Metropolitan Joseph – “We have to build a monastic life”

Metropolitan Joseph: “we have to build a monastic life”

 (AFR) – Archbishop Joseph delivers his inaugural comments at the Parish Life Conference for the Western Diocese of the Antiochian Archdiocese in San Francisco, California, after being named Metropolitan by Patriarch John X and the Holy Synod of Antioch.

Good evening. [Good evening.] In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: one God. [Amen.]

Beloved in Christ, glory be to God. [Glory to Him forever.]

I thank all of you for your love and for your sincere commitment in the faith. I thank God for my safety to here. I just arrived this afternoon from Lebanon, and I am bringing with me the love of our holy fathers, Patriarch John X and the holy synod and all the hierarchs. We met together over the past few days. It was not [an] easy journey. Nothing is done by accident, but, believe [it] or not, the Holy Spirit was working hard, whether I am the one who was elected or someone else.

You know, we have politics in the Church—ugly politics, I would say. We have differences, we have human… things, complications, but, before anything else, we have to think of the Holy Spirit who is leading the Church. I assure you that our patriarch, for a number of nights, he didn’t have any sleep. He was receiving bishops, even after midnight, most of the night. On Wednesday we finished the session of the holy synod during that time, and I left, and I drove one hour back to Beirut, and, thank God because it is Ramadan, so there is no traffic! [Laughter] So it took me just one hour. So I got into the hotel in Beirut, because I had some meetings there. I received a telephone call telling me to go back to Balamand again, the same. [Laughter] I tried not to go back. I tried to be negative. [Laughter] I tried to be smart and convincing, not to go back, but it didn’t work. So I got into the car and [went] back, the same.

All what happened [was] because of this Archdiocese. You know, there is no fight over the Archdiocese, but there is a big fight for the Archdiocese. This Archdiocese is like one of many, many archdioceses we have, but this Archdiocese is unique and is different in many ways. So now, the Holy Spirit brought us to this moment. Now, we don’t have to think of politics and what happened and all what I’m trying to share with you today, but the beginning has started right now. Thank you for your love, thank you for your patience, thank you for your endurance, thank you for your prayers and tears as well. But there is no reason to have any fear. Forget me; forget about me. The Holy Spirit, as I said, is leading this Archdiocese, is leading this Church. In Lebanon, in Syria, now war: to be or not to be. At any moment, many, many Christians getting killed every single moment. And you know now what’s happening in Iraq, and between Iraq and Syria, might… a new Islamic state might arise all of a sudden and rule that area: Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and wherever. So the Church is at stake. The Church is in serious danger. The whole Middle East is in danger. We don’t have to forget this.

Now we have to focus on our one thing. Of course, I have a list of priorities for you. Now I am in charge of all of you, how to lead you to the kingdom of heaven. So to lead, to lead you—and I’ve been working with you here for around 20 years—now I have to go back, like to cover many areas. I have to work with many clergy; I have to work with many organizations; and this week I have to leave back to New Jersey, and from New Jersey to the Antiochian Village for the Symposium, to meet more [of] our hierarchs, to meet more clergy and more people there. So it is not one person. All of us—clergy and laity, laity and clergy—so the Archdiocese is not the Metropolitan by himself. The Archdiocese is all of us, and we have to believe in this, and we have to have faith about that. So from this moment, from this Parish Life Conference…

Here, between parentheses, I have to tell you something that many members of the holy synod asked me to stay another two weeks there, because it’s not right, like someone to be elected and disappear, so many people are waiting for him. But I said, “I have committed to our people and our clergy in the Parish Life Conference and the Clergy Symposium,” so that’s why I took the first plane and came here. So I might go back, very soon, back for ceremonial whatever-you-call-it. [Laughter] But the people, this Archdiocese, and the clergy and the laity, according to me, is more important.

So from this moment we have to work together. Imagine: we don’t have a monastery in our Archdiocese. A “sort of” monastery here or there, but now we have to build a monastic life… [Applause] …and when I say “monastic life,” I don’t mean the place, the building: the bricks and the stones. I mean a real monastic life. And since I was a little boy, what I heard from our holy father, the holy man, Patriarch Elias IV at that time, after his visit to the United States, he visited everywhere for three months, and he went back to visit us in Balamand in the monastery there, and we asked him… We thought he’s going to give us a lecture about the power and the wealth and the—you name it—and he said it in one sentence. He said, “In the United States, they have everything, but they need monasteries.” And this is a… I consider it as an order and a command and advice. Something struck me at that moment, and I didn’t know that one day I’m going to be here in this Archdiocese, but now I am here in the Archdiocese, and I will build… more than one monastery. More than one. [Applause] 

We don’t have a center, together, like here. Why do we have to go from one hotel to another? We have Antiochian Village back east. We need another one here.[Applause] To bring all the families together. To bring all the clergy together. To bring, especially, the young people together, under the umbrella of the Church. We don’t need to go from one hotel to another. We don’t need to imitate what’s happening around us in this world. We need to have our own identity, our own atmosphere.

So we have a lot to do. We have a lot to do, but one person cannot do everything by himself. When our late Metropolitan of blessed memory, Metropolitan Philip, when he worked for 48 years, the time was different; things were different. So now we have many churches. We have [plenty] of gifts among our clergy and among our people, so we need to use all the gifts.

On the plane from Lebanon to here, I was trying to imagine some future plan. I was, like, writing down my notes, my thoughts, my everything. That is the beginning. So I need to visit, I need to meet with our people, with our clergy everywhere, with our hierarchs, in order to have a picture, a big, huge picture for the future of this Archdiocese. So this needs a lot of prayer and a lot of support from everyone, so we need to be serious, beloved in Christ. No place for fear in our life. Christ and fear won’t be together. Christ took away all the fear from us, so the more we trust him, the more we put our faith—we have faith—in him, he will lead us and the Holy Spirit won’t leave us alone.

So let us build this Archdiocese on a solid foundation. The foundation is love, faith, and commitment. We don’t need happy, we don’t need lectures, we don’t need words, we don’t need promises, we don’t need to waste time in talking. Politics and gossips—there is no room for that. There is no time for that. So let us work. Now the work has begun at this moment. Let us express it now in this Parish Life Conference. We can build towers, we can build walls and stones and everything, but if there is no love and if there is no faith, everything we build will be empty, will remain empty. So we need to fill our life with love and faith and commitment. We need to fill the Church with love, faith, and sincere commitment. We don’t have to fear each other or [have] fear of each other, so we have to trust each other; we have to embrace one another in order to accomplish all this.

Now the teaching. I am sorry that I missed this afternoon, but Fr. Irenei is a good speaker, and he has a good knowledge, and his teaching is outstanding, as I heard him speak before. So now I need all of us—you and I—to be in the teaching and in the services. This is the meaning of a Parish Life Conference. Parish Life Conference used to be summer vacation, but here we are not for summer vacation. We are serious in every word we are saying, because every word we are teaching in a Parish Life Conference could be a good reason, a good start for [the] salvation of someone. So we are spreading the good seeds of faith, and we need to be ready to receive this seed and that seed and all the seeds. We need to be fruitful. We need to be ready to make fruits.

So, again, beloved in Christ, we have a lot to do, and may God have mercy on us, on me. Please let us open a new page, a new chapter, and build this Archdiocese and continue to build this Archdiocese as our late Metropolitan Philip worked hard for 48 years and others who helped him, those who have passed away and those who are still with us. Therefore, let us be part of all this big group: those who built and helped building this Archdiocese. Let us be part of that.

And thank you again and again for your love and your commitment. Please pray for me. When we say, “For our father, Metropolitan…” so let us pray for this person, to be a good shepherd, a good leader, a godly father. Once upon a time, a priest who is here, a priest said to me after a convention, he said to me, with tears—“We need a father.” And I’ll do everything I can to be that good father and good shepherd. Thank you. [Applause and cheering]


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Heavenly Worship

MP3 Audio: WS330330_Fr-Michael_Heavenly-Worship.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, January 26, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.


Gospel Reading:  John 2:1-11

From a book in the Bible I know you are all intimately familiar with – Habakkuk –
in the second chapter, the twentieth verse:

But the Lord is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

Silence . . . in the sense of awe.

You know, sometimes we see something that happens and it is either so weird, or so spectacular, or so incredibly different from what we are expecting, that we can’t find anything to say. We’re just kind of . . . you know . . . words won’t do anything. And when it says, therefore, in fact the King James says, “Let the whole earth stand in awe of Him,” which I think is a much better translation, the point it’s making is that if God is God – and here we kind of operate on the assumption that He is – If God is God, if He is in His holy temple, with all that magnificence and all that glory, about the only thing you can do is kind of stand there just in awe.

And human words can’t describe it. Now, we try obviously, because that’s what God gave us. Words are the tools that He gave us to try to communicate with one another, to describe, to share our ideas and what-have-you. But the fact of the matter is that it is often very, very difficult.

I remember the one time since I’ve lived in Florida that we went to a space shuttle launch. Many years ago, we just moved down there. And when you first move there, you go to Disney World four times the first year and anything else that’s out there. You prove that you are enjoying yourself, you know. And this behemoth, even though you are far away from it, the ground shakes as these engines start up and go! You know, you’re standing on ground that’s doing this ::shaking::, and your ears are being buffeted by waves and waves (you know, you’re a couple of miles away from it), but waves of sound. And eventually it just kind of very slowly, with great dignity and great patience, lifts off the ground and climbs up into the air. And I understand it’s going very fast (it didn’t look like that, because it has a long way to go). And most of us just stood there. You know, you’ve got some chatterbox that wants to ruin the moment, but most of us just stood there with our mouths hanging open because it was an extremely awesome thing to see.

Well, that’s basically what Epiphany is about. The season of Epiphany in the Church here, is the one time that we absolutely focus upon God’s glory. The word epiphania in Greek means to manifest, to show forth, to basically let it all hang out and let the creation see it.

During Advent, we commemorate God’s grace in preparing us for the birth of His Son.
At the Nativity, of course we commemorate the Incarnation. During Lent we focus on repentance and Christ taking our sins upon Himself. Easter, the Resurrection. These are things that He has done. But during Epiphany season, the emphasis is really upon just God being God. And if you look through the Gospel readings which we have for the six Sundays after Epiphany (you don’t always use all six; it depends on when Lent starts), but if you look at that, today is the wedding at Cana of Galilee, the first miracle that Jesus does when He establishes, He approves His sovereignty over the creation. The baptism by John in the Jordan, when He is baptized and is at least manifested to John as, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him.”

All of the things that we go through emphasize God showing His glory forth to the world, and originally, of course, with the coming of the Wise Men. The Magi, these pagan priests coming from – at least in the those days – so far off, didn’t even have to connect through Chicago. But they rode their camels all the way from what was then Persia, Baghdad, to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

That was a manifestation of God of the Gentiles. By rights, they probably shouldn’t have had any idea about this at all. The Jews as I mentioned last night for those that were here, were prepared for this. The prophets told them a Messiah was coming. For an angel to show up and say, “There’s a Savior born,” this did not come to any great shock. They may not have been expecting Him that night, but they knew it was going to happen. And these pagan priests come because God is the manifestation not just of Jewish expectation, but of all expectation. It’s the fulfillment of every pagan concept of God there ever was. Because all concepts of God, be they pagan or Christian, are inadequate to the reality.

We can explain until we are blue in the face, but as I said, words aren’t going to do it. It’s important to recognize this about Epiphany because so much of Orthodox Worship is rooted in this concept, not of seeing God far away, but of being in His presence, in His Kingdom in heaven. And that is absolutely not a new idea. This didn’t show up with Jesus. It is rooted in the Old Testament. If you go back and read in the book of Exodus, (and sometimes it is handy to bring a Bible to Church, by the way) if you go back and read from, say the 25th chapter to the 30th chapter of the book of Exodus, what you have is essentially six chapters in which God tells you, “This is how you should worship!” The idea that God is somehow indifferent to what we do is a non-biblical idea.

The idea that God encourages us to make it up as we go, is a non-biblical idea. The idea that you don’t even need to be here in order to experience the worship of God is a non-biblical idea. God is very specific about how He wishes to be worshiped.

And when the Lord comes to fulfill, there are only a couple things that need to be changed. Everything else stays pretty much as it is. He says in chapter 25, verse 9, “According to all that I have shown you concerning the pattern of the Tabernacle, and all its furnishings, so you shall make it”. So He gives some blueprints. He said, “It ought to be this tall, it ought to be this wide, it ought to be this deep . . . That’s how you make it. That’s how I want it.” He does that with the Tabernacle itself. The Tabernacle was kind of a porta-church. It was a big tent. That’s what the Tabernacle was before they got to Jerusalem.
It was a big — You know, I remember sometimes when I was going to University in California and Oral Roberts used to pitch his tent right behind the campus. It was a place where he had . . . Devonshire Downs. And it was nothing more than a big tent. They traveled with it, they’d get some place, they’d put it up, they’d  have their services, they’d take it down and haul it out of town. That’s what the tabernacle was. It was a traveling, portable church.

And yet God is extremely, extremely detailed – “You shall make a Mercy Seat (Mercy Seat was for the throne of God) of pure gold, 2 cubits and half shall be its length. A cubit and a half breadth. You shall make two Cherubim of gold, of hammered gold. The Cherubim shall spread their wings above all over showing the Mercy Seat with their wings.” These are images, by the way. These are images of angelic beings which God specifically said should be made and put both in the tabernacle and in the temple. The idea that icons are a “recent invention” are again not biblical.

So He gives very detailed description as to how you build it, and how it should look, because He is not indifferent as to how He is worshiped.  He gives specific instructions. I love this in the 28th chapter, because one of the first things that people notice when they come into an Orthodox Church is that a lot of people are in drag. He says in chapter 28, verse 2; “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.” You know what earthly good these are? None. You know why God wants them? He likes them. That’s it!

He says you wear the vestments for glory and for beauty, for no practical purpose whatsoever. But that in Your creation, it represents the glory of the ones we are going
to see in heaven: the angels, the archangels, all the heavenly beings. None of them are
in T-shirts and sandals at any time! They are always gloriously, beautifully, transfiguratively dressed, in garments that shine like Jesus did on the Mount Tabor
at the time of the Transfiguration when He’s shown, not just white, but it says “white and glistening.” He was so white that you really couldn’t look at Him, and they couldn’t, they’re doing this: ::hiding face with hands:: “See that?” “Cool…Yeah, I can’t look at Him. No. Neither can you . . .”

So, it’s all a question of beauty. God is all about beauty. Not being pretty, that’s a different thing, although being pretty is okay, I’m not putting that down. But beauty – And again, all of us at one time or another have seen things – Maybe the first time you saw Mount Rushmore, or maybe the Grand Canyon, or you wandered into a glorious cathedral or seen a museum of great art or what have you, and you come across something, and again you go, “Whoa!” And you don’t have the words. You just don’t have the words. This is what God’s worship is all about. It is about the presence of glory and of beauty, a glory and a beauty which if we are not attempting to prepare ourselves to encounter it, it could be dangerous. You know, Moses had a pretty close relationship with God. You know it says in the Bible that God spoke to Moses as a friend. Being a friend of God is a pretty big thing, you know? And one time Moses, he said, “I want to see You. I’m going to push the envelope on the friend thing here. Can I? Let me see You.” And God says, “No one can look on Me and live. It’s not going to happen. But, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’m going to hide you inside this cave, and I’m going to put My hand over the cave, and as I go by, you can come out and see Me, see My glory.” That’s as close as Moses’ unprepared eyes could come to seeing God.

Think of it this way. I grew up in the Star Trek generation. God is anti-matter. We’re matter. You know what happens when those engines mix the anti-matter and the matter. it goes KABOOM! It’s a very dangerous thing to have happen. So, this is as close as we’re ever going to come to seeing God, even in the kingdom, even in heaven. He who has seen me, has seen the Father. Christ is God in human form. That’s what we’re going to get, even in heaven, because God is so totally beyond anything that you and I can think of or describe that it would blast us, just blast us back.

So, the beauty and the glory are the presence of God that we can actually see. That we can get. That we can absorb. That we can be surrounded by. And this is why as far as back as the Old Testament – Although it was a pale copy of what the reality of the beauty of what heaven is going to be – God said, “Do this. Do this. Do this, I want it beautiful, I want incense, I want prayers, I want chanting, I want the whole ball of wax. Do it this way, and you are being faithful to me.”

Another one I like to throw out here: At the end of the vestment thing, it says: “This shall be a perpetual  statute for Aaron and for his descendants.” In other words, they’re going to wear vestments in the temple forever, until the end of time. It’s never going to change!

So Jesus comes, and then at that point, some people would say, “Well, gee. That’s cool, we get that. That was all Old Testament. They were kind of primitive, not terribly educated people. They needed the light and sound show, the dogs and the ponies. They needed all that to get their attention kind of thing.” And Jesus shows up, and He says, “I have not come to destroy. Not one jot or tittle (those were tiny letters and accent marks in Hebrew) will pass away . . .” (Matthew 5:17-20). All things will pass away, but the law will not pass away. The things that God has given us that reflect the kingdom of heaven shall not pass away. He said, “I come to fulfill.” So what would change?

Well, it’s no longer needed to sacrifice animals, because Christ is the one pure, perfect sacrifice given on behalf of humanity. We don’t need anymore blood of bulls, pigeons, goats, doves and all that cool stuff. So that’s done. But the other offerings, Jesus participated in. The other offerings, Jesus went to the temple for the worship for and shared in. The other offerings, like the mercy offering, all of this offering continues within the life of the Church. And so it’s not stopped. It’s simply fulfilled. And to fulfill something means to transform it, you give it, you fill it with new meaning. So in the Old Testament, God winds up saying, “Your sacrifices are an abomination to me.” But that’s because they were unworthy sacrifices. That’s because the people were living in sin and not following God. He tells the Jewish priest, “You keep making these offerings of incense, and I tell you, the Gentiles would make offerings of incense, pure offerings until the end of the age. And those, I’ll accept! But not yours” (cf. Malachi 1:6-11).

So, the way in which the worship is done, it’s tempered somewhat depending on your culture, your music, that sort of thing. But the concept that undergirded — Glory and beauty and the presence of God — those remain and will be fully revealed in the kingdom of heaven. And for that, you go to the book of Revelation, which is our book of worship. It starts in the Old Testament, but we finish with the book of Revelation.

“And now I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals and I heard one of the four living creatures say as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’ And I saw and behold, a white horse and his rider had a bow and the crown was given him and he went out conquering and conquered . . .” (Revelation 6:1-2). The angels sing, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and open its seals. Thou hast been slain and thy blood doth ransom men for God” (Revelation 5:9). And here is Christ the Lamb at the head and center of all of this. Again, you don’t see the Person of God, even in the book of Revelation, because we can’t see God. Even in heaven, there is going to be a distinction. We’re going to be as close to God as we’re ever going to be, but He is still absolutely different, because He’s God! He’s not a human being. His Son became a human being, but God the Father is not.

So again, the concepts that are given to us in the Bible that divulge His presence are the glory and the beauty. And the Seraphim and the jewels and the bowls of incense that it says are going up in heaven with the prayers of all the saints! (Revelation 5:8, 8:3) And this is why when you come to worship in an Orthodox Church, no matter how many times you’ve been there — maybe it’s one of your first times, maybe it’s not — if you don’t get a little overwhelmed, something is wrong with you! I mean, we’re doing a really bad job of offering God’s worship if you’re going to stand there and say, “Man, what are they doing?” That’s a perfectly acceptable response. That’s a perfectly good response. Because this is not out there. We don’t believe that when we come to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy for example, God comes down to us. We believe we ascend to Him. We believe that when the church, when the priest is standing, we’re all gathered before the altar, we’re making the offerings, what we’re doing is not something that we ourselves have put together. But we are entering into the one sacrifice that Jesus Christ Himself is making before His Father in heaven 24/7.

Because when He returns to His Father in heaven, how does He go? He goes as God and Man. He is the first human being because He ascends in His humanity to be in the presence of God His Father and that was the whole point. The reason He came into His own creation, the reason He came here, the reason He shared every aspect of human life with us — death included — showing us how we’ll be resurrected, was so that we could get back to the presence of His Father in heaven. And that is the promise that is given to each and every one of us who try to be faithful, who try to pick up our cross and follow God daily. Falling down a lot, that’s cool; He gets that. But the fact that you’re persevering and trying, this is what returns us to the presence of your Father in heaven.

And this liturgy is not being offered in Omaha, or in Harrisburg, or in Chicago, or in San Francisco, or in Teran. Here, we stand in the presence of the angels and the archangels and the Cherubim and the Seraphim, which is why we depict them. We’re doing a renovation now, we’re not back to where we’re going to be eventually, but all of the icons, all of the images, all of those things tell us of those who are in heaven, who have preceded us before and are living to make intercessions for us: Headed by the Virgin Mary, who prays for us all the time. Led by Jesus, who stands before the throne and says, “Okay, I get it, they’re not much, yeah, but We made them! And I went and died for them. These wounds are proof of that. And I am offering myself to You.”

And He does this every single day, all the time, because you see, in heaven there is no time. For God, there is no time. God is completely beyond our concepts of time. For God, there is no yesterday or tomorrow. For God, there is now. Only now. And He sees everything, from the creation of the world until the second coming, in one second, one flash of time, because for Him, everything is going on now. Christ’s birth is happening now, Christ’s death is happening now, Christ’s ascension is happening now, Christ offers Himself to the Father now, now and now and always! And when we die and are eventually through paradise and at the second coming into heaven, we move into that same timeless state. So you and I have this experience whenever we come here, and sometimes by the grace of God in private prayer prayer and things like that. But in heaven, this is going on absolutely all the time.

Now the next week, I understand the archangels take a break and watch the Super Bowl. But other than that, they’re not bound by what’s going on in the world. And when we are here, neither are we. If we are, we will not have eyes to see. We will not have ears to hear the presence of the kingdom of heaven.

One of the things we sing in the Eastern Rite liturgy of course at the offering of the Eucharist is, “Let us now lay aside all worldly care.” And that we must do. Whatever you’re bringing with you, you either offer it to God here and ask Him to take it, or you leave it out there. If you had an argument with the wife and the kids on the way to church, you leave it out there, or you come in here and offer it to God and ask Him to transform it. But you don’t stew about it. You don’t think about it. You don’t allow that to become a distraction to divert your attention from focusing on the one thing that is needful here, and that is the presence of God on His throne, in the kingdom of heaven, surrounded by all of the heavenly hosts, Mary and all of the Saints, all of those who have gone on before us, praying that you and I here today will begin to experience a brief foretaste of what God will offer us for all eternity.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God is One.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, January 26, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

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Blessing the Waters – Western Rite

Fr. Michael Keiser blessed the waters at Christ the King Orthodox Church
in January, 2014, for Epiphany:

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Five New Catechumens

On January 26, 2014, five blessed people entered the catechumenate at Christ the King Orthodox Church, and we caught this wonderful moment on video:

Henry, Lori, Henry David, Hunter, and Daphni . . . Welcome!

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Epiphany Lesson at Vespers

MP3 Audio:  WS330329 Fr-Michael_Epiphany-Lesson-at-Vespers.mp3

This talk was given on Saturday evening, January 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.


(Fr. Michael) Good evening! Good to see you all. That’s lovely, really. [Speaking about the remodeled altar area . . . ] That’s a tremendous improvement.

(Sh. Amy) A little change?

(Fr. Michael) And I’ll actually be able to read the prayers tomorrow without having to do this [squinting]. It’s been a little dark up there. So that’s really, really very nice.

(Fr. Michael) And why is it blue? Why is the color blue that we would put in the altar?  What do you see when you look up in the sky? Blue. And blue, when you’re decorating a church, symbolizes heaven. So we decorate, and you can decorate many different ways, but blue is one of them because it always represents heaven. And sometimes, and we can get really fancy if we find somebody who can paint, you put stars up there. And maybe a couch up there…no, not that. But it would be something which represents heaven. And I’m going to talk about that tomorrow a lot. I’m going to talk about worship and how it represents heaven and that sort of thing. But this is one heck of a big improvement. It’s really very nice. Who did this?

(Dn. Joseph & Sh. Amy) Conrads . . . Jeremy and Calvin did most of it and Ruth and Christa helped with the painting.

(Fr. Michael) Well, thank God. Well, it’s good to get women doing hard work, we should do that.

(Dn. Joseph) And also moved some chandeliers up here and they’ve got the gold and purple around the sides here.

(Fr. Michael) And there’s a sense in which it is, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t mean it as a criticism, but it’s less cluttered. And in the Christian West, we tend not to be quite as cluttered as what they do in the Eastern Rite, and that sort of thing. People should come in . . . you know you’ve got it right, and we’re still working on it, I understand that, but you know you’ve got it right when you walk into a church and it feels as though it has been prayed in and worshiped in. You walk in and you don’t think of it in any other sense but a holy place, a place that we are offering prayer. And if that happens, then you’ve decorated it correctly. So, this is very, very good. I’m very happy to see it. Take a picture so we can send the Bishop because he hasn’t seen it this way.

OK – What season are we commemorating in the Church? We’ve had Christmas. After Christmas comes?

(Children) Epiphany.

(Fr. Michael) Epiphany. How long do you think Epiphany goes?

(Children) Until the Presentation?

(Fr. Michael) I hate it when you’re smarter than I am. Well, it goes until the Presentation, you’re right, or sometimes called the Purification, which means it’s flexible. If you look in the Missal on the altar, it lists as many as six Sundays after Epiphany. We’re going to celebrate the third Sunday after Epiphany tomorrow and then the following Sunday is going to be the feast of the Presentation so the Epiphany season ends. Now what would happen that would cut it short . . . I know the Presentation . . . but why? Because, even if the Presentation came, we would still have Sundays after Epiphany. The Presentation is a fixed feast on February 2nd. Why would we completely stop doing Epiphany?

(Congregation)  Lent?

(Fr. Michael) Yeah. Lent is coming down the road. Easter is breathing down our necks. It’s earlier this year. Ash Wednesday I believe is March 6th.

(Sh. Amy) Julie’s birthday.

(Children) Andrea’s birthday.

(Fr. Michael) Whichever. SOMEBODY is going to have a birthday and they’re going to get ashes on them. Which is not much of a gift, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

(Sh. Amy) Hey, I got it last year.

(Fr. Michael) It’s an imperfect world. Now, what do we commemorate during Epiphany?  I’ll talk about it more tomorrow, but…

(Children) The coming of the three wise men.

(Fr. Michael) That’s the first thing we commemorate, yeah. Now…by the way, this can be taken down now, but it’s good that it’s up right now. Okay, we’ve got wise men here? A wise man. What happened when Jesus was born? I mean, what does it say in the Bible happened? You’ve got shepherds who are out watching their flocks, right? And what happens, what do they hear?

(Children) Angels.

(Fr. Michael) They hear the angels . . . the angels talk to them. And what do they say?

(Children) Glory to God in the highest. . .

(Fr. Michael) Yeah, Glory to God in the highest, and today he who was born in the city of David . . . a Savior who is Christ the Lord. So these shepherds are out there in the fields taking care of their flocks. And this was an important thing to do because usually these were community flocks. Everybody from the town put their herd together and people would take turns watching them. And if, therefore, you stampeded the flock, you lost everybody’s. I mean, you didn’t want to go back to town because it wasn’t just your lambs that ran off; it was everybody’s lambs that ran off. So they’re out doing their job and the angels come and they tell them, “Glory to God in the highest, a Savior is born,” and what do they do?

(Children) Go to the stable . . .

(Fr. Michael) Yeah, they literally say, “Let’s go take a look at this; let’s go over and see this.” So they head on over. Now, this is not as weird as it seems to us because the Jews expected God to do things for them. They expected God to interact with them and they were expecting a what?

(Sh. Amy) A Savior.

(Fr. Michael) A Savior, a Messiah, whatever word you want to throw in there. They were expecting God to send someone to save them. So, for pious Jewish shepherds standing there out in the dark and the cold, it wasn’t a big surprise. So they went to go and see who it was that God had sent them. Now, they did that because they were God’s chosen people and they were expecting God to do something for them. But they weren’t the only people who came, were they? Who else came?

(Children) Wise men.

(Fr. Michael) Wise men came. We don’t know when the wise men came, exactly. It doesn’t say in the Bible. Neither does it say in the Bible how many wise men there were. We have the tradition of three and there is, in a German cathedral in Cologne, the bones of three men who are supposedly the wise men which are, according to carbon dating, the right age, come from the right time, what have you. They’re there, people come to venerate them, like we have a relic of St. Benedict here, people go there to the relics of the wise men. But the fact is, it doesn’t say how many there were and it doesn’t say when they got there.

They are coming for a different reason, and yet for the same reason as the shepherds. Now, the wise men, these guys, aren’t Jews. They’re not Jews, they’re not expecting, necessarily. They are probably from what, today, is Iran, in that area, Iraq; it would have been called Persia centuries ago, before it was divided up into different countries. One of them is traditionally regarded as probably being from north Africa; he’s black. The other two guys are . . . this guy’s got a turban on; this guy’s got a turban on. And the term “Magi”, which is what they get called, comes from the Greek word “Magus”, and the Greek word “Magus” basically means a learned man, a miracle worker, maybe a magician kind of guy (not necessarily a slight of hand, they didn’t saw women in half or anything like that, that we know of), but probably also men who studied the stars. Now today, we would call it astronomy. Back then they called it astrology and they studied the stars to try to learn about what was going to happen in the world, about the universe, about whatever god they believed in would do. They probably belonged to a religion called Zoroastrianism, which I’m glad I don’t belong to because I can’t really pronounce it and which still exists among some people. You’ll still find groups of Zoroastrians and their famous teacher was named Zoroaster, hence the name. But some kind of religion of Persian and all kinds of stuff kind of mixed up inside there.

Now why would they show up? Because, look at a map, it’s a long way if you’re walking or riding a camel from Iran to Bethlehem. Long trip. So why would they come?

(Sh. Amy) They were following the star.

(Fr. Michael) Yeah, and that works because they were astrologers; they studied stars. But why? I mean, we know the Jews had a relationship with God and God had promised them a Messiah and so they weren’t overly surprised when angels show up and say, “Hey, you’ve got a Messiah.” These guys didn’t know anything, didn’t know what the word “Messiah” meant. It means “anointed one”, by the way. But they didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t know anything about the Jewish religion. They didn’t know anything about King David or King Solomon or Moses or Joshua or any of those people that we read about in the Old Testament. It’s appropriate they’re following a star because they studied the stars, but why would God send the star to guide them? Why would God call them to this area in the Middle East to meet somebody who doesn’t even belong to their religion or represent their religion?

When Jesus comes to the Jewish people, he comes as a Savior, the Messiah, which means that he fulfills all their hopes, all their longings, all their dreams in terms of their relationship with God. They viewed the Messiah, although they got it kind of skewed, they viewed Messiah as the one who’s going to come and release them from bondage to the Romans and was going to be the one who established the Kingdom of Heaven, and this was going to be peace and joy and all this great stuff. Why would pagans come?

They came because Jesus doesn’t just fulfill the promises God made to Israel. If that were true, the only people following Jesus now would be Jews. Jesus comes to fulfill everybody’s longing for God, regardless of what that concept of God to them is – and some people had some pretty screwy concepts of God. I mean, some of the religions that were extant at the time, and still are, were very violent, practiced things like human sacrifice. You sometimes fantasize about getting one of your brothers or sisters? They actually could! It would have been . . . they worshiped stars like these guys or trees or rocks or magical wells or all kinds of interesting things and, yet, whenever anybody is doing that, although they don’t know it, they’re searching for the one true God who created the world. And so the wise men, these three pagans here, who probably had a vaguer idea of what they were going to find than the shepherds did, are responding to God because He is fulfilling their hopes too, their desire for a relationship with God. And all of those things together – Jesus doesn’t just fulfil the Old Testament, Jesus fulfils everything! Jesus fulfils the pagan. Jesus fulfils the hopes and desires of the Buddhist. Jesus fulfils the hopes and desires of the Moslem. They just don’t know that yet any more than these wise men did. And so they come.

And we think they got there sometime within a two year period. Why a two year period?  What happens when they . . . who do they see first when they get there?

(Children) King Herod.

(Fr. Michael) Herod, you’re right. First thing these guys do, being kind of official priest types, is they seek out King Herod and they tell him, “We’ve come to worship the new king.” Oh yeah, cool, really cool. Herod was totally unaware that he was supposed to be replaced. So he kind of panics and he says, “Well, you go find him. And then, when you find him, let me know where he is. I want to come too.” So they do, they find him, and being wise men, God communicates to them, and they choose to go back another way.

And then we have that very terrible incident in the New Testament in which, in order to insure that he kills this kid, what does he do? He orders the killing of all the male children two years or younger. So we kind of figure it was like in a two year period. They didn’t show up right after the shepherds. And, in fact, Mary and Joseph may, by that time, have been in Nazareth. But the point is, they came because the world is full of people who genuinely are looking for God. They’re here; you’ll find them walking through Walmart, in supermarkets, all over the place, confused, wondering, “What in the heck is all of this about?” And that’s who the wise men represent. And God, therefore, can take them and their desires and their beliefs and bring them to him. And so they come with their gifts, what are they?

(Children) Gold, frankincense and myrrh.

(Fr. Michael) Gold, Frankenstein and molasses. Gold for what?

(Children) Shows a king.

(Fr. Michael) Frankincense?

(Children) Shows God.

(Fr. Michael) And myrrh?

(Sh. Amy) For anointing his body.

Somebody gave me some incense that was myrrh one time. That was really just nasty stuff. So I never understood why myrrh was regarded as a bad thing. It stinks! It’s just like rotting corpse, it’s just awful. So we only used it on Good Friday as a penance or something like that, but they bring these things.

And then the tradition is, of course, that they go back to their native lands, whatever they were, and they were from three different areas, and preach the Gospel as they understood it – which is that God sent a king; they didn’t get all of that. But that, eventually, they did come back together and that’s how you get three guys who are buried in that cathedral in Cologne whose relics get venerated as the three wise men.

But that’s only the first commemoration of Epiphany – the wise men coming on the feast of the Epiphany itself. The rest of the season is focused on all the miracles that Jesus did to manifest his glory to the world. Because that’s what “epiphany” in Greek means; it means “to show, to manifest something”. Another word in Greek is “theophany”; that’s also used.  But “epiphany” means “to manifest himself to the world”. And so we have the Gospel of His Baptism, we have the Gospel of . . . tomorrow is going to be the Miracle of Cana where he turns the water into wine. Those things that he did to do exactly what the wise men came, when they came, and that was to proclaim to the world, “This is the Son of God.” The shepherds, when they did that, all of that, so that people will know and will know who they have to come to.

Any questions? Good. Alright. Well thank you for your attention. We’ll see you in the morning. God bless, take care.

(Benjamin) But it wasn’t alcoholic wine, it was like grape juice.

(Fr. Michael) Oh yeah, sure, right. No, it was wine. You smash grapes in a bag and carry it around in the Middle East for a month or something and you’ve got something more than grape juice.

(Benjamin) You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had people insist that’s the case though.

(Fr. Michael) Oh yeah.

(Dn. Joseph)  Oh, Father Michael?  Subdeacon Jeremy just got this (icon) as well; it’s “Christ the King”.

(Fr. Michael) Good! Oh, that’s good!


This talk was given on Saturday evening, January 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

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The Voice of God in the Wilderness

MP3 Audio:  WS330328 Dn-Joseph_The-Voice-of-God-in-the-Wilderness.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, January 19, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:1-11

Behold I send my messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

After the fall of man, sin, death, and corruption entered the human race. And even though God had commanded saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth,” man rebelled. They began working on this building project called the tower of Babel. It was like the first great skyscraper in one of the world’s first great cities. And God said, “This is not a good thing. They are serving self. They are serving sin. They are serving Satan. And in that frame of mind, in that frame of heart, they are working together. They are coming together as an unholy community.” And so He confuses their languages. And unable to communicate with one another, they scatter to the four winds of heaven. And they finally go out to populate the earth as He had originally commanded. He cast them out of the city and sent them into the wilderness.

Fast forward many centuries, and in the ancient Middle East, we find the ancient Middle Eastern version of New York City, or Chicago. The name of the city was Ur. There’s a young man in this city named Abram. There’s a young woman, his half sister, Sarai. And they had everything here that one could imagine: all of the entertainment, all of the business opportunities to win friends, to influence people, and grow their little empire, all the food, all the merchandise, all the trade from around the world, all the entertainment that one could imagine, and not only that, but a support group for who knows how many generations–Abram’s father, Terah, and men even before that–there was this whole support group of hundreds of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents and Great-Grandparents. And if you look at the ages of these people in Scripture, great, great, great, great, great-grandparents . . . Lots of friends, lots of opportunities. And God calls Abram and Sarai out of the city. And He sends them into the wilderness to become strangers in a foreign land, to herd farm animals far away from any city.

Fast forward to Moses. He is pulled up out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter. He is raised in the capital of the empire as the grandson of the King, the grandson of the Pharaoh. He is given the best education that that culture had to offer. He is given the most sumptuous feast, the most amazing foods. He had influence, he had wealth, he had power. You know all the young ladies looked at him as a very eligible bachelor. He had it all. Any entertainment that he desired, it would have been right there at his door. And around the age of 40, God calls him out of the city and sends him off to shepherd sheep in the wilderness for 40 years, in preparation for the other dumb sheep that he was going to shepherd in the wilderness for another 40 years. Because that’s just what happened: when he was 80, God brings him back and now, not just Moses, but all the Israelites–all two million of them–God calls out of Egypt. And He calls them to walk in the wilderness.

Fast forward several more centuries in Israel’s history and look at some of the greatest prophets of God: Elijah & Elisha. Some of their best work, some of their most intimate times with God, some of their greatest miracles are performed not in Times Square, not on State Street in Chicago, not on 6th Street in Austin, but in the wilderness with very few spectators.

Then we come to the greatest prophet of all: John the Baptist. Of all of those under the old covenant, Jesus said there is none greater born of a woman than John the Baptist. According to Scripture and according to the Tradition of the Church, not long after he was born, he ended up being raised not in the city, but in the wilderness. You see, his Dad was a priest! He served in Jerusalem, the capital city of the nation. He’s the son of a priest, and yet he ends up being raised in the wilderness. And when he becomes an adult, he becomes that voice crying out, not one of many voices in the city, but this lonely, isolated voice in the wilderness.

At the birth of Christ, does God send signs from Heaven? Does the veil between Heaven and earth open up and do the angels appear and announce, “Glory to God in the highest and peace and good will towards men”? Yes! But they don’t announce it in the city.

The angels do not appear to Caesar. The angels do not appear to the high priest. The angels do not appear on main street in Jerusalem. The angels appear and announce God’s good news in the wilderness to a bunch of shepherds. What is God’s affinity for the wilderness? What is His affinity for these blue collar shepherds? Why doesn’t He want to go where all the millions of people are and proclaim His message there, so that more people will hear it right away? Why is this pattern repeated again, and again, and again, and again, and again throughout  Scripture? God is calling us out of the city and into the wilderness.

In today’s Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, it says, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” And then when telling us the beginning of the Gospel, it doesn’t start with the Crucifixion; it doesn’t start with faith. It starts with “a voice crying out in the wilderness,” a voice that calls us to repentance and to baptism. We hear in the wilderness — in Mark chapter 1 — we hear the voice of God’s prophet. And at the end of the passage, we hear the very voice of God. For when this prophet baptizes the Son of God–not in the city, but in the wilderness–That is when we hear the very voice of God coming down out of Heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”

Does God speak to man? Absolutely. But so often, you have to be willing to turn your back on the city and walk out and be practically alone. And that is where you hear the voice of God’s prophet. And that is where you hear the voice of God.

What reasons does God have for doing it in this way? I believe one of the reasons is the background, the context of the message, just like the canvas that you are going to paint on needs to be the right type of material. God needs the right type of canvas, the right type of background on which to write His message. If you walk into a city, almost everything that you see is man-made. And most of it is made by men who are fallen, sinful and at enmity with God. You see, God doesn’t say there is anything wrong with the idea of a city. Scripture starts in a garden and ends in a city. We start in Eden, but then by the time you get to the book of Revelation, John says, “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven.” You see, if you have a bunch of holy, godly people working together, a city can theoretically be a good thing. But when you have millions of sinful men and women coming together into one city like New York, Chicago, New Delhi, Mexico City, etc. . . . a lot of times what we get is a lot more like Babel than it is like the New Jerusalem.

And so we have these buildings. We have these storefronts. We have these banners, we have these advertisements, we have these billboards, very few of which are calling us to humility, very few of which are calling us to be ascetic, very few of which are calling us to a deeper and closer relationship with God, very few of which are calling us to obedience to God. You walk into a city, and you’re surrounded with the arrogance of man. You’re surrounded with advertisements and storefronts that want to call you in, and in exchange for your money to fulfill any lust that your heart may have.

You go out into the wilderness and you may not find much. You may just find a bunch of sand in the desert. But God created each grain. You may just find a bunch of straggly old trees. But God created them. You see, the Maker of that sand, the Maker of those trees, is without sin, which is more than I can say of the maker of those skyscrapers, and those businesses, and those billboards. And so in the wilderness, God has a canvas that is relatively free from sin, death, and corruption. It’s a place where you are more easily without contradiction and without distraction. You are going to be able to hear the message. But the canvas is not the only reason. The background and the context of the message is not the only reason.

Another reason that God calls us out of the city has to do with the fact that He is unwilling to be simply one voice among many. You see, if you listen carefully enough, it is possible to hear God’s voice even in the city. Abram heard Him well enough to know, “I need to get out of here!” Lot, in Sodom, was able to hear God’s voice clearly enough to leave. God speaks at all times. God speaks everywhere. And anybody who is attentive enough can hear Him. But even if you are listening, even if you are open to hearing the voice of God, God knows how many distractions there are in the city. He knows for every word you hear from Him, you are going hear a thousand words from the radio stations, the TV’s, the acrobats, the performers, the advertisers, the salesmen, who want your money, the people who are trying to suck you into the world.

Now with all of these things going on, is it still possible for you to hear the message? It is possible. Wives, is it possible for you to have a conversation with your husband, to hear everything that he says while you’re cooking, while you’re disciplining a child, and while the TV is on in the living room? Yes. But it’s not possible to give him your undivided attention while doing all those things. Husbands, is it possible to have a conversation with your wife while you are watching a football game, while you’re munching on some nachos, and while you’re patting one of your grand-kids on the back? Yes, it is possible. But at that particular moment, you are not giving your wife your full and undivided attention.

See, you can hear the words of somebody, you can even listen to the words of somebody, and still be lacking in the conversation. Because in addition to hearing them, in addition to listening to them, sometimes people need that respect of receiving your full and undivided attention, where you say, “You are so important that I’m going to block everything else out. I’m going to concentrate on absolutely nothing except what’s coming out of your mouth.”

If your husband deserves that, if your wife deserves that, if your parents deserve that, if your children deserve that, how much more does the Lord and Creator of the Universe deserve our full and undivided attention when we listen to what He has to say?

In the city He can speak. In the city you can hear him. But there are so many distractions. If you’ll leave the city and go into the wilderness–a couple of cows, a goat or two, some trees, some dirt, some leaves, some chirping birds–It is far less distracting. Now you can hear God. You can listen to what He says. You can give Him your full and undivided attention. Out in the wilderness Abraham did not have to be distracted by the merchandise in Ur. Forty years herding sheep, Moses did not have to be distracted by the pomp and the pride of Egypt. John the Baptist, growing up in the wilderness and being a prophet in the wilderness, did not have to endure the grating on his soul of the arrogance and pride of the pharisees and the high priest.

Turn your back on the city and walk into the wilderness, and give God your full and undivided attention.

There’s another reason why God, over and over, calls people into the wilderness away from the cities. And this is simply a matter of the audience. Now, what I’m about to say is not a hard and fast rule. Can you find humble people working in the city? Yes. Absolutely. Can you find arrogant and prideful people living way far out in the country, in the boondocks? Absolutely. You can. But if you’re really looking for pride, if you’re really looking for haughtiness, if you’re looking for the best example you can find of that thing which is the stench in the nostrils of God, are you more likely to find it in the wilderness, or in Times Square? Hollywood doesn’t make it’s movies in the desert. It does most of its work right there in the city where it has all the resources available to it. Secular music, be it rock, country, whatever, most of their work is done where? Places like Nashville. Big corporations where people bow down to the almighty dollar. You don’t find many fortune 500 companies in Omaha, in Norris City, in Stonefort. How many fortune 500 companies do you have in Stonefort? Probably the same amount we have in Omaha . . . Zero. If you have the pinnacle of pride in movie production, in television production, in music, in business, in restaurants, in any field that you can imagine, where are you likely to spend your life? In the city.

If you’re more like a monastic, somebody who wants to dedicate every moment to God — How many monastics gravitate to the city? They don’t. People that are humble, that aren’t trying to claw their way to the top in business, that aren’t trying to claw their way to the top in music, in advertising, in any other field, the people that are humble, they are more likely to be content having just a loaf of bread out in the desert, to be content just living in a trailer in Omaha or Norris City. They are more likely to be content with less. And remember what it says in the Scripture, that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Now, that’s true no matter where you are. If you are humble and you happen to be in the city, then God will give grace to you. If you live in Omaha, in the boondocks, and you have a haughty and an arrogant spirit, God will resist you. But just in general, the proud are attracted to the city. The humble are content enough to be in the wilderness.

And so, to whom do you believe God will reveal Himself? Remember at Christ’s birth, the angels said nothing to the emperor. The angels said nothing to the governors, to the rich.The angels appeared to the humble shepherds, the blue collar workers, the farmers, the coal miners, the teachers. Over and over and over throughout Scripture, we find that the voice of God’s prophets and that the very voice of God so frequently is not in the city, but is in the wilderness.

What are some things that we can take away from this for ourselves?

Well, first of all, do not be ashamed, even a little bit, that you are part of a small, podunk hometown, little country church. I like being in the wilderness! I like being far away from the city. I like being in the boondocks. According to Scripture, that seems to be a pretty good place to be if you want to hear Him.

Second, we need to learn from this how we should order our lives. For you see, with modern technology, Satan has tried to come around our right flank and attack us where we don’t expect it. He says, “Alright, you go live in the country. You go live in the wilderness. I’m going to go get  ABC, and CBS, and MTV and all of these other hundreds and thousands of channels, and I’m going to pipe the city into your home. I’m going to create all this music in this city called Nashville, in this city called Chicago, and I’m going to pump that into your home. I’m going to use the television, the radio, the TV set and I’m going to bring the city to you!”

See, now you too can get on and get on You can get on eBay and you can be just as superficial as the people in the city when it comes to fashion. Congratulations. You too can melt your brain with thousands of hours of music that say absolutely nothing about obedience to Christ. Congratulations. You too can spend all this time on, whether its television shows, whether it’s driving into the city for things and get so engrossed in food that you’re more interested in how you can have your next gourmet meal than you are interested in how soon can I take the Eucharist. You see the sins of the city; do not stay in the city. The pride and the pomp and the arrogance of the city of Babel doesn’t stay in Babylon. Satan has learned how to very effectively export it to anyone who is willing to drink it in.

So what should our attitude be? Same thing that God has always taught us. Our attitude should be one of simplicity, humility, putting God and the Church and our families at the center of our lives. Not putting sports and clothes and food and entertainment at the center of our lives. Now, am I saying that it’s ever wrong to listen to a secular song? That you should never, ever, ever go to any movie? That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that Christ needs to be at the center of your life. You need to take every thought captive to Christ.

And there’s also this concept of silence. Remember where God says in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God,” whether you’re standing in the wilderness, or whether you’re standing in downtown Evansville, or Chicago. This is the opposite concept to what the devil does. This is saying, “Wherever you are, bring some of the wilderness to where you are. Take some time out of every day and just be still. Be silent.” That means turn off the TV, turn off the radio, lay down the newspaper, put down your video games, put down your hobbies, put down your guns, and just take some time to drink in and to breathe in a little bit of the wilderness. You see, God speaks in the still small voice. He doesn’t thunder from Heaven. He doesn’t paint in pink and green stripes up in the sky. He speaks in a still small voice. And the only way that you’re going to hear him–even if you have children–is to have some silence. You get enough control over your children that there is some time out of every day that it’s quiet. And as a family, every single one of you slow down, push out the world, push out the city, and just meditate on the Word of God, the lives of the Saints, and prayers to Christ.

There is a lot that we can learn from this. You see, there were a lot of Priests, there were a lot of Pharisees, there were a lot of Sadducees that lived 2000 years ago, who, if you asked them, they would say, “I would give anything to hear the voice of God. Anything!” And yet, were they willing to turn their back on Jerusalem, turn their back on the city and go out into the wilderness to hear His prophet preach? “Well, no, no, no…he’s just this crazy, poorly dressed guy that has no culinary ideas whatsoever. He eats locusts and honey, and I’m not…I’m allergic…I’m not into those things.”

And because they would not go into the wilderness, they missed the voice of Gods prophet. And when Jesus was baptized they weren’t there. And they did not get to hear the voice of God saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I don’t want to miss the voice of God!

And so it all boils down to something very simple. We are given the world that we can love. We are given Christ that we can love. And you have to choose one or the other, for you cannot love both. Either you will hold to one and reject the other, or you will serve the one and you will despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. You cannot serve God and material things. You cannot serve God and worldly pleasures. In your spiritual life, you need to leave the city. You need to hear the still small voice of God that calls you into the wilderness, and there is where you will hear the voice from His prophets. There is where you will hear His voice from Heaven.

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, January 19, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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Jesus Calls Our Children

Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.”
(Matthew 19:14 / Mark 10:14 / Luke 18:16)

St. Nikolai Velimirovic offers a reflection on the words of Christ:

“It is not without a deep prophetic significance that Christ asked children to come unto Him. In all the world-calamities, in all wars, strifes, religious inquisitions and persecutions, in all the hours of human misery and helplessness, He has been asking, through centuries, the children to come unto Him. I am sure, if anybody has ears for His voice today, amidst the thunderings of guns and passions and revenges, one would hear the same call: Let the children come unto Me!–Not kings and politicians, not journalists and generals, not the grown-up people, but children. And so today also, when we ask for a way out of the present world-misery, when we in profundis of darkness today ask for light, and in sorrow for tomorrow ask for advice and comfort, we must look to the children and Christ.”

~ St. Nikolai Velimirovic

Posted in Abortion, Christian Education, Contraception, Luke 18:15-17, Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15, The Orthodox Christian Family | Leave a comment

Put a Fire in it

Celebrate a beautiful liturgy,
while neglecting the preaching of the Word,
and your soul will eventually freeze to death.

Focus entirely on preaching,
while forgetting about the liturgy,
and your soul may burn to a crisp.

The Devil just wants you to fall off the straight and narrow path,
and he doesn’t care which side of the road you choose.

A few years back, I heard someone suggest that the Church’s liturgy is like a beautiful fireplace. It is exquisite, and it is necessary. But God have mercy on us if we ever mistake it for a fire.

Consider the Latin Mass as it existed in many Roman Catholic churches, just prior to the 1960s. It was ancient, beautiful, and exquisite. Doctrinally, it was essentially Orthodox (filioque notwithstanding). It was an excellent vehicle for transmitting the Christian faith. But there was hardly any preaching of the Scriptures, the liturgy was in Latin (which few people understood), and most parishioners were supplied with inadequate catechism throughout their lives.

It was like an exquisite fireplace, with no fire inside. Beautiful? Sure. But neither homes nor hearts could be adequately warmed by it. Cold fireplaces may be pretty, but they are not very functional.

Now consider the Protestant experiment over the past 500 years. There is lots of preaching, but liturgy and Tradition are not allowed to provide the necessary doctrinal boundaries so that the fire is contained. The fickle winds of doctrine have fanned it into over 30,000 different denominations, and as far as the Christian faith is concerned, Protestants are burning down their own homes.

Protestantism is like a fire without a fireplace. Light your living room carpet on fire, and you will definitely experience some warmth. But it doesn’t take long for the fire to become uncontrollable, and your home to become unlivable. Something has to keep the fire contained in a safe and productive way.

That is what liturgy and Tradition are for.

As for me, I want to follow the example of St. John Chrysostom. He followed Holy Tradition, and he celebrated a liturgy that was fully Orthodox. He also recognized the central importance of preaching. At every liturgy, he would often preach 30-45 minutes from the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes more.

St. John Chrysostom knew that a fireplace wouldn’t do you any good,
unless you put some fire in it.

Posted in Church History, Liturgy, Preaching | Leave a comment

Transforming the Tower of Babel

Jesus defeated death by death. As the song goes, He was “trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” He embraced the cross, which was the very symbol of wickedness, evil, shame, and death, and He turned it into something so beautiful that we kiss it, and we wear it as a necklace, and we wear it on our shirts. He took what the world said is shameful, and He exalted it and used that for the world’s salvation. Now, to do something like that requires the power of God, that great reversal. And He does it over and over.

Look at the tower of Babel. Man’s sin comes along, and both in protection of man and also in judgment for his sin, God confuses the languages so they can’t work together to continue building this tower of Babel. And then we see this great reversal of it at Pentecost, where now, instead of languages dividing people, they unite them, because now everybody hears in their own language the speaking of the praises and the Gospel of God.

But notice, it’s not the type of reversal we would expect. See, for us, we think to reverse something, you just have to throw it out, you have to undo it. To reverse it, we think, “Oh, well, you would have to make it so the whole world just speaks one language again.”

No, God kept it like a scar, and then He glorified it, just like the scars on the risen Lord. And He said, “No, this happened at the tower of Babel. Languages have been divided, and now there’s multiple languages everywhere. And instead of throwing that history away, instead of canceling it out and going back to square one, no, now, in all languages we will hear the praises of Christ, in all these languages we are going to hear the Gospel. Men, you messed things up back here at the tower of Babel. And instead of undoing all those languages that came about because of it, every single one of those languages are to be used at Pascha, to say ‘Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!’ ‘Christos voskrese! . . .’ ‘Christus resurrexit! . . .’ ” We are going to hear the praises of God in every language.

That’s how He reverses evil. He doesn’t just triumph over it by stomping on it. He triumphs over it by taking the very thing that was evil, gutting it of all the evil, and then glorifying it and turning it into something beautiful.

That’s what He did with the cross. That’s what He did at the tower of Babel, with the languages. That’s what He did with his own body, for in His glorified, resurrected body that shines with the uncreated light of God, you can still feel the scars in His hands and in His side. He didn’t erase them. He glorified them.

And that is what he does with your life, and with mine. And you see, in our worldly way of thinking, we just want to jump in a time machine, and go back and undo that embarrassing thing that we did 30 years ago, that horrible thing that we committed 10 years ago, that injustice that we suffered–if we could just go back and undo that. But God doesn’t give us the time machine. He gives us the cross. The same cross that He bore, He gives us to bear.

And just as He “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” He invites us to walk that same trail that He blazed to Golgotha, to strip off everything that is proud and worldly, to take off all of our pride, to humble ourselves before him and our brothers, to carry the cross of affliction and suffering upon our backs, and just at the moment that the world thinks it has won, just at the moment the world thinks it has defeated us, is the moment in which we triumph.

Jesus said, “If I am lifted up . . .”–and He is not talking about us praising Him; He is talking about being lifted up upon the cross in crucifixion–“If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.”

Do you want to draw people to you, that they may follow you as you follow Christ? Do you want to draw people to Christ? Well, then you too must be lifted up, you too must be crucified: crucified in your passions, crucified in your flesh, crucified in your selfishness, and your pride, in your desires, laying down your life for God, for your spouse, for your children, for your neighbors, and yes, even for your enemies.

The bad things that have happened to you, the bad things you have suffered, God doesn’t make you forget them. God doesn’t put you in a time machine and let you go back and change them.  But He changes them. He redefines them. He gives you a chance to take all that manure and turn it into fertilizer, so that just as His scars are healing, the scars of our lives may no longer be something that we are ashamed of, may no longer be something that we cower in darkness in bitter regret, but may be scars that we display with gratitude to the world, because they are a testament to the fact that God has healed us from those wounds.


This article is an excerpt from The Exaltation of the Cross, a homily preached on Saturday morning, September 14, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Acts 2, Dn. Joseph Gleason, Genesis 11 | Leave a comment

Families Saved By The Blood of the Lamb

The blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts, to protect the firstborn children.

The blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts, to protect the firstborn children.

In ancient Israel, God instituted the feast of Passover. Each household was to slaughter a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of the home. Lambs were sacrificed for the sake of entire families:

“Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:21-23)

God’s final plague had been prophesied upon Egypt, and only those homes protected by lamb’s blood would be spared. The plague was not for the heads of households. Rather, the plague was upon the firstborn children. If a man happened to be a middle child, or the youngest sibling in his family, he was in no danger. The plague would not touch him. Still, he applied the blood of the lamb to his home, to protect his firstborn child. 

When God’s people spread lamb’s blood on their doorposts, it usually wasn’t to save themselves.

It was to save their children. 

The Passover feast was the greatest and most central feast celebrated by God’s people, prior to the coming of Christ. And from the beginning, it was a feast centered around family relationships, and the protection of one’s children.

According to St. Justin the martyr, Jews normally impaled the lamb on a piece of wood, and then put another piece of wood crossways, to which the lamb’s legs would then be tied, in preparation for roasting.

“For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.”
~ Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho – chapter XL

The Passover lamb was roasted on a cross of wood.
Its body was eaten by all in the household.
The lamb’s blood saved them from death.

The Passover lamb pointed forward to the coming of Christ.

“For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
(1 Corinthians 5:7)

Jesus was crucified on a cross of wood.
His body and blood are eaten by all in the Church.
The Lamb’s blood saves us all from death.

And it is not just a salvation for individuals.
It continues to be a salvation for entire families:

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children . . .” (Acts 2:38-39)

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. . . . she and her household were baptized . . .” (Acts 16:14-15)

So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:31-34)

“I thank God . . .  when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice . . .” (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

Israel’s Passover lambs shed their blood to save children, to protect families.

Christ, our Passover lamb, shed His blood to save us, and our children, and our children’s children, even unto a thousand generations.


Posted in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 2 Timothy 1, Acts 16, Acts 2, Exodus 12, Holy Communion, Passover, The Orthodox Christian Family | Leave a comment