let us be reconciled with God before the end; for fearful is the judgment seat where we shall all stand stripped naked.
Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy, I cry out unto Thee; for Thou shalt come with Thine angels to recompense unto all, according as their deeds deserve.
How shall I endure the unendurable wrath of Thy judgment, since I have disobeyed Thy commandments, O Lord? But spare me, spare me, at the hour of judgment.
These verses are the cries of the guilty. They are deep cries for mercy. They are our cries.  We stand before the Just Judge, and what are our crimes? What have we done to face such a fearful condemnation? Today's Gospel gives us the answer, and shockingly, it is not murder, not adultery, not even blasphemy... but only one thing - lack of charity, which is, in essence, lack of love. It is the sin of doing nothing.
In the Old Testament, Joshua ben Sirach writes “Do not let your hand be stretched out to receive and closed when it is time to give.”  Sirach 4:31
And David says: “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”  Psalms 40:1
And St John Chrysostom said this: “Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, ‘This is my body,’ and made it so by his word, is the same who said, ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.’ Honor Him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.”
Dear ones, in today’s Gospel we hear about six specific acts of charity:
Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Taking in strangers
Clothing the naked
Visiting the sick
Visiting those in prison
These are all meant quite literally, certainly, but they are also meant spiritually.
St. Theophylact of Ohrid writes: You, then, O reader, flee from this absence of compassion, and practice almsgiving, both tangible and spiritual. Feed Christ Who hungers for our salvation. If you give food and drink to him who hungers and thirsts for teaching, you have given food and drink to Christ. For within the Christian there is Christ, and faith is nourished and increased by teaching. If you should see someone who has become a stranger to his heavenly fatherland, take him in with you. While you yourself are entering into the heavens, lead him in as well, lest while you preach to others, you yourself be rejected. If a man should cast off the garment of incorruption which he had at his baptism, so that he is naked, clothe him; and if one should be infirm in faith, as Paul says, help him; and visit him who is shut up in the dark prison of this body and give him counsel which is as a light to him. Perform, then, all of these six types of love, both bodily and also spiritually, for we consist of both soul and body, and these acts of love are to be accomplished by both. (The Explanation, p.221)
Today, the Church calls us to remember these things, to examine ourselves, our actions, our inner hearts. Are we full of love, performing acts of charity both tangible and spiritual, without boasting, not even allowing the right hand to know what the left hand is doing? And do we see in the face and eyes of all human beings the face and eyes of Christ? This is the Lord’s word for us this day. May He grant us the grace and the resolve “both to will and to do that which is His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Amen.

FEBRUARY 4, 2018
Today we are celebrating two feasts: the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The first is about the entering of a Son, the Son of God, into His Father’s House. The second is about a son running away and rejecting his father’s house. The first one is about the fulfilling of the Law, the second is about the breaking of the Law. The first is about warm familial love, while the second is about the rejection of love and family. The first is about profound humility, while the second is about arrogant and presumptuous pride and selfishness. The first is about an offering to the Father, while the second is about robbing a Father.
These comparisons are interesting, aren’t they? But the truth is that while they seem like direct opposites, they really aren’t. In fact, in the end, the parable of the Prodigal Son ends up just like the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord – the son enters his father’s house amidst much joy and celebration. Both commemorations are intended as directions for us – directions for our entry into our Father’s House, entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. The first example is taken from actual sacred history, yet it tells us something of the utmost importance to us. If we are to enter the Father’s House, we must do so as a little child – not chronologically, but spiritually. Jesus said “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Child-like faith; child-like trust in God and His providence for us, that’s what we need. That’s what we must acquire.
And what else do we learn from this Feast? The Christ-Child entering into the Temple is the Theanthropos, the God-Man. We too must be Theophoroi, God-bearers, wearing the garment of Christ, and striving in spiritual efforts, podvigs, to acquire divine life, theosis, deification. And what else? As the 40-day old infant Christ was brought to the temple in the arms of his most-pure and holy Mother and handed over to the holy Simeon, we must imitate Him. And how can we understand this? It means that we need the help of the Mother of God if we are to enter the Kingdom. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica said  this: “The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly by our side, and all too often we forget her.” We must never forget the Theotokos! We must never forget the help that Christ has provided us in His Most Pure Mother. When we are weak and collapsing, we must call on her. She will help us, she will intercede for us, and yes, at times she may even carry us. The other feature of this wonderful scene at the doors of the Temple is that the Christ- Child is surrounded by saints, not just His Mother. There is the Holy and Righteous Joseph, the supposed father of Jesus. There is Symeon the righteous elder and one of the Seventy translators of the Old Testament into Greek. There is also St Anna, the holy Prophetess, an ascetic and a proclaimer of Christ. Surrounded by saints, that’s what we need to be as well. We must know their lives, study their words, imitate their deeds, love them, have a relationship with them, and beg them for their prayerful aid.
And now let’s turn our attention back to the prodigal son.  What is it that makes it possible for him to enter back into his father’s house? What is it that  brings about that joy and celebration which followed? Jesus said: “I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent" (Luke 15:7). Repentance. Without it we cannot enter the Father’s House. St John of Kronstadt said: “All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life.” And St Isaac the Syrian said: “Repentance is the second grace and is begotten in the heart by faith and fear. Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual paradise of good things. When we have attained thereto, it leaves us and turns back” (St. Isaac the Syrian - "Ascetical Homilies.”) And St Joseph the Hesychast says “If we wish our salvation, we will find it only in repentance and in our return to God, from whom we departed.”
Dear ones, let us rejoice in the happy confluence of these two truly wonderful commemorations: The Meeting of the Lord from the Menaion and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son from the Triodion. They both teach us the way to heaven: Child-like faith and trust; the choice to be Godbearers and the desire to be Christ-like; to appreciate and rely on the help of the Mother of God and all the saints; and finally true and God-pleasing repentance. May God grant us the grace to dwell always in our Father’s House, “where the voice of those who keep festival is unceasing, and the delight of those who behold the ineffable beauty of Christ’s countenance is unending.” Amen.

"THE MEETING OF THE LORD" by St Theophan the Recluse
LUKE 2: 22-40
What a tender scene the Meeting of the Lord shows us! The venerable elder Simeon, holding the infant God in his hands, on either side of him are the righteous Joseph and the Most Holy Mother of God. Not far away is the Prophetess Anna, an eighty-year-old faster and woman of prayer
Their eyes are all directed toward the Savior. Their attention is absorbed by Him and they drink in spiritual sweetness from Him, which feeds their souls. You can judge for yourself how blessed was the state of these souls!
However, brethren, we are called not only to think about this blessedness, but also to taste it in reality, for all are called to have and carry the Lord in themselves, and to disappear in Him with all the powers of their spirit. When we have reached that state, then our blessedness will be no lower than that of those who participated in the Meeting of the Lord. They were blessed who saw it; we shall be blessed who have not seen, but believed. Pay attention. I will show you briefly how to achieve this. Here is what you should do.
1. First of all, repent. Remember that nothing must be done in spiritual life without repentance. No matter what anyone endeavors to seek, let the beginning of it be repentance. Just as a house cannot be built without a foundation, nor a field be sown or planted without first being cleared, so also without repentance we cannot begin our spiritual search; anything begun without repentance was begun in vain. Thus, first of all, repent—that is, weep over everything bad that you have done, and resolve to do only what is pleasing to God. This will be like turning your gaze and your whole body towards the path of meeting the Lord, and taking the initial step upon that path.
2. Next, keep this state of repentance constant; establish for yourself a manner of life and conduct that would make every step or movement something directing your attention to our Lord and Savior. Such an order of life will establish itself naturally, if: a) you do everything that you do for the Glory of the Lord and Savior, for Christ's sake. Here we mean not only great deeds, but all deeds. For, seeing and hearing, silence and speaking, food and drink, sitting and walking, work and rest can all be dedicated to the Lord and sanctified by His All-Holy Name. There isn't a minute when we are not doing something; so, by thus dedicating your activity, you will be meeting the Lord minute by minute, directing all of your activities to His glory. You can even more conveniently do this and reap fruits from it if you also: b) insert into the order of your daily activities the practice of prayer—both in church and at home; and in general make it your rule to be a strict fulfiller of all the rules and order of the Holy Church to the last iota, without vain elaboration and distorted commentary, and with simplicity of heart. As the content of all prayer is the Lord and our turning to Him, by doing it and participating in it you will be meeting the Lord through your heart's sympathy and delight. If after this: c) you fill all your interim time with reading the Scriptures about the Lord, listening to talks about Him, or with your own contemplation of Him and the great work of salvation that He wrought on earth, then you will see for yourself that nothing will remain within us or outside of us that does not bring remembrance of the Lord, bring Him to your attention, or carry your spirit to meet Him.
3. Just the same, you should not forget that all of these labors and occupations are only preparation. You should not stop at them, but rather strive onward. Just as food taken in rough form later imbues refined elements needed for life, so must these occupations performed visibly and tangibly turn into a spirit of a very refined inclination or striving toward the Lord. Namely, the labor of consecrating all our activities to the Lord should have the quality of reaching with our whole soul's desire only for the Lord; when we do all our prayers or attend the Divine services, a feeling should form in our hearts of accord only with the Lord and what is His. Underlying our reading and hearing the Holy Scripture about the Lord should only be the eager directing of our mind's attention toward the Lord alone. These labors are that very working of the field, and these strivings are the growth of what has been sown. The first are the stem and branches, the latter are the flower and fruit. When these inclinations come up in us, it will mean that our spirit has gone out with all its consciousness and disposition to meet the Lord. Since the Lord is everywhere, and He Himself seeks to meet with our spirit, their mutual meeting will then come about by itself. From that moment on, our spirit will begin to taste the blessedness of Righteous Simeon; that is, it will begin to bear in the embrace of its powers a striving for the Lord, Who is its complete satiety and satisfaction. This is what is called tasting the Lord, rest in Him, mentally standing before the Lord, walking in the presence of the Lord, and ceaseless prayer—the object of all God's saints' labor, desire, and seeking.
I wish that all of you who celebrate the Meeting of the Lord be vouchsafed this blessing. If anyone complains that he would like the fruit but the labor it takes to get it is too hard, the answer is: Good. There is an easier method, a method simpler than the one laid out. Here it is! Repent; then, with zeal for keeping all of God's commandments, walk unfailingly in the Lord's presence, striving for Him with all your mind's attention, all your heart's feelings, and all your will's desires. If you thus dispose yourself, you will soon meet the Lord. He will come down to you and abide in you, as in the embrace of Righteous Simeon. There is no other way to lighten the labor needed to seek a meeting with the Lord. The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, is powerful and strong to help in this work. Again, however, not by itself; but under the condition that all the strength of our spirit be directed toward the Lord! Be sober, be vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). Seek those things which are above … and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:1, 3). Then, having become one in spirit with the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 6:17), you will behold and embrace the Lord, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (Jn 16:22), neither in this age, nor in the age to come.Amen.
St. Theophan the Recluse
translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

The Tax Collector & the Pharisee
Dear Ones,
The Pharisee is a very religious guy. He’s the perfect “member” of the people of God. He keeps the fasts. He tithes of his possessions. He is always there for the services. He never misses the Feast Days and Holy Days. He is perfect.
Then there is the not religious guy. The tax collector. In the old King James Version it calls him a publican. To a modern American that doesn’t mean anything. To a person living in the UK a “publican” is the guy behind the bar at the pub. He’s a bartender. No, this guy is a tax collector. Tax collectors are mentioned many times in the Bible, mostly in the New Testament, and mostly in a negative light. They were reviled by the Jews of Jesus' day because of their perceived greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers. Tax collectors amassed personal wealth by demanding tax payments in excess of what Rome officially required, and keeping the difference. They were despised as blood-sucking thieves, and as collaborators and traitors. Yet, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shows sympathy for the tax collector Zacchaeus, causing outrage from the crowds, that Jesus would rather be the guest of a sinner than of a more respectable or "righteous" person. And all of us know that Jesus personally chose Levi, later called Matthew, to be his disciple in spite of the fact that he was a tax collector.
Pharisees, on the other hand, are shown very little sympathy by the Lord. Despite the fact that they are very religious and very strict in the observance of their faith, Jesus calls them “whitewashed sepulchers,” “vainglorious blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” and other things hard to hear. Why? Jesus said: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). They are fakers, charlatans, and posers. Isaiah speaks for them by saying: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee” (Isaiah 64: 6-7).
So their hearts are not close to God. They don’t want to grab on and take hold of Him. They act “religious” in order to be admired and praised by others. So...what is the point? Well, sometimes those who seem perfect aren’t, and those who seem terribly flawed may actually be the ones whose hearts are close to God and whose souls are yearning for God. So...where am I going with this?
When I first went to Seminary, back in 1974, I could count on one hand the number of students who dared to declare openly their veneration of Tsar-martyr Nicholas II and the Russian Royal family. The now-Archbishop Kirill and I were two of them. What were the objections of others at the Seminary?
Oh, most said they were just political victims, not real Christian martyrs. Others said that they were simply incompetent, out-of-touch, spoiled, rich royals who basically brought it on themselves. A few others suggested that they couldn’t qualify as real Christian martyrs because they were flawed. Flawed how? Some pointed out the royal family’s attachment to Grigori Rasputin – who they said was a schismatic, a phony, a faith-healer who was also a womanizer. Others said that the Tsarina was romantically attracted to Rasputin. Still others said that the Tsarina was still religiously Lutheran, even though she was received by Holy Chrismation into the Orthodox Church. And worst of all, Tsar Nicholas was a smoker! So with all these shocking impediments against sainthood laid at their feet, it was impossible to regard them as saints, or so they said. So yes, it’s true. Tsar Nicholas was a smoker. But as for the rest of it, we now know that they were lies, political character assassination, fake news perpetrated by godless anarchists and communists, regicidal haters of Christ, haters of the Holy Church, haters of Holy Russia, and haters of the Imperial Family. Lies, lies promulgated by the Father of Lies. But did the Royal family have flaws? Sure they did. Everybody does. But as for their hearts, ah, that’s where we find their true character, their true nobility. What about Tsar-martyr Nicholas, the smoker? Why is he a saint? Because he courageously denied himself and voluntarily gave up more than we will ever have or ever even imagine. Born in a high position, he died as a lowly captive. Born in glory, he found himself humbled and slandered, yet he bore it all with meekness and charity. Born to rule, he found himself pushed around and abused like a criminal, and finally, he who had just recently been in command of a great imperial army was executed brutally by terrorists. The Tsar-Martyr bore all this without complaint. He bore it as a Christian - sacrificing himself and all the privileges, power, might and glory that he was used to, all his actual rights, all desires, and his own will. He remained faithful to Christ to the end, and he died for Him as a true martyr.
Throughout his life, and up to the very end, Tsar-martyr Nicholas would often repeat the Saviour’s words: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). Well, he did that. He was my hero in 1974, and he is my hero today.
I am wearing on my thigh this wonderful epigonation, called “palitsa” in the Russian church. It was given to me at Christmas by our dear Vladyka, Archbishop Benjamin. It bears the image of the Tsar-martyr Nicholas. I am not at all sure that he knew of my deep and abiding love and veneration for this great saint of our Church. Perhaps the saint himself arranged this great consolation for me in some mystical way. In any event I am very grateful.
So why am I mentioning the Royal New Martyrs today? Don’t they have their Feast Day in July? Yes they do. But today we celebrate ALL of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. I couldn’t possibly talk about all of them, or even mention them all by name. I have some favorites, if one can even dare to utter such a thing. But by far, my favorite is Tsar-martyr Nicholas. He wasn’t perfect, like the publican, but his heart was very close to God. May God, in His great love and compassion toward all, grant us His grace and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, in spite of our many flaws and shortcomings. Amen.


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