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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lunatick Son 8/5/18
fr_basil
SERMON ON THE LUNATICK SON
August 5, 2018
Matthew 17:14-23
Recently I was recounting a conversation that I overheard many years ago. It involved a Protestant inquirer and an Orthodox layperson. The Protestant was asking why anyone would need to enlist the help of the Virgin Mary, when one could simply pray directly to Christ himself? It’s a good question, isn’t it? Well, it’s true, of course. We can and are even invited to pray directly to Christ, to the Father, to the Holy Spirit, and I do that. But how powerful are my prayers? How effective are my prayers? The prayer of the pharisee in the parable was weak and worthless, because he was full of pride, judgment, and vainglory. The prayer of the father with the demon-possessed son was weak, because his faith was weak, he was full of doubts, as he himself admitted. The prayers of the seven sons of the priest Sceva were ineffectual, because they used the Name of Jesus, but were not truly His disciples. As a result, they were beaten by demons and were forced to run naked and screaming out of the house (Acts 19: 11-16). So... how strong is my faith? How many doubts do I have? How much pride fills my soul, my thoughts? How effectual is my prayer? At some point it begins to dawn on us that our prayers are probably quite weak. And that’s exactly why we are compelled to ask others to pray with us and for us. We all do this, and the Lord, and the Apostles recommend it. And who do we especially ask when we feel the need for more power, more “octane” in our prayer? The bishop, the priest, monks, nuns, holy people, pious people, etc. Right? When I was a kid we went everywhere on our bikes; school, the store, friends’ houses, everywhere. We loved our bikes, but we knew that they (or rather, we) were limited as to how far we could go, or how fast we could get there. That’s why we were so jealous of the older kids in the neighborhood, the ones with cars, and especially those who had the hot rods. They could go as far as they wanted, and they could get there fast. Sometimes we would be riding our bikes when one of those hot rods would blast by...if only we could attach our bikes to that beauty and fly to where we wanted to go! And that is precisely why we enlist the help and the prayers of the Mother of God. We call out to her because she is most-holy, most-pure, and most-blessed, and most glorious human being to ever walk the planet. After he death she was taken up bodily to heaven. She is the Queen who stands at the right of her Son, wearing garments shining with the light of deification. (See Psalm 44:9 LXX). Her prayers are strong, swift, and sure. After all, by her intercession she was able to change the mind of her divine Son so that He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. She endured terrible sorrow at the Cross so that the “the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed” (Luke 2:35). What does that mean? It means so that she might present our feeble prayers, the weak groanings of our hearts, before her Son and our God. That’s why we attach ourselves to the Theotokos. That’s why we beg her for help. That’s why we plead for her intercessions. That’s why we sing supplicatory canons to her. That’s why we fast in preparation for the commemoration of her holy falling-asleep, and her glorious assumption into heaven.
Now, let’s change direction a bit and look for a moment at today’s Gospel. Here we see a man who is also praying. After all, praying and asking are often the same thing. He is a father who is asking Jesus to heal his lunatick son. Not “epileptic” as some translations have it. “Lunatick,” “moonstruck,” “σεληνιάζεται.” This father presumes to tell Jesus what the boy needs and what He, Jesus, needs to do – cure the boy of moonbeam sickness! Isn’t this just the way the world behaves? The father is utterly blind to the fact that he is speaking to the Lord Who created all things, and that his son is grievously tormented by a demon! The world seeks to disregard the presence of God. It also poo-poos the notion of devils. Instead of blaming dark and hostile forces, this father blames nature, God’s creation! This is a clear warning to us. Never presume anything in prayer! Don’t explain to God what the situation is. He knows what it really is, not what our twisted minds perceive it to be. Next, never tell God what to do. He knows what we need, and He knows what others need. Always pray: “Not my will, but Thy will be done!”
Now, on to my last theme for this morning. Today is the Pre-feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Tonight and tomorrow, on top of an earthly mountain named Tabor, the Lord Jesus will reveal to His disciples and to us a heavenly mystery. While living among them He had spoken of the kingdom and of His second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom, and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, He gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of His glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if He said to them: “As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this, I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.” Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus.”
These are the divine wonders we will soon celebrate; this is the saving revelation given us on the mountain.  Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and it is for us now to follow Him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in His radiance, that will renew our spiritual nature and transform us into His own likeness, making us forever sharers in His divine nature and raising us to heights undreamed of. Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into that cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from created things and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
It is indeed good for us to be here, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here forever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like Him and to live in His light? Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into His divine likeness, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: “Today salvation has come to this house.” With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of His eternal blessings, and there, where they are stored up for us in Him, we see reflected as in a mirror, both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come. Amen.

HOMILY ON FAITH, HOPE, & DETERMINATION
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HOMILY ON “FAITH, HOPE, & DETERMINATION” (Matthew 9: 27-36)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear ones,
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is being followed by two blind men. It isn’t easy for them to do it. There are crowds pressing them. They must tap with sticks in order to prevent them from running into walls or trees or people. They stumble on stones, they are jostled by people, they are cursed at, yet they keep walking. I can’t help but think of an old song, a “Freedom Song” from the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960’s. It’s called “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” Now you all know me. You know what I want to do right now, don’t you? You KNOW I want to sing it. But I won’t. I’ll maintain some modicum of homiletic decorum. But I AM going to read the first stanza. It goes like this: “Ain’t gonna let nobody, Turn me 'round, Turn me 'round, Turn me ‘round, Ain’t gonna let nobody, Turn me round, I'm gonna keep on walkin', Keep on talkin’, Marchin’ to the freedom land!”
It’s a great song! It goes on to say that neither jailhouse, nor men, nor segregation laws, nor beatings, etc. will keep them from realizing their God-given rights as full citizens of this wonderful land. It talks about faith, hope, and death-defying determination to succeed. No one knows who wrote it, because it was borrowed and re-worked from an old African American Spiritual called "Don't Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round." The original song is all about God, and forgiveness, and the Kingdom of Heaven. But it’s the same when it comes to faith, hope, and determination. With faith, hope, and determination, the Kingdom of Heaven is obtainable. With faith, hope, and determination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was realized. And it’s this same spirit that we find in these two blind men.
Let’s continue.  Jesus asks the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And what happened? “Their eyes were opened.” Did Jesus know their faith? Of course He did. He could see right into the very depths of their hearts. But He asked them the question not in order to get the answer from them for Himself, but for the sake of all those standing around this scene and hearing. The healing of the blind men resulted from their faith. It was a divine AND human synergistic event.
The Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils were similarly disposed. We are celebrating their memory today. They put aside all consideration of personal gain, glory, popularity, or position. Following Christ, they were filled with faith, hope, and determination to preserve and protect the truth that was first delivered by Christ to His holy apostles, and from them to us. We honor them because they brought about the healing of the Church which had been blinded by pernicious heresies propagated by demonically-inspired men.
Likewise, we honor today Great Prince Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles.  He is also an embodiment of that faith, hope, and determination exhibited by the blind men. He is also an exemplar of the spirit of the holy fathers of the Ecumenical Councils who sacrificed all in order to be true to Christ, to save his people, and preserve the purity of the true Church. I would like to share with you some thoughts of the saintly Archbishop Averky (Taushev) on St Vladimir.
“Why is St. Vladimir eternally dear to us? Because he brought us into communion with faith in Christ and gave us, Russians, the true Church of Christ. What is this faith in Christ and true Church and what is its significance for us? This is clearly revealed to us in the touching prayer offered by St. Vladimir at the sacred moment when the Mystery of Baptism was performed for the Russian people, when, in the words of the pious chronicler, truly heaven and earth rejoiced at such a great number being saved.
"O Great God, Creator of heaven and earth!" cried out our godfather and enlightener, "Look down upon this new people, and grant them, Lord, to know Thee, the true God, as the Christian countries have known Thee; and confirm them in the true and uncorrupted faith; and aid me, Lord, against the hostile enemy, so that, trusting in Thee and in Thy power, I may defeat his intrigues."
Here everything is stated and there is an explanation of why, faith in Christ and the true Church are given to us. Faith in Christ, and the true Church as the repository and disseminator of that faith, are given to us so that we might know the true God and, knowing Him, learn to believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him.
Faith in God must be "true" and "uncorrupted," that is, not just any sort of faith thought up by people themselves according to their own taste, but correct, or orthodox, as that true Christian faith, pure and uncorrupted, undistorted by human sophistry, preached by the holy Apostles and preserved without change by the true Church, has always been called.
The criterion for this faith is this: "That is true which has been believed everywhere, at all times, by all people" (St. Vincent of Lerins). And that faith must be "uncorrupted" in us, that is, we must preserve it so steadfastly, firmly, uncompromisingly that no one will be able to seduce us or draw us away from it.
And, finally, in St. Vladimir's prayer there is an indication of the personal aim of this faith for each of us and, consequently, of the great significance of belonging to the true Church which preserves this faith.
We have a "hostile enemy who arranges "intrigues" against us and wants to destroy us. This is the enemy of God and the enemy of human salvation, the devil, with whom we must carry on an unceasing struggle, since otherwise eternal destruction awaits us. It is only through "hoping in God and in His power," that is, with the assistance of the true faith and Church, that we can carry on this struggle with the enemy of human salvation, the devil, with whom we must carry on an unceasing struggle, since otherwise eternal destruction awaits us. It is only through "hoping in God and in His power," that is, with the assistance of the true faith and Church, that we can carry on this struggle with the enemy of human salvation, the devil, until we are completely victorious. It is from this viewpoint that one must consider everything which is happening in the world at the present time.” Amen.

LOVE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
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HOMILY: LET LOVE BE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
Romans 12: 6-14; Matthew 9: 1-8
Dear ones,
The Lord Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35).
There is no doubt about how much love the friends of the paralytic showed to him in today’s Gospel! It is an example that cannot be missed. Then there is another place where the Lord says to His disciples: “No longer do I call you slaves...but I call you friends” (John 15:15). We can call ourselves “slaves,” and indeed we should. St Paul himself in Romans 1:1 identifies himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart unto the gospel of God.” But Jesus called them, (and by extension us), “friends.” The word is φίλους in Greek. The root of it is “phil” like Phil-a delphia. And “phil-adelphia” means what? The city of what? “Brotherly love.” Our word “friend” is so shallow by comparison to the rich meaning of φίλους, the root of which means deep, “experiential, personal affection” (Strong’s). It is this deep affection which the Lord wants us to experience, and especially to demonstrate in our lives. In particular, it is toward the church, our fellow believers, that He wants us to express this love. How can we show that we are Christ’s disciples? By the love that we show toward one another, by the care and concern that we exemplify. Everyone would want to join a church like that. No one will want to join a church where the people not only ignore newcomers, but they even ignore each other! No one.
Vainglorious piety makes a show of love, but in reality it is hypocrisy. Our Lord made this point of saying to the religious leaders in Jerusalem: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:14). This means that they pretended to pray and help people, while having their hand out the whole time. So there is true affection and false affection. There is true friendship and there is false friendship. In today’s Apostol we heard St. Paul’s admonition, “Let love be without hypocrisy!” That’s what he said. In the Book of Sirach (not included in Protestant Bibles) there is a wonderful meditation on friendship. I’d like to share it with you:
"A kind mouth multiplies friends,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him
For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self, and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low,
he turns against you and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself." (Sirach 6:5–17)
St Maximus the Confessor wrote: A true friend is one who in times of trial calmly and imperturbably suffers with his neighbor the ensuing afflictions, privations and disasters as if they were his own. (Third Century on Love no. 79)
St. John Chrysostom says: “Having eating and drinking buddies does not constitute friendship: Even robbers and murderers have friends like that. But if we are friends, if we truly care for one another, let us (as Christians) help one another. This leads us to a profitable friendship: let us hinder those things which lead us away to hell.” (Homily 30 on Hebrews)
St Basil the Great says: “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
So, dear ones, we are called today to be more than acquaintances here in the Church, more than “fellow-parishioners.” Not all are called to be apostles. Not all are called to be prophets or teachers. Not all are called to work miracles (See 1 Corinthians 12:29). But we ALL are called to be friends!
Amen.