Dear Ones,

It was about 8 months ago, March the 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrated that precious moment when “in quiet silence, in the middle of the night, God’s Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of (His) royal throne, as a powerful conqueror, into the midst of a land of destruction” (see Wisdom of Solomon 18:11). At that very moment, at that holy instant, God was with us. And in about a month’s time, we will celebrate the revelation of the fruition of that divine and human pregnancy – the birth of the Theanthropos, the God-Man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These are special days, brothers and sisters. These are the church’s memories of the history of our salvation. The Word of God entered into the womb of this holy girl, this holy maiden, the Virgin Mary, and united Himself to her humanity and our humanity, and as a mighty conqueror, enters into the fallen world of destruction. What does that mean? Satan is the destroyer (see 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 9:11). He is called Abaddon in the Bible, “the one who destroys” or the “one who ruins.” God the word entered into the womb of Mary, and then was born of her, to free us from the destruction of Satan, the ruin of sin and death. But wait! This didn’t all just happen at once. No, there was a time of preparation, a time of formation and groundwork. And that is the focus of today’s Feast.

Before the time when God entered into the temple of the Virgin’s womb, turning it into Heaven, the Virgin first had to enter into the earthly Heaven, the Temple and House of God. Even though she was only three years old, she did so completely willingly, completely joyfully. In the Protoevangelium of St. James it says “And when the child was three years old, Joachim said: ‘Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning’...And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her” (Protoevangelium of James, ch.7).

St. Gregory Palamas, reflecting on this, said: “By her demeanor she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it most desirable and appropriate that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just on one occasion, but was accepted by God to dwell there permanently with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving” (St. Gregory Palamas, Excerpt from the Discourse on the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Holy of Holies).

For us, the faithful, there is a clear message, a clear analogy. In order for Christ to dwell in us, and in order for Christ to be born in us, we must first prepare ourselves in order to make that happen. And how do we do it? The last tropar of the first Ode of the Canon at Vigil last night told us: “Having opened the gates of the temple of God, the Glorious Gate, through which human thoughts cannot pass, now urges us to to enter with her and to delight in her divine wonders.”
We must enter with her into the Temple, the House of God. And we are doing that today, and our sweet and all-loving God is here to pour out the miracle of grace upon us. But we must strive to become more. We must strive, like Mary, to become “fans” of God. Do you know what that means? “Fan” comes from the word “fanum” in Latin, which means “temple.” So a fan is someone who is always in the temple, super-enthusiastic about being in the House of God, a continual resident not an occasional visitor! Next, St Gregory Palamas told us that the High Priest recognized “the divine grace within her.” We too must strive with all our might to be like the Virgin by being free from sin and our passions, and becoming instead receptacles of grace, temples of the Holy Spirit, light-bearers and Christ-bearers. By this we will come to see many wonders, many miracles; miracles of God, miracles through the Mother of God, miracles through the saints, miracles all around us. How do we know that? What did Jesus say? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!” And what about this familiar verse from the Psalms, which talks about God’s Temple: “O God, in the Sanctuary is Thy way. Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who workest wonders!” (Psalm 76/77: 13). Amen.

The Rich Fool

November 17, 2019
Brothers & Sisters,
St Gregory Palamas, the great champion of the Jesus Prayer and the steadfast guide to holy theosis, in one of his homilies gave a commandment to his flock saying: “You should secretly give from what you have to those in need, so that you receive from God, Who sees in secret, a hundred times more, as well as life eternal in the age to come (cf. Mt. 6:4; Mk. 10:30).” This commandment to give is the antidote to greed, miserliness, and coveteousness, which is the theme of today’s Gospel as well. This morning’s Gospel just gives us the parable, but I’d like to start with a little background, a few verses earlier. And what do we find there? We find a man in the crowd who is elbowing his way forward in order to get close enough to Jesus to get His attention. When he did so, he cried out demanding that Jesus settle a dispute between himself and his brother. It seems that their father had died, and he suspected his brother was hogging-up more than his fair share of the inheritance, and he wanted Jesus to render a ruling about how much each should get. Jesus responded by saying: “Who appointed me to be a judge or an arbiter between the two of you?” And then he issued not a ruling but a warning to the two of them: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then the Lord, by way of illustration, shares the parable of the rich fool with the brother, and with the rest of the crowd as well.
What’s going on here? In this chapter of Luke, chapter 12, Jesus is warning the people about the dangers of what the pharisees are teaching. He tells the people that they need to hear Him, believe in Him, stick with Him, and to disregard the fury and the threats of the religious establishment. (I’m paraphrasing...can you tell?) Suddenly, out of the blue, this unhappy brother shows up. And what does he do? He treats Jesus exactly like a pharisee, like a lawyer, as if His only job is to interpret the Law of Moses for people and render judgments. It demonstrates that the man was not listening at all to Jesus! He had no idea Who Jesus was! How could he? He was blinded and made deaf by his one-track mind, his “idée fixe,” on his problem, which was his desire for more of the inheritance, which is his covetousness. And what does Jesus do? Does he chastise the intruder for interrupting? Does He call him names or demand that His disciples grab him and haul him away? Not at all. St Cyril of Alexandria says that He: “found a seasonable opportunity, (i.e. a “teachable moment”), so He frames a profitable and saving discourse; and protesting as it were against them, declares, ‘Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness.’ He reveals to us that pitfall of the devil, covetousness, a thing hateful to God, and which the wise Paul even calls idolatry, perhaps as being suitable for those only who do not know God, or as being equal on the whole with the defilement of those who choose to worship idols made of wood and stone. It is a snare of evil spirits, by which they drag down man's soul to the meshes of hell. For this reason He says very justly, as if to set them on their guard, ‘Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness:’ that is, from great and small, and from defrauding anyone whoever he may be” (Sermon 89 on Luke).
Covetousness is related to a first cousin - lust. It is an insatiable desire for more, a desire for what we don’t have or shouldn’t have. It it the first of three siblings, triplets if you will, named Covetousness, Greed and Avarice. It was the very first transgression committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was the cause of Judas’ betrayal of Christ and his own suicide. It is number 10 of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet.” To covet is to want what others have, it means to hoard. It also means robbing God by being stingy with either the church or with the poor.
In the Old Testament, in Haggai 1:3-5, the Lord speaks through the prophet and chastises God’s People for taking care of themselves while neglecting the House of God. He says: “Is it right for you to dwell in your finished houses, and for Our temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” And that’s what the Lord wants us to take away from today’s Gospel. “Consider your ways!” or as He put it this morning, “He is a fool who lays up treasures for himself and is not rich toward God” (cf Luke 12:21). Amen.

The Good Samaritan 2019

Sermon on the Parable of “The Good Samaritan” 11/10/19
Luke 10:25-37
Have we all read the little book “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives?” I hope we have. In one place in it, the Elder Thaddeus says: “It seems that we do not understand one thing: it is not good when we return the love of those who love us, yet hate those who hate us. We are not on the right path if we do this. We are the sons of light and love, we are the sons of God, His children. As such we must possess His qualities and His attributes of love, peace, and kindness towards all.”
The Lord Jesus Christ says to all of us, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Perhaps the most difficult of His commandments is to love our enemies, to love those who are unloveable, to love those who hate us. It is a commandment that soars high above the prevailing wisdom of the day which said that you only have to love your near and dear ones, your own people, but it’s perfectly okay to hate, disregard, or abuse others, especially your enemies. In Matthew 5: 43-44 Jesus says "You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He is saying “You have heard it said.” Who said such a thing? Some among the pharisees and the religious leaders were suggesting it. But trust me, Jesus isn’t suggesting that “hate your enemies” comes from the Old Testament, from the Law of Moses. It doesn’t. In fact, in Exodus 23:4-5 it says: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.” In Proverbs 25:21 it says “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” This is the way of the Lord. Whereas, trickery, robbery, violence, abuse, or neglect of our fellow human beings, even if they are our “enemies,” this is the way of Satan, and the inclination of a fallen and worldly person, not a new creature in Christ! Today’s parable is a rebuke to the pharisees, yes, but more importantly, it is a challenge to us.
It is very easy to hate and get angry. In essence, anger does not require self-control, whereas forgiveness and love are more difficult because they require self-control and enormous spiritual strength. Hence, this commandment is really what distinguishes Christianity from any other religion or belief and cannot be accomplished without Divine help. Therefore, it is very difficult for those who depend on themselves, their worldly minds and their earthly strength and quite easy for those who depend on and unite with the Lord Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. So, let’s get back to the parable, shall we?
At the time of Christ, the Jews did not like the Samaritans. They considered them to be covenant breakers, race-traitors, and in all things, basically, despicable. The Pharisees on several occasions accused the Lord Jesus of being a Samaritan because they hated him too, and his teaching. They also knew that he was headquartered with his disciples in the north country, nearby Samaria, and with a little bit of misdirection, a little bit of “fake news,” they tried to turn the people against Jesus by calling him a “Samaritan.” The pharisees also accused Jesus of being an agent of Satan, demon-possessed. It’s interesting that the Lord denied that He was demon-possessed, but He didn’t bother to deny that He was a Samaritan. For the purposes of the parable, He embraces the role of the Samaritan, the outcast, the despised man, the “enemy.”
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jerusalem, a town on top of a mountain range, represents the City of the God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Jericho, which sits 846 feet below sea level, represents the world in darkness, in the clutches of the devil. The man who was traveling represents all of humanity in one sense, and in the other, any individual among us as well. The traveler can represent any person whose faith is growing weak and who is starting to go astray from the path of the Lord. The thieves represent Satan and his demonic minions. The clothing that the man was wearing represent the robe of light which was given to us by the Lord Jesus at our baptism and with which nothing could harm us if we kept it pure, and undefiled. The wounds represent our succumbing to demonic trials and temptations and falling into sin. The Priest and the Levite represent the Levitical priesthood and the temple service of the Old Testament. In addition, they represent the Law and the prophets who wept for mankind but could not save it. Finally, the Good Samaritan is the Lord Jesus, the awaited Savior, who not only loves, but He saves mankind. It is this Good Samaritan, who bent down so low, all the way from heaven to earth, in order to lift up and carry the wounded man. He applied the oil of mercy and forgiveness to his wounds to sooth his pains, and He added the wine of His own blood in the Holy Eucharist, to purify him from sins, those wounds inflicted by Satan. He carried him to an inn, which is His Church. He spent the whole day and night caring for him until he began to revive. He later handed him over to the owner of the inn and his family, who represents the Bishop and the presbyters of the Church, who continued to care for him until the Good Samaritan comes again to take him to the place which He prepared for him and all those who love Him, who confess Him, and who abide in His commandments. This parable is a story of true love and self-sacrifice. Many times we think that only our family members, our closest friends, or our co-religionists are our neighbors, but the Lord has shown us today that whoever shares our common humanity is our neighbor. Our love should be directed to everyone without prejudice, even to those who hate us. “Go and do likewise” says the Lord. In other words, follow the example of the Good Samaritan, that is, follow and be an imitator of Christ. Amen.

Today's Gospel - God's Providence

From Today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 12: 22-31)
“Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The Lord Jesus is teaching us today about trusting in God's providential care for us. If we are not supposed to put our trust and confidence in earthly wealth or things, (which is the inclination of our fallen minds), we must learn to trust that God will honour His promises to us. The Lord takes examples from nature to show how God takes care of Creation. If we human beings are the Crown of Creation,* then it follows that He will take even better care of us! The “nations of the world,” (who represent those who do not have a relationship with the true God,) “seek” after various fancy foods, exotic beverages, fabulously expensive and trendy clothing, etc. Should Christ's disciples want to live like them? The word “seek” here, is actually a much stronger word. It is “ἐπιζητοῦσιν” (epizitousin). It means that the Gentiles are super-zealous for these things, or literally they seek out these things almost maniacally. It's not that eating is bad, or having clothing is bad, it's about luxury, it's about addiction, it's about excess, it’s about vainglory.  Many of the fathers say that those things which we have in excess of what we truly need, are not actually ours at all. They are stolen property. We have robbed them from the poor. St. Basil the Great says: “Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received (from God) for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation?” **
* Psalm 8: 5-6; Ephesians 2:10
** Homily on the saying in the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A.


November 3, 2019
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, dear ones, we celebrate healing. In the Gospel of St. Luke this morning we heard about the raising of Jairus’ daughter from sickness and death, and about the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage, the “issue of blood.” In the reading from St. Matthew we heard how Jesus sent out his disciples to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, (and) cast out demons.” On the church calendar today, and on this holy icon before us, we commemorate the “Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenaries.” And what does that mean? “Synaxis” means “gathering together” and “unmercenaries” are those Christian physicians who treated people without taking payment. So it means that today we celebrate Christ’s miracles of healing in the Gospels as well as all those doctor-saints who worked “pro bono” all the time for the sake of the love of Christ.
Healing is an interesting thing. Crowds would throng around Jesus all of the time because they had heard of his miraculous healing power. We heard about this in the Gospel this morning too. But physical healing was NOT what Jesus was primarily concerned with. He was far more interested in spiritual healing. That’s why He spent much more time speaking to people rather than healing them. Spiritual healing will result in eternal life and a new resurrection body in the Kingdom. Physical healing is only temporary. Even Lazarus the Resurrected-One died again and was buried. No, Jesus used physical healing in this world in order to draw people toward the eternal healing of the Gospel message, His message. The Lord Himself said to the Jews: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe" (John 4:48). And St. Paul wrote that: “the Jews require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22). So Jesus gave them signs, but not every sick person in Israel was healed. In fact, where no faith was shown, He didn’t heal anybody, like in His hometown of Nazareth. In St Matthew’s Gospel we read: “Jesus said to (the Nazarenes), “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 57-58).
So, OK, we understand that physical healing is not foremost in the Gospel message. But physical health and physical healing are not antithetical to the Gospel message either. If Jesus thought physical healing was bad or inappropriate, He wouldn’t have healed as many people as He did. Also, He did not oppose or condemn the work of physicians at any time. While Jesus was never seen to refer anyone to a medical doctor (why would He?) He does refer to Himself as both a physical AND spiritual healer. Where? Mark 2:17 & Luke 4:23. I’m not going to recite them, but take my word for it, or look them up. The Lord DOES care about our physical as well as spiritual well-being, and that’s obvious. One early church father, Clement of Alexandria writing about Christ said: “The good Instructor, the Wisdom, the Word of the Father, who made man, cares for the whole nature of His creature; the all-sufficient Physician of humanity, the Saviour, heals both body and soul.”
So what does it all mean? Well, it means for a Christian, attention to the healing of the soul is our first priority, but, healing of the body should not be neglected. I knew a young man, years ago, who was so “pious” that he refused to go to the dentist when he was suffering from an absolutely horrible toothache. “I believe that God will heal it,” he said, “if I only have enough faith!” “Go to the dentist!” we all said, but no...he was going to wait for God’s miracle. And wait he did, in agony, until every last tooth in his head had to be pulled due to fear of brain infection. Brothers and sisters, that’s not “piety,” that’s stupidity. Father Schmemann used to say to us that God is not some kind of cosmic coke machine where you deposit your coin of prayer and your desired product, your desired result, comes falling down to you. It’s preposterous! God gave us a brain, He gave us reason. That’s why the church is called the rational flock, the reason-endowed sheep. In the trebnik, the priest’s service book, there is a prayer in which we ask God to bless the means employed to effect the cure of a sick person. That means the doctors, nurses, surgeons, medications etc. God is not opposed to medicine. Not at all, but He loves to work with doctors, especially those who acknowledge Him. I am going to end with a section from the Bible you’ve probably never read or heard before. It Sirach, chapter 38, verses 1 through 15, and it goes like this:
“Honour the doctor with the honour due to him, and for the services he provides to you; God has established him in his profession. From God the doctor has the wisdom to heal, and from the king he receives accolades. Knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives him access to those in authority. God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent should not neglect; Was not the water sweetened by wood, so that all might learn his power? He endows people with knowledge, to glory in his mighty works, through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth. My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals. Flee wickedness and purify your hands; cleanse your heart of every sin. Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and memorial, a generous offering according to your means. Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; you need him too, for there are times when recovery is in his hands. He too prays to God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. Whoever is a sinner before his Maker
will be defiant toward the doctor also.” Amen.


October 27, 2019
On the Sunday Apostolic Reading: (2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9)
In the Summer of 1972, in Corinth, Greece, something terrible happened to me...I lost my glasses. I took them off to read a menu at a roadside cafe on our way to Sparta, and got distracted. I left them on the table. Oh, it wasn’t the fact that I could no longer see things in the distance that troubled me so. I WAS in Greece after all, on vacation, and my ability to see churches, monuments, and even countryside was now greatly impaired. But no, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that those glasses, my glasses, were John Lennon glasses. They were expensive, silver wire-rimmed, John Lennon-style glasses. No one had glasses like these glasses...except John Lennon of course. None of my friends had them. None of my fellow students in college had them, Only I had them. I loved them. I was proud of them. I was only too happy to show them off, to brag about them. They made me feel just a little bit superior to others, just a little bit “hipper” than others. And now...they were gone. I had lost them. I was careless, and I lost them. Or did I? Maybe the truth is, God took them away from me for the salvation of my soul!
The Holy Apostle Paul, in today’s epistle, is writing to the faithful in the city of Corinth, some 2,000 years before I stopped there and lost my glasses. He writes to them in order to bolster their confidence in him and in his status as an apostle. He reminds them how he has suffered, being beaten, being whipped, being stoned, being shipwrecked, being imprisoned, etc. And he’s horrified that he has to boast about his persecution, and he says that “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast” (2 Corinthians 12:1). But then he moves on to describe an experience that he had, being carried up into Paradise, seeing heavenly things and hearing unspeakable mysteries.
This experience of the divine he relates in the third person, as if it happened to somebody else. Both kinds of “boasting” if you will, were employed by the Apostle for the well-being and salvation of the Christians in Corinth, but the first, concerning persecution and suffering, was the common experience of all, while the second was only the experience of Paul.
In a practical way, the holy Apostle is showing us that our testimony, our sharing of our experiences as a Christian, ought to be shared with others if it is for their edification, their growth in Christ, and not as a means to puff up ourselves personally in their estimation. Sharing “our story” with others, especially when we’ve had some common experiences with them, can be very helpful and even healing for them. But the other kind of boasting, the kind that might give the impression that we consider ourselves superior, more holy, or somehow more “worthy” in God’s eyes, should be avoided, ordinarily. However, St. Paul, writing to the persecuted believers in Corinth, wanted to reinforce what he had  also written to the Christians in Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5). In other words, he wants to remind them that glory, deification, the heavenly mansions, eternal light and life, these are the true goals of the followers of Jesus. This is the hope that gives us the courage to carry on. That’s why the Apostle feels compelled to share his heavenly as well as his earthly experiences. That’s why St John Chrysostom says of this sharing: “he so frames his language in the best manner he possibly could, so as at once to mention the fact, and to avoid speaking of himself directly” (Homily 26 on 2 Corinthians).
So, wrapping-up, what about those glasses? Boasting or being proud, or feeling superior about our “things” is not virtuous. Bragging about our things, our homes, our kids, our jobs, etc. in order to puff-up ourselves, is the same thing as that Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, but only prayed to himself, boasting about how much better he was than other people. Or it is the same as those others about whom the Lord says: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; They love the places of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues...” (Matthew 23:5).
St Macarius the Great said: “If you see someone exalting himself and is arrogant about his abilities, know that even if he created great signs and resurrected the dead….he is being robbed by an evil spirit without realizing it. Even if he performs miracles — do not believe him because the sign of a Christian is to hide from others any gifts that God has deemed him worthy to receive.”
Dear ones, let us flee from all arrogance, all pride, and all boasting. The true Christian humbles himself, rather than elevating himself. The true Christian is a dove, not a peacock.  The true Christian boasts in the Lord, and not in himself. St. Basil the Great writes (and I’ll end with this): “The wise man must not boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his riches. What then is the right kind of boasting? What is the source of man’s greatness? Scripture says: The man who boasts must boast of this, that He knows and understands that “I am the Lord.” Here is man’s greatness, here is man’s glory and majesty: to know in truth what is great, to hold fast to it, and to seek glory from the Lord of glory. The Apostle tells us: The man who boasts must boast of the Lord. He has just said: Christ was appointed by God to be our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written, a man who boasts must boast of the Lord.” Amen.


Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Today, dear ones, we heard in the Gospel about a rich man who gave nothing to the sick and dying beggar Lazarus who was lying at the front gate of his house. We also heard from St. Paul today about the importance of giving, and that if we hoard all of our wealth for ourselves and our family, or if we give a little, but grudgingly, God’s grace, that is, God’s “giving,” will be very far from us. Vital lessons!
Now, I’d also like to share a little something about a man who was, and is today, a total giver, St. Gerasimos the New ascetic of Kefalonia. This wonderful holy person was born in 1509 in the tiny village of Trikala-Corinthias, in the Peloponnese. He was a decendant of the Notaras family, a well known Byzantine family during the reign of the last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was reared in piety by his parents, Demetrios and Kali, and was passionately devoted to the study of the Holy Scriptures. At a young age he visited Constantinople. It was during this visit that he was moved with compunction for the number of Christians who witnessed to their faith by committing their lives to the monastic life. With this in mind, he went straight to Mount Athos and remained for five years there. He then moved to the Holy Land and remained in Jerusalem for twelve years. He also visited Mount Sinai, Egypt and Crete; where he remained in a cave for two years. From there he went to the island of Zakynthos, where he also remained in a cave for around five years, and at the age of 50 ended up in a cave in the nearby island of Kefalonia. In Kefalonia he restored an old church and built a convent around it, where it stands to this day. He was forewarned by God of the day of his death and finished the course of his life on August 15, 1579. His sacred relics, remain complete and incorrupt in the convent that he founded. They emit a heavenly fragrance and work many miracles for the sanctification and healing of the faithful. His selfless and giving character explain why he continues to this day to be the Patron Saint of the island of Kefalonia and the protector of all its inhabitants and all those who celebrate his memory in faith. I’d like to share with you now three miracles from among hundreds, maybe thousands, that are preserved for our edification and blessing.
1. A Young Atheist Woman From Australia.
She writes: “I came to Greece in 1988, hoping to get work as an English teacher. I wasn't of Greek parentage, nor did I have any particular interest in classical culture or the arts, but came because Greece sounded interesting. I had not been raised with any religion nor was I looking for one, but soon after I arrived I met some people who were planning to go to Kefalonia, to St. Gerasimos, and invited me along. It seemed a good way to begin seeing the country, and I agreed. When I entered the church and stood before the saint's coffin, I was stunned by what I saw - the incorrupt relics were so obviously a miracle that I knew in myself that there must be a God, and that Orthodoxy was how you worshipped Him. I was baptized and a year later I came to the monastery.” (She is today a nun, Sister Anna, at St. Stephen’s Monastery in Meteora, Greece).
2. The Cave of Saint Gerasimos and Unbelievers
The older church containing the relics of St. Gerasimos is built directly over his cave and pilgrims are welcome to descend and squeeze through the tiny floor-level entrance that leads into the cave. Local Christians say that only believers can wriggle through the narrow passageway. The wife of an Argostoli priest has informed that, wanting a blessing for her unborn child, she had squeezed through with no trouble when she was fully nine months pregnant, but the thin, lithe young woman whom she brought with her - an unbeliever - couldn't do so.
3. Healing of a Mentally Ill Woman
In 1785, a mentally ill woman named Susanna came to the monastery and lived there for many months. She never spoke to anyone and ate only if she was given food; otherwise, she went hungry. One day, after she had been there almost a year she began shrieking loudly during Vespers. The priest came out of the altar and tried to calm her but she screamed all the more until the unnerved cleric finally slapped her, trying to stun her and shake her out of the grips of her hysteria. Finally she had to be forcibly carried out of church. That night the priest had a dream that the saint's larnaca (the reliquary-coffin where the saint’s body lies) opened by itself and St. Gerasimos climbed out. He was holding a book in his hands and motioned the priest over. When the priest came up to him, he hit him hard over the head with the book and asked him, "Did that hurt?" The priest said, "Yes," and the saint responded, "And that hurt me tonight when you slapped that poor woman. Get up now, it's time to go to Matins, and don't ever do it again." The priest awoke terrified, and ran to the church where he begged the saint's forgiveness. That morning, Susanna was again in church, but this time, she spoke out coherently, "Let the priest who hit me yesterday, come and give me something to eat." To the amazement of everyone who knew her, she had been completely healed.
4. A priest and his wife from America
In 1982, a priest and his wife from America came to venerate the relics of St. Gerasimos. There were a number of pilgrims there when the monastery gates opened, when suddenly a small local boy approached the priest and his presvytera and told them to descend with him into the cave of the saint and crawl through the tiny opening before going to the place where the saint’s reliquary was. The cave was tiny, the opening, tinier. The cave floor was dusty, even muddy in spots. The boy, as if reading their minds, said to them: “Go ahead, don’t be afraid, you won’t get dirty!” The presvytera crawled through. The other pilgrims crawled through. The skeptical priest, who could not tell if his wife got through the opening unscathed, delayed, worried about his cassock being covered with dirt and mud. In the meantime, the other pilgrims and the presvytera were standing before the saint’s reliquary waiting for the abbess to open the lid for them to venerate the feet of the saint. When the abbess tried to open the lid it was stuck, unmovable, as if glued or nailed shut. The more she tried to budge it, the tighter the lid became. Finally she declared to those assembled, “the saint will not allow me to open the larnaca until the priest has joined us.” At that moment, the tardy and skeptical priest emerged...no mud or dirt on his cassock, and, as he noticed, none on the dress of his wife either. As the priest approached the reliquary, the lid now popped open as if it were doing so by itself. The sweet and powerful fragrance of heaven filled the temple, and the monastery priestmonk, from memory, conducted a prayer service (doxologia) honoring the saint. At the conclusion of the service, the priestmonk motioned to his overwhelmed American brother to come close to the relics. “Be not faithless but believing!” he said. “See how God has favored his holy one. See the flesh how supple it is. See the veins in his neck, how alive they appear. Lose your skepticism and embrace all of God’s miracles, great and small, with faith and joy!” The American priest was never the same after that, and for the rest of his life rejoiced at how wonderful God is in His saints! Amen.


“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you. Follow their faith!...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).
In the reading from Hebrews, today, St Paul is exhorting the community of Jewish Christians to “remember,” that is, “pay attention to” or “obey” their leaders. The Greek word here for “leaders” is “ἡγουμένων.” For Orthodox Christians, it is common knowledge that the word “игумен” (Igumen) in Russian, or “ἡγούμενος” (Igoumenos) in Greek, refers to the spiritual head of a community of monastics. But at the time that St. Paul was writing, it meant the spiritual heads of the churches – the Bishops. He is telling the Jewish Christians to rely on what the Bishops are teaching them and to be obedient to their instructions. “Follow their faith” he says, because what they believe and what they teach comes directly from the Apostles including himself, and the teaching of the Apostles comes directly from our Lord Jesus Christ! The Bishops are the New Sowers, casting the seed of the Word of God throughout the whole world. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!” Not only is Christ Himself unchanging, but the doctrine, the teaching about Christ is equally unchanging and unchangeable. This is what the Orthodox Church confesses. False bishops and impious emperors are false sowers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, who scatter seeds of death and corruption. Our Orthodox “Christology,” is unwavering and immutable, and the doctrine of the Incarnation occupies a central position in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox Faith, Jesus is SO much more than merely a righteous man or a holy prophet, or a great teacher. He is the "Son of God who became the Son of Man.” The doctrine of the Incarnation is an expression of the Church's experience of Christ. In Him, the fulness of divinity is united with the fulness of humanity, without changing, altering or confusing either. Jesus Christ is truly God who shares in the same essence as the Father and the Spirit, and He is truly man who shares in the same essence with us. In One Christ, the Divine is united to the human, In One Christ, Heaven is united to earth.
For the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 787, the task was a simple one – preserve, intact, the Apostolic teaching of the Incarnation of Christ. This was the problem: Islam was sweeping across the Middle East and the eastern mediterranean world, and with it came its hatred of the Holy Icons. This demonic teaching began to influence even some Christians who bought into the idea that God could not be depicted, in keeping with the Old Testament’s Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). This influence infected the Assyrian Christians early on, and continues to infect many Protestant sects today. The problem with this teaching is the New Testament Christ, Who was God from the beginning, whom now “we have heard (with our ears), and seen with our eyes...and our hands have handled,” as the Apostle John testifies (See 1 John 1:1). Images of any kind were forbidden in the Old Testament because God was invisible. Any image would be a false image, a lie, an invitation to the devil, the father of lies. But the revealed God-man could be depicted. In fact, St. Luke the Evangelist was the first to paint an image of Christ and His Most pure Mother, and he did so many times!
In addition to depicting the Incarnation, the holy icons are, themselves, spirit-bearing matter, windows to the Kingdom, and a union of heavenly and earthly. Hence, the holy fathers of the Seventh Council declared: “We decree that the holy icons, whether in paint, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and of all the saints. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to remember and love their prototype. We decree also that they should be kissed and that they should be objects of honor and veneration (τιμή και προσκύνησης), but not of the kind of worship (λατρεία), which is reserved for God alone, Who is the subject of our faith and is proper only to the divine nature... Honor shown to the icon is, in effect, transmitted to the prototype. He who venerates the icon, venerates, in reality, the one represented.”
So today we honor those champions of our faith, the restorers of the holy icons, and the defenders of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. May God, through their prayers, grant us the grace to, likewise, be confessors and defenders of the Incarnation of Christ, to whom be glory, honor and worship forever. Amen.


Sunday, October 6, 2019
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10: 10-11).
These two verses from John’s Gospel are part of the reading appointed today for St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Equal to the Apostles, and Missionary Enlightener of Alaska and North America. Now, Christian missionary activity, historically, has not enjoyed a very good reputation, has it? Just look at the histories of Latin America, Hawaii, Africa, Polynesia, and elsewhere. In many cases, these are horrifying accounts of exactly what Jesus described as the activities of a thief – stealing, killing, and destroying. Even in Alaska, after Russia sold it to the United States, Protestant Missionaries were sent, funded by the US government, to “christianize, westernize, and civilize” the native peoples there, especially the Orthodox Christians among them! And we know the devastating results that obtained from those efforts, on the faith, culture, and economy of our precious and revered native Alaskan Orthodox!
Fortunately, or more accurately, by the grace of God, Orthodox missionary activity has largely avoided these scandals. A large part of the reason for this is love. Oh, there are other very important factors as well, but love is the predominant reason, and St. Innocent is the perfect example of it. Love for God and love for people was the hallmark of his life in service to Christ. He wrote in his little catechetical book, “Indication of the Way Into The Kingdom of Heaven,”
“If you love Jesus Christ and consider yourself grateful to Him, will
you do what He orders you? Because whoever loves anyone, and whoever feels grateful, will do everything he can to please his benefactor. But Jesus Christ wants from you only one thing; namely, He wants you to follow Him into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Now, you all know how much I love Christmas. I mean, everyone loves Christmas, the birth of our Lord, but some have suggested that I suffer from OCD...Obsessive Christmas Disorder, and they may be right. And yes, I am already thinking about it, mentally preparing. Soon I’ll start working on Christmas cards. Later this month I’ll make my Christmas puddings so that they have time to mature before the Big Day. And of course gift-giving is also an important part of the tradition which I’ll begin working on too. Gift-giving is important because of the gifts of the Magi given to the new-born Christ, but also because of its direct association with our Holy Father, St. Nicholas, whose feast day also falls in December. I hope that all of you understand that I believe very strongly in the gift-giving of the very real Santa Claus. I believe in Santa because I know that he is St. Nicholas, the wonder-worker. The Dutch, who were early settlers in New York and New England, pronounced St. Nicholas as “Sinterklaas” and there you have it. So why am I bringing up Santa Claus, in a sermon about St. Innocent? Well just listen to this:
From August of 1850 to May of 1851, St Innocent traveled from place to place in Alaska preaching and ministering to the native people. He traveled a distance of some 4,000 miles before he was through. He reported to his immediate superior, St. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, that he and his party traveled utilizing the following means: horses, ox carts, sea-kayaks, hunting kayaks, several times by dog-sled, and finally (wait for it!) on several occasions by reindeer sleigh! Can you imagine? A holy Bishop, with a long white beard, wrapped-up in fur, bringing joy and gifts of salvation, being pulled by reindeer!
Now I realize that St. Innocent and St. Nicholas are NOT the same person. Yet St. Innocent was an imitator of St. Nicholas, just as surely as St. Nicholas was an imitator of the Apostles, who were, themselves, imitators of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. That’s why we sing these praises today in his honor:
“As a faithful servant of the Master,
You labored in all humility
You wandered from place to place like the Apostles,
a spectacle to the world.
Your hunger for righteousness fed your flock,
your thirst for the Kingdom led a siege on it.
ln all things you endured and blessed, teaching the churches everywhere,
bringing the Good News to the New World.
Therefore, we exalt you as our father in Christ,
Pray that we may follow the example you left for us”
(4th Verse on the Praises). Amen.

"Why Do You Call Me Lord, Lord?"

Some Thoughts on Today’s Gospel Reading...(Luke 6:46-7:1)
6:46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”
Why does Jesus repeat the title “Lord” twice? It’s the same reason that the Patriarch of Constantinople is referred-to as “Kyrios Kyrios Bartholomeos.” It “magnifies” his position. The word “Lord” or “Kyrios” in Greek means the head or the chief. In ancient Greece the “kyrios” was the head of the household and the chief provider for the family. In the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, the unpronounced “sacred Tetragrammaton,” was translated “Kyrios” by the translators some two hundred years before Christ. YHWH draws from a root meaning “The Existing One” or “The One Who Is.” A different Hebrew name of God which the Jews DID pronounce was “Adonai.” It is a plural word that denotes lordship, kingship, power. The Septuagint translated “Adonai” also as “Kyrios.” Thus in Christ we have both, Lord and Lord; the Ever-existing eternal God, and God the King.
At Holy Baptism, each of us is required to confess our belief in Christ as our King and our God, Kyrios and Kyrios, Lord and Lord. So if we confess Him as Lord and Lord, King and God, Perfect God and perfect Man, why do we not do what He tells us to do? Why do we resist His commandments? The answer is simple. Why do children not do what their parents ask them to do? Why did Adam and Eve not listen to what God warned them not to do? Selfish and arrogant self-will!
St. Porphyrios of Kafsokalyvia says:
“Those who desire and crave to belong to Christ and who abandon themselves to the will of God become worthy. It’s a great thing, all-important, to have no will. The slave has no will of his own. And it is possible for us to have no will of our own in a very simple manner: through love for Christ and the keeping of His commandments. ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by my Father and I will love him and will manifest myself to him’ [John 14:21]. Effort is required. ‘For we have to wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this age’ [Eph. 6:12]. We have to wrestle with the roaring lion [1 Pet. 5:8]. We cannot allow the devious enemy to prevail in the struggle.”
So the question is: do we desire to live as “Christ-ians” or “Us-ians?” Do we wish to be the servants and disciples of Christ, or self-serving slaves to the world, the flesh, and the devil? There are only two choices in this life – the Way of Life or the Way of Death. This is the primordial lesson of Eden. This is why Great Moses cried out to the People of God: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20).