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Sermon for the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
Today is the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers, and it’s always a special day for me. My first OCA parish was the Holy Myrrhbearing Women Church in West Sacramento. Originally, my very first parish, the parish where I was received into the Orthodox Church, was in another place and another jurisdiction. I loved my original parish, and will always love it. The problem was, I never really felt like it loved me. And that’s what made all the difference – love. The Holy Myrrhbearers in today’s Gospel, are all about love; deep, spiritual, divine, self-sacrificial love. They are shown bringing spices, aloes, and oil of myrrh (perhaps the costliest of perfumes,) with which to anoint the body of Jesus. They do it knowing full well that they could be arrested for doing so. They do it – knowing that that they could be put to death. Yet they came, with courage, to the tomb of Christ. This is love. The courageous love of the Myrrhbearing women, put to shame the manliness of the Apostles, as St Paisios the Athonite observed (Epistles, pg 177). Like the five wise virgins of the parable, they came fully prepared, fully equipped, with the one virtue which surpasses all virtues - love. As St Paisios says: “Besides the great bravery which spiritual love offers, it is also surrounded by all the other virtues. It is apparent that love is the affectionate mother of all the virtues” (Ibid., pg 178). The Apostle Paul confirmed this when he wrote: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13: 1-8; 13).
The Holy Fathers teach us that the more love we invest in God, the more of His love He pours into us. St. John (Maximovitch) implies this when he says: “God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary; without it he cannot by saved” (St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, “The Church as the Body of Christ,” Man of God: Saint John of Shanghai & San Francisco.) So loving God is crucial for our acquisition of God’s grace toward us. For us to become more like the Myrrhbearing Women, more like the Five Wise Virgins, we need to learn to love God more fervently, more authentically. For us to become more like the Myrrhbearing Women, we need to learn how to love God without hypocrisy and without fear. What do we fear? We fear that by increasing our love for God, the world will reject us. We fear that people will look down on us, call us names, devalue us in some way. In other words, we fear that increasing our love for God will lower our status in the eyes of others – family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers. We fear that we will be embarrassed. But guess what? Lord was not only despised and rejected by the world (as Isaiah says, 53:3), He was put to death, crucified on a cross. What will be put to death in us if we love the Lord more than this world? Our pride? Our ego? Our vanity? Geronda Paisios says: “When the heart becomes like a furnace from the love of God, then it is able to burn away vanity...Inner peace then comes to be, when a man goes through the furnace of trials in his life” (Ibid.,pg 184).
I have told many of you, that the very first thing that I always confess when I go to Confession is that I have not loved God enough. It’s true. Compared to the love of the Myrrhbearers, my love for God is like bad soup – thin, weak and lukewarm. So how can I increase my love for God? How can I make it more substantial and more furnace-like?
First of all, it must be a choice, a decision, a personal resolution to love God more. Nothing can happen apart from our free will. God will neither force us nor constrain us into loving Him. We must choose to love Him each and every day. What is it that St Herman of Alaska taught us? He said “For our own good and for our own happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!" So we must choose, we must make a vow, to try – to try hard - to love God and fulfill His holy commandments.
Second we must pray! How can we say we love someone; how can we say we want to love them even more, if we seldom or never talk to them?! If we truly want to love God in an authentic way, we must talk to Him, talk with Him, listen to Him! How can any relationship exist without communication? It can’t.
Other than our own personal prayers, we can also make use of some of the prayers given to us by the Church. For example, in the 8th Morning Prayer, the last line says this: “Vouchsafe me, O Lord, to love Thee now as fervently as I once loved sin, and also, to work for Thee without idleness, diligently, as I worked before for deceptive Satan. But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” We should pay special attention to this part of that prayer during our morning rule. And if we aren’t saying our morning rule, our pravila (правило), from the Prayer Book every day? What can I say to that?
There are also other helpful prayers that we can use. One useful one from a longer prayer of St Isaac the Syrian goes like this: “Make me worthy, O Lord, to know and love Thee, not with the knowledge that comes from the exercise of a scattered nous (intellect); but rather, make me worthy of that knowledge whereby, beholding Thee, the nous (intellect) glorifies Thy nature in divine vision, depriving the mind of awareness of this world...Implant in my heart an increase of Thy love, that it may be drawn back from this world by fervent love for Thee. Awaken in me the understanding of Thy humility, wherewith Thou didst sojourn in the world in the covering of our flesh which Thou didst receive from the Holy Virgin, that with this continual and unfailing recollection, I may accept the humility of my nature with delight. Amen.” (Adapted and edited from St. Isaac the Syrian, Homilies, 36 “On the Modes of Virtue,” in The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, pg 161)
Beloved, after the Resurrection, our Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Three times he answered “yes” (Cf John 21:15ff). He asked Peter not only for his own sake (which was very important!) but also because he represented all of the apostles and by extension, all of us who call ourselves Christians (See Chrysostom, Homilies on John, 21:15).Today the Lord Jesus asks you and me: “Do you love me? Do you truly love me? Do you love me like the Myrrhbearers loved me?” May this question remain with us not just on this Sunday, but every day of our lives. Amen.


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