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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Ones,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree. He does it publicly. He does it in spite of the embarrassment. He does it in spite of the risk of danger to himself personally. He does it in order to see Jesus – but not just to see Jesus,  but to to see Who He really Is! And who is He? The God-Man, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
Today we also honour and commemorate St Maximus the Confessor, who in the 7th century, dared, very publicly, through actions, writings, and speaking, to defend Jesus Christ, who He really is. And who is that? Perfect God and perfect man. A divine nature and a human nature, a divine will and a human will, all united in a single Christ! St Maximus paid for his defense of Christ by having his tongue ripped out and his right hand cut off by the heretics who would not hear of any opinion other than their own. Theirs was the voice of reason. Theirs was the voice of the majority. Theirs was the voice of political correctness too! But their words were Satan’s words, their opinions the opinions of the serpent.
Today is also Sanctity of Life Sunday for the Orthodox Churches in North America. On this day we too defend Christ, who He really is! And Who is He? He is the innocent sufferer. Many of us will march, pray, and rally this week. We will join with multitudes of others from other faith communities who recognize Christ the Innocent Sufferer in the faces of the aborted unborn. And that being the case, I want to share with you the Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon for January 21, 2018 -
To the honorable Clergy, venerable Monastics, and pious Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:
From the moment they were born, both Moses and our Lord Jesus Christ faced great danger: as infants someone wanted each of them dead. Moses’s life was saved because the Hebrew midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, so they refused to follow the order to kill the newborn males (Ex. 1:17). And our Savior’s life was spared because of angelic intervention (Mt. 2:13).
But the Holy Innocents were not spared. Herod’s lust for power, or rather his deep-seated insecurity, led to the massacre of a multitude of small children, and the bitter weeping of their inconsolable mothers. We sing of this at the Ninth Royal Hour on Christmas Eve: “Mothers were bereft of their infants, and by an untimely death their babes were bitterly harvested. Breasts grew dry and sources of milk were stopped. Great was this calamity!”
The root of sin and specifically of violence toward our fellow human being has not changed since those times. It has always been our passions: anger, fear, judgment, despair, jealousy, pride, vanity, to name only a few. Moreover, the Fathers of our Church have always taught that the nature of all passions is one and the same: love of the self. This is, in the words of our Lord, “not to think the things of God, but those of man” (Mt. 16:23), or in other words not to think as God does, but as people do. We learn from the Apostle Paul how God thinks. He does not think of His divinity as a thing to hold onto, but empties Himself taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-7). The mind of God is not only not to kill, but to give life to the world through His death (John 6:33, 51).
Locking ourselves within our own minds and setting ourselves as the standard of life, not only do we not see God for what He is, but we don’t see our fellow human beings for what they are. They become objects of our ideas and plans, props in our own life narratives, subjects of our own desires. We hurt others in so many ways just to make them fit us better. The calamities we inflict on each other are not different in nature since the beginning of time, they are only greater. Today we have means to injure others on extraordinarily larger scales. We have the means to hurt others all the way on the other side of the planet with the typing of 280 characters. We have means to execute the condemned by the thousands. We have means to destroy the enemy by the hundreds of thousands. Finally, we have means to kill the unborn by the millions and billions. The only difference between us and the sinners of ancient times is that we have greater means for putting ourselves first and imposing ourselves on others.
Yet, the scariest of all things is not even the scale of our means of violence. Rather it is the fact that our human mind has devolved in its own universe to the point of finding justification for all these terrible violences. At times it even seems that we are drawing near to justifying anything. Human law, established firmly in “the things of men” and not in those of God, follows suit. So many wars have been legal. So many executions have been legal. So many genocides—legal. Christ’s own crucifixion—legal. So much violence has been done in the name of the law and of the good of the human being.
In front of this terrible reality some of us will be drawn to prayer. Others will be drawn to helping all the victims of this terrible violence. Others will be drawn to changing the law. But in front of all of us, regardless of our inclinations, is put forth the only Way and the only conquering of death and victory of life—Christ, the one who “died for the life of the world” (John 6:51). There is a great mystery hidden in this truth, because Christ died for the life of the world at the hands of the world. This is how St. John Chrysostom puts it:
  Tell me, what is the goal of the Gospel of grace? Why the revelation of the Son of God in the flesh? So that we bite and devour each other?
...Christ didn’t die only for friends or for His own, but also for His enemies, for tyrants, for impostors, for those who hated and crucified Him…
Throw the net of love, not so that the lame will fall, but rather that he be healed… and thus having searched the hidden depths, pull out from the chasm of perdition the one drowned by his thoughts…
  Do not hate! Do not turn away! Do not persecute! Rather, show him pure and true love.
And how Christ died “for the life of the world” at the hands of the world clarifies for us the most crucial thing, namely that life has only one source and only one victory: selfless or self-sacrificial love. Let us be selfless love for all and we—in the one who is Love and Life itself—will conquer death:
  Be persecuted, but persecute not.
  Be crucified, but crucify not.
  Be wronged, but wrong not.
  Be slandered, but slander not.
  Have clemency, not zeal, with respect to evil.
  Lay hold of goodness, not justice.
(Retributive) Justice does not belong to the Christian way of life, and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching. Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep: for this is the sign of limpid purity. Suffer with the sick, and mourn with sinners; with those who repent, rejoice…
  Be a partaker in the sufferings of all men, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no man, revile no man, not even those who live very wickedly.
  Spread your cloak over the man who is falling and cover him. (St. Isaac of Syria)
May the world see our love, receive it from our own cross, and fill itself with life in it!
With love in Christ,
+ Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

January 14, 2018
Dear Ones,
In today’s Gospel we heard the story about a blind man named Bartimaeus who was healed by our Lord Jesus on the road leading into the ancient city of Jericho. We know his name is Bartimaeus because St Mark tells us so in his Gospel.
In the account of this miracle, we are astonished at the faith and the determination shown by Bartimaeus to draw the attention of Jesus to himself and to his situation. When Jesus came that way, crowds were thronging, people were talking, equipment was clanging and clacking, as they followed Jesus down the dusty road. Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road, this main road through the town. He had been asking alms from passersby so that he could somehow, feed, clothe, and shelter himself. There were no social programs in those days. There were no government agencies. Bartimaeus “always depended on the kindness of strangers.” He would call out “Alms for the Blind! Alms for the Blind!” Most people just passed him by. Some muttered insults under their breath. Some derided him quite openly. But this day was different. This time, he had to make a special effort, he had to call out with all the power he had, in order for Jesus to hear him. He had heard about Jesus. He knew that people were saying that He might be the promised Messiah. And Bartimaeus knew the prophecies. He knew what the Lord had said through Isaiah the Prophet concerning the Messiah: “I the Lord God have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will strengthen thee: and I have given thee for the covenant of a people, for a light of the Gentiles: to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners and them that sit in darkness, out of bonds and the prison-house” (Isaiah 42: 6-7). Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus had been doing exactly that. So now, in fullness of faith, the blind man cries out with all his might, (NOT “alms for the blind!” but what?) “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Some selfish people in the crowd, not wanting Jesus to be distracted away from them and their needs, tell Bartimaeus to “be quiet! Shut up! The Master cannot be bothered with the likes of you!” But marvel at the faith, marvel at the determination of the blind man to make his connection with Christ. He shouts even louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus knew that some people doubted that Jesus was the Messiah. Bartimaeus knew that the authorities rejected the idea altogether. Yet he was un-deterred. He knew in his heart and in his soul that this was, indeed, the waited-for Christ. So when Jesus stopped and came over to Bartimaeus, He asked him: “What do you want Me to do for you?” And what did Bartimaeus say in reply? By the way, the translators get it wrong. The blind man only says three words: “Lord, to see!” (Κύριε,  ἵνα  ἀναβλέψω!) And what does Bartimaeus want to see? He wants to see the One to whom he is speaking – he wants to see Jesus. “And that has made all the difference” – to borrow from Robert Frost.
Every day, brothers and sisters, we have opportunities – opportunities to connect with Christ, opportunities to be near Christ, opportunities to be healed by Christ. Yes, the world is passing by in front of us too, with all its noise, and its dust, its flashing allurements, and all its busy-ness. In order for us to cut through all of that, we have to be in possession of a firm faith and a steady resolve to get with Christ, to petition Christ by our prayers, to be heard above the din of this world which tells us to “Shut up! Be quiet! Your faith is stupid! You are nothing! You are worthless!” No, the opposite is true. God commands us seek Him out, to look for Him always! Isaiah the Prophet exhorts us to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near!”(Isaiah 55:6).  And in Jeremiah 29:13 the Lord says: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Blind Bartimaeus did just that. He called out to the Lord with his whole heart. He had no one to help him. He had no one else to rely on. His fervency of faith in God was all he required.
You know there is an interesting story in the Bible, in the Book of Judges chapter four. In it, the Prophetess Deborah says to Barak the son of Abinoam,   “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded you, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take...” What happened? God, through Deborah, told Barak to take his troops and fight the enemy. He was told he would win the battle, and capture the enemy commander, Sisera. How did Barak respond to the Word of God? He said to Deborah, “I’ll only do it if you go with me.” And what was the result? Barak was deprived of the honour of triumphing over Sisera. The enemy commander evaded capture and was eventually killed by Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite.
So what is the point here? The point is that Barak had the opportunity to believe God, to trust God, and act on that trust. Instead, he asked for help, he set conditions. In other words, he failed and was deprived of his glory. Bartimaeus the blind man, likewise had an opportunity to believe God, to trust in God, and to act on that trust, which he did, fervently, lustily, vociferously, without anybody else’s help, and he was rewarded richly.
Dear ones, the story of Blind Bartimaeus' healing is a powerful example to us of how it is pleasing to God for our faith to see its opportunity, grasp it, and refuse to let it go until we receive what it is that God has desired us to have.
Jesus asked Bartimaeus, (but He also asks each one of us,) "What do you want me to do for you?" So, what DO we want? Do we want to SEE Jesus? Do we want to be touched and healed by Him? Physically? Spiritually? Then we must stir up our faith, and pray for the courage to exercise it always, all the days of our lives.  Amen.

Brethren, today is the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. Why? Because yesterday was the celebration of the Baptism of Christ by St John in the Jordan. In the Orthodox Church it is traditional, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Saviour. This is the same one who, in greatest humility, and at the height of his own popularity with the people, pointed to Jesus and said to his own disciples: “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).  And what did Jesus Himself have to say about His cousin the Forerunner? He said: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!”  (Matthew 11:11).
St Augustine of Hippo said that “John was the Voice, while the Lord is the Word.” St Nikolai Velimirovich said that by that Voice, by that call to “repentance, John prepared the way; and by baptism in water, (he) made the path straight...By repentance, the souls of men were prepared to receive the seed of Christ, and by baptism in water, to bury that seed deep in the earth of their heart.”
St John embodied in every way the content of his preaching. He could exhort the evil king and queen with the fiercest boldness, yet at the same time could yield in every way to Christ because his words were not his own words, his authority was not his own authority. He had no glory of his own. He was the moon to the Saviour’s sun. He considered himself unworthy even to be a slave who would remove the sandals of his younger cousin.
Saint John the Theologian writes of the Holy Forerunner using these words: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:6-8).
That’s right. John bore witness to the Light that is Christ, the first and unique witness of that Light. He was followed by countless other witnesses, who witnessed for Christ by their words and deeds, many giving their lives for Christ’s sake (the word “martyr” or “martys” in Greek means witness).
We, all of us, are called upon to be witnesses to the Light. That is why we are Christians. To call oneself a Christian but to fail to witnesses to the Light of Christ in our lives is an exercise in futility, a waste of time. We are called to be Christ’s disciples in order to be what? A candle set on a candlestick. Are we called to be a candlestick? No! We are called to be candles; and more than candles, lit candles! (see Luke 11:33ff). “Our faith is light” says St Nikolai Velimirovich, and if our faith is fervent and warm, then our light shines brghtly. But “if the light that is in us is darkness, how great is that darkness!” says the Lord (see Matthew 6:23).
Dear ones, today let us glorify the herald of the Epiphany of Christ, the first apostle, the first martyr, and the forerunner of all true Christians – St John the Baptist. As St Justin Popovich once said: “Brothers and sisters, whenever you are in great sorrow, turn to that first Apostle of Christ, and he will help you with all of your burdens. And should some kind of misfortune happen, turn to that first Evangelist. No matter what bitterness might fill your soul, he will sweeten it with Christ’s grace, which he will mystically send down to your tortured soul from the World on High. And when you find yourself in temptations and horrors of this earthly life, run to him, to the Holy Confessor; tell him what is in your heart, pour out your sorrows and spiritual needs and rest assured that in a mystical, divine manner, he will come down into your soul and will save you, and will deliver you from all temptations and woes. But should you need to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ in this world: should others attack you on all sides, should atheists and those who oppose Christ want to swallow you up, to destroy you for belonging to Christ, should they want to silence your voice, to stop it from speaking of Christ, then remember that first Martyr, and call out to him: O Holy Martyr, first Martyr of Christ in the Gospels, hurry to my aid! Grant that may I die for the Lord Jesus Christ, leave my body like temporary clothing, and by the path of the Holy Martyrs move to Christ’s Kingdom! He will entreat the Lord that you might also join the host of Luminaries...Оh! May his holy prayers be raised up today and tomorrow, and always, and may they be raised up for us Christians...and for all the people on this earth, that the Lord lead all to repentance, that He have mercy upon all, that He save all, that all people brought [to Him] by the glorious Forerunner, might forever glorify the One True God in Heaven and on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all honor and glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Sunday after Nativity
King David, Joseph the Betrothed, James the Brother of God, the 14,000 Holy Innocents Slain by Herod in Bethlehem
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Christ is Born!
On the two Sundays leading up to Christmas, the Church had us pause and reflect on all of those holy forefathers, both the physically related and the spiritually related ones, who pointed the way to Christ. Today we commemorate three more saints who are closely and directly related to our Lord. They are: David the King and Prophet, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord. From each one of these righteous men – David, Joseph and James – we can learn a great deal about the spiritual life.
King David was the divinely appointed King of Israel. He is described in the Bible as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Although he was far from perfect, he had strong faith, and wanted God to be glorified above everything else.  David is the source of the royal line of the Jews from which both the the Theotokos and the righteous Joseph were descended. Because of this lineage, our Lord Jesus Christ could properly be called, "King of the Jews" because at least according to the flesh, He is of the House and lineage of David. Of course, according to His Divinity,  He is the maker and ruler of all creation, and therefore is not only King of the Jews as Pilate had written on the Cross, but is, in fact, the King and Ruler of all that exists. That's why in the icons where Christ is shown seated upon the Royal Throne, it is referred to as the “Pantocrator” or “Vse Derzhitel” the “Ruler of All.” David was, as I said before, a man after God's own heart. The Bible describes him as such. Even when he fell into grave sin, we see from David's deep and heartfelt repentance our own path back to God when we fall.
James, was the Step-Brother of the Lord. He was the only one of Joseph's sons from his first wife, who wished to include Jesus as a full member of the family when the question of inheritance from Joseph came up.  Hence the Church not only calls him the “Brother of the Lord,” it also calls him the “Brother of God.” For as James included Jesus in his earthly family, the Lord adopted James into the Divine one! According to tradition, he accompanied the All-Holy Theotokos when she, with the Baby Jesus and Joseph, fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. St. James was strictly devout from his youth up. Distinguished by a very ascetic way of life, he observed the strictest fasting; he drank no wine, ate no meat, didn't cut his hair, wore no soft clothes but wore only coarse camelhair cloth. When he did his rule of prayer, he frequently accompanied his prayers with prostrations. In fact, he practiced this asceticism with such fervor that hardened callouses formed on his knees, like a camel's, from the frequent prostrations. For such a virtuous life James was known to all the people as “the righteous one,” and so earned great respect among even the Jewish leaders. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was accounted worthy of a special appearance of the Lord, testified to by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:7). He was the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. He presided over the first apostolic council, which is described in the book of Acts, and was finally martyred for his confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Joseph, the betrothed, was chosen by God to be the guardian of Jesus Christ and His Most Pure and Holy Mother, a task which he performed with great humility and diligence.  Joseph at the time of the birth of Christ was quite old. He had been a widower for many years with at least six grown children. At the time he was chosen to be the guardian of the Most Holy Virgin he was already 80 years old, and according to the Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints of St Dimitri of Rostov, he lived to be 110 (meaning that he died just before Jesus began His public ministry).
Although he was of royal lineage (being in the line of David the King) Joseph was a poor man who earned his living as a carpenter. It was extremely hard labor, and this was his daily life. Joseph was a righteous man, that is, he heard the word of God and kept it. When the Virgin was found to be with child, he was assailed with what the fathers call “logismoi,” evil thoughts prompted by the devil. In fact, in the icons of the Nativity, we almost always see a scene in which Satan, portrayed as a bent-over shepherd, is tempting Joseph with a flood of doubting thoughts.  But an angel came to him in a dream and revealed to him that this pregnancy was not the fruit of sin, but rather that it was the miraculous fruit of righteousness and that the Virgin had been chosen by God to bear the Messiah, miraculously conceived without an earthly father.
Even though his belief was tested by the evil one, Joseph remained faithful to the word of God that had been given to him by the angel. Later, after the birth of the Child, an angel again came to him and instructed him to take the Child and his mother into Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod. Here we see a man, over 80 years old, in obedience to the word of God embark upon a very difficult journey over the sands of the desert from Israel into Egypt, aided only by his one loyal son James.  But Joseph, putting his trust in God, obeyed. Joseph shows us a shining example of how we ought to order our own lives. Just as he did, we should trust in God; we should hear the word of the Lord and more than hear, we should order our lives in obedience to it. Just as he served God in imitation of the angels, we should serve our Lord Jesus Christ in the same way.


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