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

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

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

September 30, 2018
Luke 6: 31-36
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today's Homily is entitled "LOVE YOUR ENEMIES." But who are our enemies? These days, those who disagree with someone’s politics, THEY must be their enemy! You must hate them. You are commanded to hate them. You must not only defeat them, but you must destroy them, and by any means possible. “Any means!” To some it might seem that the term "enemies" refers to some remote people or nation far away. To listen to the media, or our representatives, the pundits, the radio talk show hosts, our enemies are Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and I could go on and on. Russia, really? I wonder how many will stay away from our Festival this weekend because they are worried about supporting “the enemy!” I’ll never forget the time, many years ago now, when our little church was spray-painted with anti-Russian and anti-Soviet slogans. It was very upsetting, and the action was very ignorant. But ignorance is the instrument, and the devil knows just how to play it. But it seems like nations and governments NEED to have enemies. There was a folk song years ago called the Merry Minuet by the Kingston Trio.  One line in the song went “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls: the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles, Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch, and I don't like anybody very much!!” But let's bring this closer to home, because it’s in our homes, in our families, in our work places, in our schools, and yes, even in our churches, where we experience our most personal “enemies.” These are not theoretical and far away enemies. These are up close and personal enemies - the ones who hurt us, abuse us, steal from us, mock us, deceive us, etc.. Perhaps I'll rename the homily "HOW DO WE LOVE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE CLOSE TO US, WHEN, BY THEIR BEHAVIOR, THEY MAKE THEMSELVES OUR ENEMIES?!”
We want to love them, we want to forgive them, but every visceral passion within us wants to kill them, or hurt them, or get revenge on them. Right?
St Paul once wrote about his own frustration with himself. He said to the Romans: “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing that I hate” (Rom. 7:15). This is the battle that rages between the fallen world and the Kingdom of Heaven, and it even rages within us. The fallen world loves its faults and hates its God-given nature, while our attitude, as Christians, should be the opposite. Loving our enemies requires a grace-powered, and completely counterintuitive act of the will. Love for our enemies is an expression of the kind of love that flows directly from God. We take, for our example, Christ Himself Who prayed for those who were insulting and slandering him while he suffered on the cross. St.Stephen, the Protomartyr, shows how he followed Christ's example by loving his enemies:
Acts 7:57-60 says: Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him...And as they stoned Stephen he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote:
“When he was being killed by the violence and stones of the Jews, (Stephen) did not ask for vengeance but forgiveness for his murderers, saying: "O Lord, do not lay this sin against them." So it was most fitting that the first martyr for Christ who, in preceding by his glorious death the martyrs that were to come, was not only a preacher of the Lord's suffering but also an imitator of his most patient gentleness.”
God has provided us with His own divine image, and this divine image is seen in those who are merciful to friend and foe alike. St. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that “mercy is one of God's divine attributes, and He bestows His mercy upon the just and the unjust alike” (See Matthew 5:45).
St. Augustine shares a couple of practical examples of how this mercy should to be shown to others: First, kill within your soul any desire for vengeance. Second, show compassion for the (offending) neighbor.
To illustrate this, I'd like to share one of my favorite stories from the Egyptian desert fathers:
“Abba Anastasius had copied on very fine parchment, worth eighteen gold pieces, the whole of the Old and New Testaments. One day a brother came to see him and, noticing the book, took it away with him. (Stole it!) That same day, when Abba Anastasius wanted to read the book, he noticed that it had disappeared and he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send anyone to question him for fear that he might add the sin of lying to his sin of theft. Now the brother then went to the neighboring town to sell the book, for which he wanted sixteen gold pieces. The buyer said to him, ‘Let me have it to see if it is worth the price.’ And the buyer took it to St. Anastasius, saying to him, ‘Father, have a look at this book, and tell me whether you think I ought to give sixteen gold pieces for it. Is it worth that much?’ Abba Anastasius replied, ‘Yes, it is a fine book. It is worth the price.’ The buyer went back to find the brother and said to him, ‘Here is your money. I showed the book to Abba Anastasius who considered it a fine book worth at least sixteen gold pieces.’ The brother asked, ‘Is that all he said? Didn't he say anything else?’ ‘No,’ replied the buyer, ‘not a word.’ ‘Well, I have changed my mind,’ said the brother. ‘I no longer want to sell this book.’ Then he hurried back to Abba Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his own book. But the Abba refused, saying, ‘Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it.’ But the brother answered, ‘If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace any more.’ And the brother stayed with Abba Anastasius the rest of his life.”
Sinners should not be in the business of judging other sinners. Instead of judging others, we should each consider our own misdeeds, says St. Cyril of Alexandria. As disciples of Christ, we are supposed to portray God's character to the world, judging righteously and forgiving with grace, as St. Ephrem the Syrian recommends.
Now, you’ll notice, that none of these holy fathers suggest that Christians should PROMOTE their own abuse, their own suffering, their own martyrdom. In fact, the Church had to issue canons in the early days of the church to forbid people from running around and trying to FIND places and situations where they could be martyred. Forgiveness of enemies does not negate common sense! In the lives of the saints we find many examples where they first seek to flee or hide from the authorities to avoid martyrdom. There is no sin in “getting out of Dodge” when only death awaits you there. It’s the same with wicked and abusive people. Many of you, over the years have heard this saying of mine, and it still hold true today: “Sometimes it is easier and better to love some people from a distance.” This is especially true in the case of enemies who are bullies, abusive, demeaning, criminals, psychopaths, etc. Get out of Dodge. Forgive them and pray for them from a distance, not from your hospital bed!
I will conclude this morning's message with the words of the saintly Russian Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko) who said:
“‘Love ye your enemies’ This is the first step which today’s Gospel reading offers us, so that we may receive that strength which the Apostle Paul also received in a vision of the third heaven, as did all the martyrs. If we will fulfill what the Holy Church gives us in the words of the Gospel, then let us only start to do so; let us step on this new way. And we will receive that revelation which will help us in those terrible moments when grief invades our soul, when sorrows surround us. The grief and sorrows will go away. Yes, they will leave us, because in that moment these points of grace, this godly light of Christ, will be revealed to us and will give us strength to bear the burdens of our earthly life, so that we may be comforted in Eternal Life with Christ.” Amen.

Conception of the Baptist/Miraculous Draught of Fish
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today, beloved, we remember and we celebrate the Feast of the Conception of St John – the great Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord Jesus Christ. On our church calendar we only celebrate three “conceptions” during the year: the miraculous conception of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit called “Annunciation” on March 25th; the Conception of the Theotokos on December 9th; and the Conception of St. John the Baptist on September 23rd. This emphasizes the importance of the saint. After all, the Savior Himself said of him, “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist”  (Luke 7:28).
Now also today we remember the miraculous “Draught of Fish” that we heard about in the Sunday Gospel. In this account, the Lord Jesus sees Simon Peter along with his fishing partners James and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Their boats had been dragged up on the dry land and had been cleaned out. They were now washing and repairing any small tears  or defects in their nets. They were exhausted. They had been working all night, using lanterns or torches to attract the fish, to the surface, in order to trap them in their nets. The Lord Jesus had been teaching nearby, and great crowds were beginning to press him towards the water's edge. He asked Peter, if He might utilize his boat in order to discourage the encroachment, and continue His teaching. Peter, who was a believing Jew, and observant, had nonetheless NOT been at the teaching. He had his work and his livelihood to tend-to. But being a good man, and inclined to piety, he was pleased to take Jesus on his boat. After all, this way he would get to hear some of the talk himself. Imagine what Peter must have thought, when  the preaching stopped and Jesus said to him: “ “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter says, “Look, we’ve been out on the water all night and have caught nothing”  but “at your Word, we’ll let down our nets” (Luke 5:5). And they catch so many fish that the boat was about to sink.
If we think about it, this story and the story of the conception of John the Baptist have something in common. They both teach us a lesson about hope and confidence in the promises of God.
St. Paul speaks to this this lesson when he wrote about another hero of hope, Abraham. He said, “Abraham who is the father of us all …against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:12-13) You see, faith in God requires us to “hope against hope.” That is when things are hopeless, then is when we must persevere in our hope, because just when hope is lost, what we hope for is often about to be gained. In short, as St. Paul says, we must not “waver at the promise of God through unbelief” (Romans 4:20).
As I think of it, the most critical time of all… the time when we are most likely to lose what we hope for, is the time right before our hopes are to about to come true. Consider Zechariah. He’s like Abraham. He wants a son, an heir, someone to carry on after him. But he and his wife Elizabeth have no children and Elizabeth is beyond the childbearing age. Zechariah and Elizabeth have been praying for years. And their prayers have seemingly gone unanswered. The last bit of hope is fading. But the two of them are righteous.  Both observe the commandments of God, and Zechariah serves faithfully as a priest in the temple. So it happens that while Zechariah is going about his duty, an angel appears to him. The archangel announces, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard. Your wife will have a son, and you shall call his name, John” (Luke 1:11).
Here it is for Zechariah… as it was for Abraham and Sarah… as it was for Peter… as it is for all  who have faith in the promises of God…  here it is: “Hope against hope.”  The realization of hope has appeared like a school of fish being lured to the boat. Will Zechariah seize the miracle and reel it in?
Now this may seem to be a trivial thing for many: a childless couple prays to God for a child. Surely, Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, has something better to do than answer the pleas of one couple of all the millions of couples in the world. But if you listen to the texts of the services, if you read the Bible, you will know that what we see here is the way the Almighty and Eternal God works.  In fact, the Lord of Heaven and Earth cares especially for childless couples. Abraham and Sarah the parents of Isaac; Isaac and Rebecca, the parents of Jacob and Esau; Jacob and Rachel the parents of Joseph; Manoah and his wife Zlelponith, the parents of Samson; Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of Samuel; And now Zechariah and Elizabeth: all these are couples whose prayers for a child were answered by a miracle of God.
You see, the Lord God notices what seem to be the most trivial things, the things that seem unimportant to the world, the things that do not matter to the rich, the famous, the powerful. Nothing that troubles us, nothing that burdens our heart, nothing that we need for life, is too small for the Lord. He, the Creator of the Universe, remembers the tiniest sparrow. And He cares so much for us that “even the hairs of our head are numbered” (Luke 12:7).
Moreover, we see in the scriptures that God works in and through these seemingly insignificant things. In giving Zechariah and Elizabeth a child, at the same time, Almighty God gives the world the great prophet John, the Forerunner who will prepare the way for the coming of the Savior of the world.
As we see in the Gospel story, the Lord God will carry out His plan. The Lord God will keep His promises. The Lord God will fulfill all that He has in mind. Of that, we have no doubt, for He is Almighty as well as All-Merciful.
But what about Zechariah? Just when his prayers are about to be answered… just when his dreams are about to come true, just when the fish are at the side of the boat, will Zechariah claim his hope? The Lord sent His angel with the glad tidings, will Zechariah respond with faith in this Good News?
Unfortunately, not yet. Zechariah wants proof: He asks, “How shall I know this?” (Luke 1:18). That is, how do I know that this is true?  Thus, Zechariah allows doubt to rob him of the joy that should have been his. At the critical moment, he lets the fish get away because he has given up.
So it is with us. When we surrender our hopes, then we are defeated. We lose the joy and peace that we can have in our God: not because of our circumstances, not because of the lack of God’s goodness, and not because of God’s  will. We lose the blessings of hope  because we give up too soon!
But, as we see here, we may give up on God, but God does not give up on us. Zechariah must learn the lesson of hope. Since he has spoken out against hope, he must remain silent until hope is fulfilled. Meanwhile, the Almighty God goes through with His plan. And in due time, in a natural way, Elizabeth conceives. She bears a son who becomes the greatest prophet of all time. He is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth and at the same time to the whole human race.
Here, then, is the lesson for us about hope. The Lord is faithful. He will keep His promises. All that He has spoken through the prophets will happen. All that He began to do in the Lord Jesus Christ will be completed.  And all that He has begun in our lives He will finish as St. Paul promises (Philippians 1:6). But will we have the joy, the peace, the comfort of confident hope in God? Or will we languish in doubt and despair because our hopes are not yet realized?   
Let us learn from the examples Zechariah and Peter to dare to hope. Because in Christ at that moment when everything seems lost, that is when we have the most to gain; when everything seems hopeless, that’s when the realization of our hopes is near.

September 14
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
St Paul in this morning's epistle writes:
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
St. John Chrysostom really wants us to understand this passage. He uses a typical medical/therapeutic model. He says something like this: To a very sick person, even wholesome and tasty food may seem unpleasant; close friends and dear family members might seem irritating at best, or like evil intruders at worst. Doctors are dismissed and vilified. This is also the case in those who are deathly sick in their souls. For them, the things which would assist them in salvation they don't want to know; those who love them they consider to be troublesome. They have no use for elders or spiritual fathers. Even father confessors - they run away from them, or they hide all their darkest sins from them. Why? It's not because of the nature of these good people or good things. It's because of the nature of the spiritual disease. It's like what some people who are insane do, they hate or abuse those who take care of them. The same is the case with unbelievers also. But what should our response be to them? Let us act; yea  let us weep in our prayers for them; for "the word of the Cross is to them foolishness," being itself the very Wisdom and Power of God for their healing. For, as the apostle says: "the word of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness."
So, what does Jesus say to us about the Cross? He says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'” (Matthew 16:24) What does this mean? We don't want to neglect this life-giving word of Christ. We don't want to reject the cross as “foolishness!” So what does it mean to “take up our cross?” To take up our cross means that we need to be doing more than just wearing a cross around our neck, or hanging a cross in our home, or glueing one to our car's dashboard. To take up our cross the way Jesus wants us to do is to adopt a different way of life. It is to accept self-denial and sacrifice as part of our daily lives. Sacrifice means to give up something that is of value to me for the sake of Christ, and in order to be His disciple. Another word for it is love. The cross is the ultimate symbol of love. Jesus says: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love is measured by sacrifice. People who love much sacrifice much. Sacrifice does not make us poorer but richer. This is the authentic life in Christ. This is true discipleship.
Let's look at the Cross in another way. By it's very shape, the Cross tells us what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus, and a true human being. Fr Roman Braga, a contemporary Romanian elder, wrote, “The cross is the axis of two coordinates which established man's place in the universe. Man is the point of intersection between the vertical plane, which is transcendent, and the horizontal one, which is limited, historic, and inherent.”
To put this in the language of the fathers, we human beings are a microcosm – a small world – a union of both the spiritual and the physical. The Cross illustrates this. The vertical beam is like a spiritual ladder that leads us from earth to heaven. At the top of the cross, the nameplate no longer says “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews,” but now it says “The King of Glory.” As we ascend this spiritual ladder of the Cross, we too share, more and more,  in the King's glory. The horizontal beam of the Cross shows how we are united to God's creation – and especially to our fellow human beings.
Fr Roman summarizes: "Man is defined through the intersection of the two existential planes, but if in our conscience the two existential planes are not harmonized in a perfect synthesis, then the confusion is enormous. A confused man puts premises on one plane and draws conclusions on the other. Here is the whole tragedy of man's existence on earth. He is on earth but at the same time he is in heaven, and is unable to make a balance between his life on earth and his spiritual yearning. On the horizontal plane, he is limited to a biological, historical and social life. On the vertical plane, man is infinite.
  "The only person who harmonized these two contradictory existential planes is our lord Jesus Christ. His cross is a balanced cross.
  "'Take up the cross and follow me,' (Mark 10:21) means to realize your spiritual coordinates following the model of Jesus Christ. The arms of the cross indicate the cardinal points of our Christian life... They are an opening to spiritual horizons."
I'll conclude with some words from our local saint, St. John Maximovitch:
“By the Cross, the Son of God, having become man, accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Savior, as it were, embraced the world with them, and by His blood shed on it, He signed the forgiveness of the human race, like a king with red ink.”

The Parable of the Vineyard - Matthew 21:33-42
August 26, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” a parable is recounted that the cook Matryona told to Grushenka. She tells it to Alyosha like this:
Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils
caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; 'She once pulled up an onion in her garden,' said he, 'and gave it to a beggar woman.' And God answered: 'You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.' The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to
her. 'Come,' said he, 'catch hold and I'll pull you out.' he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. 'I'm to be pulled out, not you. It's my onion, not yours.' As soon as she said that, the onion broke, and the woman fell back into the lake of fire, and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.”
That’s the end of the parable. “It’s MY onion!” It’s mine!”
Brothers and Sisters, what is really “mine?” Today we heard the Lord’s parable about a vineyard, the vineyard’s owner, and the husbandmen (or vinedressers) appointed to work and care for the vineyard. Chapter 21 of Matthew begins with the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday. But then, immediately it records what the Lord begins to teach. And what is that teaching? He exhorts the Jews, and especially their leaders, not to misunderstand what has just taken place. The Lord’s teaching in the temple is full of examples and parables with a similar theme. First, he chases out the money-changers. Next comes the frightening example and lesson of the withered fig tree. After that comes the question of the authority of the Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist and why didn’t they listen to him. Following that, the parable of the two sons: one who said “yes” but didn’t do what he was asked to do, and the second who initially said “no,” but later actually did what his father asked him to do. All of these examples from life and from parables were designed shake the fixed and seemingly unshakeable opinions of the Sadducees (who generally filled the priestly ranks), and the Scribes and Pharisees who were the dominant theological force in the religious world of the Jews in 1st century Palestine. Two chapters later, Jesus would proclaim His famous  “Woes” upon them, “woes” because they were not only bringing judgment on themselves, but also upon others who relied on their teaching.
So, back to the parable. The surface meaning of the parable is simple. The vineyard owner is God. The vineyard itself is this creation and everything that is in it that was made for our use and for our success. In other words, it stands for God’s providence. He has provided everything that we need for physical life and even for spiritual life. The vinedressers (the “husbandmen”) stand for the Jews who were chosen as God’s special and particular people. They were blessed to live and work in the vineyard, but were required to offer a portion of God’s own things back to Him. This doesn’t just mean material things (i.e. the “grapes), but also their respect, their honor, and yes, their love. But they begin to get selfish. They begin to think greedy thoughts. They begin to think of everything as belonging to them! So, what did God do? He sent His prophets to warn them, to try to turn them around. But what did they do? They beat some, stoned others, and even killed some. Jesus Himself tells us: “upon you Scribes, Pharisees and Hypocrites) will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 25:35). Last of all, God sends His son. And what will they do to Him? Jesus tells His disciples: “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the Scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified” (Matthew 20: 18-19).
Those religious leaders and their disciples were so furious at the people for shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” when Jesus entered the city, they now worked extra hard, exhorting and even bribing the people to shout “crucify him!”
So, God appointed His people the Jews to tend to His world, to bear fruits of salvation. Instead, they failed and even turned against God, regarding His gifts as their own, as if they somehow had a “right” to possess them! But what will happen to them at the Last Judgment? Jesus, through the answer of the leaders themselves, tells us: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Who are the “other vinedressers?” They are us, the Church. What does the Bishop say at every Divine Liturgy, something that the priests and deacons can never say? “O Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vineyard, which Thy right hand hath planted, and perfect it!” It’s taken from Psalm 79, verses 14-15. The bishop, in essence, offers himself and all of us for Divine Inspection. Are we doing what God has asked us to do? Are we bearing fruit? Are we offering back to God a significant portion of what He has provided for us, in thanksgiving? OR, do we think that all that we have and all that we are belongs solely to us? Do we imagine that the world is ours, our wealth is ours, our success, only ours? Or do we think like Christians think, always remembering that “every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights!” (James 1:17). Amen.

Matthew 19:16-26
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear Ones,
In this morning’s Gospel we hear Jesus say to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
At first, Jesus says that it is very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Next He says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. How many of you have been up close to a camel? How many of you have held a needle? Can the camel fit? Now maybe some of you have heard certain teachers speak or write about a low, tiny gate in the wall of Jerusalem that was called “the eye of the needle” through which a camel could pass only if it knelt and was dragged through. In fact, there is such a tiny gate in the wall that exists today. Matushka and I saw it. It’s marked with a sign in English, Hebrew and Arabic which identifies it as “The Eye of the Needle.” The only problem is that the walls of Jerusalem which existed in Jesus’ time were leveled by the Romans in 135 AD, along with the rest of the city, as a result of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. The wall that exists today was built by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century! The “eye of the needle gate” is a fabrication that was based on a speculation. Why would anyone do THAT? Because Jesus said it was “hard” not impossible. Well-meaning commentators wanted to make Jesus’ words seem less contradictory.  They wanted to provide a logical explanation that would clarify things for people. Right? Wrong. Make no mistake: when you change the words of Jesus, when you say what YOU THINK He means, you violate the first law of translation. And what law is that? The holy apostle Peter tells us in the Bible itself: “Know this first, that no forth-telling of Scripture can come from anyone’s private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). In other words, we can’t try to make the Bible say what we want it to say, or mean what we want it to mean. Jesus said it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. He said it is impossible for men, impossible for human beings. So Jesus is talking about a real camel, a real needle, that is, impossible. So how is it, then, that He says it’s hard, and then it’s impossible? He clarifies later on: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And that’s the point!
Now while we’re on the subject of camels, did you ever hear this saying – “Once the camel gets his nose inside, soon the entire camel will be inside?”
It is warning that if you let the tip of an evil in, soon a flood of evil will follow. Here is a poem written by Lydia Sigourney in the 19th century for school children:
The Camel's Nose
Once in his shop a workman wrought,
With languid head and listless thought,
When through the open window's space,
Behold, a camel thrust his face!
"My nose is cold," he meekly cried;
"Oh, let me warm it by thy side!"
Since no denial word was said,
In came the nose, in came the head:
(And) As sure as sermon follows text,
The long and scraggly neck came next;
And then, as falls the threatening storm,
In leaped the whole ungainly form.
Aghast, the owner gazed around,
And the rude invader frowned,
Convinced, as closer still he pressed,
There was no room for such a guest;
Yet more astonished, heard him say,
"If thou art troubled, go away,
For in this place I choose to stay."
O, youthful hearts for gladness born,
Treat not this Arab lore with scorn!
To evil habits' earliest wile
Lend neither ear, nor glance, nor smile.
Choke the dark fountain ere it flows,
Nor e'en admit the camel's nose.
At St. Michael’s Orthodox School in Santa Rosa, the children recite this poem each year at the beginning of the Great Fast to remind them of the unseen warfare against evil thought and other temptations that require their vigilance, their attentiveness in the days to come. But just for today, I’d like to think about this camel from the proverb as being us. For those of you who have been around camels, you know that they are foul-smelling, they have a nasty temperament, and they will spit at you. Sounds like us sometimes, no? If we are the camel, it is really impossible for us to enter the workshop, that is the kingdom of heaven where the Creator resides, without the consent and even assistance of the shopkeeper. Likewise, the camel can, perhaps, get one tiny hair or one eyelash through the eye of a needle, but it would take a miracle, a BIG miracle, for the whole camel to pass through. But what does Jesus say? “With men it is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.”
It takes a lot of grace to get us human beings into the kingdom. We have no possibility to accomplish it on own own. What does the Apostle say? “For by grace are ye being saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). And if we are inseparably glued to our possessions, our wealth, our status, our station, our things, then we are inseparably glued to this world and will have no possibility to ascend to heaven. If we are not driven to enter into the Creator’s House and live there forever, then we are, in essence, driven to remain outside in the cold.
That’s why St John of Shanghai & San Francisco said: “The power of God is effective when a person asks for the help from God, acknowledging his own weakness and sinfulness. This is why humility and the striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian.”
And St John Cassian said: “Never by our sole diligence or zeal nor by our most tireless efforts can we reach perfection. Human zeal is not enough to win the sublime rewards of blessedness. The Lord must be there to help us and to guide our hearts toward what is good.”  Amen.

August 15, 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Dear Ones,
Nothing in the Church happens by accident. We just said “goodbye” to the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, and now we celebrate the greatest feast
of the Mother of God – her falling asleep and her translation to heaven. There is no accident in this sublime and divine arrangement. Christ reveals Himself as the deified human being, the new Adam, the second Adam, and the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15: 45 - 49). He reveals His glory to His disciples as far as they were able to bear it. His blinding light, His stunning radiance, that literally knocked His disciples off their feet, is a promise to all people, that they, too, (that we too!), may become partakers in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  However, there is no fast associated with the feast of the Transfiguration, is there? But there is one associated with the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, a fast of two weeks, fourteen days. This doubling of the holy number “7” indicates double holiness, and what do we call the Mother of God? “Most-Holy!” She is truly one of us, but she is also “double holy!” The Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos invites us climb the mountain of the virtues, the mountain of holiness, so that we might be transfigured too, so that we might become more like her, step-by-step, day-by-day. This little fast was a mere token, a small down-payment, on the path of divine ascent. Today’s feast is a foretaste of the glory that awaits us! It’s a glimpse of our soul being carried to heaven in the arms of Christ. It is also a glimpse of our bodies’ resurrection from the grave. Her “assumption” into heaven is the promise of ours – if we want it.
As with most feasts of the Virgin, there is nothing in the Bible about her death. We know from Holy Tradition, that is, by the church’s memory and through the writings of the holy fathers, that she died in 41 AD and was buried near the Garden of Gethsemane. Her tomb exists to this day and can be visited by the faithful.  Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote: “The Tradition of the Church is that Mary died as all people die, not “voluntarily” as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world. The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary is without personal sins. In the Gospel of the feast, however, in the liturgical services and in the Dormition icon, the Church proclaims as well that Mary truly needed to be saved by Christ as all human persons are saved from the trials, sufferings and death of this world; and that having truly died, she was raised up by her Son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise which is prepared and promised to all who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk11.27–28).
I will end with the conclusion of a sermon once given by St. John of Kronstadt. He said: “The Theotokos, through her humility, obedience, meekness, God-like purity, her acceptance of the Archangel's tidings, and above all through her wondrous bearing of the Son of God in her womb, attracted God's blessing upon the world by giving birth to the Savior of the world and obtaining the benevolence of the Heavenly Father towards all the faithful. Another consequence of God's damnation of mankind was death, but Christ, the Son of God, Who was born of the Theotokos in the flesh, Who suffered and died for the sins of mankind, took upon Himself our damnation, vanquished our death by His death, and removed the curse from us by crucifying our sins on the Cross and granting us incorruptibility, resurrection and immortality.
Such are comforting truths which the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos brings us: it assures us that Christ the Savior, born from the most-pure Virgin Mary, removed from us the curse of our sins and granted to all of us resurrection from the dead on the last day of the world. Is this not comforting for every Christian believer?
And having such an expectation of a general resurrection from the dead, let us try throughout our entire life to become worthy of that glorious resurrection into eternal life by means of constant repentance, battle with our passions and the temptations of the flesh and the world, and strive for success in all virtues, in order to eternally enjoy infinity, incorruptible, surpassing all understanding, all feeling and all expectation—all the blessings of the Heavenly Kingdom, together with God, the Mother of God, the Holy Angels and all the Saints. Amen.”

Matthew 18: 23-35
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Fifteen years ago, we had Dr. Fred Luskin come from Stanford and give a talk to us here at St. Nicholas. Dr. Luskin, who is not an Orthodox Christian and in fact, not a Christian at all, was co-founder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, an interpersonal forgiveness training research study. He had just published his book, “Forgive for Good.” In this book, Dr. Luskin proposed strategies and techniques for dealing with the very real psychological and even physiological damage caused by what he refers to as deeply seated “grievances.” We might call them what the Prayer Book calls “remembrances of wrongs.”
Dr. Luskin was surprised that we had asked him to come and speak. In fact, he told us that we were not the only church to have done so, and he found it all quite amazing. His book was a secular book, and it dealt with the problem in a secular way, from a secular point of view. It did not deal with the spiritual or theological aspects of grievance and forgiveness at all. However, what he had to say we all found quite useful. Much of what he said we had heard before, but some ideas and approaches were new and helpful.
The problem of forgiveness is universal, and is as ancient as Adam and Eve. Remember? Adam didn’t forgive Eve, he blamed her for what he did! Jews at the time of Christ were debating about many of the fine points of the Law of Moses, and the idea of forgiveness was to be found among them. The traditions of the early rabbis in the Talmud reflect the outcome of some of these early debates. Yoma 86b states the following: “If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven.” This rule or principle is apropos to the Jewish “Day of Atonement,” also known as Yom Kippur. On the days leading up to Yom Kippur, a devout Jew would do his best to atone for his sins against God and his neighbor by asking for forgiveness. If he kept coming back with the same transgressions, the rabbis decreed that there was a three-strike law in effect. He could only be forgiven three times, and no more.
It is in the context of such debates, that the holy apostle Peter asks the Lord:  “Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” And the Lord Jesus answers him:  “I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.”
The apostle thought he was more than doubling what was the currently accepted norm for forgiveness. The aim of Jesus was to show him how much greater is God's forgiveness than man's. And so He illustrates this teaching with today's Gospel Parable - the Unforgiving or the Ungrateful Servant. It is a story about three people: a king, a first servant and a second servant. The King is God, the servants are us sinful beings. The first servant owes 10,000 talents to the king, and the second owes 100 silver coins to the first servant.  Both amounts are multiples of ten. The first is a huge multiple of ten, the second much, much smaller. Ten represents the 10 Commandments given to Moses, a standard by which every person is judged, and by which we judge ourselves when we are preparing for Communion. Don't misunderstand this parable; WE are the ones who owe the 10,000 talents. We Christians. Aren't WE the close servants of the King? What are we called when we approach Holy Communion? “Servant of God” so-and-so. Right? Haven't we been forgiven everything by God, by virtue of our Holy Baptism, by means of Holy Confession, and in that very Sacrament of Holy Communion? 10, 000 talents, that's what we owe God in the treasury of Forgiveness. How much is 10,000 talents worth in today's money? Let's see. A denarius was a small silver coin equal to one day's wages for the common worker. (So the second guy owed 100 of these.) One talent, which is a bar of silver, is equal to 6,000 denarii, which would take an ordinary laborer 6,000 days (16 years) to earn. Let's convert that into US dollars; if an average day's wages is assumed to be 100 dollars, one talent is worth around 600,000 dollars. Since one talent is such a large amount of money, how much is ten thousand talents, worth? It is a tremendous amount of money, which is worth about 160,000 years' worth of wages! The number is, of course, astronomical! It's like our National Debt. It is, however, a symbol. It means "More money than you can imagine, and more than any slave could ever possibly repay." The depths of God's forgiveness are equally unfathomable. Christ poured out forgiveness on the Cross once and for all, saying: "Father forgive them! Forgive them all! Forgive them everything!"  But our lack of forgiveness toward others separates us from that grace of forgiveness. If we hang on to our grievances, we let go of our forgiveness. God in His mercy has forgiven us so much more than we could ever repay. Our sin in refusing to forgive our brother or sister becomes an instant impediment to our obtaining the mercy and forgiveness of God.  God's forgiveness is withheld from us unless we choose to be channels of mercy and forgiveness like He is. St Paul, who knew first hand the depths of God's forgiveness, wrote: "Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" (Ephesians 4:32). Even when it is hard to forgive for our own sake, we are still called to the unity of forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ for His love and forgiveness is "the love that loves unto the end" (See John 13:1).
When we forgive those who have hurt us we receive God's forgiveness. Forgiving others allows us to see how Christ could forgive all those who mocked Him, beat Him, lied at His trial and those who nailed Him to the Cross, which includes all of us, for we all spiritually crucify Him again and again, each and every day, each time we sin. If we live in Christ's righteousness, in His holiness and virtue, when we look upon those who have offended us, we should not see the face of our enemy, but, looking with divine compassion, we should see the face of Christ who loved us and forgave us. Love and forgiveness must be stronger than sin and offense. It must be our consistent choice. I’m going to end this morning by sharing something that St. Jerome said: “Therefore the Lord commanded Peter utilizing this parable of the king and his servant who owed him ten thousand talents, and was forgiven by his lord upon his entreaty, that he also should, in similar fashion, forgive his fellow servants their lesser trespasses.”