THE TEN LEPERS, Luke 17:12-19
THE TEN LEPERS 12/10/2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once upon a time there was a very popular, well-known elderly priest who was famous for his preaching. His sermons were always erudite, always patristic, always didactic, always interesting. One element to his sermons was that he always found something to thank God for. It didn’t matter if things were bad in the world, bad in the parish, or even bad for him personally. He always found something to be grateful to God for. Then came one stormy Sunday morning, when everything was going extremely badly for everyone. The weather was horrendous and many people were afraid to drive and stayed home rather than come to Church. Many in the congregation had lost jobs recently, others had lost loved ones. The priest himself was suffering from some serious health issues, along with other members of his immediate family and close friends. So when the priest finished the Gospel reading and stepped out onto the ambo to preach, a member of the congregation thought to himself, "This poor priest certainly won’t have anything to thank God for today!” Then the priest began his sermon, "Beloved Brothers and Sisters, today I am grateful to God that things are not always like this!"
St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians wrote: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes- salonians 5:18).  Today’s Gospel is about gratitude. It’s about thankfulness.
Only one leper returned to give thanks to the God-Man Jesus Christ. Only one out of ten. That’s a pretty sad number. 10%. Jesus had sent them all, all ten, to go and show themselves to the priests. He didn’t lay His hands on them, He didn’t tell them that they were made whole, He didn’t heal them. He was testing their faith. He sent them to the priests to verify that they were free from leprosy. This was the requirement of the Law of Moses. So they went...and as they were walking they were all miraculously healed. Yet only one of the ten came back. I wonder, as I see so much hustle and bustle, so many people scurrying about the shops, how many have any thought at all about gratitude to God? Are there 10%? We need to boost that number; we need to boost that percentage, and it has to begin with US! Why? Because we are the Christians; because we are the community of people gathered-together around the Eucharist; and the word “eucharist” in Greek means “giving of thanks.”
The Advent Season, the season leading up to the Nativity (the Birth) of Christ, is a very busy time for a variety of reasons. But nothing is more important, nothing is more vital to our Advent consideration than spending some quality time working on our gratitude to God, our gratitude to Christ. Why? Because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Christ is God’s gift to us at Christmas. Our gift to Him must surely include a huge dose of gratitude.
St. Nicodemos & St Theophan the Recluse in the book “Unseen Warfare” write: “Remind yourself often, that (God) has granted you many favours in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image, and has made all other creatures your servants; He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of the angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favour and love for you; a favour so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favours to our nothingness and worthlessness.”  And St. John Chrysostom says:
“Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefactions to us, indeed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and we behave like this, even when we know that such acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him” (Homilies on Matthew).
So the message (or one of the messages) from today’s Gospel, and for the Nativity Fast as a whole, is this: I should be more grateful to God. It makes sense. We can’t go to any Divine Liturgy on any Sunday, or any Feast Day, without the priest chanting “Let us give thanks unto the Lord,” with the choir responding, “It is meet and right.” “Meet and Right” means “it is appropriate and it is the correct thing to do!” Gratitude is a good thing to strive for, especially in a society that teaches us that selfishness is the stairway to success. Gratitude to God is a good thing to strive for during this holy time of fasting. We can replace the meat on our plates with a generous portion of thankfulness. How did the healed leper show his gratitude? He came back to where Jesus was, and fell down at His feet, and did what? He thanked Him! As we come and approach the Christ Child this Christmas, let us do so with grateful and loving hearts. Let us imitate the grateful leper. And how can we do that? There are many ways, dear ones. There are any ways to show our gratitude to God. We can do so by making peace with those with whom we have quarreled. We can do so by forgiving those who have wronged us. We can do so by aiding the poor, the homeless, the orphan, and the widow. And we can also do so by bringing our gifts and offerings directly to Jesus; that is to the Church, which is His Body. When we willingly and cheerfully bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord, we can, and should, offer it as a “thanksgiving offering.”  I will end with three quotes from Holy Scripture:
“And when ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the LORD, offer it willingly.” (Leviticus 22:29)
“Honour the Lord with thy righteous labours, and give him the first of thy fruits of righteousness” (Proverbs 3:9).
“O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 107:1).

Luke 18: 18-27; December 3, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
THOSE who believe that Jesus, our Lord and Master, is also the Word of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can’t help but approach Him with a certain sense of fear and awe. We don’t speak to Him in a common, pedestrian way. We don’t pray to Him using language like He’s our “good buddy.” Our Orthodox Church teaches us to pray using elevated language, precise, God-pleasing vocabulary, offered with an extremely humble demeanor. Last night, at Vespers, we heard these words extolling the virtues of the Prophet Zephaniah: “we honour thee for having the eloquence of God, being honourable and pleasing to Him.”  Eloquence. This is how the holy Fathers wrote the prayers in the Prayer Book. This is how the saints composed the Divine Services. This is how David, the prophet and King, wrote the Psalter. We speak to the Saviour as the God Who created us, as the God Who is everywhere present and filling all things, as the Lord and God Who “searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9). But in general, in first century Palestine, the religious and political leaders were not inclined to regard Jesus as anything at all. They did not see God when they looked at Him. They didn’t even see a holy man. St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “for they, with their princes and teachers were in error, and saw not with the eyes of their mind the glory of Christ. Rather they looked upon Him as one like unto us: as a mere man” (Sermon CXXII on Luke). That was certainly the case with the rich ruler of the synagogue whom we encounter in today’s Gospel. How does he address Jesus? Does he address Him with eloquence? Does he address Him with lofty words, honorable and pleasing to God? Not at all! He calls Him “good teacher.” Not “rabbi,” not “Master.” Just “good teacher.” Good grief, even the “good teachers” of today would rather be thought of or spoken of as “educators” not merely “teachers.”
The object of the rich religious leader this morning was to trip-up Jesus in His words. I want us, this morning, to think about our words, to think about the words of our prayer – the way we pray, and the way that we think about our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray.
First of all, let me say that prayer is vital to our life in Christ. St. Theophan the Recluse says: “There is nothing more important than prayer; therefore, our greatest attention and most diligent attention must attend it.” All of us should learn to pray and continue to pray using three primary texts: 1.) The “Our Father” 2.) The Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart, and 3.) The Prayer Book. The Lord Himself taught us the first two. And the Holy Church, the Body of Christ, the God-pleasing and Spirit-filled Saints, have given us the third. These are our primers, our lessons in prayer. No one can be a disciple of Christ, a student of Christ, without first learning these basic lessons. They teach us everything about Who Christ is and who we are. They teach us the language, the vocabulary of piety. They instruct us in the path to the acquisition of the virtues. They are the fundamental building-blocks of the spiritual life and the practice living theology. We must use them. We must be taught by them, moulded by them, perfected by them.
And part two of my little instruction about how we speak to Jesus, how we should pray, is about our hearts. If our hearts are not connected to the words of our prayers, then we can also be sure that we are not connected to God at all. Remember the story of the Publican and the Pharisee? The broken-hearted prayer of the Publican went straight up to God, while the arrogant prayer of the Pharisee clanked right back down on his own head! Why? Because the Pharisee “prayed with himself” which means he said the words, but he wasn’t really talking to God (see Luke 18:11).  His heart was not in his prayer. Again, St. Theophan says: “Always strive to that prayer comes from the heart and is not just thought by the mind and chattered by the tongue.” And St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The chief thing in prayer is the nearness of the heart to God.”
Real prayer must be connected prayer. Simply reading or reciting something religious isn’t prayer. Again, St Theophan tells us: “(True) prayer is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostrations, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings (and feelings like them) should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of prayer as a sense of presence. It is an awareness of the presence of God. Prayer is the experience of God in me and me in God. It’s not something that I do, but an experience of God that I enter into. The late and ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once wrote that “Prayer is the search for God, an encounter with God, and going beyond this - an encounter in communion. Thus it is an activity, a state and also a situation; a situation both with respect to God and to the created world. Prayer is born of the discovery that the world has depths--that we are not only surrounded by visible things but that we are also immersed in and penetrated by invisible things. And this invisible world is both the presence of God, the supreme, sublime reality, and our own deepest truth."
Dear ones, let us love God, honour God, and show our faith in God by the way that we pray and by the frequency of our prayer. Let us strive to make sure that every word of our prayer comes from the heart, and isn’t simply a mental exercise or a duty to be completed. When we pray, let’s endeavour to actually be in the presence of God, believing that He is really listening. To Him who gladdens kings, prophets and priests, Who created His own Mother, Who summoned Magi from the East, Who appointed an angel to shine as a bright guiding Star,  Christ our true God, be all glory, honour and worship, always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(Luke 13: 10-17)
St Andrew of Crete, in his great penitential Canon, exhorts us, saying:
“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.”
Most of the time, when we think about the condition of this poor woman, we only wonder about the cause of her illness. How was it that Satan was able to afflict her in such a terrible way? But St. Andrew wants us to think differently about her. He wants us to concentrate not on the affliction, and not really on the miraculous healing, but rather, on her reaction to the healing. What comes after the healing? What is her condition now? What does the Gospel say?
“immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
In Palestine there are many palm trees. The Prophet and King David tells us in the Psalms that the righteous will “flourish like the palm tree” (Psalm 92:12).  The characteristics of palm trees is that they are very straight, their nature causes them to grow and ascend – reaching up to heaven as if stretching their branches in prayer, and they bear delicious, sweet fruit. These features symbolize the characteristics of a righteous person. We see this clearly illustrated in Song of Songs 7:7, where the Church, the pure Bride of Christ, is mystically likened to a palm tree:
“This is thy greatness in thy delights: thou wast made like a palm tree...”
When the Prophet Ezekiel described the Mystical Temple to come, (meaning the glorified Church,) he described the images of palm trees that are carved on the pillars (Ez. 40:31).  This means, of course, that the Holy Church, the Pure Bride of Christ, will be composed of and held up by the righteous, those who lead upright, prayerful, and fruit-bearing lives.
So the reaction of the woman bent earthward to her healing was that she became “upright.” Not just for the moment, but for the remainder of her life. Here we are not just talking about her physical posture, but about her complete change of of attitude and behaviour. She became spiritually and morally upright, spiritually and morally straight. This is, of course, the meaning of the word “orthos” that makes up the first half of our word “Orthodox.” It means “straight.” Are we “Orthodox?” Then it means that we are sincerely striving to be straight, to be upright. The deacon or priest commands us constantly to “stand aright!” It means “stand up straight! Stand at attention and listen!” Orthodoxy means embracing the discipline, embracing our discipleship to Christ. It means living in accordance with the teachings of Christ, rather than opposing them. The woman in the Gospel, the woman who was bent earthward, had obviously NOT been doing that earlier; she was not living a God-pleasing life. This is apparent from the fact that Satan himself was occupying her soul and body. But her reaction to Christ’s word, her reaction to Christ’s touch, and her reaction to her healing, was to change her life completely. This is the point that St. Andrew wants to emphasize. The healing of a body in this world, in this life, is a temporary thing. But a changed and righteous life leads to things wonderful and eternal!
And now let’s move on to the second part of the teaching, the second reaction of the woman who was healed:
“immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
She “glorified God.” St. Andrew suggests that she literally fell down at the feet of Jesus, worshipped Him, and praised Him as God. This is the correct interpretation. She fell at His feet and vocally gave praise, glorifying the God-man Who had accomplished such great things in her. David, in Psalm 50, says:
“Whoever offers praise glorifies me: and to him that orders his conduct aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23).
So, what does it mean to “glorify God?" I certainly WANT to glorify God in my life so that I will be shown salvation! So it means I must offer a sacrifice of praise. It’s just like we sing in the Divine Liturgy. We offer a “mercy of peace” and a what? “A sacrifice of praise!”
To “glorify” God means to offer glory to Him. The word “glory” in the Old Testament is related to God’s presence, even His nature. In the New Testament, the word translated “glory” (doxa), refers to God’s Life, His Light, His energies, His power to deify us. Only God has true glory. Our personal glory is only vainglory and pride. We only possess true glory because we participate in God’s life. It is our duty to offer back to God that which He has shared with us. What is it that we pray in the Liturgy?
“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee...”
So it’s in the Liturgy where we most perfectly glorify God.
In 1 Chronicles 16:29, we read:
“Give to the Lord the glory belonging to his name: take gifts and offer them before him; and worship the Lord in his holy courts.”
In Revelation, Chapter 4, where the Heavenly Liturgy is described, John the Theologian and Apostle writes:
“The twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, and they worship Him who lives unto the ages of ages. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying:“Thou art worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things; by Thy will they exist, and came to be.”
There is really much more that we could say on this topic, but let’s, for the sake of brevity, re-focus on our main two themes for today: uprightness and praise. The woman who is bent earthward is a type of us all, especially us Christians. We, like her, have heard the Word of God. We, like her, have been touched by the hand of God. We, like her, have been healed, saved from sin and death, by Holy Baptism. Now we must imitate her, as St. Andrew says. We must imitate her for our souls’ sake. Let me remind you of his words:
“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.” Amen.

(with heavy patristic "borrowings!)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
So, our choir director suddenly became ill yesterday. We need to remember him in our prayers. May the Lord grant Reader John a speedy recovery! Every so often it happens, and when it does, it reminds us that the job isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s a job that requires special skills, special knowledge, a love for God and dedication to the Church. I remember years ago hearing a story about one of our local Russian parishes that was looking for a new choir director. Their old choir director had been brilliant, but her secular job had taken her back to the East Coast. The parish was in a bad spot. Choir directors are very hard to come by. One day a certain man contacted the parish concerning the job. He met with the priest. The priest enquired about the man’s experience, what parishes he had served, his knowledge of the services, the typicon, the ustav. He asked about his philosophy of church music and church singing, etc., and etc. But to each question, the man had no real answers. He had studied music and voice with the Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts of the Moscow State University back in the nineties. He sang in some performances in Russia before moving to the US. Here, he was teaching music and voice at a local college, and performing in Russian cabarets at night to supplement his income. He didn’t have a regular parish, in fact, he wasn’t even sure he believed, but he told the priest that he faithfully attended church for Pascha and his Name Day. He had never been a choir director in a church, had never sung in a church choir, but had directed secular choral performers back in Russia. He assured the priest that he had a great baritone voice (which he did!) and that he could read and direct directly from the sheet music, even sight unseen.
As much as the priest appreciated the man’s musical training and talents, it just wasn’t a fit. It couldn’t be. Wrong person, wrong job. But there was one time in history, one defining moment in time, when only one person could fill one particular job that would mean the salvation of the world and everyone in it. And that was the role of Theotokos. Only Mary could fill that position. Only Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother. And today’s Feast is the celebration of the inauguration of this Mystery.
Today, brothers and sisters, the holy Church celebrates the joyous Entry of the three-year old child Mary into the temple in Jerusalem. She is met there by the high priest, who brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the innermost precincts of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year. She whose womb would one day contain the uncontainable God, now enters the earthly building that foreshadows this wonder. She enters in order to be instructed and prepared by the invisible God, that she might become the Mother of His flesh.
How did this most blessed child spend her time in the temple? She learned the Hebrew language, (which nobody spoke in those days – they spoke Aramaic, the language of the Assyrians.) She had to study Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures. She spent much time in prayer, in divine contemplation, and learning handicrafts. Her love for God and her total immersion in the Scriptures was so great that she often forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God's request.
What an excellent example for Orthodox families: fathers, mothers, and children! As devout followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as dedicated servants of the Mother of God, the very icon of Spiritual Instruction, it is our duty, our obligation, to emulate her way of life. We should strive always to imitate her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we don’t want to be called false members of Christ's Church, then we should also have the same mindset as She has.
And since Mary was brought to the temple in order to be instructed in the Lord, it behooves us also to contemplate the importance of going to church for our own spiritual education and for our salvation. It is in the church where we are raised, educated, and instructed in the virtues, those passports to Paradise. It is in the Church where we receive the Holy Mysteries, which enable us to acquire those same virtues. As St. John of Kronstadt says:
“Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live a holy life in the spirit of Christ? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual weapons against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.
See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God's church! It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure. We must
love going to God's church, and while there, prepare a temple of your own selves for God. As St Peter says: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theatre, where they will only learn what the young should never know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.”



Luke 12: 16-21

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Brothers and Sisters,

This is Prophet Obadiah day! He is called “Abdias” in Latin, and “Abdios” in the Greek Septuagint. The Book of the prophecy of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, having only 21 verses. The name “Obadiah” means, literally, the “servant of God.” Same as “Theodoulos” in Greek. And servant of God he was! He was a prophet who lived in the 9th Century B.C., and was a defender and a disciple of the prophet Elias (Elijah). We know very little about his life, other than he opposed the wicked King Ahab, and Ahab’s even more wicked wife, Jezebel. According to the testimony of the Bible,

“When Ahab’s wife, the impious and dissolute Jezebel, hunted down all the prophets of the Lord (because of her quarrel with the Prophet Elias), it was Obadiah that saved and hid 100 of the Lord’s prophets in caves, fifty to a cave. There he fed them and took care of them. gave them shelter and food (3/1 Kgs 18:3 ff).” Obadiah is known for his extreme generosity, his steadfastness of faith, and his humility. He had no patience for the proud, the haughty, the powerful, and the arrogant of his day. He is an example to us of a virtuous man. And remembering especially his generous heart, I move on to the main text for today.

Today we heard the Lord's parable about the man who had an over-abundance of goods and wealth. What was his solution to his overflowing blessings? To hoard them for himself; to build bigger spaces in which to store them.

So, what was the context for this parable? Jesus had been asked by a man in the crowd to act as a Scribe or what the Bible calls a “lawyer.” He had a dispute with his brother concerning his part of the inheritance from his recently deceased father. Jesus answered “who made Me a judge or a divider between you?” And He said unto them, “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all greediness: for a man's life is not derived from his possessions, by reason of his having an over-abundance.” (Luke 12:13)

Money or possessions are not, in themselves, evil. But it's what we DO with our wealth that determines our spiritual condition. It's the LOVE of money that St Paul says is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), not the money itself. Wealth is given by the Lord for us to do good with, to share, not to gather for ourselves.

Hoarding wealth is considered by God, to be robbery of the poor; and robbery of the poor is considered robbery of God. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me” Jesus said. (Matthew 25:40)

Hoarding of wealth is also considered to be robbing the Church. The Lord, through the holy prophet Haggai, asks: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your fancy and well-built houses, while My temple lies in ruins?"

(Haggai 1:4)

St Cyril of Alexandria, in the early 5th century, wrote:

“Our virtue-loving Master wishes us to depart far from all earthly and temporal matters; to flee from the love of the flesh, and from the vain anxiety of business, and from base lusts; to set no value on hoards, to despise wealth, and the love of gain; to be good and loving unto one another; not to lay up treasures upon earth; to be superior to strife and envy, not quarrelling with the brethren, but rather giving way to them, even though they seek to gain an advantage over us; 'for from him,' He says, 'who takes away what is yours, demand it not again;' and rather to strive after all those things which are useful and necessary for the salvation of the soul.” (Sermon 89 on Luke)

In Galatians 2:20 St Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We must all say: “I too have been crucified with Christ! I have put to death the hoarding ways of the flesh. I have put off the “old man” of the Law, and I am clothed with the “new man” of the Spirit via holy baptism. As Paul says in another place, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

(Romans 6:4)

When Paul says “it is no longer I that live” he means the fallen man of the flesh, that greedy and avaricious man that needs to be guided by the Law. The man in the crowd who wanted more of the inheritance, wanted Jesus to make a ruling in accordance with his greed, more than the Law of Moses. But Jesus said, “That's not why I'm here! That's not what I'm about!” But, he says, “you need to think not with a fleshly mind, but with one that is guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Law is no longer your school master. You must matriculate to a higher education, a higher life, that is: a relationship not with the Torah, in fact, not with any written book, but a direct relationship, in faith, with Me, your Lord Jesus Christ.”

Bigger barns? We don’t think about physical barns unless we live in Yuba City or Rio Linda. But what are my symbolic “bigger barns?” This is what we should be thinking about. You know, the Christmas Season wants us to think more about giving. But what kind of giving are we doing? What presents am I buying? Am I buying more for myself than I am for others? Have I remembered to be generous to God, whose birth-day we will be celebrating? How does God want us to give? Easy answer - first of all to the poor and to the Church. The cream off the top. Ebenezer Scrooge, once he saw the light about Christmas, first helped a poor boy on the street, and then the entire Cratchit family, who were crushed by the poverty that he himself had caused. Next, he gave to a church charitable fund. And so on. So the question is, do we build big bank accounts, or big portfolios, or do we build multiple houses or vacation spots while we simultaneously rob God? May God help us to adopt a different spirit this Advent. If we would only begin to empty some of these “barns” of ours, and lead a more generous and Christian life, then we will have no fear at all on Judgment Day. What does Solomon say in Proverbs? “He that has pity on the poor lends to the Lord; and he will recompense him in accordance with his gift” (Proverbs 19:17 LXX).



The Good Samaritan
THE GOOD SAMARITAN – November 12, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
A lawyer approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel (now remember, a “lawyer” in the Bible means an expert in the Old Testament Scriptures, an expert in the law of God) and asks Him a question, testing Him:
Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And how does Jesus answer him?
What is written in the law? how readest thou? Jesus answers the test with a test of His own! And the lawyer answered: You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. And what did Jesus say in reply? He said, You have answered correctly: do this, and you shall live.
That should have been the end of the discussion. Asked and answered. Do this and you shall live. The problem is that the lawyer wasn’t happy, even with his own answer. Why? Because the lawyer had an agenda. And what was his agenda? To trip up Jesus. The lawyer wasn’t at all interested in getting to the truth. He wasn’t really seeking information to aid him in his soul’s salvation. His mission was to make Jesus look either stupid, or foolish, or wrong-headed, or heretical, or something, anything, in order to discredit Him! Why? Because the people were beginning to turn to Jesus for answers to their spiritual questions, their “life” questions, rather than the establishment lawyers. You see, Jesus had REAL answers for people, not the self-serving and self-aggrandizing answers that were provided by the religious leadership. People were turning to Jesus, and the lawyers, the scribes, the pharisees, they all hated him for it. So the lawyer pressed on. He couldn’t discredit Jesus for agreeing with the answer that he himself had provided, so he pressed on. “And who is my neighbour?” Why does he ask that? Because this was a current and very divisive argument raging in Judaism at the time. Who is my neighbour? Does that refer to Jews only? My fellow Jews? Or does it mean all human beings? To the pharisees, all who were non-Jews, and all Jews who disagreed with them or who were non-observant, all these people were considered contaminated, unclean. That’s why the pharisees would have nothing to do with them. They shunned them, in fact. Samaritans were absolutely and always placed in this group to be despised. So when the lawyer switches gears and brings up the question of “who is my neighbour?’, he is not-at-all-subtly trying to draw Jesus into this fight. He figures no matter how Jesus answers, He will offend a great many Jews who will disagree with Him. This will result in Jesus losing a big chunk of His popularity. Mission accomplished. But what happened? Jesus told a parable, a parable about a “good Samaritan.” And what was even more surprising, he identified that “Good Samaritan” as Himself! Why do I say that? The holy fathers say it. Jesus presents the Samaritan as someone who is despised, rejected, someone to be shunned, yet nevertheless, it is He Who comes and saves the man from the beatings and near death brought by the thieves (meaning the demons); it is He Who brings healing to broken humanity by means of cleansing  (baptism), oil (chrismation) and wine (the Holy Eucharist). The priest and the Levite (and you could turf in scribes, pharisees, and lawyers) who pass by, what do they represent? St Augustine says the following: “The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. The word ‘Samaritan’ means ‘Guardian,’ and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name...The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed during their pilgrimage.”
My dear friends! There are many messages for us, many truths to learn and honour, in today’s Gospel.
First, don’t ever let your own pride, your own arrogance, your own agendas get in your way of clearly hearing the word of God, understanding the word of God, embracing the word of God, and acting on the word of God. “Do this, and you will live” says the Lord. We only ever have to listen to Christ, and do what Christ says, and it is sufficient for us. Second, all human beings are our neighbors. The man who fell among thieves, he represents Adam, and Adam is the father and common ancestor of all of us.
We are all neighbors, and we are required to love all.
May Christ, our Saviour, and the Good Samaritan to our souls, grant us the grace to love Him and to keep His commandments always and forever. Amen.

The Demoniac and the Herd of Swine (Luke)
Sermon on the Demoniac and the Herd of Swine
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brethren, it is our joy to welcome back the piggies. Why does the Church seem to place such importance on this story, this particular miracle? Because,(and we need to hear it again and again), Christ is the Giver of Life. Satan is the giver of death. Christ is the Truth, Satan is the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44). “God is not the author confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33.) Satan is the promoter of confusion, turmoil, despondency, depression and suicide. Christ is the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Satan insinuates himself into our heads with crafty, evil thoughts (Genesis 3:1). It’s that simple. God, through Moses, said, “I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19.) In order for us to truly be made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27), we must be free; free to choose right or wrong, darkness or light, and yes, even God or Satan. Ultimately, all of our choices which have anything to do with our salvation, boil down to these two. The Lord said, “No man can serve two lords (κυρίοις): for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). “Mammon” literally means material wealth, but in Luke 16:9 the Lord relates the word “mammon” to “unrighteousness!” Ye cannot serve God AND unrighteousness together. So we have two choices, two “lords” that we might serve, Christ or Satan.
So who did the demoniac in this morning’s Gospel serve? Who did he choose? It is obvious. By his own choice he got himself into this horrifying condition. How do we know this? Even the description of his condition tells us. 1. He had demons for a long time. Demons cannot force themselves into us. We must either invite them or somehow allow them to come in. That he had many demons, and for a long time, shows his long-term evil behavior and his allowance of demonic activity. 2. He wore no clothes. Shamelessness, lasciviousness, nakedness, general immorality, these are all hallmarks of those who despise the laws of both God and nature. 3. He lived in the tombs. Demons use cemeteries, mediums, psychics, etc. to pretend that they are the voices of the dead. St. John Chrysostom asks: “But what can be the reason that they love to dwell in the tombs? They would be happy to suggest to the multitudes an insidious notion: that the souls of the dead become demons, which (God forbid!) we should ever admit into our thinking." 4. His own words declare the nature of his relationship with God. “What is there between me and Thee, Jesus, Son of God Most High?” St Cyril of Alexandria points out that the demoniac, along with his demons of course, confesses that Jesus is the Son of the Most High. He also confesses that Jesus is God – the God Who will judge the living and the dead, the same God Who will assign either eternal torments or eternal joy. And yet, in his overweening pride, he boasts in the fact that he neither has, nor does he want a relationship with Him. “What is there between me and Thee, Jesus, Son of God Most High?” The answer is, there is nothing between them. The demoniac does not want anything to do with Jesus. Love must go two ways in order for there to be a relationship.
Dear ones, St Anthony the Great says: "We have among us terrible and cunning enemies, the evil spirits. As soon as the demons see that any Christian is a struggler and growing in virtue, they strive to hinder the path with temptations, inspiring evil thoughts. If they cannot seduce the heart with blatant, impure sensuality, then they attack again, trying to instill fear with dreams and visions.... But these apparitions are, in themselves, nothing, and soon disappear if one, with faith in God's help, signs himself with the sign of the Cross" (Works, p. 30). The Holy Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord, wrote: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). What does this mean? It means that God has given us all that we need to deflect the assaults of Satan. Our defense against Satan is Christ Himself, His Most pure and holy Mother, the holy saints and angels, and all the things which He has given us through His Holy Church. In order to preserve ourselves from the seduction of the evil one, we must thoroughly learn the Scriptures, and the rest of the Holy Tradition (2Ths.2:15;3:6; etc.). We must struggle to lead an authentic Orthodox way of life. The Holy Church is our refuge and harbor, our safe haven from the storms of the evil spirits. Constantly educating ourselves both intellectually and spiritually in the Orthodox Faith is absolutely necessary. Moreover, one must learn to pray without ceasing, as our Saviour commanded us, calling on God in the words given us by Christ, to "deliver us from the evil one."
I will conclude with some edifying words of St Theophan the Recluse, our great intercessor and guide in the spiritual life:
“The devil approached the God-man with temptations. Who among men is free of them? He who lives according to the will of the evil one does not experience attacks, but simply turns more and more evil. As soon as one begins to come to himself and intends to begin a new life according to God’s will, immediately the entire satanic realm enters into action: they hasten to scatter the good thoughts and intentions of the repentant one in any way that they can. If they do not manage to turn him aside, they attempt to hinder his good repentance and confession; if they do not manage to do that, they contrive to sow tares amidst the fruits of repentance and disrupt his labors of cleansing the heart. If they do not succeed in suggesting evil they attempt to distort the truth; if they are repulsed inwardly they attack outwardly, and so on, until the end of one’s life. They do not even let a person die in peace; even after death they pursue the soul, until it escapes the aerial space where the demons hover and congregate.
You ask, “What should we do? It is hopeless and terrifying!”
For a believer there is nothing terrifying here, because in the presence of a God-fearing person demons only busy themselves, but they do not have any power over them. A sober person of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from them, not daring to approach, and fearing more of the defeat which they have already experienced. If they succeed in something, it is due to our own blundering. We slacken our attention, or allow ourselves to be distracted by their phantoms, and they immediately come and disturb us more boldly. If you do not come to your senses in time they will whirl you about; but if a soul does come to its senses they again recoil and spy from afar to see whether it is possible to approach again somehow.
So be sober, watch, and pray—and the enemies will do nothing to you.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote: “Don’t behave like someone that has ten thousand years to live; death is near, even at hand: while you live, while you have time, become good” (Meditations. iv. 17.)
St. Augustine of Hippo says: "Live well, that you may not die ill" (Sermon LII).
Our All-Good and All-loving Lord provides all means necessary for us to attain the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. Did you know that? He does! He gives us all the tools we need, all the weapons we need, all the instruction we require, all the maps and travel books we would like. He even provides us with guides, escorts, spiritual sherpas for our journey. What more could we ask? He knows each and every traveler from their mother’s womb. We should never accept the thought, the idea, the notion provided by Satan, that our God somehow likes to put us through impossible tests; that He sets us up to fail; that He somehow derives some twisted pleasure in watching us squirm and suffer in our efforts to be saved. But actually, the very opposite is true. St John Chrysostom says, “God loves us more than a father, mother, friend, or anyone else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves.” And the Holy Apostle Peter says: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His divine power, has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3). So God only loves us and only gives to us what which will aid in our salvation.
So what did God give to Lazarus? According to the holy fathers, God provided the gate outside of the rich man’s estate to be his stairway to heaven. God placed him there, and he stayed there. His poverty alone, or his sickness alone were not enough to grant him a place in the bosom of Abraham. But he knew that. The Gospel says that he only desired the crumbs, he wasn’t looking to deprive the rich man of anything. He didn't resent the rich man; he didn't denounce him or rail against him. He didn't storm his residence and demand anything. He simply waited, trusting in God. And what was his reward? He was carried to heaven by God's angels.
And what did the Lord give to the rich man? Lazarus. He gave him Lazarus. But the unnamed rich man could only see himself. He could only focus on his own self-indulgence, his self-centeredness, his pleasure-loving life that blinded him to anyone or anything else. He KNEW poor Lazarus, he even knew his name, but he does not SEE him. What did we learn from St Paul in this morning’s Epistle reading? We learned that he had been a really bad guy. He had been persecuting Christians. He participated in the posse that eventually resulted in the killing, the martyrdom of St Stephen. He hated Christ. He despised Christ. What brought about the change in Paul? He finally SAW Christ. God made it possible, on the road to Damascus. Paul SAW Christ, and was changed forever, becoming a chief Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles. But this rich man, he doesn’t see Lazarus, even though he passes by him every day. He is clueless as to his desperate need, his poverty, his hunger, his terrible sickness. The rich man lived his life as if he thought he would live for ten thousand years. He would have done better to meditate on these words from the Orthodox funeral service: “Let us go forth, and gaze into the tombs: man is naked bones, food for the worms, and stench; and we shall learn what are riches, and beauty, and strength.” You see, the rich man had forgotten something very fundamental. He forgot who he was! He forgot that he is a descendant of Abraham. And what do we know about Abraham? Genesis says that Abraham was very wealthy (Genesis 13:2; 24:35.) Abraham was a rich man, but unlike the rich man in the parable, Moses tells us that he was exceedingly generous, exceedingly charitable, hospitable to anyone passing by his dwelling, even running after them to offer them food and drink (Genesis 18). The whole story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining the three angels, is a story about generous hospitality. Abraham understood that none of his wealth truly belonged to him. It belonged to God. And because it belonged to God, it also belonged to all of God’s children.
May God grant to each of us the generous heart of Abraham, the non-judgmental and patient faith of Lazarus, and the Spirit-guided discernment to know how to live well, and also how to die well. Amen.

Parable of the Sower
October 15, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story is told of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."
Isaiah 6:10 For the heart of this people has become unfeeling (ἐπαχύνθη), and their ears are dull (βαρέως) of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
There are many reasons that we don’t hear people. I’m not talking about natural hearing loss that comes with old age. I’m also not talking about the effects of standing for four years in front of a bank of huge Vox and Fender amplifiers for a three-hour gig, with the volume cranked to eleven. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about another kind of deafness. Exhibit A: It’s evening. Wife says to husband in recliner: “Honey, the garbage needs to go out!” He answers: “Uh-huh. OK.” He never heard it. 1:00 am, he’s still in the recliner, unconscious, the TV is running an ad about a little egg-like device that scrapes away foot calluses. It’s gross, just like the garbage that has yet to be taken to the bin. However, if earlier the wife had said “How about some ice cream?” Well! That would have gotten a much different response. That would have resulted in not only crystal-clear hearing, but possibly even some spontaneous action – springing up out of the chair, perhaps to fetch bowls and spoons. So what’s the difference? The difference is: with the latter he is getting something, something that he likes, something that pleases him. With the former, however, he is being asked to do something for others, do something unpleasant, and worst of all, do something that is disturbing his “wa,” a useful Japanese word meaning his sense of harmony and balance. Listening without hearing is bad. Selective hearing loss, especially in the domestic church – the home- is even worse.
So, what about spiritual hearing? Can we suffer from spiritual hearing loss? Can we sort-of pick and choose what we want to hear from God? We certainly can and we often do. That’s why Jeremiah said: “Hear ye now, O foolish and senseless people; who have eyes, and see not; and have ears, and hear not: will ye not fear me? saith the Lord...But this people has a disobedient and rebellious heart” Jeremiah 5: 21,23). That’s right, spiritual deafness comes from spiritually diseased hearts.
The Lord, in today’s Gospel, illustrates the four ways in which we might hear and/or respond to the Word of the Lord: 1. the road, 2. the rock, 3. the thorns, and 4. the good soil. “The the mysteries of the Kingdom of God have been given to you” the Lord says, precisely because you want to hear it. It is not given to others because for one reason or another they actually don’t want to hear it – not really! Having eyes they see not and having ears they hear not. As I alluded to before, it’s a problem of the heart. Let’s look at these four kinds of hearts.
Number 1. This heart is like a road. It has lots of traffic. It’s hard to make out one person among crowds that are pushing and moving. These are the people who listen to many devils far more than they are accustomed to listening to the one God. What did the Lord Jesus say? “The devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” The devil does not want us to be saved, so he grooms us, perverted serpent that he is, he grooms us constantly, unrelentingly, sweetly hissing into our ears from the prevailing culture, from the news, from the movies, from our political affiliations, from our friends, things that sound good, things that sound right, things that sound moral. He feeds us a sweet confection, a coating of truth, but inside is the death-dealing poison of his lies. And, like Eve, we get seduced by his constant attentions and so we listen to him. When God’s voice, God’s word, comes to us, the devil tells us to reject it, and cast it out of our hearts.
Number 2. The rock heart repels the word of God. A rock cannot absorb the living water of Christ’s word. It simply rolls off. The stony and hard heart doesn’t really want to know God. The stony and hard heart doesn’t really love God. But we can pray, and God can change that stony heart of ours if we work at it. He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give them another heart, and will put a new spirit within them; and will extract the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh: that they may walk in my commandments, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be to me a people, and I will be to them a God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Number 3 is the heart choked by thorns. That is, it is a heart that is totally distracted by the world, and totally immersed in it’s own love of itself. It’s the guy on the recliner. He can’t be bothered with commandments or ordinances. He can’t even be bothered with simple, easy requests. He is totally choked-out by his own self-indulgence. What a pity! He has no time for his own salvation. He has no time for his eternity. But blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose reminds him: “It’s later than you think!”
Number 4 heart is the good soil heart. What is good soil? How can we become good soil? This is really the focus of the parable, isn’t it? What is good soil? Good soil has been broken-up with the plow of humility, large stones and then smaller stones of the passions have been removed, the fertilizer of fervent faith, the reading of the holy fathers, and the lives of the saints have been added to enrich it, and it has been watered with the ever-flowing grace of God which can only come with tears of repentance and prayer. Good soil has a fence around it, the Church, to keep it secure from ravenous beasts and evil men. Good soil hearts are always in church, secure within her walls. The good soil heart must be looked after, constantly tended, constantly weeded. There is a lot of effort involved in having soil that can receive the good seed and produce the good fruit. It does not just “happen.” Jane G. Meyer, an Orthodox writer, has written in her wonderful children’s book ‘The Hidden Garden’ the following: “Within every heart is a hidden garden. We can neglect it until the weeds take over and the flowers wither and die. Or, with the help of Christ, we can care for it and make it a place of beauty, grace, and joy.”  Amen.


According to today’s epistle reading they do. St Paul writes:
" Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from all ages has been hid in God, who created all things: to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The “principalities and powers in heavenly places” are angels. According to the Scriptures as well as Orthodox Church teaching, the ranks of angels are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Powers, Dominions,
Principalities, Virtues, Archangels and Angels. (See Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16, and St Dionysius the Areopagite, “Celestial Hierarchies.”) In today’s epistle reading, St Paul says that the angels actually learn things from the Church and even from individual Christians. St. John Chrysostom pretends to question St. Paul about this. He says:  “Are you enlightening Angels and Archangels and Principalities and Powers? I am, says he. For it was ‘hid in God,’ even ‘in God who created all things.’ And do you venture to utter this? I do, says he. But whence has this been made manifest to the Angels? By the Church.” (Homilies on Ephesians, VII).
Angels are spirit beings. They are wise, and good, and holy. But they don’t understand everything because unlike human beings, they are not physical as well as spiritual. Only people are a microcosm of the whole created world, because they are both physical and spiritual. So often we hear things like “the angels were amazed” in our services, because they are surprised by what they learn. In the Scriptures we learn from St Paul that devout Christian women cover their heads “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10). This means that the angels learn how Christian women are obedient to God’s commandments, unlike their foremother Eve who rebelled against Him. The veil is a sign – to God, to the Church, and yes, to the angels.
So yes, the holy angels do learn from us. They have never had to carry the heavy weight of sin and the burdens of the flesh. They are ministering spirits who love God and follow his commandments faithfully. They are aware that a full 1/3 of their number rebelled against God with their leader Lucifer, the fallen former Archangel. They watch us to see what God has revealed in and through us. They also watch to see what kind of beings we are, more like them or more like their fallen brethren?


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