"...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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The Mean Between Religious Extremes
February 21, 2021
Faith Shines In Difficulty
February 14, 2021
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 to the right.
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
Our Light in a Dark World
Christmas Eve 2020
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 to the right.
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 to the right.