"...Honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15

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Yes or No?

March 25, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

Sermon offered on the commemoration of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. How we respond to God's invitation for us to be a part of His plan for us? Do we say "yes", or do we choose other things?

There is no transcript available for this sermon, but the video recording is available. Click here to listen...

Lent for humanity, not humanity for Lent

March 20, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

Sermon offered on the 1st Saturday of Great Lent. The lesson from the Gospel was from Mark 2:23-3:5 when Christ corrects the misunderstandings of the Pharisees about fasting and rules of the Sabbath. May we hear this lesson for us today, also.

There is no transcript available for this sermon, but the video recording is available. Click here to listen...

How can we not forgive?

March 14, 2021 - by Fr Nicholas Livingston

Sermon offered on the Sunday of Forgiveness at the conclusion of Forgiveness Vespers. There is no transcript available for this sermon, but the video recording is available. Click here to listen...

Our Common Asceticism

March 13, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

Sermon offered on the commemoration of the ascetic saints. Fr Nicholas touches on the difference between asceticism and monasticism, and the difference between personal and communal prayer.

There is no transcript available for this sermon, but the video recording is available. Click here to listen...

The Cave of Transformation

March 7, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

One of the faults of humans is when we try to make things more complicated than they need to be. But today, Christ shows Himself as the Great Simplifier. While not negating the other aspects of His teaching, Matthew 25 gives us a glimpse into the most simple and fundamental aspect of the Christian life. Christ’s teaching today about the Last Judgment clarifies things into an understandable image: Whatever you do (good or bad) to others, you also do those things to Christ. Read more...

Remember Who You Are

February 28, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

There’s a saying in self-help programs that encourages people to evaluate their choices and set goals, and it goes like this: “We get what we think we deserve”. Many times we think we get what we deserve, that is to say there is a 1:1 relationship between receiving the reward for our deeds. But this phrase’s addition of “think” alters it a bit. It places the perception of what we deserve in our own hands. We are the masters of our own destiny. Read more...

The Mean Between Religious Extremes

February 21, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

One universal human truth made famous by Greek philosophy is the golden mean, or finding the mean between the extremes. Said simply, too much or too little can be equally harmful. Too much of a good thing can be as damaging as too little of that same good thing. Read more...

Faith Shines in Difficulty

February 14, 2021 - by Fr. Nicholas Livingston

The pandemic has placed us in scary times and this uncertainty we’ve felt has raised some questions for many peoples about God. “How can God let this happen? Why won’t God just fix this?” Let’s look at today’s Gospel to understand more about how God helps people in unexpected ways. Read more...

The Treasure Within

February 7, 2021

The Parable of the Talents is a familiar one for many of us. Many times we talk about specific gifts people have been given such as singing, building maintenance, teaching, cooking, athletic ability, etc… but today I’d like us to move away from those lists and take a more personalized perspective; the interior perspective.

We hear in Genesis, “... and God said, ‘let us make humanity in our image and likeness’… and God formed humanity out of the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 1:26, 2:7).

There is a gift that everyone has received from God. We have been made in His image; God has breathed Himself into the fiber of our being. There is no greater gift than this; this gift defines us because it is in sharing God’s image that we “live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There is in the depths of every human being a light that comes from God and connects us with him. Some of the Holy Fathers speak of this in moving terms, like Gregory Nazianzus who wrote: “for the spirit that he breathed into (human nature) is a flash of the invisible godhead…I am attached to life here below, while I also have within me a portion of the godhead…”

The gift each of us has been given is the image of God inside us. Sometimes we don’t feel like our value as His image; sometimes we feel broken down, ugly, unloved, discouraged, and ashamed. Many of us have been taught the opposite -- that human nature is defined by its fallenness rather than its original beauty. Human nature is fallen, yes, and at the same time retains its original beauty; that can never be lost.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who I’ve quoted before says it like this: “We are like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, circumstance, or desecrated by human hatred, would we not still treat it with reverence and tenderness? We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty.”

Our community knows what this means. Not long ago the icons behind me were just like this description: covered over the years in chemicals from candles, smoke, soot, and dirt, they were darkened and didn’t fully reflect God’s glory. But what did we do? We mourned the damage they had endured and raised the money to care for the icons, to restore their original beauty. We didn’t just see a dirty old painting, but we saw something beautiful in need of love and compassion.

It’s easy for us to look at other people and ourselves and only see the dirt. When we focus on the damage and forget about the underlying beauty before us needing love and compassion, we actively bury the gift we’ve been given; this is acting like the wicked and lazy servant. Or, we can choose to be the faithful servant and engage the gift, cultivate the gift.

Metropolitan Anthony continues: “We concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. This is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual and with regard to groups of people. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of these people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there.”

Metropolitan Anthony spoke about how to act towards others, but we must add ourselves to his examples. We have to look at ourselves and see inside us the beauty that Christ sees. We must be compassionate to ourselves the way Christ is to us. Human life is defined not by the evil that we do, but by the goodness within, and the potential for growth. The image of God inside of us can never be broken; that is, by its nature, impossible to do; it is God! But it can be covered over with soot, dust, and time.

Imagine how our lives can change if, instead of burying and ignoring this great treasure, like the unfaithful servant in the parable, we were to make use of it? To invest it, to cultivate it, to grow it, to give it purpose and life. This is the point of all spirituality: to go within ourselves and encounter the presence of the Almighty inside.

We spoke about icons earlier. The word “icon” means image. Within you is not just any image, but the image of God, Himself. With a little love and a little compassion, we also can restore that image, no matter how covered over it may be. Once we encounter and care for the gift within us, only then can we be the good and faithful servant and, together with everyone, enter into the abounding joy of our Lord, both in the present age, and in the age to come.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Growth Perspective

January 31, 2021

We meet our old friend Zaccheus today. His story is so memorable, partly because we hear it every year as we begin our transition towards Great Lent, but also because of it’s memorable images. But we must, as with everything, never look with familiar eyes. We must look with fresh eyes, always looking for the Spirit of God to move us to new spiritual insights.

Part of looking with fresh eyes is to never act as though we have things figured out. We never assume we have people figured out. We must always be willing to grow, never content to be static or fixed, and never to view others as unredeemable or fixed in sin. To be fixed is to be limited.

Zaccheus was a chief tax collector. We remember that the Judeans were under political, military, and financial occupation by the Romans, and they enlisted many of the Jews to work for them to collect taxes. So when we hear that Zaccheus was a tax collector, it was much more than our modern thought of, “he works for the IRS and no one likes the IRS”. He was viewed by his peers as a traitor, working for the enemy to extort his own people.

We can confidently say that the people of Jericho felt as though they had Zacheus figured out. They did not have fresh eyes. They would not so much as even touch him, they viewed him as being so unclean and evil. But this man out of all the faithful gathered to see Christ, is the one He goes to stay with.

Christ offers this tax collector the opportunity to receive God into his home. Christ offers this man salvation.

When we look carefully at the text, we notice at what point Christ proclaims salvation having come to Zaccheus. He doesn’t announce it when He sees Zaccheus, or when He enters the home, but He announces it after Zaccheus resolves to change his life: to stop extorting his fellow citizens, to repay what he has stolen, to give the rest to the poor, and to follow Christ. Christ’s compassion, compared to the hostility and hatred he received from the rest of the people, is what moves him to repentance. And this repentance is what ushers forth the proclamation of salvation.

To be fixed is to be limited, and to be limited is to be stuck. Zaccheus shows us that change is good, he shows us repentance; we are not stuck, but we are capable of greatness, of holiness, of sharing in Christ’s divine nature!

What starts it all? A desire inside him to draw close to the Divine. Zaccheus could have allowed any number of things to keep him from seeing Christ: his status as a social pariah, his physical smallness, even the size of the crowd. But he pushes onward, ignoring the distractions, and what happens? His life is changed

Repentance is change, and it is the first step towards removing our limitations. We all have room to grow, to change, to repent.

So we can choose who in this Gospel account we want to be: like the faithful people in the crowd waiting to see Christ but at the same time ostracizing and hating Zaccheus, or we can be like Zaccheus, who made every effort to see Christ despite his own shortcomings.

Christianity is the original growth perspective. Christ rejects no one; He takes away all limits, and He makes us limitless when we share in His divinity. Do we “make haste” to receive Christ into the home of our body through Holy Communion? Do we make every effort possible to be near to Him? Do we receive Him joyfully?

Christ came to seek and to save you. It is up to you to continue living a fixed and limited life, or to be changed by His love and to be filled with peace, and mercy, and salvation.

The Three Great Luminaries

January 30, 2021

There is no transcript available for this sermon. Please see the video player.

Saved by Faith

January 24, 2021

There has been a theme the past several weeks touching on light and restoration. It began with the Feast of Theophany, the glorious revelation of Christ to the world as God, through whom everyone who sat in spiritual darkness was enlightened. He was and is the light of life, which gives light to everything.

We saw last week Christ’s healing of the 10 lepers, by which they were restored to society. Today we encountered a blind man, who experienced both the gift of physical illumination through the restoration of his sight.

There’s an interesting phrase in both last week’s reading and this weeks’: Christ tells the person he has healed, “your faith has made you well.” This is actually a poor translation of the original Greek, which would be more appropriately rendered “your faith has saved you”. This changes the thrust of the encounter quite a bit, because we may be inclined to hear this account and think that the man was healed of his blindness simply because he believed that Christ could do it. But Christ did not say to him, “your faith has caused you to see”, but that his faith saved him. Why?

The first thing we have to realize is that the point of this Gospel account is not about the man being blind. Physical ability or spiritual growth is not dependent on whether people have sight or not; his blindness was not an obstacle to his holiness. This account is primarily an example of exposing spiritual blindness. Certainly, in the 1st century people viewed blindness as a disability due to some wrongdoing of sorts. We know this is not true. Some people have sight, and some do not; that fact does not define us either way. But we take this Gospel account as an example and reminder for us to consider what the state of our own spiritual eyes are.

The second thing to remember is that sight is not limited to the functionality of the physical eyes; our eyes are the tools by which we participate in the activity of sight, or perception. Our physical sight is certainly a blessing, but we know that people without it are able to perceive life around them. This man, on the side of the road, we could say had a more clear sight than even the Disciples, because he, while unable to describe what Christ physically looked like, had the spiritual sight to recognize his Creator and Savior. His physical healing was a manifestation of Christ’s power, an example that would help this man testify to God’s mercy to affect the lives of real people; to change us by His love.

This Gospel account challenges our modern mindset of thinking that this physical world is everything. We must realize that Christ is among us and within us. We sing over and over again, “God is the Lord and He has appeared unto us”. Not just unto those with sight, but to all people, and our spiritual perception is, most often, lacking.

If we are honest with ourselves, we admit that sometimes we close the eyes of our soul to God. “If I can’t see Him, then He must not be here”, we think to ourselves. But we know this is not true. “To say that God hides Himself from the sinful is to say that the sun hides itself from the blind”. God, of course, is always with us, we are the ones who turn away. So we ask ourselves today, “what spiritual realities am I unaware of? How is God speaking to me? Why do I not hear him?” We all need to grow, one way or another, to know God more fully. We must be open to realizing the nature of our growth. To open ourselves up to the river of God’s love, to be washed over by the flow of His mercy. God is around us and always with us; He is just waiting for us to cry out to Him like the man today, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Struggle Continues

Newsletter February 2021

My dad had a sticker on his truck when I was a kid that read, “The Struggle Continues”. I remember thinking it was cool, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until I found myself in difficult times. My priest gave me a word of wisdom that both encouraged me and taught me about that sticker on my dad’s truck. He said, “if you’re not struggling, something is wrong.” He certainly didn’t mean that we should look for difficult times, but what he meant was that the inherent meaning of a struggle is to be working towards something good. The struggle is a sign you are doing something holy. Goodness, beauty, and truth are hard to come by, and so when we strive for them in our lives, we find ourselves in a struggle. If we don’t encounter times of struggle, perhaps we aren’t living in reality.

I like to think of this as a spiritual tug-of-war to grow closer to God. Sometimes we build momentum and go the direction we want, and other times life feels too heavy and we lose some ground; it is a constant back-and-forth, hopefully moving closer to God.

It’s important to note that “struggle” does not mean "failure". Struggle means that we make some progress, and then something may happen and we take a few steps back; it is a process. As long as we continue holding the rope in the spiritual tug-of-war, even if we may lose a few steps along the way, even if things are really hard, we must remember that we only lose when we let go of the rope.

“God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Our Lord Jesus Christ will Himself fight for you and will deliver you, according to His will.” St. John Maximovitch

So that bumper sticker on my dad’s truck was right; the struggle does continue! Everyone struggles, at different times and in different ways, we all struggle. Life is messy, complicated, exhausting, and sometimes discouraging. But if we immerse ourselves in reading the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, we realize that all our emotion, our frustrations, our struggle is part of the process.

The power of God works in our lives when we ask for His help through authentic and humble prayers. God will never despise us or abandon us. He stands at our doors and knocks, waiting for us to invite Him into our struggle. God’s grace always assists those who struggle. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Our God is for Everyone

January 17, 2021

During our Women’s Bible Study this week we read and reflected upon the days following Jesus’ baptism, when He was in the desert for 40 days fasting and encountered various temptations from the Devil. It got me thinking about the temptations we also face, temptations that are, without a doubt, intensified by unrest in our country right now.

One major temptation we all face is to believe the lie that we have “it” figured out. We pretend that we have life figured out, that we know better than others, etc. But perhaps the most insidious version of this is when we act as though we have God figured out. We see in every corner of social media and the news the perspective that one group vs another has things figured out, or that one group is a more perfect representation of Christianity than another, over and against another.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that God is never what we expect. We have all kinds of hopes, ideas, expectations, dreams, and notions about how God will act, but we never quite get it right. One of my favorite theologians reminds us that we experience this disconnect because God is a mystery. That’s not to say that we can know nothing about God’s mystery, but that we can never know everything about God. There never gets a point where we can say, “I have God all figured out”. Because God is the almighty creator of the universe; we cannot fit Him inside the box of our partisan American politics.

Nonetheless, we like to think we have things figured out and to believe that God is on our side of the aisle. But the reality is that God cannot be bound by one side or another, one ideology or another, one movement or another. St. James says that God is “no respecter of persons”; He doesn’t treat some well and others badly. Christ Himself reminds us that “God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the sun to shine on the good and the wicked”. We could say that God is an equal opportunity lover; he offers to all people the same invitation to participate in the mysterious life of the Trinity.

Today we see the Light Himself walking through a village. Ten lepers meet him crying out for mercy, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And he healed them because that is what God does and that is who God is.

One of these ten was even worse off than the others. He was not only sick, He was a Samaritan. Even before he contracted leprosy, he was, to the Jews, unclean. Already a social leper. Samaritans in the New Testament represent all the despised and rejected people in every time and every culture. They represent the people you and I despise and reject; the people we write off as being unredeemable. It is obvious that these scriptures are meant to wake us up to our own hypocrisy and unrighteousness revealed as we attempt to justify our hatred of others.

The Samaritan returned to thank Jesus for his healing. The others did not. No person is despised! No person is rejected! Even the nine ungrateful lepers received healing, but the difference is that only the one was saved. He loves everyone the same, believers and non-believers, rich and poor, young and old, female and male, left and right.

Many would not have expected Jesus to heal these social outcasts, and certainly no one would have expected the Samaritan to be the one recognizing God in their midst!

We see today that God sends his grace even to those who are ungrateful for it. Our world is broken; our country is broken. Christians are called to be different from the rest: to be agents of radical love, of change, of transcendence above the confusion of the world. The evil one loves times of division. He whispers in our ear the delusion and the temptation that we are right, we are perfect, we are justified. We have to be cautious to reject this temptation.

The energy of God is always flowing even in the dark places. Maybe even especially in the dark and we are invited by God to join in and partake of the never-ending joy that characterizes the inner life of the Holy Trinity.

This is Orthodox Christianity: all inclusive, all compassion, all communion, a celebration of inter-connectivity. A life in Christ opens doors and breaks down walls. After the Resurrection Jesus was able to pass through closed doors and through walls, was he not? A person living a truly Christian life never let's a door or a wall get in the way. We have been given the same power to break down doors and walk through walls and that power the Holy Scriptures calls "love." It is the power of God.

The Trinitarian God embraces all. Everyone and everything. God excludes no one. We are the ones who exclude, we create walls, we are small-minded, not God. God is connected with all of life and everyone and everything is connected to him. The love that continually flows between the Father, Son and Spirit is life itself and when we flow with and in it, then we become more and more like God and more and more true to our God-given nature.

Our Light in a Dark World

Christmas Eve 2020

The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.” We find these words in the poetic introduction to St. John’s Gospel in describing the insurmountable love of God for humanity. Outside of God there is only darkness and His presence illumines all.

In the days of Herod the King, there was darkness over all the world. The Roman Empire was opressing the people of Judea. There was disease, death, and scarity both in goods and in hope. There was darkness. But Jesus Christ, “Light of Light, True God of True God” came down from Heaven and became incarnate of the Virigin Mary and the Holy Spirit” and was born a small and helpless child, Christ the King coming into the world at a very dark time; a time perhaps, when the light was forgotten. It is out of the darkest of nights that Christ comes to offer light, and life, and love.

Christ was born to a family with nothing, shamed and cast out of their society at the absurdity of a virgin pregnancy, born in the midst of unclean animals, placed in a food trough, and on top of all that, hunted by an insecure tyrant who felt threatened by the birth of a chid prophesied as the messiah, the king of israel.

The darkness of the our lives feels so imminent and oppressive. This has been a very dark year. We have been surrounded by disease, death, and scarcity in both good and hope. Our world is different than the one Christ was born into, but darkness is darkness anywhere.

And at a time when our darkness feels so great, we receive the greatest gift of all: LIGHT. We have candles in our hands tonight. They focus our attention only on the light, so we can ignore the darkness. Try as it might, the darkness cannot over come the light.

We are gathered here tonight in a dark church. Surely this calls to mind the time we usually do this in April; the night of the Resurrection. The Incarnation of Christ, His taking on human flesh, is tied to the Resurrection; His Resurrection from the dead and His victory over death is the reason for this season of Christmas. He was born here in a dark cave, and he was laid to rest in death in a different dark cave. He is wrapped here in linen as a newborn child, and He is wrapped in a linen shroud in the tomb. Here He is placed in the care of a man named Joseph to protect Him, and then His holy body is cared for in death by another Joseph.

Christ’s light comes into the world at the darkest of times. He was born in the darkness of oppression and in a dark cave. He emerges from the darkness of the Empty Tomb. And now, Christ comes to the manger of our souls, wrapped darkness; in the darkness of 2020, the darkness of our minds, the darkness of our heart, the darkness of our strength; and He brings us His light. He reminds us that He is our great hope. The peace which surpasses all understanding; the light that shines and cannot be overcome by the darkness.

These are the tidings of great joy we sing about. We have been called by Christ out of darkness and into His marvelous light, to worship Him like the shepherds, to offer Him our love like the wise men, and to glorify Him like the angels.

Merry Christmas!

The Gift of Stewardship

December 20, 2020

One of the most beautiful practices of the Christmas season is the exchange of gifts. Yes, the gift itself is often exciting, but the underlying message is the most important part. What does the gift mean? What is the impetus for the gift? What does the act of taking the time to consider, acquire, or perhaps physically create, a gift say about the importance of your relationship with the other person? It. is. everything.

The Divine Liturgy, itself, is an exchange of gifts. We know that everything in our lives, every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). Among the things we find in creation are wheat and grapes. We take this wheat and grapes and spend the time to gather them, to work on them, to transform them into something new: bread and wine. We put some of ourselves into this work and into the gift itself. The gift represents our very selves.

We then bring these gifts, the bread and the wine, to God’s house and hand them to the priest to make the final preparations before we offer them back to God out of thanksgiving for His blessings. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays “for the gifts presented” and that God will accept them upon His heavenly altar and then, in return, send back down to us “the divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit”. There is this continual and reciprocal giving: God to us, us to God, and then back again to us. This is the nature of our relationship with God, encapsulated in the Divine Liturgy.

This, in a way, is the image of Stewardship. Stewardship is how we care for the things we have received from God. If we fail to recognize the gifts He has entrusted to us, we fail to be good stewards. We hear in the creation account of Genesis that God created humans and gave them the authority and responsibility to be stewards of the world, i.e. to care for, protect, and cultivate it … all with the purpose of returning it back to God in thanksgiving.

We have been entrusted with the great responsibility of stewardship for this parish, St. Philip of Nashua. This can look like serving on committees like Buildings/Grounds to care for this literal building and property. Or, stewardship can look like preserving the teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church by sharing and modeling them with our families: children and adults alike. Religious Education and youth work are critical to the life of St. Philip, and we welcome anyone who can offer their talents to share the transformative beauty of a life in Christ. Of course, the church will not survive without the financial support of our faithful. This is also part of stewardship. We do ask that you prayerfully consider what you can give to support this community. Christ reminds us that we place our treasure where we open our heart. The things we love dearly are the things we financially support, and my prayer is that your hearts have been warmed by Christ through this church. It is my own goal to help provide opportunities for spiritual and personal growth.

True stewardship cares for what we have been given so that we can pass it on to others; we must preserve what we have received, but not in a static or frozen way. We must protect what has been handed down to us, but we must also cultivate it; we must allow it to grow, to transform through our openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit into something greater, something brighter, and something stronger than how we received it.

Recall for a moment Christ’s parable of the talents, when one servant buried what his master entrusted to him to multiply, out of fear that he may not be successful in his attempt to increase it. This servant was chastised by the master when it came time to report his efforts because he had wasted the opportunity he was given. He was called a “wicked and lazy servant”! God forbid. We, each of us individually and our parish as a whole, must be like the servants who multiplied what they were given. We must prayerful consider how the Holy Spirit is guiding us. Are we being called to greater involvement in the church? Are we being called to a greater witness to the society around us? How can we transform our own hearts and our community into a more complete and true image of Christ? If we do this honestly and humbly, we hope to hear from our merciful Master, “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Transformation is at the core of Christian message… Christ comes to us and transforms our sorrow into joy; loneliness into community; stagnancy into growth; slavery into freedom; death into life; mundane into extraordinary; mortal to incorrupt; earthly into heavenly.

Much the same way that we transform wheat and grapes into bread and winethrough our love and effort and then offer them back to God from whom we first received them, we must also take this beautiful parish and invest ourselves in it’s growth. We must offer the witness of this community back to Christ. When our offering is acceptable to Him, He then bestows upon us even more mercy, love, and abundance.

We pray in the Liturgy of St. Basil, “Remember, Lord, those who have brought You these gifts, and for whom … they were offered. Remember, Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in Your holy churches, and those who remember the poor. Reward them with Your rich and heavenly gifts. Grant them in return for earthly things, heavenly gifts; for temporal, eternal; for corruptible, incorruptible” (Anaphora of St. Basil).

Today is Stewardship Sunday, a day to open our eyes to the opportunity we have before us. I see in this parish family beauty, I see love, I see good and faithful stewards in every sense of the word. I pray for and challenge each of us (including myself) to consider how we can continue to open ourselves to the love of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit. We must recognize how we can take the blessings we have received and offer them back to our Lord. When we do this in sincere faith and love, we will receive back from Him abundant blessings; heavenly things in return for earthly things.

The dome on top of this church shines brightly for Nashua. May our hearts be open to being transformed into the “image of His glory” (Romans 8:29); may we shine as brightly as our dome to reflect Christ’s image and His love, and “tell about the wonderful things [Christ] has done. He has called us out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). May we take up our call to be stewards of creation and stewards of this parish, commissioned to spread to those in darkness His great and abundant mercy for years to come, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Stop and Smell the Roses

December 13, 2020

There’s a famous and wise idiom, which I think most are familiar with, that instructs us to “stop and smell the roses”. An 80’s pop-culture movie said it this way, “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it”. No matter the speaker, the message hits home for us; we are busier than ever and when we are busy, our minds are preoccupied with all kinds of things (some helpful and important, others less helpful), and when our minds are full of to-do’s and checklists and schedules, we rush right past the beautiful and important things and people around us.

Christ understood this about human nature (He was human, after all), and so he spoke to our obsessing with being busy in the Gospel today. He tells a parable of a ruler hosting a great banquet, a magnificent feast unlike anything else, and he invited many people to attend the celebration. Unfortunately, several people were caught up in the highway of life and they offered excuses why they could not attend. So the master invites others, because he desires his house to be full.

The parable of the Great Banquet has a simple lesson for us. We are too busy. We are too distracted. The heavenly banquet is here and now and we do not, or will not see it.

To speak plainly, this heavenly banquet is the kingdom of heaven! The Kingdom of Heaven is not a tropical paradise. It is not an eternal vacation. It is not sitting on clouds playing harps. Christ tells us “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”! It is here! It is now! It is open for our participation not just when we die, but now. We participate in the Kingdom, we attend this great banquet when we fulfill in every moment the purpose we were created for; to become gods. Yes, we all have within us the image of God, but we also have the capacity and duty to fill out that image. There is a difference between a superficial resemblance and a deep, penetrating, existential likeness. The goal of the spiritual life, in fact the goal of life itself, is to become gods - not for our own glory, but to pass on all honor to the one true God, in whose image we exist.

This union with God is the primary foundation and goal of all existence. When we become more like God by worshipping Him and operating like Him, we actualize the kingdom of heaven here and now, present within us and among us and around us. We do not look to the future or the past to find it. We cannot even escape it, although we can choose to ignore it.

We have all been invited to the Greatest Banquet, but we are so busy that many times we do not realize what we have been offered. We make excuses for any number of reasons. We all know what our personal excuses are. Sometimes it feels like they choose us and we’re just along for the ride. So how do we gain control of our spiritual steering wheel? We must name our excuses without judgment. Only when we name our excuses or our struggles, do we gain the power to properly order our lives - to embrace the Christ within our truest selves, to act, operate, and be like God in as many moments as we can.

We are invited to join this great banquet at every moment of our lives. If we don’t stop to look around, to smell the roses, we may miss the invitation entirely. We may be so caught up in our busyness that we reject the invitation. But, whenever possible, we must slow our lives down so we can realize and embrace the divine majesty of the moment, every person, every choice… unto union with God, Himself.

Call Forth Beauty

December 6th, 2020

“Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to them. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty.” +Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh

How easy is it for us to point out what is wrong, or malformed, or sick, or different in others! Many times it is just as easy for us to focus only on our own perceived faults and overlook the inherent value we each have. Remember what we spoke about last week, about the presence of God placed in every person, conveying inherent value, magnificence, and beauty that resides in each of us.

Let’s look at two examples whose contrast highlights the temptation humanity faces between shaming someone or glorifying God within them.

The Gospel reading shows us the leader of the synagogue shaming Christ for healing a woman who was physcially struggling for 18 years, and even tries to shame the woman! He failed to see the beauty within her; all he could see was a woman who was deemed “a sinner” and therefore unworthy of his time or care. Christ, of course, saw himself being reflected in this woman and allowed her to straighten herself up after a lifetime of physical and social pain. The synagogue leader was unable to help this woman because he cared nothing for her.

The Epistle reading is appointed for our beloved St. Nicholas, a bishop who throughout his whole life, in imitation of Christ, called out the beauty in people. As a bishop, he was in a similar position to the synagogue leader, but he lived and loved very differently. He saw a family beaten down with financial pain which led to social anxiety. With three young daughters who were destined for a life physical slavery, he did not tell them to figure out their lives for themselves. He took it upon himself to provide them the money needed to be married and live a life of freedom. This is what Paul mean’s when he teaches us that by bearing one another’s burdens, we fulfill Christ’s teaching. Nicholas saw not a family with a history of poor decisions, but a family of people struggling in life, in need of compassion. He called our their beauty and shared what help he could.

Each of us may feel beaten down, broken, anxious, or emotionally ugly. But Christ sees none of those things. Whatever infirmities, whatever sins, whatever suffering, our essence, the truth of who we are, is untouched by them. We are, underneath the rubble of our lives, beautiful. He sees in our innermost heart his own image, much the same way a parent looks upon their child with admiration and care, no matter their choices or the state of their life. Christ helps us because he sees in us an inherent beauty and value. Do we see that value?

One of my favorite sayings is, “you cannot give what you do not have”. How can we call out the beauty in others before we call out the beauty in our own selves?

This is our task: to find a silent place, to hear his voice, his call to our inner and true self, and allow the beauty that we are to rise and take its rightful place as guide and mentor; to allow the Spirit of God to transform our pain, to make our suffering into joy, and to empower us to call out the beauty of others.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

A Life Worthy of Our Calling

November 29, 2020

I would like us to focus on the epistle reading from today, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians; I’d like us to highlight what this passage teaches about our interior lives, and how that interior life manifests and blesses our exterior life.

We just celebrated the beautiful holiday of Thanksgiving: a day when we express our gratitude to God and each other for the blessings in our lives. While this is a secular holiday, it is also the Orthodox “every day”. Christians are taught to “give thanks in all things”. Each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we receive the Holy Communion and participate in the Eucharist (Ευχαριστία), the divine giving of thanks.

By communing with God through the Eucharist, we become more like Him. We live out the plea of St Paul we heard this morning in the Epistle reading to the Ephesians to “lead a life worthy of our calling”. What is this calling? What are we called to? As we often do, we find our answer in the context of this passage; in looking at the prior chapter, we find Paul teaching the Ephesians that our calling as Christians is for us to know God in such an intimate way that “Christ may dwell in our hearts; that we may be able to comprehend the width, and length, and height, and depth of Christ’s love” (that is to say, the immensity and accessibility of Christ’s love). Christ’s love is everywhere! It is is all around us and within us; it permeates our interior life. The challenge is for us to realize this! How do we recognize the love of God within us? How do we recognize God’s love around us? How do we open ourselves up to be changed by His love?

I’d like to use our Thanksgiving holiday as one example.

Thanksgiving is hard for many families. Many of us have family members of varying of opinions, political loyalties, social ideologies, sports allegiences, philosophical schools of thought, etc. All too often we let these secondary alliances define our interpersonal relationships and interactions. We all know that it is like for family gatherings to be stained by people’s insistence on highlighting division instead of love. Perhaps we have relatives who care more about arguing their ideology than cultivating their family relationships. Perhaps we have been that relative? This year, also, has brought up more dangerous opportunities for division: not simply philosophical ones, but the very difficult choice to not gather with loved ones, in order to protect them. Perhaps we feel disappointed in family that did not visit, or sad to miss them, or lonely in not feeling welcome to visit, or we may even feel angry. No matter what we feel in these situations, St. Paul has an important teaching for us to remember.

Remember our calling as Christians to be filled, changed, and overflow with Christ’s love. St Paul reminds us to live a life worthy of this calling; to live in a way that is in line with Christ’s love; to make choices through our actions and our words that reveal Christ’s love. If our interior life is one of a calm and peaceful ocean, then peace and calm with flow from within us throughout the world around us. Paul instructs us to conduct ourselves in meekness, in humility. If I believe what I do and Uncle Bob believes something different, how am I called to conduct myself at Thanksgiving dinner? With humility. I must choose to put aside our political differences for the sake of my loved ones. For, as Paul puts it, “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. When we do this we place the person in front of us above and more important than any label.

We may ask, “What if my soul isn’t filled with peace a calm? Am I hopeless?” Not in the least. The good news, brothers and sisters, is that this formula works both ways: on the one hand, if we have a soul cultivated in peace and overflowing with love, then our actions will manifest it. The world around us will be peaceful and our loved ones will feel our love for them, and through our love they will experience Christ. But for those of us who perhaps feel more tumultuous in our soul, any action we choose to align ourselves with the unity of the Holy Spirit will serve as an important step for us to smooth out the waves in our soul. When we realize the boundaries between us an others are an illusion, a lie, then we will be free to be united to others in the bond of love. “No one ever hated his own body”, so how can we hate our brothers and sisters who also are our body?

St. Paul said in another place, “to the pure all things are pure”. We have nothing to be afraid of when Christ is inside us, behind us, beside us, in front of us, above us, and below us.

We come together on Thanksgiving (or any holiday) with family, not merely to have a meal together, but to call Christ into our midst! The love of Christ is this bond of unity between all of us; it is the peace that surpasses all human limits. We are called to join ourselves to others so that through our unity of spirit, that with one voice and one heart we may praise, bless, and glorify the great and most honorable name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Boldness of St. Katherine

November 25, 2020

There is no transcript available of this sermon. Please see the video player.

I Will Tear Down My Barns

November 22, 2020

There is a misconception that the Christian life is supposed to be miserable. Why, if that is not true, would the Church ask us to fast, to sacrifice and to deny ourselves the pleasures and goods of this life? But the opposite is true in fact. True Christanity is light and life; it is sharing in the greatest hope possible!

“Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”; these are the words of our Lord and these are the words of the Christian tradition. So how does this work with fasting? Although we do not use this word often in our conversation, joy is one of the main goals of the Gospel message.

Jesus came to offer the way to true joy and hope. That is the point of the Gospel today. The Rich Man thought he could find joy and fulfillment through the accumulation of material possessions, but he had forgotten the overarching truth that no matter how much you attain in this life, death will eventually take it all.

And so, as we find ourselves in the Nativity Fast, the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, we have this Gospel lesson that maps directly onto our current lives. We fast, we pray, we give our time and possessions to those in need, with this parable in mind.

Let’s remind ourselves of the parable. We hear that a landowner received a unusually large yield from his crops, so much that his barns could not hold it all, and so he reasoned within himself to tear down his barns and build larger ones. As it would happen, he died that very night and we hear that he was unprepared for his end. The lesson Christ gives is for us to not hoard our belongings, but that by giving them to the needy, we store up treasures in heaven and so become wealthy in the things of God.

That all sounds well and good, but what does it mean for us now? Philanthropy, the spirit of giving, hospitality, are all staples this time of year, parts of joining in the “Holiday Spirit”. But why does the Church emphasize these things so intensely? It is to cultivate in our hearts true, unconditional, unjudgmental love for our fellow humans.

We eat less food and fewer elaborate meals not because those things are bad, (on the contrary they are good!) but in order for us to, in our bodies and in our hearts, identify with those who have less. We, from a position of entitlement and privilege, willinging give up our surplus, so that we can, for a time, know what it is like to be hungry; to identify with people who have a need; to identify with the least of the community.

The rich man in the Gospel tried to hoard his wealth and buld bigger barns. If you read this story closely, you will see that he uses the word “I” six times; SIX TIMES in such a short story. His focus was on himself and his wealth.

Many of you may have heard of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. He is a wonderful, faithful, inspirational, and holy man who has worked tirelessly to build up the Christian presence in post-communist Albania. (As an aside, please keep him in your prayers, as he is currently in the hospital in Greece fighting against COVID-19.) Archbishop Anastasios has a beautiful saying. He asks the question, “what is the opposite of love?” Most commonly the answer received is “Hate. Hate is the opposite of love”. But Archbishop Anastasios changes the narrative and says, “No. The opposite of love is not hate; it is ego”. Egocentricity, looking out for me at the expense of others, worried only about myself… this is the opposite of love.

If the opposite of love is ego, then we must do the opposite of the man with the barns. We must not tear down our barns in order to build larger ones; rather, we must tear down the doors of our barns, tear down the dividing walls of hostility between us and others, and open our barns to share with anyone in need what we have been blessed with.

The Orthodox Church challenges us to fast in order to identify with those less fortunate; to fill the stomachs of the hungry and to allow our own stomachs to grumble a little bit; to experience in a real, physical way hunger, thirst, uncertainty, need. If the opposite of ego is love, then we must forego our own egocentriticy and share in the suffering so many people experience. We don’t just write a check to a charity. We feel in our body the effects of hunger (to a small and safe degree).

It’s not about being miserable; it’s not even actually about being hungry. It’s really about putting another person’s needs before our own.

St. Basil, the great philanthropist and bishop of the Church said, “The rich exist for the sake of the poor”, that is to say that the rich in every society are called to alleviate and ease the suffering and needs of the poor. Basil continues, “And the poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” It is through the relationship of those who have physical needs and others who can satisfy them, that both physical and spiritual needs are fulfilled. In doing so, we actually do fill up storehouses; spiritual storehouses in heaven, “rich with the things of God.”

If we do this, we will find that, “the stomachs of the poor are safer storehouses than our barns.”

Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple

November 21, 2020

There is no transcript available of this sermon. Please see the video player.

The Tender Confidence of Philip the Apostle

November 13, 2020

The Apostle Philip is one of the saints who often gets forgotten. Despite being mentioned by name numerous times throughout the Gospels, he seems to fade into the background of the faithful’s memory, blending in with the rest of the apostles. How often is it that the boisterous person like Peter, or the impressive and charismatic speaker like Paul, get remembered! It’s much more common for a quite, tender, yet consistent person such as Philip fades into the background. So rare is his veneration, that our community is the only one in our Archdiocese named in his memory! As such, we have the great responsibility of learning about him, so that we can share his example throughout the world. I would like us to examine at his life and demeanor tonight. Though he may not often be the center of veneration aside from today, we see in him great courage, even bigger love, and a personality I can only describe as his “tender confidence”.

St. Philip was born and raised in Galilee, which was where he first encountered the Lord Jesus Christ. Galilee is sometimes called “Galilee of the Gentiles” because it was a place that many people from throughout the Roman Empire lived. This is why Philip, although a man of Judea, has a Greek name “Φίλλιπος”. Being from Galilee, having a Greek name, and speaking Greek, Philip was what we may call a “multi-cultural” man. This served him well throughout his life as he preached the Gospel of Christ.

Philip was so changed by the call of Christ, that he immediately joined Him and then, of his own accord, invited his friend Nathanael. We see in this one interaction, many admirable parts of Philip. He knew Jesus was special, but Philip was not a selfish man; instead of relishing in feeling special to be called to join Christ, he felt compelled to bring others to Christ also. And so, he found his friend Nathanael and invited him to join. But Nathanael seems to be somewhat of a sketpical character and sarcastically writes off the possibility of anyone or anything good coming from Nazareth. Philip could have responded in any number of ways; he could have become defensive and attacked Nathanael, pointing out his own shortcomings; he could have given up and kept CHrist for himself. But what does he do? We see Philip’s tender confidence to extend an invitation for Nathanael to “COME AND SEE” - this is the missionary anthem of the Church! We compel no one to join us; we only offer to walk with others as we invite them to experience the transformative love of Christ. “Come” means that they would do it together; he welcomed Nathanael to join, even though he was skeptical. Philip had a confidence about what he knew to be true, and he shared his confidence in a tender and compassionate way.

All throughout his journeys to preach the saving good news of Christ, Philip maintained this tender confidence; from his confidence in who he was and his trust in Christ, he was able to care for people who were suffering; he was concerned even for those who were persecuting him personally, and the entire Church. Even his death gloriously mirrors Christ’s own, when, hanging on a cross, he prayed for the people killing him.

What do we learn from Philip? No doubt more lessons than we can cover this evening! But perhaps most immediately, we can learn to cultivate in ourselves the spirit of Philip’s tender confidence. It is when we are at peace within ourselves that we can be at peace with the world, and from this inner tranquility and confidence in God’s almighty power and love, we also can be tender and loving with people. Not rushing to judgment; not dismissing or “cancelling” people for their un-belief (or different belief). But to invite whoever we come across, to take our hand, and come and see. Come and see the good things God has prepared for us. Amen.

Faith That Heals

November 8, 2020

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with a scene we can hardly imagine anymore. A massive crowd is gathered to see Jesus of Nazareth; a crowd so big we are told it nearly crushes Christ. And, it’s hard to not imagine this scene, Jesus comes to a halt and exclaims, "Who touched me?" He must have used a loud voice since the crowd was certainly noisy and otherwise he couldn't have been heard. Peter, as is so often the case, is perplexed by the question, "What do mean, 'Who touched me', the crowds are pressing all around you. Many people are touching you!" "No, Jesus, replied, "someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me."

Remarkable, isn't it? There was something different about this woman's touch. There was intent behind it, there was faith behind it, there was rich content in her touch that made her contact with the Lord significant, so significant that it coaxed power to proceed from him! Why?

Christ tells the woman that her faith is what made her well. Her faith. Do we realize what this means? He does not heal her so that she will believe in Him; He heals her because she already believes so deeply in Him. He does not heal her in a public manner to make a show for himself, but what he makes public is the sincerity and power of her faith. Miracles are the result of faith.

How many times, especially these days, do we hear something to the effect of, “If your god was so great, he’d cure the world of COVID”. “If He’s so great, let him show us how great he is.” The problem with this perspective that we must realize is that this is not the way God works. We remember that every single time in His life Christ is presented with this argument, He does not engage with it. The Judean leaders ask him for a sign, a miracle, to prove that he is God, but every time he says they will not receive one. When He is hanging on the Cross, the soldiers mock Him and challenge Him that if He is the Son of God, come down from the Cross. But He endures His death in silence.

God does not perform miracles in the Gospels, or the lives of the saints, or in our own lives in order to prove His power, but the manifestation of His power in the lives of His people, is because of the FAITH already present in His people.

So, what is faith? If it’s so important, if it’s what healed this woman of her disease, what is it? It’s so much more than just believing intellectually that Jesus Christ is God. Yes, that’s true and important, but it’s more. Faith is not knowledge; Faith is conviction; Faith is action. To be faithful means to never lose our confidence that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing, and that He works everything in our lives for our salvation; yes, even the difficult parts of life can help in our salvation.

One time when I was at our summer camp, I asked the kids to define faith, and an 8 year old girl said that, “faith means having a confidence that God will do what He says He will.” What does God promise us? He promises that if we live by His commandments and are faithful to Him, He will be our God and we will be His people, and He will prepare a place for us in His Kingdom.

As we all know, it’s hard to remain faithful, especially through hard times; it takes real effort. It’s easy for us, in times of temptation or difficulty or pain to try to blame God. We may even say we lose faith in Him. We try to make it all His fault and place the onus on Him to show Himself to make our lives easier. But that is not the way of the Cross. That is not the way of Christ.

What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to be faithful? To be faithful means to remain connected to the other person in our relationships at all times! Even, and perhaps especially, in the face of adversity. We say someone is unfaithful when they abandon their spouse in a time of temptation or struggle, and join themselves with another person. We are in a relationship with Christ, and it is the decision of us beloved faithful to remain unwavering in our committment to Him, even through years of pain; and that endurance is the proof of our faith. This woman who approached Christ was hemorrhaging uncontrollably for 12 years - can you imagine being uncontrollably ill for that long, with no relief?? Can you imagine this pandemic lasting that long? And yet, she never lost her faith in her God. Remember that this woman approached Christ in a large crowd that was engulfing Christ and He stopped in His tracks when she touched Him -- not when the hundreds of others touched Him, but when SHE touched Him. Why? Because her faith in Him never wavered, even though years of pain and shame, with no end in sight.

We cannot expect God to remove the hardships from our lives. We cannot expect that if we just believe hard enough, things will get better. But we can, with lots of effort and lots of patience, remain faithful to Him. We say God is all-knowing, but we must believe that. If He is all-knowing, then He knows what is best for me, even if I can’t see it.

Whatever pain, whatever discouragement, whatever temptations you are struggling against right now, please do not despair. Turn to Christ, turn to His mother (the Theotokos), turn to the women and men throughout history who have been faithful to Him through situations harder than our own, turn to the woman in today’s Gospel for inspiration and support; by remaining close to Christ through the pain, we will be strengthened. And, God willing, when the time is right, we also will be relieved of our suffering.

To God be the glory.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

November 1, 2020

If we were to place ourselves in this parable, we probably would not be Lazaros, since we are not beggars looking for food scraps. We may have some similarities to the rich man, but he is dead in this parable, and in great anguish. I think most of us can identify with the brothers of the rich man, as people who have much of what we need and, in our comfort, sometimes veer off course.

The rich man, in his anguish, begged Abraham to send Lazaros to his brothers to convince them to correct their course, to repent. But we know that Abraham says Lazaros cannot go, because the brothers have all the information and guidance they need to correct their lives, but they choose not to follow it. They had the Israelite history, the wisdom literature, the prophets, and they still fell short of their goal. We, also, have everything we need for salvation. We have the teachings of Christ. We have the encouragement of Paul. We have the example of the Israelites! We have the wisdom of the Church Fathers. And yet, we still also fall short of our goal.

Sometimes we veer off course, and that can look like any number of things (big or small).

But, as the rich man wanted for his brothers, we do have reminders in our lives of where we ought to be, what our aim ought to be.

Difficult as it has been, we must look at the COVID-19 pandemic as a messenger for us to correct our course. We talk about a “return to normal” but what if our “normal” was fallen, distorted, unhealthy, and sinful? We have before us a unique opportunity to be transformed. But how are we transformed? By the love of God. The prayers before Holy Communion say, “we have been changed by the eros of God”. This is precisely why the Church exists: to save souls. To encourage and facilitate a unique, powerful, and transformative relationship with our good and loving God.

We’ve felt, through this pandemic, a real sense of weakness, and been forced to accept our inability to fix everything; we’ve seen our own vulnerability and perhaps have been inspired to change the unhealthy parts of our lives; to accept the transformation offered to us through Christ.

Separate from the pandemic, but equally real in our lives, this transition in parish leadership is also an opportunity to emphasize the most important parts of Church life. We said before that the Church exists to save souls. I hope that through the relationships we cultivate with each other, all of us can grow closer to God. I hope through my ministry to, for, and with you, to offer a liturgical life that affords you every opportunity to be here at the church (to be touched by the transformative power of God), to provide educational opportunities to cultivate your faith, and to share with you the blessings of our Lord in your most vulnerable times, both the joyful and the sorrowful.

No matter who we are and what we struggle with, whether rich or poor, righteous or sinner, we all have the invitation to grow; for our lives to be changed for the better; and to grow in holiness.

Faithful Christians must live and love with a sense of urgency that reminds us that the time is coming when it will be too late for us to change our course. The rich man in today’s Gospel could not alleviate his suffering in the next life after his death. But we, who are still alive, have the opportunity to be the Christians and the Parish Family that we want to be. And being guided by Christ, we will walk together towards His Heavenly Kingdom.

Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

October 18, 2020

Today we celebrate the Apostle and Evangelist Luke. Xronia Polla to everyone who celebrates today! We wish you many years of health, happiness, and holiness.

Being that it’s St. Luke’s feast day, today’s Gospel reading was chosen especially for him. But why this particular reading? He wasn’t explicitly mentioned in it. Yes, this passage is taken from the Gospel he wrote, but that’s not the reason. The reason is that in this text, we find hugely important lessons about sharing the message of Jesus Christ, which is the role of an evangelist, and the role of every Christian. What is an evangelist?

An evangelist is someone who shares the ευαγγέλιον, the Gospel of Christ. Properly, there are only 4 saints with that title, the 4 Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, John, and our Luke. But, in a very real sense, every Christian is called to be a evangelist, because each of us is called to share the ways Christ has transformed our lives.

We hear from our Lord in the Gospel reading that the Apostles are to preach the Gospel, but always to remember the freedom of the individual they encounter. “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear”. This means very plainly that we are to speak to those people who are seeking God and open to learning, in a way that they can hear and understand. While Christ spoke these words to the Disciples, He is also speaking them to us. We, also, by virtue of our baptism are called to share the Good news of our Lord with the world.

St. Luke is a model for us to consider how we can live our lives as true Christians. St Paul tells us that there are many varied roles in the life of the Church: some are preachers, others teachers, others are skilled in food ministry, and others as a welcoming face for visiters. St Luke shows us that there are many ways for a person to live up to their vocation of sharing the message of Christ. He was trained first as a physician. Obviously he was a bright man to be educated in the field of medicine, but he also was an artist. We understand that St Luke painted the very first icon in the history of the Church, one of the Theotokos. In cooperation with these talents he cultivated, he continued to have ears to hear; that is, he was seeking after the truth, seeking afer God, and was ready and willing to dedicate his life to following Christ, when given the opportunity. St Luke shows us that we don’t have to fit into a certain mold in order to have a place in the Church; we are who God made us, and we grow in holiness wherever we find ourselves. .

We must take to heart the words of St. Paul in today's epistle when he encourages us to make "the most of the time…Conduct yourselves wisely," he says. "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt," that means, speech that is lovely attractive, delicious! We want our lives, our words, and our actions to mirror the love of the Compassionate Savior so that when people leave an interaction with us, they will be left with an image of what it really means to be a Christian. People should say, "What a nice, gracious, lovely, sane, holy, compassionate, loving, kind, extraordinary person that was!"

Whether we speak directly about the Gospel or not, doesn't matter. The Gospel lived supersedes the Gospel preached. The Gospel shown supersedes the Gospel spoken. So, we are called, each and every one of us, to be evangelists. To be sharers of the Gospel of our Lord, sharers of His victory over death, and sharers of the invitation for other to join in His great victory and experience His unending love, certainly through our words, but most importantly in our actions. We look at the lives of the saints and in them we see how a youth becomes a holy youth, how parents become holy parents, how a married couple becomes a holy married couple, how a teacher becomes a holy teacher, how a business owner becomes a holy business owner, how an artist becomes a holy artist, and how a family becomes a holy family.

As we remember St. Luke the Evangelist today, we remember our challenge to offer ourselves as evangelists in our own way. Yes, he wrote words and and preached everywhere he went. But he also preached through his actions. He was a physician, and through his work in healing people’s bodies, he communicated the love of Christ, working to heal their souls. He was an artist, and through his talented hands he gave us the first icon of the Panagia, sharing the beauty of our Orthodox Tradition with future generations. No matter where we are or what we do in life, our goal is the same: to grow in holiness and to share the love of Christ with our world. “They will know we are Christians by our love”. If our love is not felt, then we are not being true Christians. The love of Christ is the only thing that can bring together that which is divided. How divided is our nation? How divided is our Church? How divided are even our families? One thing unites us and one thing saves us: Christ and His great love for us.

If we truly love as Jesus loves, then it will show in our sincere admiration for everyone we meet. And that, brothers and sisters, will be the greatest sermon you could ever preach. "The Lord said, 'He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.'" We want everyone who comes to us to "hear" Jesus in our words and "see" him in our actions even if we do not say his Name. If our offering is accepted, then it will be because of our great love, and if we are rejected, then let it be also because of our great love.

Every. Extraordinary. Moment.

October 8, 2020

At my parish yesterday, a man came by and wanted to see the church and learn what kind of community we are. Over the course of our conversation, he kept emphasizing the importance of the Scriptures as the Word of God, that they have no errors, that they are complete and central to everything, etc etc etc. Finally I confirmed that yes, many of those things are true, but the Word of God is not limited to the Scriptures. Jesus Christ, the Godman, the Θεάνθροπος, is the incarnate Word of God. The scriptures contain His words. But we must also realize that God continues to speak to us, to cast His seed throughout the world, and into our hearts, every moment of every day.

Divine seeds of God’s Word come to us continuously as moments sent by God. Our Lord wants nothing more than for us to accept Him as He comes to us, and to allow Him to take root in our hearts, to illumine our lives. It’s as though every moment is a little seed of God that comes to us and has the beautiful phrase written on it, “I love you, my child”.

If every moment and every encounter is a gift from God, then every moment is filled with divine potential. There are no ordinary moments.

What makes the things of God “ordinary” is when we become desensitized to His love. The soil of our hearts can become dry, full of weeds, and deadly to any living seed. So, the “sowing of the seed” in today’s Gospel reading means, on the one hand, our acceptance of the Christian message, but also (and more importantly for us today) it means our recognition of God’s presence before us, His messages of love sent to us every day.

We look around at the state of our nation and the state of our Church, and we see brothers and sisters who struggle to recognize and embrace the words of God (the seeds) as they come to us moment by moment or person by person. Why do we struggle this way? Because the soil of our hearts is rocky and full of weeds. We may engage in the “stupid controversies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law” that St. Paul mentioned in his epistle to Titus we read today.

So what are we to do if, upon honest and undeluded introspection, we realize that the condition of our hearts is not the good soil? What if we have some weeds, some rocks, or some thorns that choke the love of God?

Again, we look to the words of St. Paul when he says, “let our people apply themselves to good deeds, so as not to be unfruitful.” Applying ourselves to good deeds allows us to be fruitful. Fruit, and all seeds, can only grow in healthy, moist, and oxygenated soil, and the action of these good deeds cultivates the soil of our hearts.

In addition to good deeds towards others, perhaps we can also actively look for God’s messages to us; we can convert our minds from being closed off, to more open; from being full of fear and defensiveness to less fearful; from cold and dying inside to truly alive and sensitive to God’s word, allowing the divine seed to take root in us...and we can grow into something miraculous.

Even the most simple tasks are chances for us to hear God. This can be as simple as not assuming the worst about a person. Valuing the precious moments with our loved ones → truly listening and being listened to. And most powerfully, to apply ourselves to good deeds, both for those who love and for those who hate us.

We have to pay attention to the extraordinary moments placed before us when God is speaking to us, when He is sowing the seed of His Word, and when He sends messages to tell us just how great His love is for us.

When we are mindful of the blessings and the beauty in our lives, when we till and fertilize the soil of our hearts to receive the divine seeds, miraculous things will grow; YOU will grow in holiness and illumination, unto union with the Almighty.

Sharing Our Suffering

September 20, 2020

If we are Christians, and specifically if we are here today, it means we desire to follow Christ. Why do we do that? Because Christ is the God-man who has shown us the path to Life.

This is the good news of Christianity: If we follow Christ, salvation is possible. But, as Fr Thomas Hopko famously says, “there is the bad news of the good news”. The good news is union with God. But the bad news is that the good news only happens by encountering the Cross. Christ’s victory over death only happened through Him suffering and dying. And so for us, this means that the entirety of the Christian life is this cyclical and daily encounter with suffering (small crucifixions) that in a spiritual sense represent a small death, a death through which life and victory and growth towards union with God occur within us.

Dark as this may sound, this is the reality of our lives. Life is hard. Work is hard. School is hard. Family is hard. Relationships are hard. Loneliness is hard. Sometimes these things are painful. We suffer in more ways than we realize. We may use terms like “I’m frustrated, sad, irritated” but really what we are describing is how we feel in midst of suffering. Do a quick search online and you will see the data showing how much people are suffering. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are on the rise, especially among teenagers. Divorce, alcoholism, porn and drug addiction are all increasing. These situations are painful, but they are not the suffering itself; they are the symptoms that something is wrong; they are the ways we try to cover over or ignore or avoid our suffering. We need to acknowledge the pain in all our lives.

Our Lord tells us in the Gospel today that if we want to follow Him, we must take up our cross. But before we can pick up our cross, Step 1 is for us to admit that we have one. We must admit our brokenness, our sadness, our pain, our suffering. Christ doesn’t tell us to go looking for a cross; He tells us to acknowledge and pick up the one we already have. We may wonder, what is our cross? An early Christian writer named Tertullian said: “Your cross” means your own anxieties and your sufferings in your own body, which itself is shaped in a way already like a cross.” OPEN ARMS. We bear in our own bodies the image of the Cross, so we don’t need to go looking for suffering; we already have it.

Accepting the path of the cross means that we are crucified along with Christ. In doing so, we unite the totality of our life to Christ, and Him crucified as our Savior and our Lord. It means to unite our wounds with his wounds, our hurt with his hurt, our rejection with his rejection, our victimization with his victimization, our injustices with his injustice, our loneliness with His loneliness, our questions even, our frustrations, our confusions with him, because on the cross he said, “My God, my God, why?” It’s no sin to say, “Why?” —as long as we’re hanging on the cross.

So what am I doing to do? How am I going to handle this pain? How do I pick up my cross and not be overwhelmed by it’s weight? One important step is that we must invite others into our suffering. We do not have to go it alone. So we come to the Church and open our pain to God with the support of the priest.

Why do we have to do that? Because we cannot see ourselves. There’s a saying in the Desert Fathers: He who chooses himself as a spiritual director has chosen a fool and a blind man. We must share our thoughts, our feelings, our insights, our wounds, our hurts, our griefs with someone else. Unless we’re willing to do that, the path of the Cross doesn’t work. Especially for Americans, this is a very difficult part of the whole story, because we were always taught: “I can do it myself. I don’t need the help of anybody else. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to handle things myself, and I don’t need other people.” Oftentimes we feel alone in our pain, and so we build walls around us (physical or emotional) to protect ourselves. But when we do that, we actually isolate ourselves, we cut ourselves off from our support system. That perspective is from the devil. The devil wants us to think we are alone, that no one else cares, no one else understands, no one else can help. But our greatest strength against the power of the evil one is to open our suffering to another person; to reject the lie and the delusion that “I’m fine, I can push through this”.

With the supports of our priest and our community of trusted loved ones, we pick up our cross and are crucified with Christ; but this our experience on the Cross is not in vain. We accept the way of the cross so that we may also rise with Him. It is through the spiritual effort of acknowledging our hurt and bearing our suffering that we grow in His likeness, we share in His life. We share in His resurrection.

Don’t get me wrong, this is hard work. But we have the example, love, and support of the Triune God. We may not be able to do this on our own, but we invite Christ into our lives and He joins us in our suffering. We have the great cloud of witnesses, the saints, as supports and intercessors. And we carry as our great encouragement the words of our merciful Lord: “There will be pain and suffering in the world, but do not be afraid, for I have overcome the world”. May our Lord give us the strength to bear our suffering, and so overcome all of the obstacles between us and Him. Amen.

What do I still lack?

August 30, 2020

A young monk went to see Father Joseph and said to him: “Father, as far as I can, I say my prayer rule, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can I purify my thoughts… what else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said, “If you will, you can become all flame”.

This story is from the Desert Fathers. For anyone unfamiliar with them, the Desert Fathers are monks who lived in the Egyptian or Judean desert in the ~4th-6th centuries as hermits and who devoted their lives to prayer. There are many stories and sayings attributed to them which are extremely helpful for us, even today.

Strange as this story may seem, there is very real truth in it. We know about how God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush. We know how God works through creation and people to manifest His glory and His divinity. But many times we forget how God is present in our lives and it is easy for us to lose sight of the goal of sharing in His Divine Nature. We forget our true potential to become holy.

In today’s Gospel reading we heard of an interaction between a young rich man and Christ. The man approached the Lord and asked what He must do to be saved (to inherit eternal life). Christ then speaks with him about the Commandments, which the young man admits to following as best he could throughout his life, but he still felt he was lacking something.

Has anyone ever felt this way? We do what we’re supposed to do, search after what we’re told will bring us fulfillment, but when we get those things still feel a need inside? When I make the varsity sports team, get that dream job, pay off student debt, finally buy that new car I’ve been wanting… then I’ll be happy. In our modern, privileged society we have access to just about anything we could want or imagine. We’ve been tricked into searching after a list of things and experiences and actions that will satisfy us.

The man in the Gospel, was just like us. He followed the Law of Israel, that is, the commandments God gave to the Israelites. The Law was intended as a guide for outward actions to help them live a good life, to live a holy life, one close to God. But the people lost sight of the initial purpose of the Law and began to focus entirely on the actions themselves, and neglected their inner spiritual life. They forgot the spirit behind the action and began to worship the action itself, thinking that a physical routine could save them. The rich young man did all the right things, he kept the law, but he was unaware of how to engage in the inner life. He forgot about the next step, to not be limited by the physical action but to become alive and on fire for Christ.

Now I want to be clear: the material things of this world are not bad; physical actions themselves are not bad. We know that God created everything and it was good; things only become harmful when they get out of control. For example, self-love is given to us by God to make us care for ourselves, but that normal and healthy self-love can get out of control and become excessive. Food is good and important for our health, but can become unhealthy when we eat (or don’t eat) until we are sick. Intimacy is beautiful and blessing, but it becomes dangerous when we idolize and distort it. In the same way, the action the Church recommends for us are good and helpful tools, but can become distorted and limiting. Fasting helps us remember to call upon God and spend time with Him in prayer, but it becomes unhelpful (and actually harmful) when we focus on keeping a fast perfectly and disregard the other parts of the spiritual life.

Humans are made up of both body and soul; physical and spiritual. Our outward actions can certainly influence our inner experience, but this only happens when we also engage in the inner life; they must work together. The man in this Gospel reading was like the young monk who went to Father Joseph for advice. They say nearly the same thing: I fast, I pray, I treat others well, etc… but they both knew inside them that there was something they were lacking. We in the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition know what that something is. Christ stands at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open to Him. He offers us the water that will make us never thirst again. He offers us the calm within storms. He offers us eternal life. He offers for us to be aflame with the Holy Spirit.

So the message for us today is two-fold: 1) to ask the question “what do I want?”. Do I want a life permeated with joy, peace, love, gentleness, self-control, and inner strength? If we answer “yes” to this question, we need to put in the effort and be vigilant to keep our focus. 2) How do we keep our focus? We regularly check in and ask the question of this rich young man: “what do I still lack”? It’s very easy for us to get distracted or to focus more on the act of fasting than the reason for fasting; to focus more on the act of kissing our icons than making an intentional and heartfelt request for the help and prayers of the saints. When we use the tools of the Church in a healthy way, keeping our focus on Christ, we too, can rise beyond the limits of this world and we, too, like Father Joseph, can become all flame through the transforming love of Christ.

To God be the glory. Amen.

God Meant It For Good

August 16, 2020

In the Gospel reading today we saw Christ healing a boy with epilepsy after the Disciples were unable to help him. When they as Christ in private why they had trouble, he tells them that they needed faith to do so. He says,

“For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

This is a famous saying of our Lord and one I would like us to focus on today.

Let’s begin with a question: Why would you need to move a mountain? Mountains are beautiful; Christ even makes good use of mountains throughout His life. These mountains Christ speaks of surely are metaphorical. Some mountains we discover are things blocking our journey. So the mountain is a spiritual obstacle that prevents us from reaching God. What spiritual blockades do we have in our lives? What habits, passions, vices do we have that keep us from engaging with the Divine?

Our mountains can by external, like how the boy in this story was afflicted with epilepsy, which no doubt made life very difficult, like financial hardship that does not allow us to give or attend church as often as we would like, like sickness or pain of our loved ones, or being treated a certain way based on some outward appearance. Or our mountains can be internal, such as selfishness, greed, judgment, addiction, or dismissal of others.

Yesterday we celebrated the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the spirit of celebrating her, let’s look at her life as a model for us; as a model of faith moving mountains.

Theotokos as a model of faith moving mountains:

She had many mountains in her life: how does a virgin give birth all the while remaining virgin? How could she endure the shame from her society at seeing a supposed virgin pregnant? How could she see her son wrongly accused, arrested, beaten, and killed? How could she, being a woman in 1st century Palestine (with no rights) lead and preach and teach with authority?

She had many mountains in her life that she transformed through her great faith.

Like all things that grow, faith starts small. It is only a seed, but in following the metaphor of our Lord, the mustard seed which is the smallest of all grows into a thriving plant with great endurance, power, and long-suffering. Our faith starts small and grows and grows and grows into a powerful, life-changing, and dynamic force within us and without us.

Christ tells us that the deed of healing the boy came about only through prayer and fasting. In the same way, our faith only grows with the water and fertilizer of prayer and fasting. Of course, these two pious acts are important, but they are not the end-all-be-all of the spiritual life. We must water our faith by repenting of our own arrogance; by looking within us enough to see our selfish ego and instead turn outward to offer ourselves to our brothers and sisters.

So as we consider the mountains in our lives (the things that we find blocking our path to God), let’s consider how we can transform those mountains. There is a trend in scripture wherein faithful men and women when they encounter difficulty or pain, say a beautiful phrase: “[The person who did this] meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good”. This is the perspective of faith in the face of mountains, to see some good outcome or transformation of our hardship.

When we approach our mountains with anger or hostility they usually do not move. But when we come with compassion, love, and faith, the mountains are transformed from something that hinders our journey into something that facilitates our journey.

May we pray for the same spirit of faith as the Panagia had to grow in us and help us to see the mountains of our lives as an opportunity for God to bring about something good. God means it for good.

To God be the glory.