Birth Control ==> Abortion ==> Gay Marriage

Birth Control ==> Abortion ==> Gay Marriage

As an Orthodox Priest, I can confidently say that there is a logical progression. All three of these things are connected.

The Supreme Court legalized birth control in 1965 and 1972. The Supreme Court legalized Abortion in 1973, citing the two birth control cases as precedent. The Supreme Court legalized Gay Marriage in 2015.

Birth Control:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting the blessing of conceiving children.

Abortion:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting the blessing of bearing children.

Gay Marriage:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting any possibility of conceiving children.

For 2000 years, the Church has recognized birth control, abortion, and homosexual activity as grievous sins.

To be faithful to Christ, we must renounce birth control, and recognize it as a serious sin. Then, and only then, do we stand on the moral ground necessary to lodge an effective attack against abortion and gay marriage.

Orthodox Saints consistently call birth control a sin:
https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/sacred-seed-sacred-chamber/

 

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Pentecost Fulfills Sinai

MP3 Audio: WS330357_Dn-Joseph_Pentecost-Fulfills-Sinai.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 8, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

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

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be at Mt. Sinai at the very time that Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God? Put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites after countless generations in slavery, in bitter bondage and hard labor. You have witnessed things in your own lifetime with your own eyes that other people only imagine and read about and dream about. You have seen God send the ten plagues upon Egypt. You’ve seen Moses say, “Let my people go.” And you have left. And you’ve seen Pharaoh pursue with his armies, with his chariots. You’ve seen the water parted. You’ve crossed on dry ground and then you’ve seen that same water drown all of the Egyptians.

And now you come to Mt. Sinai. After experiencing all of these wonders, you finally approach the manifest presence of the living God, and it’s not just a candle burning, it’s not just a little boat of incense, it’s an entire mountain set on fire. Dark clouds, thick smoke, lightnings, thunders, rumblings, and, yes, the top of the mountain literally set on fire.

Can you even imagine? There’s no doubt in your mind, there’s no doubt in your heart that the same God that sent the plagues, the same God that delivered you from those plagues, the same God that released you from slavery, the same God that brought you across the Red Sea and killed your enemies, is the same God that has come down in fire and smoke on the top of this mountain.

Like the Israelites, would you yourself not tremble? Would you yourself not have a holy fear before such a God? They heard his voice and it was too much for them to bear. They told Moses, “Let God speak to you, and then you tell us what he said, and we will obey whatever he says.” Multiple times they say this. “We will obey whatever the Lord says. Whatever he has commanded, that will we do.” They’re given the Ten Commandments. The Law has been written on stone by the very finger of God, and they have promised to obey. The calves have been slaughtered. The blood for the sacrifice has been brought forth and a portion of that blood is sprinkled on the people, as Moses says, “This is the covenant between you and him this day.” And they promised that they would obey.

It was dangerous for sinful man to approach the living God. Only by the grace of God could even Moses himself dare to climb that mountain. And there was this time of preparation before it was time to go up, before it was time to hear directly from God. They warn everybody, “Do not get anywhere near the mountain. Do not touch the mountain. Don’t even let an animal run over. Don’t let a goat or a sheep run up and climb on this mountain. If an animal touches the mountain, you have to kill it. If a person touches this mountain, you just might drop dead, because you’re a sinful man, you’re a sinful woman, coming too close to our God who is a consuming fire.”

And then there came one who was greater than Moses – Jesus Christ himself. And he did what the Israelites could not do. You see, because of their sin, they could not touch this mountain. Because of their sin, they could not ascend to God. But Jesus, God himself, became incarnate in our flesh. He took upon himself the flesh of humanity. He took humanity upon himself at every stage, from conception all the way to death. He took every stage of humanity and he redeemed it. And having become incarnate, having redeemed humanity, as God he takes our humanity and he ascends to the Father forty days after his resurrection. And now, as a man, the second person of the Trinity–Jesus Christ himself–stands in his human flesh in the unveiled presence of the Father. Jesus did what the Israelites could not do. For he was like us in every way, except he had no sin. The Israelites could not ascent Mt. Sinai, but Jesus has ascended into the heavens. And because he has ascended into the heavens, the Holy Spirit is able to come and dwell within us.

You see, the Feast of Pentecost did not begin in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, it was also called the “Feast of Pentecost” or the “Feast of Weeks”, for it is approximately seven weeks – if you include the first day and the last day, it is fifty days. In the Old Testament, they would have the great Feast of Passover celebrating their deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God. They would have the killing of the Passover lamb. The lamb would be spread on a cross of wood, and roasted and eaten, and its blood at that first Passover had even been spread over their doorposts. Fifty days after their deliverance from Egypt, they have the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. So a miraculous deliverance by God, culminating in a great meeting with God, and a reception of his Law.

For centuries, the Israelites celebrated both of these things: Passover and Pentecost. It says in Scripture that Jesus is our Passover Lamb. We know that after he rose from the dead, he was with his disciples for forty days, and then he ascended into heaven. And then ten days later, on the fiftieth day, we find out what the Feast of Pentecost is really all about, for it is fulfilled in the New Testament Feast of Pentecost.

In the Old Testament, man had sinned, man had refused to fulfil God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and spread over the whole earth, and so to forcibly spread them over the whole earth, God confuses their languages at the Tower of Babel. They can’t understand each other anymore, so they separate and they go off their own different ways. At Pentecost, those filled with the Holy Spirit speak the praises of God and everybody understands those praises clearly in every language at the same time. It would be like if I’m preaching right now, and simultaneously, you hear me speaking Spanish, you hear me speaking Chinese, you hear me speaking Hebrew, and you hear me speaking English. That’s a miracle from God. You’re doing good if you can speak several languages, but you’re doing even better if you can speak them all at the same time. It’s a miracle of God; it’s a reversal of the Tower of Babel. Now, instead of languages being confused to separate people, the Gospel has brought everyone together. And now the praises of God are called forth in every language. In the Orthodox Church at Pascha is a very common practice for “Christ is Risen, Indeed he is Risen” to be repeated over and over in multiple languages. [Greek] Χριστός Ανέστη, Αληθώς Ανέστη! They’ll say it in Russian, they’ll say it in Greek, they’ll say it in Serbian, they’ll say it in Latin: Christus Resurrexit! Vere Resurrexit!. And we see that Babel has been conquered by the Cross, for now all peoples, all nations, all tongues, all tribes will praise the living God.

The Old Testament Feast of Weeks was a celebration of the first-fruits of harvest. And in the New Testament, we see that the Feast of Pentecost is where we see the harvest of the first-fruits of the Church.

In the Old Testament, the Feast of Weeks was a celebration and a remembrance of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, when the Law of God was written on stone. In the New Testament Feast of Pentecost, we find that the Law of God is not written on stone, but it is written on human hearts. For now it is no longer just this external thing that’s “out there” that we’re commanded to do, and in fear of death and hell, we get white knuckles and we try to force ourselves to do what we’re commanded. But it is written on our hearts, and we see that the Law of the Lord is not burdensome. His yoke is easy, his burden is light, and he gives us the laws that he gives us, because he loves us and because it is through following those laws that we show our love for him and for each other. The Law is no longer external, but it is internal, written on our hearts as long as we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament at Mt. Sinai, the Law was given, and the people promised to obey. But there was no honeymoon period. You don’t even have a few years or even a few weeks where everybody obeys God. Right there at the Mt. Sinai is where we get the golden calf. Right there at Mt. Sinai, right after they’ve seen all these miracles, after they’ve been delivered, after they’ve been released from Egypt, after they’ve seen the fire on the mountain and they’ve heard the voice of God, they build a golden calf and name it “Yahweh” and they start worshipping it. And if you read in Exodus 32, the response of this godly man Moses was something that just might shock us today. He asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who is with me?” And the sons of Levi all said, “We are with the Lord; we are with you.” And he said, “Therefore, take up your sword and kill every man his brother, his neighbor.” And so the Levites, the priests, they took their swords and they went throughout the camp and they were stabbing people and chopping off heads – it was a very bloody day. The Law was given, the people had broken the Law grievously with this golden calf, and the response from righteous Moses was for the Levites to take their swords and start killing people. And about three thousand people were put to death that day.

You may have heard of the golden calf when you were in Sunday school as a kid, but you probably didn’t get any coloring sheets for the three thousand being killed by the Levites. In the New Testament Pentecost, it’s not three thousand dead, but its three thousand saved. For we read in Acts 2 that after the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were preaching the glories of God and the Gospel, and Peter preached to them, this whole crowd of people were cut to the heart and they repented, and they too were baptized both in water and with the Spirit. And it says in Acts 2, that day there were about three thousand who received the word with joy, and were baptized and were saved.

Three thousand dead at Mt. Sinai.
Three thousand baptized in Acts 2.

At Sinai, man could not ascend the mountain to the presence of God. Men could not even touch the mountain. They had to stand far back away from the mountain, because their sin made them unworthy to approach the flaming fire of his majesty. Oh, but in Acts 2, in the New Testament Pentecost, it is the men and the women themselves who are on fire. For it says it was like cloven tongues of fire upon their heads.

Remember the last time in Scripture that you saw something on fire and yet it wasn’t burned up? The burning bush. God manifested his presence to Moses, and Moses took off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground. God reveals his name to Moses – “I am that I am” – and it is at that point that God sends Moses on his great journey, his great adventure, where he would confront Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt and then ascend Mt. Sinai. The bush was on fire and yet it was not consumed. Mt. Sinai itself was on fire, and yet it was not consumed. And now that Christ has taken our humanity into the very presence of God, we now are on fire and are not consumed. Do you realize that once you are baptized, once you are chrismated, once the Holy Spirit of God himself has come to dwell not just with you but inside you, that you are a little Mt. Sinai? You are a little burning bush? For now God has come to inflame not just a bush, God has come to inflame not just a mountain, but you who also are made of the earth, you who also are made of the dust, now the flame of God rests on top of you, and within you.

Isaiah himself, in his magnificent vision, ascended, and in his vision saw the very throneroom of God – the train of his robe filling the temple with glory – and an angel takes a burning coal and touches Isaiah’s lips with it, and yet his lips are not burned. His sin is purged away, he is cleansed. He touches the fire, but he is not burned. This is a picture of the Eucharist. This is a picture of coming in direct contact with God himself and surviving to talk about it. You see, if the Israelites on their first Pentecost, if they had even touched that mountain or dared to climb it . . . because they were impure, because they were unholy, they would have dropped dead. But in the Church, we approach a mystery that is so profound, something that is so awesome, that now – not only can you touch Mt. Sinai – you can become Mt. Sinai. You can become that place on earth where God dwells, where the fire of his presence burns, and yet you are not consumed, for you have been cleansed of your sins.

The Spirit comes not just with instructions. You see, the Israelites received instructions: You shall have no other gods before me, you shall honor your father and mother, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not covet . . . They knew what to do. But they didn’t have the power to do it the same way that you and I have. The Law, the instructions, they can tell you what to do. Mentally you can agree – “I know that I should stay away from idolatry. I know that I should honor my parents and obey my parents. I know that I should love my wife. I know that I should respect and submit to my husband. I know that I should do this with my money and this with my time. I know all of these things, but I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.” Have you ever been in those shoes? You’ve got all of the commandments, you’ve got all of the instructions in the world right up here [in your head] and you can’t get them to come out here where your hands are and your feet are . . . and your tongue. You know how you should act, and yet your tongue doesn’t cooperate. You know what you should do, but your feet and your hands just don’t do it. You can’t quite bring yourself to do it. The Greek word is δύναμις, (dunamis) “power”, like a dynamo. When the Spirit indwells you, he gives you the power to do it.

In today’s Gospel in the Book of John, Jesus is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you and shall be in you.” The Holy Spirit was already with the apostles, he was already with the disciples, he was already helping them. But they were not yet pure. Humanity had not yet ascended into heaven into the presence of God, so he still couldn’t dwell inside them, couldn’t dwell in them. And, my friends, that’s what I need! That’s what you need! I can teach you for the next thirty years until I’m blue in the face and my beard turns gray, and you can memorize every word that I teach you from the Scriptures, and that will not give you the power to obey it. You don’t just need the knowledge; you need the motivation, you need the power – you need it in here [in your heart], not just up here [in your head].

There’s a reason that God made your brain so that it cannot live on its own. It needs the heart pumping blood up to it for it to stay alive. Your brain can memorize all the Scripture in the world, all the commandments of God in the world, and if your heart’s not pumping blood up to it, you’re not going to do it, you’re not going to live it. It needs to be in your heart.

So what does it look like? What does it look like when we actually have the Holy Spirit living inside us? Well, we end up keeping the Law. The Law does not become useless. People say, “If the Law is not good enough and following the Law can’t get you saved, then we just need to get rid of the Law. We just need to do whatever is in our heart.”

Well, that’s dangerous, because it says in Scripture that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. You can truly in your heart think that you’re helping your children or your grandchildren, when you’re hurting them. You can truly believe that you’re doing the best thing for your wife or your husband, when you’re actually destroying your relationship. So just doing whatever is in your heart, that’s not a good plan. And yet strictly following these external commands and just doing whatever the Law says, thinking that all of these outward actions in obedience to the Law is going to save you, that doesn’t work either. It says in Scripture that love is the fulfillment of the Law. Now, not “love” as the world defines it, not a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart that makes you feel all sentimental . . . but “love” as God defines it, love that truly seeks the best for the other person, that seeks to impart grace to the other person, that seeks the other person’s salvation, that puts the other person above yourself, puts their needs first. This is what love looks like. And we get a picture that . . . at Sinai the Law had come, but it was not powerful enough to save them. The people knew the Law and yet they still committed idolatry and many other sins. And many of them were put to death. But in Acts 2, the Spirit comes, fills them, & three thousand are baptized. And with these thousands of people full of the Holy Spirit, how did they live?

Acts 2:42 – “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine . . .” Never let somebody tell you that doctrine is not important. It’s the first thing mentioned here in Acts 2:42. The Spirit comes, the Spirit fills his Church, and now they don’t throw the Ten Commandments out the window, they don’t throw away the Scriptures. What do they do? It says, “They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine . . .” Doctrine is still very important. And we’ll talk in a minute about how it is important – not externally following it, but using it as a gauge for your heart.

“They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship . . . ” Well, what is fellowship? Does fellowship meaning going to the bar and getting drunk and staying up all night partying – is that fellowship? Hanging out with your friends? No, that’s fellowship as the world may define it. Is fellowship getting together with all your girlfriends and seeing how many ways you can badmouth your husband or your parents or your kids? That may be fellowship the way the world defines it, but that’s not fellowship. It defines it for us here: “They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The breaking of bread – Eucharistic fellowship, communion, coming to the Lord’s Table, eating the body and blood of Christ. And the prayers – not just whatever prayer comes to mind, even though they did that too, but “the” prayers. The Liturgy, whatever Liturgy that they had at the time, the prayers that they prayed every day. How many of us have set prayers that we pray every day when we come before God in the morning? when we come before God before sleep at night? We have the prayers that we continue in steadfastly, daily. This is biblical fellowship – it’s coming together as one body to partake of the body and blood of Christ, and to pray together as a community. That’s what fellowship is.

I’m going to skip down to verse 46: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple . . . ” You see, there’s still worship at the temple; they haven’t been thrown out of the temple yet. And being filled with the Holy Spirit didn’t make them say, “Oh, a building is not important anymore.” They didn’t have any churches built yet, but they just went and they worshipped in the temple. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house . . .” now the phrase here, that’s eating meals at each other’s houses. This isn’t “the” breaking of bread, which is the Eucharist; this is just breaking bread, which is eating meals at one another’s houses. ” . . . continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

This is very important: “with gladness and simplicity of heart”. You’re doing it with joy. It’s not white-knuckled holding-on, saying, “Well, if God says I have to go take the Eucharist and pray prayers every day and have people over.” No. That’s not what this is. When they’re full of the Spirit, they do all of these things and they do all of them with gladness. Pray Matins every morning with gladness. Pray Vespers every evening with gladness. Come to Eucharist every week with gladness. Have people over to your house to eat, you go to their house to eat, with gladness. Joy is central. Joy is critical. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit! If you’re full of the Spirit, you will have joy. If you don’t have joy, you need a refill of the Spirit.

“. . . they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people . . .” They actually got along with each other. “. . . and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.” It all sounds very spiritual, and it is, for they’re full of the Spirit and taking the Eucharist, they’re praying together, they’re closely following and holding steadfastly to the teaching of doctrine.

Every day, they’re going to the temple, they’re going to a specific building, and they’re worshiping God. They’re eating meals at each other’s houses. They’re doing everything with gladness. But that’s not all. Remember when I said I was going to skip to verse 46? Now I’m going to tell you what’s in between:

And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need… (Acts 2:42-45)

The Holy Spirit came upon these people, filled them, didn’t just give them a bunch of external things to think about and to do, but literally changed their hearts, wrote the law of God on their hearts, so that they would love God and love each other from the heart. And their obedience to the law would flow from this. The law doesn’t become irrelevant, but their obedience to it flows out of their love. Jesus even said in today’s Gospel, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And those who do not love him, do not keep his commandments.

One of the things that they did, is that they held all things in common. They sold their possessions and divided them among everybody, as anybody had need. You say, “This sounds like communism . . . nobody having their own personal property, just everybody using what they need . . .”

Well, there’s a big difference! Communism does it by force. Communism says, “I don’t care what you want to hold onto and what you don’t want to hold onto. I’m going to take it from you, and then I’ll decide what I’m going to give back to everybody else.” That’s not what this is.This is voluntary. It’s from the heart.

But it’s also a picture of what your heart should look like when you are full of the Holy Spirit. Greed has no place in the heart of a Christian. No greed with your time, no greed with your money, no greed with your real-estate, or any of your possessions.

Down at the courthouse it may say, “Ok, this is your property, and this is your property.” According to United States law, and according to the bank, they say, “This is your money, and this is your money.” But according to the heart of every person in this room, there is no place for greed. There is no place for the word, “mine”. It doesn’t matter if one person is following Christ with all his heart, and is just barely scraping by, and another person is following Christ with all his heart, and has a million bucks in the bank . . . whatever either person needs, should be taken care of out of whatever either person has. Not out of force, not out of anybody telling you that you have to do it, but out of your own heart saying, “My brother’s in need! My sister’s in need! What can I do to help?”

“Well, I worked hard. This is my money. . . .” No, you’re not even thinking of that! You’re thinking about your brother, you’re thinking about your sister, because you love them so much that their need weighs on you far more than any sense of private property.

Your heart beats–not like Scrooge’s heart, trying to see how many coins you can stack up, trying to see how many minutes out of the day you can grab for “me time”–but with your time and your money you are so generous, because you are humble. You count others as being more important than yourself. And you look at their needs as being more important than your own.

The Holy Spirit so affected them, so changed their hearts, so gave them the power to obey God’s law, that they go above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen in God’s law. You look through the Ten Commandments, and you find, “Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, do this . . .” We look here at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fills his people, and what you see is people giving 100% of themselves back to God, and 100% of themselves back to their brothers and sisters in Christ, to the point that none of them even remembers the word, “mine”. You don’t see one hint in here of them saying, “Ah, well, pray at the temple once a day? Maybe once a week. Maybe even twice a week if there’s a feast day. But, you know, I’ve gotta watch Seinfeld! You all get together at the temple and do your thing, you pray and everything, but I just got this new Tom Clancy novel that I need to dive into, and a bubble bath.” 

Every day they were worshiping God. Every day they are praying the prayers. Every day they are taking the Eucharist. Every day, they are going to the temple. They are selling their possessions. Everything that they own, they are just putting in common, so that they can take care of everybody’s needs as they are: whoever needs food, whoever needs shelter, whoever needs clothing.

You say, “I have freely received all of these blessings from God, so I’m going to freely give all of the blessings that I can. Why? Because I love God. Why? Because I love my neighbor.” That’s the way you act with people you love. It doesn’t say that they held all things in common with everybody in Jerusalem, including the ones who rejected Christ. But it does say that they held all things in common with each other.

And you say, “Well, what about evangelism?” Jesus said in John chapter 13, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another.” There’s your evangelism: Love each other! Don’t treat this as a club . . . treat it as a family. Don’t treat the person next to you as somebody that you run into once or twice a week . . . treat the person next to you as somebody that is so close to you, that they are your own flesh and blood, somebody that you would give your time to help, somebody that you would give your money to help. And it doesn’t even cross your mind to ask for it back, because you don’t even look at it as yours anymore. You look at everything that you have received, and they have received, as blessings from God. And you look at them as blessings from God. And there is no room left in your heart for anything but the fire of God’s love.

I said I was going to tell you what good the law is. We know that we cannot use the law as an external set of commands that, “If I check-mark everything off–I externally did this. I externally did that.–Now I’m going to heaven.” That doesn’t work. You can’t do it.

I also said it’s dangerous to throw the law out and just do all of these things out of your heart. . . . If you say, “Well, I love my kids, so I’m never going to discipline them.” “I love my family and I want things to run smoothly, and my husband’s not running things smoothly, so I’m going to nag him every day, because I love my family.” . . . You get all these ideas. Well, these are not Christian ideas. These are not godly ideas. They may be from your heart, but they are from a heart that is not fully remade into the image of Christ.

So if you can’t go from your heart, and you can’t go from these external commands of the law, what do you go by?

What you do is, you follow the law, but then you check, “At what points does my heart have tension within? Where does it cause me problems?” You see, a man can go his whole life and never cheat on his wife, never commit adultery, but in his heart that’s a struggle, because in his heart he really wants to look at those dirty pictures, and he really wants to imagine adultery. And in his heart he is always telling himself, “Man, if that was just not against the law, I would do it in a heartbeat.” He is committing adultery in his heart and in his mind. Then to follow that law externally is going to put him at odds with himself. He’s going to be in tension. He’s going to find that to be a really difficult law.

Well, if you find “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to be a very difficult law to follow, because you are breaking it every day in your heart, it’s not the law that’s wrong . . . it’s your heart. There is something to repent of. And you say, “I don’t have anything to repent of. I never committed adultery.” Jesus said, “If you do it in your heart, you are already guilty.” So change your heart! Repent of that sin in your heart. Don’t just pat yourself on the back because you’ve never externally cheated on your wife. What you need to do is get on your knees before God, and ask him to cleanse your heart. And you need to be vigilant on your thoughts, so that you do not even think a lustful thought.

Externally, if you obey the example given in Scripture of giving 10% of your income, OK, great! At least you are following the external law. But what if that’s tension for you? What if there is a tension there that says,

“Man. I’m externally going to do this, because it’s the letter of the law and I know that God requires it. But man . . . I can hardly bring myself to write that check, because that’s my money. I work hard for that money. And I don’t want to give up a TV, I don’t want to cut down on what I’m buying from the grocery store, or cut down on how much I’m driving around. I want to spend all the money I want to spend, and that just doesn’t leave me 10% that I want to give to God! . . .”

If you see that tension, don’t pat yourself on the back and say, “Well, at least I have externally kept what I’m supposed to do.” Look in your heart and say, “Why is this difficult for me?” Repent of the fact that it is difficult in here [in your heart]. And don’t rest until, not only are you doing externally what is right, but repent to the point that even your heart–there’s no tension–it’s a joy! It’s like, “Man, I want to give more! 10% is not enough.” . . . Many people here in the book of Acts, they would sell everything they have, and they would give 100%. A hundred percent! Well, how do they live at that point? Well, they turn 100% of it over to the apostles. And then when the apostles saw that they needed food, or clothes, or something, then the apostles would use that money to take care of them. They just completely trusted. They didn’t stop at 10%. They just turned it all over, and they were trusting God to take care of them from day to day, and He did.

When you look at obedience and honor, it says in the Ten Commandments to “honor your father and mother”. Right? And as an extension of that, in Colossians (I think it’s also in Ephesians chapter 6), we are told, “Children, obey your parents.” And that is part of honoring them, is to obey them. Something I have been very convicted of lately, personally, that I need to repent of, and I think many of us–not just in this room but in this country–need to repent of, is how much we have watered down this command of God.

We have gotten to the point that we believe “honor your father and mother” means, “Well, I’ll send them a card on Mother’s Day, on Father’s Day. I’ll give them a hug and say, ‘I love you Dad, I love you Mom.’ As long as I do that once in a while, I have honored my father and my mother, I have done what I need to do.” 

Scripture commands, “Honor your father and mother”, “Obey your father and mother”, and I have a news-flash for you: Neither command has an age limit on it. It doesn’t say, “Honor your parents, and obey your parents, until you are 18.” It doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible.

You learn what Scripture says about the importance of a godly family, and well disciplined children, so you start disciplining your children, and you do it very well. Meanwhile, you talk disrespectfully to those same children’s grandparents. You disobey what your own parents are telling you to do. What the children are learning is, “OK, that’s how it works. I need to obey dad and mom, I need to honor dad and mom, until I’m 18. And I can’t wait until I’m 18! Because then I can treat my mom and dad just like they treat theirs.”

There is no age limit to the command!

Lori, your mom and dad are still around. Now, you’re a grandma! You haven’t lived in her home for years. You still have to honor them. And yes, you still have to obey them. Do what your mama says!

Henry, is your mom still around? [Yes.] How many years ago did you move out of her house? A long time ago. You still have to obey her. You still have to honor her.

And guess what? You two honor and obey your parents; that’s going to set a really good example, because guess what? . . . You [their grown children] gotta obey your mom and dad.

“But I don’t live at home anymore! I’ve got my own wife, and I’ve got my own children.” Where in Scripture does it say that when you get your own wife and your own children, that you don’t have to honor and obey anymore? It doesn’t.

However much you want Hunter and David and Daphni to honor and obey you, that’s how much you need to honor and obey Henry and Lori. You have lived out of the home for a while, Denise. You still have to honor and obey Dennis and Faye. They are still your mom and dad. You still gotta show them respect.

Now, do these things ever come in tension? Sure they do. If somebody commands you to do something that you know is a sin, like if somebody says, “Don’t ever go to church anymore!”, or “You need to divorce your spouse!”, obviously God is *the* Father and you have to honor and obey him first. You obey God rather than man.

But anytime one of your parents–I don’t care how old they are; I don’t care how old you are–anytime one of your parents tells you to do something, and you know that’s a godly command, guess what? You gotta honor, and you gotta obey.

The only way you disobey is if you can prove for certain that obedience [to them] would require you to disobey God. That’s the only case that is an exception. If they tell you to do something where you disobey God, of course you don’t follow that. But other than that, honor and obey your parents.

I’ve got some repenting to do! I don’t know about you.

By the way, it doesn’t even stop when your parents die. I had the same talk with your mom and dad the other night. David’s parents aren’t alive here on earth anymore. Nancy’s parents aren’t alive here on earth anymore. And yet I asked both of them, “Do you still remember what your mom and dad said?” And they were like, “Oh yeah, we remember!” Then honor and obey them.

And the more we set that example as adults, the easier it will be for our children to see that we are not hypocrites, for our children to see that, “Man, my dad obeys his mom and dad, so I’m going to obey dad. My mom obeys her mom and dad, so I’m going to obey mom.”

It’s the Spirit living in us that gives us the power, and the heart, and the ability to love God, and to love each other, and to submit to each other, and to respect each other, and to truly live as Christians. You can’t do it without the Holy Spirit. You can’t do it without Him filling you.

You look at any of these commands in the Ten Commandments, you look at these commands anywhere in Scripture, and the ones that you already are just easily following and are praising God for, rejoice!

Any of the ones that you just look at, and they just look so difficult, the look so hard, it’s like–“I can’t give all of my time to God . . . I can’t obey God with my money; I mean, this is my money! . . . I can’t obey God when it comes to my parents. Are you kidding? I haven’t lived with my parents in 20 years. I’m supposed to still honor and obey them? Oh, this eats me up!”–The law is still useful, because wherever it eats you up when you follow it, that’s where you know that you need to fix–not just your outward actions–you need to fix your heart.

Don’t just get to the point that externally, “Ok, I obeyed whatever my Dad said to do.” No, get to the point that you do it joyfully, where from your heart you are glad to honor your mom and honor your dad, and obey them.

Don’t just get to the point that you grudgingly, white-knuckled, write out a check for 10% of whatever money came into your paycheck . . . “There it is, God!” . . . No. With joy, you’re writing out a check for 20%, because you want to see the kingdom of God grow, and you realize that you don’t need as much stuff anyway, and you just want to be generous in the things to do with God. And when you’re done doing that, you’re looking for ways that you can give alms, so that you can help the poor.

With your time, you don’t grudgingly say, “Oh great. It’s Saturday night and I gotta go to vespers. And tomorrow’s church. And there goes my whole weekend! And all of this stuff that I was gonna do . . . ::sigh:: . . .” No! . . . Joy from the heart, because, “Man! Sunday’s over, and church is over, and there are no feast days this week, and I’ve gotta wait until Saturday to go to church? Man, that’s no good. I can’t wait to get back there! Man, let’s . . . I know! After we do matins and vespers tomorrow, the next day I’ve got some time off work; I’ll tell you what . . . That evening, let’s drive over to San Damiano’s, and let’s look at some of those relics!” “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to call up that priest that’s a friend of mine, and I’m going to talk to him about things of the Lord!” “You know what? 6 AM on Monday, let’s get up for a Bible study!” “. . . because just two measly services a week, that’s not enough. I want to live and breathe this every day!”

The law is still very useful. Wherever you don’t want to follow it, wherever you find that it’s difficult, that’s where you know you’ve got some heart repenting to do. And when you know that you’re following the law–not out of compulsion, but from the heart–that’s when you’re doing it joyfully. When every command of the Lord that you look at, looks glorious, and you can’t wait to fulfill it because that’s what you want to do, and that’s who you want to be, and that’s how you want to live your life . . . That’s the goal.

And you can’t do it on your own. You need to be filled with the Spirit.

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

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 8, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Acts 2, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Pentecost | 1 Comment

Bathsheba is the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 WomanBathsheba was not only King David’s forbidden lover. She was also King Solomon’s mother. And St. Gregory of Nazianzus identifies King Solomon as the one who wrote down Proverbs 31:

The divinely inspired Solomon in his instructive wisdom, I mean in his Proverbs, praises the woman who keeps her house and loves her husband. . . . he praises her who is engaged honorably at home, who performs her womanly duties with fearless courage, her hands constantly holding the spindle as she prepares double cloaks for her husband, who buys a field in season, and carefully provides food for her servants, and receives her friends at a bountiful table, and who exhibits all other qualities for which he extols in song the modest and industrious woman.
(Gregory of Nazianzus, On His Sister St. Georgina, Oration 8.9)

While he was usually called “Solomon”, he actually had multiple names. King David called him “Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:25), and in Proverbs 31 he is called “King Lemuel”. But these are all just different names for the same man.

The first verse of Proverbs 31 says this chapter is “the prophecy that his mother taught him.” Thus, Bathsheba is the author of Proverbs 31, and her son–the king–is simply the scribe.

What are the implications of Bathsheba being the author of Proverbs 31?

There are several things we can learn from this:

  • Proverbs 31 is realistic for women
  • Proverbs 31 highlights a godly mother/son relationship
  • Proverbs 31 demonstrates how women can influence the world
  • Proverbs 31 illustrates the reality of redemption

We can look at each of these points in turn.

Proverbs 31 is realistic for women

Proverbs 31 was written by a woman. It is not the fantasy of some clueless man. Bathsheba taught her son what godly womanhood looks like, and Solomon took her message to heart. If she had been a hypocrite, it would seem unlikely that her son would be so careful to preserve her teachings on this subject. This suggests that Bathsheba not only wrote Proverbs 31, she also lived it. She set a good example, and she practiced what she preached. It is realistic for a woman to live according to the example set in this passage of Scripture.

Proverbs 31 highlights a godly mother/son relationship

King David had many sons, but none so great as King Solomon. While his brothers Absalom and Adonijah plotted treason and murder, Solomon was a faithful son. Scripture reveals that a significant part of the difference had to do with parenting. And in this case, it was not due to the parenting of the father . . . it was due to the parenting of the mother. 

Unfortunately, Scripture is not flattering in regard to David’s aptitude as a godly father. According to 1 Kings 1:6, David never disciplined Adonijah, or asked him “what are you doing?” He may have been a man after God’s own heart, but in this case, he was a failure as a father.

Absalom, Adonijah, and Solomon all had the same father, King David. But they had different mothers. Haggith was the mother of Absalom and Adonijah, and Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon. Adonijah and his brother Absalom may never have received sound teaching or guidance from their parents, but Solomon certainly did. In Proverbs 31, Solomon describes in detail what a godly household is supposed to look like. And he credits this teaching to his mother. 

Proverbs 31_28Of course, all three children would have been better off if David had stepped up to the plate, and been a godly father. But since he didn’t, the godly motherhood of Bathsheba made all the difference in the world. She diligently taught her son, and made such an impression on him that he never forgot her instruction.

In Israel and Judah, the mothers of kings were not always treated with such honor. Scripture says that Asa was a good king, and he removed his own mother from being queen, because she was guilty of idolatry (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chronicles 15:16). Thus, when King Solomon treats his mother with such high esteem, it is a testament to the godliness of his mother. She was a good woman who taught her son to follow the path of righteousness.

Elsewhere in Scripture, King Solomon shows just how much he honors his mother:

Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, “I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me.”
(1 Kings 2:19-20)

King Solomon is the most powerful man in the nation. Yet he still bows down before his mother, to show her honor and respect. Then he proceeds to set a throne beside his own, and to have her sit at his right hand. And since King Solomon is a picture of Christ, his queen mother — Bathsheba — is a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This scene is reminiscent of Psalm 45:9, the Messianic Psalm which says, “upon thy right hand did stand the queen” . . . a passage which numerous Early Church Fathers have identified with the Theotokos herself. King Solomon’s actions are in accord with Proverbs 31:28, which says that the children of a virtuous woman will “rise up and call her blessed.”

Proverbs 31 demonstrates how women can influence the world

According to Proverbs 31:26, a godly woman “opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

Proverbs 31_26Bathsheba taught her son what a godly woman looks like. She set the example. Through her life, and through her direct teaching, she taught her son how to identify a godly wife and mother. Even after he becomes an adult–even after he becomes king–he does not forget his mother’s teaching. Instead, he passes it on. Through the pen of her son, Bathsheba’s teachings are given to the kingdom, and ultimately to the entire world.

Not every woman is gifted with the ability to write books, or to speak publicly. Yet that does not mean she is left without a voice. If she is diligent to teach her children well, she eventually wakes up to find that her children have become adult men and women who carry on her message.

In this case, Solomon is the most powerful man in the nation. He is the king. Yet he continues to be guided by the teaching of his mother. As the old saying goes, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

Proverbs 31 illustrates the reality of redemption

We remember St. Paul for being an apostle, and for writing most of the New Testament.
We do not merely remember his former days of murder, and persecution of the Church.

We remember King David for being a man after God’s own heart.
We do not merely remember his former adultery and murder.

We should remember Bathsheba for being the Proverbs 31 woman.
We should not merely remember her affair with King David.

Christianity is not a story about people who live flawless lives, and breeze their way into heaven, having never been scarred by sin.

Christianity is a story about vile sinners who repent, and who are redeemed. Jesus confronts a murderer on the road to Damascus, and changes him into an apostle. Jesus confronts an adulterous woman, and tells her to “Go, and sin no more.”

Proverbs 31_30Bathsheba is one such woman. When we first meet her, she is disgraced and shamed because of her adulterous encounter with King David. Yet she repents, and is faithful to God. She is an excellent mother, and she diligently teaches her son the path of wisdom and righteousness. Because of her teaching, Solomon becomes David’s most excellent son, far surpassing his brothers Absalom and Adonijah. Through the pen of her son, Bathsheba becomes the author of a passage of Holy Scripture. And it is not just any chapter . . . it is the chapter of Scripture which best describes what it means to be a woman of virtue.

God took Bathsheba, and made her into the Proverbs 31 woman.

This is a story of redemption, and it can encourage us all. If you are a woman — no matter what may be in your past — it is possible for you to follow in the footsteps of righteous Bathsheba, and become a Proverbs 31 woman yourself.

Posted in Proverbs 31, The Orthodox Christian Family | 1 Comment

Sunday After the Ascension 2014

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

~

Gospel Reading: John 15:26-16:4

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, our God is One. Amen.

Well, Christ is ascended! . . . Do you know from the very beginning, God’s intention was to create a unity between man and God? And the distance — ontological distance between the Creator and the created — is such a wide chasm, that there is nothing that man could do, that creation could do, in order to bring about that unity between the Creator and the created. Even if Adam had never sinned, even if Eden had been continuous and that the earth had been perfect and there had never been a fallen creation, there was still so great a chasm between the Creator and the created, that the purpose that God wanted to accomplish in that unity still could not have happened. The fall made it worse, but it was still such a great distance that there would still of had to have been some sort of way for God to take on created matter in order to bring that unity.

He would still have had to become flesh or some type of creation . . . and dwelt among us as He did, even if there had been no fall. The purpose of God and creation was to create unity between God and man. And this began — this unification process began — on March 25th. Every year we celebrate on March 25th, the Annunciation of Mary. Basically this is the moment when Jesus is conceived in the womb of a virgin, where the Incarnation takes place, for the taking of flesh occurred and it is Christs’ Incarnation where He brings the Divine Nature down to human nature, and He begins that unification process of God and man.

The problem is, because when we fell, creation did not recognize the Creator when He came down. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that “His own received Him not.” We, mankind — His creation — did not receive Him. Because of our sin, we did not recognize Him as the Creator. In fact, in the Roman culture of the day, the Hebrews, the Israelites, were kind of the subculture. They weren’t seen as sophisticated, as great and grand as Roman citizens were. They were kind of this offset of the royal, the Roman empire, and they are kind of allowed to do their own thing. They did at least recognize their religion as valid just because it was historical. They gave them a little bit of props for that, but the Roman culture did not really look to the Hebrew people as a  very valid group of people. They were looked down upon. But even within the Hebrew culture, even in the Israelite culture, Jesus and His family was very much looked down upon.

When He arrived, they saw Jesus as poor. He was born in a manger. Even He when He was older, He said that He had no place to lay His head. He didn’t own a home. He was poor. He was also [considered] illegitimate. Since Joseph and Mary were not yet married, to the Israelites, to the Hebrews, this new baby is an illegitimate, bastard son. Thankfully, Joseph went ahead and married her and made her an honest woman, right? She could have been stoned for that. He could have too, had it been proven it was him. And so not only was He poor, but He was illegitimate and He was homely. Did you know that? Jesus was a homely little child. Everybody says they are cute because they are babies, but some babies are…Whew! Jesus was homely. In fact Isaiah tells us that “he came up like a root out of dry ground.” What’s that look like? Gnarled and dry, and that’s what Jesus looked like. And then he said that he had “no form, no comeliness, no beauty that we would even desire him.” And He was a no-account. Nathaniel says, “what good can come from Nazareth?”

He came from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s poor, He’s illegitimate, He’s homely and He’s a no-account. This is your Savior. Do you think Israel is going to notice Him? Do you think Rome is going to notice Him? When Jesus entered the world, He was the lowest of the low in Roman and Israel’s culture.

And interestingly enough, throughout His entire life, He experienced everything that we experienced. He’s like us in every way it says in Hebrews, except He was without sin. He was even tempted. Here’s the things that Jesus experienced. He experienced growth in the womb, birth — He experienced learning to walk, learning to talk, dirty diapers — Jesus had dirty diapers. Isn’t that weird to think about it? He experienced growing in knowledge. How is it possible that the second Person of the Holy Trinity was growing in knowledge? Well, He was a human too. He had to learn things. Knowledge and Wisdom. He attended Church or Synagogue just like we do. He experienced hard work and learned about labor, probably from His earthly father. Because He was part of the Israelite culture, He experienced fasting and feasting, and the cycles of the Liturgical year. He attended parties and weddings. He experienced friendship and love. But you know what else He experienced? But you know what else? He experienced betrayal. Have we ever? He experienced loneliness. He experienced temptation, and abuse even. He experienced ridicule and teasing, hunger and thirst, sickness and pain. He experienced the death of a parent. He experienced the death of a friend. He experienced beating and crucifixion. He experienced death and burial. And He experienced a descent into hell. Everything, everything, except for sin, He is like us in every way.

If at the Incarnation this begins the unity of God — the Divine Nature with the human nature — with man, it is Christs’ experiences in His life and in His death, joining the Divine Nature and the human nature in every condition, in every experience which continues that unification process of God and man. The Incarnation started it; His life experiences continued it.

And at the Resurrection which we celebrated exactly 43 days ago, Christ trampled down death by death, led captivity captive, took the keys of death and hell from Satan, and returned to life in a resurrected body to walk with His apostles and His disciples for another 40 days. And according to Luke in the book of Acts, these 40 days Jesus spent presenting Himself alive with infallible proofs. And He was talking about the Kingdom of God this entire time. And even after seeing everything that they had seen in the past three years walking with God, including His glorious resurrection, the disciples still didn’t understand everything, and they started asking the wrong questions. Do you know that on Palm Sunday, when they are waving the palm branches and they are shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they are expecting this Messiah to come in and restore the kingdom of Israel, to take them out of the boot hill of Rome and make Israel God’s chosen people again on the earth? That’s what they expected. And yet five days later, when they realized that “this ain’t the guy that’s going to do that,” they killed Him. Forty days go by after His resurrection and the apostles say, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” They are still asking the same question that they asked Him before He was even crucified. They just don’t understand. Jesus is patient with them, and He answers them and says, “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” And He changes the subject. . . .

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. I’m not going to tell you this other stuff. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” And just imagine this – walking with God for 3 years, hearing Him preach instead of me or Deacon or Father Michael — seeing miracles including that ultimate miracle of His resurrection — and still not understanding.

And you could say, “How could they be so daft?” They walked with God, and He’s preached to them for 3 years, and taught them everything, and they still don’t get it? Well, even experiencing all that they had this entire time walking with Jesus, the Holy Spirit had still not come upon them. And their eyes and their minds were not yet illuminated to the understanding of the Kingdom of God and what all that meant. They were present with God in Jesus, but God the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them, and they had not been illuminated yet. And this is why Jesus told them that He actually had to leave them.

As a parent, have you ever told your kids, “Daddy has to go to work. Mommy has to go to work.” And the kids go, “Don’t leave! Stay with us.” And you say, “I have to go to work. I have to go make money. I have to make the money, so that I can pay the bills, so that we can keep this house, so that we can go to Holiday World, or so that we can go to Alabama, or we can . . .” And they’re going, “What? Just stay with me.”

It’s hard to explain sometimes as a parent what we have to do is responsibility. But we do it anyway, and we do it in love and try to explain, but basically – “Daddy’s gotta go. I love you and I’ll talk to you later.”

Jesus had to do the same thing. He’s telling them that He had to leave. They didn’t understand why. He tries to explain, but they still don’t get it. But He says that He’s gotta go anyway. The apostles are basically babies in the faith and in their understanding, so they don’t understand this. But Jesus says that He must leave, so that He can send the Holy Spirit to them.

And meanwhile, Jesus commanded them not to leave Jerusalem. “Stay here, wait for the promise of the Father.” And what He said was, “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. So, chill. Hang on here in Jerusalem.” And then in Luke 24, (we keep going back and forth between Luke and Acts, but it’s written by the same guy, it’s just more of the story), we read,

“And He led them out as far as Bethany and He lifted up His hands and He blessed them. Now it came to pass while He blessed them that He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven”

So, three days ago on Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, and this is what happened. Deacon covered some of this on that day, but the Ascension is significant for several reasons here. Many times throughout Jesus’ life and the last 3 years especially, He would say that “This has to happen in order to fulfill prophecy . . . This has to happen in order to fulfill the Law . . . This has to happen in order to . . . “ And He just kept saying, “This is why I’m doing this. This is why I’m getting baptized. This is why . . . “ Everything had to happen for a reason. And the Ascension also had to happen to fulfill prophecy. The Psalmist says in Psalm 68, “You have ascended on high. You have led captivity captive and gave gifts to men . . .” spiritual gifts. The Psalmist is prophesying the ascension of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. That had to happen. Jesus had to ascend in order to fulfill that prophecy. So that’s the first significant thing of the Ascension.

Second one: St. Gregory of Nazianzus says, “Whatever has not been assumed has not been healed.” Here’s what this means. When Christ became Incarnate in the womb of Mary, He healed the womb of women. When Christ was baptized in the Jordan River, it was He that was cleansed the water. Anything that Christ experienced, He healed that experience. Anything that He did, He healed that particular experience. He healed it. My point here, and so is Gregory of Nazianzus, if God didn’t assume any certain thing, then that particular thing wasn’t healed. Because at the fall, everything fell, and so Christ had to assume every station. He starts at the low, and works Himself up. He’s poor, no-account, homely, [presumed] illegitimate. He had to start at the low and work His way up. He has to assume every aspect of humanity to heal it. And so Jesus had to experience every phase of humanity from birth to death: every human emotion, everything we talked about a few minutes ago, even the descent into hell and the ascension into Heaven, in order to heal every aspect of humanity from the bottom up. So he’s healing from the bottom, all the way to the top. He’s assuming these things. Paul says in Ephesians 4, “Now this in He ascended, what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is also the one who ascended far above the heavens that he might fill all things” . . . That’s what’s happening. So we needed the Ascension to complete that process, from Hades all the way back up to Heaven. That’s number two significance for the Ascension.

Number three: He had to complete the concept of worship from the top down to the bottom. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, Jesus is now worshiped from the top to the bottom. He says,

“Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every other name that at the Jesus, every knee should bow. Of those in Heaven, of those on the earth and of those under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

The Ascension had to happen to fulfill prophecy, so that Christ could assume everything from the bottom to the top and heal it, and number 3, so that He could get worshiped from top to bottom.

And then the fourth one, the fourth reason that the Ascension had to happen, is if the Incarnation begins the unity of God and man, and all these life experiences continue the unification of God and man, His ascension completes it. His ascension completes the unification of God and man by bringing our human nature up into the Divine Kingdom. He brought Divine Nature to human nature, experienced everything, and then took that human nature back up to the Heavenly Kingdom.

That completes the unification of God and man, and now He reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His glorified body, in human flesh, to be worshiped – I think this is cool – even by the angels. In the Eastern rite, the Vespers service for Ascension, one of the hymns that they sing says that the angels were amazed to see a man so exalted. Isn’t that awesome? The angels are now worshiping God through Christ as a human being, human flesh in Heaven!

But when we read the Ascension in the book of Acts, we find that Jesus’ ascension was not the end. It was basically the beginning of the Church, a new beginning for the Apostles as well. On Sunday, a week from today, this is when we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. But something happened between the Ascension and Pentecost. We’ve got ten days in there. What happened during those ten days? The Bible is not silent on it. So what do the apostles and disciples do afterwards? Well, they just witnessed an amazing sight. Almost as miraculous as the Resurrection, was His Ascension. I mean, can you imagine standing there with your mouths open, while this man just levitates in front of you and starts going up, while He’s talking to you and blessing you, and then He’s taken from sight and disappears? How long would you stand there and stare and look at each other, like, “Did that just happen?”

Then you turn and look, and there are two men in white robes standing there with you. “Hello? Where did you come from?” Right? Probably angels. And they said,

“Why do you just stand there gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus that was taken up from you into Heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him leave.”

And so once again in this Gospel, Luke says that they worshiped Him, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. So the first thing after the Ascension, they stood there with their mouths open. The second thing is that they worshiped Him and returned back to Jerusalem with great joy. Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived, and they were in Bethany, about a mile and a half from Jerusalem proper. And Bethany is where the Mount of Olives is. And that is the place from which Jesus ascended, on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. And we find out later in Scripture that is the same place where He will return. According to this, He will come in the same way, He’s coming back to the Mount of Olives. So even though He was gone, they were still obedient to Jesus, and they returned to Jerusalem. They spent the next ten days between the upper room and the temple, praising God.

Acts 1 says that they were in the upper room in prayer in one accord. Luke 24 says that they were in the temple praising God every day. They are not contradicting; I think they were probably doing both. Same author saying it, so one particular day, Luke tells us in Acts that the remaining 11 apostles were all there in the upper room as well as Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women, and Jesus’ brothers and a whole bunch of other people. It says that they numbered about 120 people. That’s some upper room. That’s a big room. Peter stood in the midst of them all and said,

“Men, brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered with us and attained a part in this ministry. For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘let his dwelling place be desolate and no one live in it and let another take his office’ . . .”

Or, ‘let another take his apostolic bishopric.’ They took two names, they prayed for discernment, they cast their lots, and Mathias was added to the apostles that day, somewhere between the 10 days of the two feasts. This is something that I want you to notice. Although the Holy Spirit had not yet descended, Peter already knew some things. He knew that the Holy Spirit they were waiting for had not yet descended upon them, and yet he says that the Holy Spirit is already in the world. He says Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas. So Peter already knew the Holy Spirit was here. Do you remember . . . On Thursday, Dn. Joseph was talking about Jesus: while He was on earth, the second Person of the Trinity never left Heaven. He’s omnipresent. He never left anywhere. He didn’t leave Heaven. Well, guess what? The Holy Spirit is also omnipresent, and He was never not on earth. He’s been here. But there’s a difference between dwelling with us and dwelling within us. There’s a big difference between that. And this is what they were waiting for. They were waiting for the Holy Spirit to dwell in them. But even Peter knew that the Holy Spirit had dwelt near them or with them, since even the time of David.

The second thing Peter also noticed, is that Scripture pointed to Jesus and to themselves. Can you imagine opening the Bible and reading a passage . . .

“. . . Jesus did this, okay . . . He said, by the way, this thing that I just read to you, that’s me.”

The apostles do that too!

“Oh, this is about Judas . . .”

For centuries they had been reading in the temple these different Scriptures, and the apostles knew . . .

“This is about us! This about Judas. This about Jesus.”

They are reading Scripture, and they knew it was about them!

That’s amazing to me. It’s not like generalities . . . “Hey, we are the Church, and this Scripture is written about the Church.” No, this was specific. “Let another man take his office. Okay, well, we better go find somebody for it.” This was specific, not a general kind of thing, and Peter knew this.  The other thing that they realized is that the apostolic office, the bishopric of Judas – Judas Iscariot – needed to be replaced. And it needed to be by someone that had been with them continuously from when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, until the Ascension. So it wasn’t just the twelve that walked around with Jesus for 3 years. There were a lot of people that walked around with Him. One of those that had been chosen, Matthias, had to have been someone that had been with Him from the baptism all the way to the Ascension.

So for ten days, the faithful apostles, a lot of disciples, waited in prayer and worship. On the tenth day . . . You’re going to have to wait until next week to see what happens next . . . You’re going to have to wait until the tenth day. But Lord willing, Dn. Joseph will be preaching on that.

But here’s something interesting, and it’s important that the Ascension happened on the 40th day. It’s important that the Holy Spirit came on the 50th day. These are not random days. There is a reason for it. [Deacon Joseph,] I hope you’ll talk about it, because I’m building it up.

Now here’s the last piece. We know what happened in the ten days with the Apostles, what happened with Jesus during those ten days. Scripture is not silent on that either. To understand this, I’m going to give you some pieces to the puzzle and then we are going to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

First piece of the puzzle, we have to go clear back to the beginning. . . . In Genesis 14, a mysterious character shows up. And he’s mentioned only in a three-verse section, and he’s only mentioned once in Genesis, and only mentioned twice in the Old Testament. He’s very important. His name is Melchizedek. The verse says,

“Then Melchizedek King of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was the high priest of God most High, and Melchizedek blessed Abram and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God most High. Possessor of Heaven and earth and blessed be God most High who hath delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all”.

That’s it. That’s all we hear. Some guy – the priest of God named Melchizedek – shows up, blesses Abram, and receives a tithe from Abram. That’s it. We don’t know anything else. What we do know is, Abram had Issac, had Jacob, had Joseph, and Jacob and Joseph had the twelve tribes of Israel. 500 years later we have Moses, and Moses’ brother is Aaron, and Aaron is the first priest of Israel. Right? No . . . Melchizedek is mentioned the first time there is a priest. He’s a priest of God, hundreds of years before everything that happened in Exodus. Puzzle number one – Melchizedek – who’s this guy?

Piece number two: In the book of Exodus – and I mentioned this last night as we did a study of the vestments – God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai. And for 40 days, He gives him a lot of stuff. First off, He gives him a chance to see God and live. He couldn’t see His face; he had to look at His backward parts. But he was able to see God and actually live. Moses got so close to God that his face glowed for a while. He was also given the 10 Commandments. God actually took two tablets and wrote with His finger on the tablets the 10 Commandments. Those were given to Moses. Moses was given instructions on the civil law, and on the moral law, on the Sabbath laws, on vestments like we talked about, and medical issues . . . things like that. But most amazingly, Moses was somehow mysteriously shown Heaven. He was shown Heaven. And he was shown the Heavenly temple where God is continually worshiped. It’s the temple not made by hands. And Moses, having seen this temple, was then given instructions on how to create a temporary tabernacle – which would eventually be the temple that Solomon builds – and how to replicate that Heavenly temple on earth. And God was specific with him. He gives him dimensions: the length of this, the height of that. He gives him specifications on which colors to use for this. “Use purple cloth here, use blue cloth here, and we want red here …” Which fabrics to use, which metals, which wood . . . God even gives requirements for the design and the form, and how it’s supposed to happen, because He’s copying – making a reasonable facsimile on earth – of the actual Heavenly temple that Moses saw. The point here I’m trying to say is, there is a temple in Heaven, a temple not made by hands. And a temple necessitates a priest. It just does. This is why Aaron and the Levites were needed in the tabernacle. They needed priests in there. Well, so does the temple in Heaven need a Priest? Okay?

Puzzle piece number three: Psalm 110, we read the words: “You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” He is mentioned twice in the Old Testament: Abram and the blessing with the tithe, and the Psalmist says, “You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Here’s this strange guy showing up again. So there’s a temple in Heaven. A temple necessitates a priest. And the Psalmist mentions a permanent priest, a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This all starting to come together?

Last puzzle piece: Mark 16 says, and he’s speaking of the Ascension, “So then after the Lord had spoken to them”, (gave them a blessing) “He was received up into Heaven and sat down at the right Hand of God.” Jesus ascended and then He sat down. Now what does this mean? I just read to you from Psalm 110, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”, but I’m going to read you the whole passage now:

“The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right Hand till I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion, rule in the midst of your enemies. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. The Lord is at your Right Hand.”

Who is the one that sits at Gods Right Hand, according to Mark? The one that just ascended, right?

So here we have all four pieces together: There’s a temple in Heaven which necessitates a Priest. Jesus – the ascender and the sitter from Psalm 110 and Mark 16 – is that Priest, not after the order of Aaron and the Levites, but after the order of Melchizedek. So what did Jesus do right after the Ascension in the period of ten days that we’re in right now between the two feasts? Here it is, and you’re going to get this if you read Hebrews. After the Ascension Paul says it in the first chapter of Hebrews that once Jesus purged our sins, He sat down at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High and was immediately worshiped by angels. Then Jesus went into the Heavenly temple which had been defiled by Satan during the rebellion a long time ago, and He cleansed it with His own blood. Paul talks about in Hebrews that if the earthly tabernacle needed to be cleansed by blood, how much more the real. If the replicas did, the pattern needed to be the moreso. These [earthly ones] could be done with the blood of bulls and goats;  this [heavenly] one had to be done with the pure spotless sacrifice. Jesus took His own blood and He cleansed the Heavenly temple as the Priest of Heaven. That’s what He did. And as High Priest in the Heavenly temple, He continually intercedes for us. That’s what Jesus did after the Ascension. He didn’t go up there and . . . “Whew! Glad that’s over!” . . . He did sit down at the Right Hand of the Father, and He immediately cleansed the temple with His own blood. And then from that point on, He continually intercedes for us in the temple to God.

And if I may, here’s your assignment for next week. Please, I encourage you to go home and read through the book of Hebrews. It’s rich with all of this stuff. All of this imagery will make sense if you sit down and read it. To me, Paul actually sounds giddy when he is writing this. It’s like he can hardly contain himself when he’s explaining how all this goes about. He is excited to explain that our risen Lord is God and Creator, but He’s also our High Priest who can sympathize with us in every weakness, and continually intercedes for us. If you have time, you could actually read the book in an hour, I’m guessing. There are 13 chapters. But if you do two chapters a day, then do it in a week.

So after the Ascension, we know what the apostles did now. After the Ascension we know what Jesus did. And we know the significance of the Ascension: that His Incarnation began the unification, His life continued the unification, and His Ascension completed the unification of God and man. We can now have unity with God. And He Ascended and sent the Holy Spirit ten days later, and He continues to intercede for us as High Priest.

Let us, like the apostles and disciples who obediently waited in the upper room . . . be obediently awaiting Pentecost a week from today, and faithfully await His return at the end of all this.

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

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

Posted in Ascension Day, Other Homilies | Leave a comment

Christ Has Ascended!

MP3 Audio: WS330354_Dn-Joseph_Ascension.mp3

This homily was preached on Thursday morning, May 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Mark 16:14-20

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

“So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God.”

We all have heard of the Ascension. We all believe in the Ascension. But until we became Orthodox, not many of us celebrated the Ascension. It’s something we heard about in Sunday school. It’s something that – in the back of our minds – we knew, “Yes, at some point, Jesus went up into heaven.” But in the Orthodox Church, this is a major feast. This is a feast just like Christmas. Here we are on a Thursday – Thursday morning – and we are here in Church celebrating the Ascension of Christ. What is the Ascension of Christ? What is it about it that makes it so important? Why would I take a day of vacation off from my secular job? Why would all of us come here on a Thursday morning just to celebrate the Ascension?

Father Michael, when talking about the Incarnation, has told us before that when Jesus went to heaven, he did not just hang up his “man suit” and then, as a spirit, ascend into the heights. That’s not what happened. According to the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Word of God, took upon himself a human body, a human soul, a human spirit, a human mind, a human will – and he still has those today. In heaven right now, Jesus still has a physical body of flesh and bone. He’s not just a spirit. If you think Jesus is just a spirit, you’re talking about something other than Christianity, because Christianity – at its very heart – believes in the Incarnation. God became flesh. He took humanity upon himself.

You see, if the Son of God had simply been a spirit inhabiting a “man suit”, and if he could have taken that “man suit” off and hung it on a hook and then ascended as a spirit up into the heavens, that would get the Ascension wrong in two different ways. It would get it wrong in two ways because – first – it would suggest that a physical human body cannot ascend into heaven into the presence of God. It would be wrong in a second way, also. For if you believe that Jesus just hung up  his “man suit” and then ascended as a spirit into the heavens, you might be suggesting that the divinity of Christ was somehow absent from heaven before that point – which it was not.

Let us be very clear about this: During the thirty-three years that Jesus walked on earth, the Father and the Holy Spirit were not up in heaven twiddling their thumbs wondering when the Son of God was going to come back. The Son of God never left heaven.

I repeat: The Son of God never left heaven.

Now, if that’s the case, there’s a lot of old-time songs we’re going to have to throw out the window, aren’t there? Remember the old (Protestant) hymns or old songs that talk about “how much God must have loved me to have left heaven”? He never left it! The Trinity teaches us that there are three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that these three are one God. That’s why when the Cherubim, the burning Seraphim, right there in the presence of God in the heavenly throne room chant . . . they’re chanting:

“Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. Heaven and earth is full of your glory.”

They didn’t switch from “Holy, holy, holy” to just two “holies” while Jesus was walking on earth. It wasn’t just the Father and the Spirit up in heaven with the angels chanting, “Holy, holy . . . holy, holy”. No, the three-fold refrain of “Holy, holy, holy” continued, for the Son never left heaven.

How do we know this? How do we know that the Son of God never left heaven? The simplest way to know it is simply to think back to what you know about God – he’s Omnipresent! What does omnipresent mean? It means he’s everywhere. Where in the universe can you go that God is not? You go to the mountain tops, he’s there. If you go into hades, he’s there. If you go into outer space, he’s there. If you go to the moon, he’s there. There is no place in the entire universe where God is not. The Father is everywhere – he’s omnipresent. The Spirit is everywhere – he’s omnipresent. Guess what? That means the Son is omnipresent – he’s everywhere. He’s always been in heaven, he always will be in heaven, he never left heaven. You can’t “leave” anywhere when you’re omnipresent. If he ceased to be omnipresent, then he ceased to be God. And he never ceased to be God.

We also know this by the writings of the Fathers and the liturgical services of the Church. If you read St. Athanasius on the Incarnation, he very clearly tells us that even during the time Jesus was a baby, walking around on earth as a man, and yes, even dead in the tomb, that – as God – he was still holding the entire universe together by the word of his power, just like we’re told in the book of Colossians. Even while the human body of Jesus was a corpse in the tomb, the Logos, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, was still very much alive, holding the universe together by the word of his power. Yes, he was dead and alive at the same time.

If you look at the writings of St. John of Damascus in the eighth century, he writes of the Ascension of Christ. He writes of Christ sitting at the right hand of God. And what does that mean to sit at the right hand of God? St. John of Damascus reminds us it cannot just be a matter of physical location, for God is everywhere. But to be seated at the right hand of God means to come into the full and unadulterated presence of his divine glory and power.

If you look at the services of the Orthodox Church, if you were to go into the Eastern liturgies and look at Little Vespers, Great Vespers, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated in the Eastern Churches for the Ascension of Christ, over and over and over and over again – not just once, which would still be enough, but multiple times – it plainly says that heaven was never emptied of the Logos, heaven was never emptied of the Second Person of the Trinity. But what happened at the Ascension was that the flesh of Christ – the humanity of Christ – was lifted up.

So rewind a little bit and think about the Incarnation. You have the Father, you have the Son, you have the Holy Spirit – one God. One of those persons, the Second Person, is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, just like the Father and the Spirit. And that Second Person of the Trinity adds to himself – he doesn’t take away, he doesn’t subtract from his Deity. He adds to himself.

He adds to himself a human body, a human soul, a human mind, a human spirit, a human will, and a conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And he takes Adam’s flesh upon himself . . . adds it to himself. He’s still at one with the Father and the Spirit, he’s still in heaven, he’s still holding the universe together by the word of his power, but he adds to himself a human nature.

And this Second Person of the Trinity working through this human nature grows as a man. He grows in favor with God and men. He walks in perfect obedience to the will of the Father.

He dies as a perfect sacrifice. His dead body lays in the grave, even while – as God – he’s still holding the universe together by the word of his power, and even while his human spirit descends into Hades for the Harrowing of Hell.

And then at the glorious Resurrection, his human spirit is reunited with his human body. His human body – glorified – walks out of the grave. For forty days, the human Jesus walks and talks with his disciples. And then on the fortieth day, in preparation for Pentecost which would happen only ten days later, Jesus ascends into heaven. His deity was already omnipresent, his deity was already holding the world together by the word of his power, but the human Jesus – his human body, his human soul, his human spirit, his human mind, his human will – are lifted up into the direct presence of the Father and the Spirit. That’s what happened at the Ascension.

The Ascension is not where the Second Person of the Trinity was “reunited” to the First and Third Persons of the Trinity. There’s never been a point in all of history, and there never will be a point, at which any member of the Trinity could be separated from the others. It can’t happen.

What happened at the Ascension, was that the Second Person of the Trinity’s humanity was lifted up into heaven. It was lifted up to the very right hand of God.

So we know what did not happen at the Ascension.
Now we know what did happen at the Ascension.

And now we have to ask: Why?

What difference does it make that God took the humanity of Jesus and lifted that human nature, lifted that flesh, up into the presence of God?

If you’ll remember, there was a very interesting thing that Jesus said to his disciples while he was still on earth. He said,

“It is a good thing for you that I am going away.”

Now, that should boggle our minds a little bit, because how many of you would love to see Jesus face-to-face? I’m one of them. I would love to! I think we all would. We long for it, we look forward to it, we’re even given a great promise that we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. And here the disciples were already looking at Jesus face-to-face, and yet Jesus said, It is good for you that I’m going away. For if I do not go away, the Holy Spirit cannot come. But if I go away, then the Holy Spirit can come.

Why is that? There’s another place in Scripture where Christ talks about the Holy Spirit. He says,

“He is with you and (in the future) he shall be in you.” 

Now, both are good. But which would you prefer? Would you rather have the Holy Spirit of God with you, or would you rather have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within you?

That couldn’t happen until Jesus ascended into heaven.

You see, prior to the Resurrection, prior to the Ascension of Christ, it didn’t matter whether you died a righteous man or an absolute sinner . . . you went to hades. Now, according to Luke Chapter 16 in the Scriptures, there was a division in hades. You had the side called “Abraham’s Bosom” where there was peace and joy, and there was another side of hades where there was burning and fire and great torment. But still, everybody went to hades. That means that not only did Pharaoh, and the evil Egyptians, and Cain, and the Canaanites, go to Hades, but it also means that Adam, Eve, Moses, David, Isaiah – all of them – went to Hades also. It says in the book of Hebrews that it was important that they should not become perfect – that they should not become complete – without us, “us” being the Church.

Until Christ was resurrected, until he ascended into the heavens, people didn’t go to heaven. They went to the side of hades where there was peace and joy, and they were awaiting the final coming of the Messiah. They were looking forward to the day when finally he would come.

But on the day of the Ascension, God took human nature and brought human nature up directly into his presence, in heaven, forevermore to dwell. And now that God had glorified humanity, now that God had deified humanity and had brought Adam’s flesh in the person of Christ all the way up into the very presence of the Holy Trinity in heaven, now the Holy Spirit could come and dwell in human flesh. Christ taking human flesh to heaven to be in the presence of the Father and the Spirit, is what makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to descend ten days later at Pentecost, and to literally dwell in human flesh. 

So whenever you talk about being filled with the Spirit, whenever you talk about the Spirit indwelling you, whenever you talk about the fruits of the Spirit, you’re talking about things that are so critical, so crucial, so important to the Christian life. And you are talking about things which would be utterly impossible if it were not for the Ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Scripture says that we have the “first Adam” and the “second Adam”. When the “first Adam” sinned, death came to all men. Every trip you’ve ever made to the hospital is thanks to Adam. Every spiritual or emotional problem that you’ve ever had is thanks to Adam.  Every single one of us – Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and all of us – have inherited that same human nature, that same flesh which has received the corruption from that first ancestral sin. But then there is the “second Adam”, Jesus Christ. And it tells us in Romans 5 and in 1 Corinthians 15, that just as through one man death came to all men through sin, so through the man Jesus Christ – the “second Adam” – life comes to all men. Because Jesus rose from the dead, all rise from the dead.

Now there’s a little mistake that we commonly make. We often think,

“Okay, Adam sinned. And so because of him, all men die. The Second Adam, Christ, was resurrected; therefore those who follow Christ will be resurrected.”

But that’s wrong.

You see, you die in Adam whether you believe in Adam or not. You can be an unborn child, you can be a newborn baby, and you can still die. You can still get sick as a result of Adam’s sin. And so it is with the “second Adam”. Because he rose from the dead, everybody will rise from the dead – the righteous and the wicked.

Scripture talks about two resurrections. There’s the resurrection of the godly, and there’s the physical resurrection of the ungodly. Because the “second Adam” has risen from the dead, all flesh will rise from the dead.

If you’re righteous, if you are a follower of Christ, then that will be a glorious physical resurrection. For not just in spirit only, but in spirit and in body, you will dwell in the presence of the Lord in joy forever.

If you rejected Christ, then that will be a horrific resurrection. For not in spirit only, but in spirit and in your physical body, you will endure the torments of hell for all eternity.

And so it is with the Ascension of Christ. Many people believe that “we fall in Adam, but if you trust in Christ, someday you’ll be in the presence of God.” No, no, no . . . You fall in Adam whether you believe in Adam or not. Whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, you fall in Adam. You inherit death and corruption because of Adam. And so it is with the “second Adam”. He has raised human nature up into the very presence of God, in the unveiled light of His eternal glory. But as we’re told in Scripture, our God is a consuming fire. And do not be deceived into thinking that it is only the righteous which will be in his presence. Remember what we are told . . . that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord – that Jesus is Lord. It doesn’t say just the righteous knees. It doesn’t say just the righteous tongues. No, it’s every knee and every tongue. Physically resurrected in physical bodies, all of those who have ever served Christ, and all of those who have ever spat on Christ, will bow the knee and with their tongues will confess that Jesus is Lord.

And this Ascension into his presence, it will be glorious for those who have served Christ.  But for those who have rejected him, it will be hell. Imagine in an unpurified, sinful, rebellious state, to stand in the unveiled presence of the flaming fire of the presence of God. Is that something that you could possibly bear, if your sins have not been washed away? Is that something you could possibly stand, if you were still covered in sin? Absolutely not.

We read in the book of Revelation about this horrible place of torment, this horrible place of eternal destruction, and it says that “the smoke of their torment rises up forever in the presence of Christ and his holy angels.” Not outside of their presence, not off in some dark dungeon somewhere where God is far away, but in the presence of Christ and his angels.

Not just the righteous knees, not just the righteous tongues, but every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Not only the righteous will follow in the footsteps of the Ascension to be in the full presence of God. But yes, even the wicked will finally come to the full, unveiled presence – the flaming presence – of Almighty God.

It is the business of our lives to prepare for that day, because the clock is ticking. And the fact that the “second Adam” has resurrected guarantees that the day is coming when your body, and your parents’ bodies, and your grandparents’ bodies, will no longer lay in the grave, but will be resurrected too. And the Ascension of Christ is the guarantee that you, your children, your parents, your grandparents – whether righteous or wicked – someday will stand face-to-face with God.

If you’re following Christ, if you’ve had your sins washed away through the Sacrament of Baptism, if you have faith in Christ in your heart, if you’re partaking of the “medicine of immortality” which is called the Eucharist – the very Body and Blood of Christ, if you’re praying daily, if you’re working diligently to draw as many other people to Christ as you possibly can, then rejoice and look forward to the day when you, like Christ, will ascend into the presence of the Father.

But if you do not serve Christ from your heart, if you’re more interested in things of the world than you are interested in prayer and in following Christ, if you don’t care much about your family members and neighbors who are on their way to perdition, and you do not try to draw them to the Lord, if you’re not partaking in the Sacraments, and if you’re not believing Christ, do not think that the resurrection will escape you. Do not think that you will forever be able to run from the presence of the Father. For you too will stand in his presence with nothing to veil you from his face.

As Christians, let us live our lives in a posture of repentance, not arrogantly believing that we deserve any place in heaven. But beating our breasts as the publican, trembling lest we even cast our eyes upwards, and calling out from the depths of our soul, “Lord, God, have mercy on me a sinner. O Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  O Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Jesus said, This is the man who will walk away justified. This is the man who will find forgiveness. Not the one who boasts, not the one who proudly lifts up his nose against his neighbor, but the one who – in the terror of the Lord – in a holy fear of his flaming presence, beats his breast and recognizes his own unworthiness and calls upon the name of the Lord to forgive him and to cleanse him and to draw him near to him within the church. And he who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Thursday morning, May 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

 

 

Posted in Ascension Day, Fr. Joseph Gleason | 1 Comment

Kids Singing with Fr. Joseph and his Mandolin

Posted in Mary the Mother of God, Music, Prayer, Prayers to Angels & Saints | Leave a comment

Not Quite Converted

MP3 Audio: WS330353_Dn-Joseph_Not-Quite-Converted.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: John 16:23-33

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

“His disciples said unto Him, ‘Lo, now speakest now plainly and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things and needest not that any man should ask Thee. By this we believe that Thou camest forth from God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye should be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone.’”

Is it possible to think you’re converted and not be converted? Is it possible to think that you believe in Christ, and yet really not quite believe in him yet? It’s a sobering thought.

These disciples had been following Christ for months, even years. They saw him face-to-face, they heard the words of Jesus from his own mouth, and now their heart overflows to the point that they plainly confess with their mouth, “Now we are sure that you know all things and need not that any man should ask of you. By this we believe that you came forth from God.” They’re looking at Jesus face-to-face and they confess with their mouths, “We believe that You came from God!” Can you imagine a stronger declaration of faith? A stronger confession of belief in Christ? They’re looking at him face-to-face and they tell him, “We believe that you’ve come from God.” And Jesus, in his response, does not say, “Well, good! Good job!” I kind of wish that’s what he’d said in response; it would make me feel a lot better. They plainly, with their mouths, confess, “We believe that you came from God.” And Jesus’ response to them is, “Do you now believe? Behold the hour is coming, yea is now come, that you’ll be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.”

It wasn’t too far later in the Scriptures that we read about Jesus having a similar conversation with Peter. Jesus has told them that everybody is going to scatter, everybody is going to go away and turn their backs on Christ, and Peter says, “Though all turn away, I won’t. I’m going to be right there for you, with you to the bitter end, even if I have to go to my death.” Now, you tell me the truth – do you think Peter was lying? I don’t think so. Do you think Peter felt his emotions deeply when he was saying these things to the face of Jesus Christ? Absolutely he did. He truly believed that he had faith, and that he would stick with Jesus no matter what. He believed it so much that he said it to Jesus. He knew Jesus well enough to know that you don’t pull the wool over his eyes. He was looking Jesus right in the face, and Peter said, “I am never going to turn away from you. I will be with you to the end. I will die for you.” And, once again, Jesus doesn’t pat him on the back and say, “Well, good . . . Peter, that’s what I want to hear. Good job.” He says, “Peter, before the cock crows twice, you will deny that you even know me. Three times!”

What sort of a sword do you think that was into Peter, to hear those words from his Lord? And yet Peter looked at his own heart, and Peter said, “Well, I know how much I believe in Christ, and I know that I’m willing to die for Christ. How could he say this to me?” These disciples that we read about in today’s Gospel, they say, “We believe that you’re from God.” And Jesus says, “Do you now believe? The time is coming soon that all of you are going to scatter and leave me alone.”

It’s not just here before the Crucifixion that this happens; it’s all throughout salvation history, and it’s all throughout Scripture, that people are their own worst judges. You see, if people got into heaven based on how good they thought they were, everybody would go to heaven. If every person that goes to church got to heaven because of how strongly they believe that they believe in Christ, then everybody that goes to church would be in heaven. Peter meant it! He was doing his best to tell the truth and pour out his heart when he said, “I will die for you, Jesus.” Jesus looked at him and said, “You will deny me three times before the cock crows again.” These people said, “We believe that you’re from God.” Jesus says, “Do you now believe? The time is coming that you’re going to be scattered and leave me alone. You won’t be following me anymore.”

Think of Moses. Think of Mount Sinai. He’d led the people out of Israel, they had seen the plagues descend upon Egypt, they had seen their mighty deliverance through the Passover, they had seen the parting of the Red Sea, they had walked across on dry land, and when Pharaoh and the Egyptian armies came across in their chariots and tried to follow the same path, the Israelites saw those same waters close up and destroy the enemies of God. They saw miracle after miracle. They saw deliverance after deliverance. And then at Mount Sinai, God gives the Law. And if you remember, what did the people of Israel say? “We’re going to do it. We’re going to follow it.” Did they do it? Did they follow it? They sure thought they would. You see, when you’re looking at the fire burning on the mountaintop, and the presence of God is right there, it’s easy to get your emotions on a high and tell yourself, “Man, I’m going to be faithful, I’m going to follow God, I’m going to stop sinning. I’m going to do whatever he tells me to do.”

But you see, it gets even worse than that. If you read through the book of Judges, all I suggest is that you don’t eat before or after, and that you still keep some Tums nearby, because you’re going to get a stomachache just reading this book of the Bible. The book of Judges is horrific. It has some wonderful lessons in there, but boy, if you want to see human sin painted in vivid colors by the hand of God, just read the book of Judges. There’s idolatry, there’s murder, there’s prostitution, there’s kidnapping, there’s civil war, and in the midst of all these sins that are being vividly recounted, there is a refrain that is repeated more than once in the book. It’s even the verse that the whole book ends with. “In those days, there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Have you ever heard about somebody coming back from a drunken party, or have you ever flipped up on the ten 0’clock news at night and heard about some of the debauchery that’s going on in the world, and you tell yourself, “Man, there’s sure a lot of people in the world that like to sin. They just like to do what’s wrong.” That’s not quite true. In fact, for the most part, people do not like to do what’s wrong. That’s a common misconception – it’s a mistake, it’s an error. Stop saying that. No, no, no . . . People get so far from God that they look at sin, and they believe it is right!

That’s how insidious it is, that’s how dark it is, that’s how scary it is. I guarantee you, these people that you hear about out there committing adultery, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They’re not doing it, thinking, “Man, I get to call down the curses of God upon my head today. I get to be evil. I get to wear the black cowboy hat instead of the white one.” No, no, no, no, no. They’ve twisted the definition of “love” in their minds so badly, that they convince themselves that they’re doing it for love.

You think murderers think that they’re doing something wrong? Absolutely not. They dehumanize the other person. They convince themselves that the person they’re stabbing, or shooting at, or raping, or doing whatever they do to them . . . they convince themselves in some twisted fashion that they’re justified in what they’re doing, that what they’re doing is right or good for some reason.

A thief, do you think he’s thinking in his mind, “Man, I want to be as evil as I can, because hell is not going to be good enough for me . . .  I want to turn up the temperature a little bit”? No. It starts with thoughts. He starts thinking about, “Well, this person has more than me, and that’s not fair. You know, I should have just as much as this person has. They probably got it through evil means anyway. They probably don’t deserve to have that stuff. I actually am the one who deserves to have it. Well, if I deserve to have it and they don’t deserve to have it, then the right thing is for me to take it.”

See, people justify things in their minds ahead of time, so that by the time they commit the sin, they don’t even think they’re sinning. At various points in the lives of a lot of us, at various points I know that some of us have thought, “Well, I just go to church sometimes, but then sometimes if I don’t, that’s okay. It’s not a big deal. God’s everywhere, why should I have to go to a building?”

We don’t sit around thinking, “Man, I want to be evil today. I want to upset God by not going to worship him.” Did you ever do that in your life? I didn’t. There’s a few Sundays where I missed in my life, but I never did it like that. No. I justified it ahead of time. I convinced myself that what I was doing was okay, what I was doing was right.

When people sin, they think they’re being righteous. That should humble us and scare us, because – don’t raise your hands, but if I were to say, “Everyone in here raise your hand if you feel like you’re basically good, if you’re basically righteous,” everybody who raised their hand would be wrong. Now I’m not going to raise my hand – I know better.

“Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s what Scripture says.
And yet they were committing murder, prostitution, adultery, idolatry.

The Israelites said, “We will follow God. We’re going to do whatever he says.” Then they didn’t. These people in today’s Gospel said, “We believe that you’re from God.” But Jesus knew the day was coming that they would scatter and leave him alone. Peter said, “I will follow you even into death.” Jesus said, “You’re going to deny that you even know me.”

What error do all these people consistently make? What error do we consistently make? Well, whenever you take your own standard for righteousness, your own standard for good and evil, your own standard for what it means to believe in Christ, and you apply it to yourself, what you did wrong was that you used your standard. You aren’t the one who gets to decide what it means to believe in Christ. You aren’t the one who gets to decide what righteousness is. That’s not up to you! The Israelites in the book of Judges who were committing all these sins, doing what was right in their own eyes, at some point they should have thought to ask,

“Wait…wait a minute…what is right in GOD’S eyes?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t you hear about some priests that he’s got in Jerusalem? Maybe they could tell us.”

“Hey priests, do you know what’s right in God’s eyes?”

“Well, there’s this book; he’s written down some stuff. And here’s the prayers that he’s passed down to us, and we pray every day. And here’s what’s in those prayers, and here’s what’s in these books.”

“Okay, so here’s these things. That idolatry? Uh huh. That’s got to go. Adultery? Uh huh. That’s got to go. You know, you should be worshipping God regularly. You need to be tithing. You need to be sacrificing animals in the temple. You need to be singing. You need to be teaching your family what’s right.”

And then start going through the teachings of the church at that time, and through the teachings of Scripture, and suddenly those same Israelites would have realized,

“Man, we’re not righteous at all! We were righteous in our own eyes, but we were not righteous in HIS.”

And it’s easy for us sometimes to read passages like that and say, “Aw, that’s just the Old Testament. They didn’t know about Jesus yet. Once you find out about Jesus, you don’t have to worry about doing all that stuff anymore. All you need to worry about now is just say, ‘I believe in Jesus’.”

Well, when you get into the New Testament, you get to today’s Gospel reading. They said to his face, “We believe that you came from God.” For a lot of us, that would be enough to say, “Hey, well come join the Church then, you know, you’re one of us. We’re all together. We all believe.”

It wasn’t enough for Jesus. He said, “Do you now believe? Behold the hour is coming and is come that you shall be scattered, every man to his own and shall leave me alone.” Same thing with Peter. “Lord I’ll go to the death for you.” “Nope, you’ll deny that you even know who I am.”

Peter looked into his own heart and he saw faith, he saw stability.
Jesus saw a man who was about to break under the pressure and deny Christ.

These people in John chapter 16 that we read about today, they’re gathered around Jesus, they looked in their own hearts and they saw faith. Jesus looked at them and saw deserters.

Why is this scary? It means that I can look in my own heart, I can look in Joseph’s heart and see faith in Christ. But what does God see when he looks in there? You may look into your own heart and you may say, “In my heart, my emotions, everything that’s within me, I believe! I would even die for my faith.” But what does God see when he looks? What does God see when he looks? Does he see martyrs? Or does he see deserters? And how can you know?

On one level, the answer is, “You can’t.” And that should scare us. That should make us sober. It should make us realize that the moment we puff our chest out and say, “I’m a believer. I believe in Christ so much that I would even die for his name,” you’re standing in a long line of deserters and deniers who have said the same thing. What makes you think that you’d do a better job than they did of judging your own heart?

Subdeacon Ambrose and his family have been studying through something that’s called, “The Order of Saint Benedict”. Saint Benedict has a special place in my heart because he has a special place in this church. There is a part of one of his bones under the altar where we celebrate the Eucharist. In fact, every Orthodox Church in the world that you go into, there are bones under the altar. It’s sort of like what you read in the book of Revelation, “And I saw the souls of the martyrs who have died for Christ under the altar crying out to God.” Saint Benedict. We have a relic of him under the altar.

And one of the things that he taught was the need for conversion. But, unlike what you hear preached in many places today, he did not talk about conversion as being a “one time thing” that happens on one particular day. “Oh, I didn’t know who Christ was, and now I do. I’m converted.” “Oh, I wasn’t walking with Christ, but now I am. I’m converted.” That’s not how Saint Benedict talked about it. Saint Benedict said what you need to do is take your entire life and dedicate it to daily prayer, multiple times a day. You need to work hard, work with your hands, labor, be productive. In your work, in your prayers, in every waking hour of your life, be focused on your own conversion.

“Well, what do you mean? I’ve been walking with Christ for fifty years.”

Great! You’re well on the way. Now keep working on your conversion. Eventually you’re going to get there.

“Well, what is conversion?”

Conversion is when you are just like Christ. Until you have reached what the Orthodox call “Theosis”, until you have reached that point that you have seen him and you have become like him for you have seen him as he is – until you reach that point, you have not yet been fully converted.

You say,

“There’s sins that I used to do, and I don’t do those now.”

Great! In that area of your life you’ve been converted.

“But there are still some places where I sin.”

Well, in those places, you haven’t been converted.

It’s not a half-and-half thing. Do you just want half of your body to make it to heaven? Just your earlobe and your thigh and your pinky finger? Or do you want ALL of you to go to heaven? Well, the same with your soul. Do you just want this room and this room to be saved, but these other closets to never be cleaned out? It doesn’t work that way. Tightly grasping onto even one sin and refusing to let go of it, can drag you to hell.

Clean out every closet. Put away every sin. Spend not an hour on your knees to be converted . . . no, spend your lifetime being converted. Wage a war against sins, against the passions, against the flesh, against the devil, against the world. Utterly determine that you yourself will be converted, that you yourself will be like Christ, that you yourself will not leave even one stone unturned.

How vigilant should you be if there’s even a little chance that you’ll say you believe today, but then you’ll turn your back on Christ tomorrow? If there’s even a little chance that today you’ll say, “I would die for Christ,” but then tomorrow you would deny that you even know him – if there’s any chance of that at all, then how vigilant should you be? How much should you pray? How much should you give alms? How much should you pour out your life in love for your neighbor? How much should you forgive? How much should you seek forgiveness?

Now, if you say,

“Well, there is no chance that I would ever walk away from Christ. There is no chance that I would ever deny that I know him . . .”

I would simply say:

  • Are you a better judge of your own heart than the apostles were?
  • Are you a better judge of your own heart than Saint Peter himself was?
  • Are you a better judge of your own heart than the Israelites were at the foot of Mount Sinai, when the mountain was on fire with the presence of God?

Are you greater than them? Are you smarter? Are you a better judge of your own heart?

If you are, then please talk to me after the service, because I could use some help. As for me, I’m not any better than they are. I’m not a better judge of my own heart than the Apostle Peter was. And therefore, because I see that they could be self-deceived and turn away from Christ and deny Christ, then I too am in danger of self-deception. I may think that I believe in Christ, but just be on the verge of being a deserter. I may believe that I am ready to become a martyr for his name, but just be on the verge of denying that I even know who he is. And lest there is any evil root of unbelief hidden somewhere in my heart, may I pray multiple times daily to uproot it. May I bathe myself in Scripture and in prayer and in the giving of alms. May I pour out my time to help my brothers and sisters, and to speak to them of Christ, and to tell them of the Gospel, and leave no corner of my life untouched by the Holy Spirit, lest that be the very corner through which that root of unbelief grows, deceives me, and though I proclaim his name today, I find myself tomorrow weeping after I’ve heard the cock crow, and I realize that I have denied that I even know who Jesus is.

“We believe that thou camest forth from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.” Every minute of every hour of every day, for the rest of your life, diligently walk with God and pray to God that he would look into your heart, that he would cleanse any impure thing, and that he would bind you so closely to him that you would not become deserters or deniers, but that in your manner of life, and even in your manner of death, that you would become worthy of the name of “martyr” – a witness for Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in 1 John 3:2, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 16:23-33, Judges 17, Judges 21, Revelation 6:9-10 | Leave a comment

Sacred Seed, Sacred Chamber

orthodox wedding - blessed with children

At every Orthodox Christian wedding, the Priest prays for God to bless the couple with multiple generations of descendants.

Marriage is a sacrament, children are a blessing, and the Christian home has always been a prime source of Church growth. By raising up godly children, souls are added to the Church, future priests and monastics are born, and the population of heaven is increased.

Holy Scripture tells us why God brings a husband and wife together, making them one flesh:

“But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one?
He seeks godly offspring.” (Malachi 2:15)

St. Nikolai Velimirovic said it well:

“Did the New Testament bring any change concerning the bearing of children? The bearing of children in the pre-Christian marriage aimed ‘to replenish the earth,’ whereas the Christian marriage has for its aim to replenish Christ’s Church on earth and in heaven. And, finally, to replenish Paradise.”
(St. Nikolai Velimirovic, The Faith of the Saints, p. 68)

For this reason, Satan has always been intent on attacking marriages, and preventing the birth of godly children. Whether by abortion, or by contraception, the devil seeks to diminish the growth of the Church.

That helps us understand why the Saints have been unanimous in their prohibition of birth control. With no exceptions, Orthodox Saints have always forbidden the use of contraception.

However, in recent years, some people have questioned this position. While they acknowledge the Church’s prohibition of abortion, they have sought for a way to justify contraception methods which do not involve an abortion. The argument usually goes something like this:

“Until recent advances in medical science, people didn’t have many options in regard to birth control. The few contraceptives they had could cause abortions. The Early Church Fathers were not necessarily opposed to birth control, but they were opposed to abortion. They prohibited all contraception, only because they didn’t want to risk there being any abortions.”

In other words, they claim that the Early Church was not opposed to sex-while-avoiding-procreation. They just were not medically capable of accomplishing that goal, yet.

Indeed, such a position is false, and is not supported by the historical evidence. When we take a look at history, we find the following:

  • Numerous forms of birth control were available in the Early Church
  • The Early Church had access to birth control which did not cause abortions
  • The Early Church condemned all forms of birth control, including ones which were not abortifacient
  • The Orthodox Church has historically had severe penances for the sin of contraception
  • Faithful Orthodox Christians continue to avoid contraception today

 

Numerous forms of birth control were available in the Early Church

In fact, they have been available for much longer than that. For approximately 5000 years of recorded history, there have been many well-known methods of contraception, including coitus interruptus, pessaries, spermicides, barrier methods, and herbal medications, including several which in modern times have been proven to have contraceptive qualities.

Condoms were used as early as 3000 B.C., when it was recorded that King Minos of Crete used the bladders of goats to shield himself during intercourse (John M.Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance).

 As Megan Evans has noted:

“By 1000 B.C., Egyptians were using a linen sheath around the penis to protect from spread of disease. . . . there is some evidence from cave paintings and historical documents that a condom-like device was used in Europe and imperial Rome.“
(Megan L. Evans, A DESIRE TO CONTROL: Contraception throughout the ages. The George Washington University School, Volume 1, Issue 1. E08.)

As noted by John T. Noonan, a scholar on the history of contraception:

“The existence of contraceptive technique in the pre-Christian Mediterranean world is well established. The oldest surviving documents are from Egypt. Five different papyri, all dating from between 1900 and 1100 B.C., provide recipes for contraceptive preparations” (John T. Noonan, Contraception, p. 9)

And even though the Israelites had left Egypt behind, it appears they brought some of this knowledge with them:

” the means of contraception known to the Jewish communities included not only coitus interruptus, but postcoital ejection, occlusive pessaries, sterilizing potions, and sterilizing surgery.” (John T. Noonan, Contraception, p. 11)

By the dawn of the Christian era, society had already acquired thousands of years of experience with contraceptive methods and medications. And a number of these medications prove themselves potent, even today:

“over a hundred different plants have been reported to contain substances affecting human fertility. Reports of such plants come from every continent in the world. . . . Some of the plants appear to have properties effecting temporary sterility, and would be true contraceptives. . . . the experiments do show that contraception is possible by means of distilled or crushed plants. Without being able to determine accurately whether the potions used by a given society were effective, we can say that the use of plant potions to affect fertility was a rational method of trying to achieve temporary sterility.” (John T. Noonan, Contraception, p. 12)

Noonan also mentions various passages from Aristotle, and from Pliny the Elder, shedding light on the many methods of contraception which were available at the time.

Suffice it to say that access to numerous forms of birth control is not a recent development. For thousands of years, women have had many types of contraception at their disposal. This is a situation which the Early Church Fathers were well aware of, even 2000 years ago.

 

The Early Church had access to birth control which did not cause abortions

The ancient woman had access to many forms of birth control. But were any of them true contraceptives? Or was abortion always a risked side-effect? According to Noonan:

“Contraceptives were discriminated from abortifacients in theory. . . . Use of the sterile period, precoital pessaries, postcoital exercise, and gum for the male genitals were all intended to work only contraceptively.” (Noonan. p. 17)

“It is also germane to the Christian judgment that almost all the methods used were intended to achieve only temporary sterility. Only a few potions were apparently intended to sterilize permanently. The other potions and all the other means proposed were ways by which pregnancy might be postponed for a given time.” (John T. Noonan, Contraception, p. 17)

Specifically, what forms of birth control were available to ancient people, which had zero risk of causing an abortion? Here are several examples:

  • Coitus Interruptus – premature withdrawal, spilling the seed in an unnatural location
  • Mutual Masturbation – spilling the seed in an unnatural location
  • Oral sex – spilling the seed in an unnatural location
  • Anal sex – spilling the seed in an unnatural location
  • Precoital Pessaries – absorbent and/or spermicidal
  • Condoms – block seed, so that it can later be discarded in an unnatural location
  • Genital Mutilation – unnatural intervention to keep seed from reaching the egg
  • Certain herbal mixtures which reduced fertility, without causing abortions

People in the Early Church were aware of numerous forms of contraception, many of which did not bring about any risk of abortion.

If a couple’s goal was only to avoid pregnancy, that could be accomplished via abstinence. So why would people practice sex in any of the ways listed above? The answer is obvious. They want to separate procreation from sexual pleasure. They want the pleasure, without accepting the responsibility which is connected to that pleasure. Contraception is a tool for seeking pleasure, in a way which God the Father has not blessed.

 

The Early Church condemned all forms of birth control, including ones which were not abortifacient

We have established the fact that numerous forms of birth control were available in the early Church, and that many of those contraceptives did not cause any risk of abortion. And according to the Saints, what is the Orthodox Church’s position regarding these various “safe” forms of birth control?

How has sex been understood by Orthodox Saints throughout history? Are there any cases in which it is permissible to have sex merely for the sake of pleasure, while artificially removing any possibility of pregnancy?

To answer these questions, consider this sample of quotations from Orthodox Saints throughout the first millennium of the Church, from both the East and the West:

1st – 2nd century

“Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness [orally consummated sex]; nor shalt thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness”.
(Letter of Barnabas 10:8 [A.D. 74])

“Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.”
(Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2)

“But this kind of chastity is also to be observed, that sexual intercourse must not take place heedlessly and for the sake of mere pleasure, but for the sake of begetting children. And since this observance is found even amongst some of the lower animals, it were a shame if it be not observed by men, reasonable, and worshipping God.”
(Pope St. Clement of Rome, Recognitions 6.12)

3rd – 4th century

“But let those also be of good cheer, who being married use marriage lawfully; who make a marriage according to God’s ordinance, and not of wantonness for the sake of unbounded license; who recognize seasons of abstinence, that they may give themselves unto prayer; who in our assemblies bring clean bodies as well as clean garments into the Church; who have entered upon matrimony for the procreation of children, but not for indulgence.”
(St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4.25)

“[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:20 [A.D. 307]).

“They [certain Egyptian heretics] exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption.”
(St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Medicine Chest Against Heresies 26:5:2 [A.D. 375])

“And fornication is the destruction of one’s own flesh, not being made use of for the procreation of children, but entirely for the sake of pleasure, which is a mark of incontinency, and not a sign of virtue.”  (Apostolic Constitutions 6.28)

“The same argument holds with regard to copulation. Blessed is the man who in his youth having a free yoke employs his natural parts for the purpose of producing children. But if for licentiousness, the punishment spoken of by the Apostle shall await the immoral and adulterous (Heb. 13:4).” (St. Athanasius, 1st Epistle to Amun, The Rudder, pp. 576–77)

5th – 6th century

“Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.”
(St. Augustine, De coniug. adult., lib. II, n. 12, Gen, XXXVIII, 8-10 – cf. Genesis 38)

“For the virtue of each thing then discovers itself when it is brought to its own fitting work, but when to one that is alien, it doth no longer so. For instance, wine is given for cheerfulness, not drunkenness, bread for nourishment, sexual intercourse for the procreation of children.”
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians, Homily XII)

“I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility [oral contraceptives]”
(St. Augustine, Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17)

“Husbands and wives are to be admonished to remember that they are joined together for the sake of producing offspring; and, when, giving themselves to immoderate intercourse, they transfer the occasion of procreation to the service of pleasure, to consider that, though they go not outside wedlock yet in wedlock itself they exceed the just dues of wedlock.”
(Pope St. Gregory the Great, Book of Pastoral Rule 27)

“Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion [oral contraceptive] so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell.”
(Caesarius of Arles, Sermons 1:12 [A.D. 522]).

“[I]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live”.
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391])

7th – 8th century

“Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her. And the same is true with regard to other things and our conceptual images of them.”
(St. Maximos the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love, Philokalia, Vol. 2, 17)

The quotations above are only a representative sample. Additional quotes are available. According to the mind of the Church, it is never acceptable to pursue the pleasure of sex, while unnaturally interfering with the possibility of conception. As Fr. Josiah Trenham has noted:

“It is particularly a perverse act when we note that the primary reason God attended the sex act was to encourage procreation. This consistent link between pleasure and procreation is emphasized by Chrysostom on many occasions. Those who would separate the two realities, something which Chrysostom says cannot be done, must invent a new perspective on pleasure not taught by the Church.”
(Josiah B. Trenham, On Contraception: according to the Holy Fathers of the Church, pp. 24-25)

 

The Orthodox Church has historically had severe penances for the sin of contraception

In 7th century England, according to the Penitential of St. Theodore (Archbishop of Canterbury), married couples were forbidden from performing sex acts which resulted in the spilling of seed in unnatural places. The following penances were prescribed:

  • Inter-femoral sex (between thighs) – 1 year penance
  • Anal sex – 7-15 years penance
  • Oral sex – 7-22 years penance

St. Theodore calls oral sex “the worst of all evils”, and accordingly grants it the longest and most severe penance. It was well understood that the mouth was ordained to receive the Eucharist, which may help explain St. Theodore’s severity in regard to this particular sin.

So far, we have only considered sources from the first several centuries of the Church. It is important to note that the second millennium brought no changes to the Orthodox prohibition of contraception. As the Orthodox Faith grew and expanded in the Slavic nations of the East, the Orthodox understanding of sexuality remained steadfast.

According to a Serbian Orthodox penitential document from the 14th century, there is a close parallel between abortion and contraception:

“It is worth asking both men and women how long they were in that state and how many children they killed . . . for what reason and in which manner. There are those who make a potion to drink so that they cannot conceive a child. This is worst of all, because they do not know how many would have been born. . . . If they do not stop this, they may not receive communion.”
(Mount Sinai 17(17), ff. 1170v-171r; Bulgarian National Library 251(200), ff. 137v-138r. Cited in Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs 900-1700, p. 176)

As Eve Levin points out,

“From the medieval Slavic perspective, contraception, abortion, and infanticide were similar offences . . . All three represented the same thing: an attempt to forestall the introduction into the world of a new soul. For that reason, all three offenses were sometimes called dusegub’e, literally, ‘the destruction of a soul.’ . . . Voluntarily preventing conception or aborting a pregnancy could carry a penance of three to ten years.”
(Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs 900-1700, pp. 175-176)

According to Slavic Orthodox canons, mutual masturbation between husband and wife was forbidden as a sinful activity, and penances of two to three years were prescribed for oral sex. A deacon or priest could be barred from communion, if guilty of practicing coitus interruptus, or any sort of non-vaginal marital intercourse. Under no circumstances was it permitted to artificially separate sexual pleasure from procreation.

In the 18th century, St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite provides grave warnings regarding the serious nature of sexual sin. Like a number of Saints in the Early Church, St. Nikodemos mentions the biblical story of Onan in Genesis 38, and identifies his sin of contraception via coitus interruptus. St. Nikodemos includes this sin under the general category of “masturbation”, which is the term he seems to use for any illicit spilling of seed in an unnatural location. An excerpt from his treatise is included here:

Masturbation is a sin so abhorrent to God that on account of it He put to death Onan, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, because he was the first to commit the act upon the earth, and it is therefore also called onanism. For the Holy Scripture says in Genesis (38:10): “And the thing which he (Onan) did appeared as evil before God: wherefore He slew him.”

So then, this sin is like a pestilence and corruption of the human race, and causes masturbators to live here and now a disgraceful and miserable life, and to be tormented eternally in the next life in the fire of hell.

(Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, On Masturbation)

Indeed, Orthodox Saints favored contraception no more in the second millennium, than they did in the first. For 2000 years, there is not a single Orthodox Saint who has approved of any form of birth control, regardless of whether it involved coitus interruptus, oral sex, or chemical contraceptives. There is only one place in the universe where a husband is permitted to issue his seed.

A faithful Orthodox Christian seeks to follow the teachings of the Saints. And in regard to this current topic, the consensus of the Saints is clear:  All contraception is off-limits, even if it presents no risk of abortion.

 

Faithful Orthodox Christians continue to avoid contraception today

In modern times, a number of Orthodox bishops and priests continue to teach faithfully in regard to the Church’s opposition to birth control. In agreement with Orthodox Saints throughout history, godly Christians continue to recognize contraception for the sin that it is.

In 1957, the Greek Archdiocese Yearbook made the following statement:

“If a husband and wife do not desire to have any children, they ought to abstain from all conjugal relations until they are able to have children, and then to come together again in sexual union, relying entirely and solely on God’s omniscience. The use of contraceptive devices for the prevention of childbirth is forbidden and condemned unreservedly by the Greek Orthodox Church.”
(Greek Archdiocese Yearbook – 1957, pp. 50-51)

In agreement, Archbishop John Shahovskoy says that we must not interfere with procreation:

The Church of Christ suggests a way, of which the Gospel revelation speaks quite clearly. Continence outside a marriage, and continence in marriage itself. So says the word of God, and such is the understanding of the word by [the] best Christians of history . . . The Orthodox Church, without doubt, categorically rejects interference with the mystery of childbirth.
(Abp John Shahovskoy, 1961 Yearbook of the Metropolia)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in the first edition (1963) of his famous book, “The Orthodox Church”, simply points out:

“Artificial methods of birth control are forbidden in the Orthodox Church.”

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae acknowledges that husbands and wives sin, if they seek sexual pleasure while trying to avoid pregnancy:

St. John Chrysostom declares that a marriage is accomplished even when only it’s principle purpose – the regulating of sexuality – is achieved without the fulfillment of it’s second purpose, the procreation of children. He adds, however, that the marriage is realized without the birth of children when this occurs not through the will of the spouses but apart from their will. For when the birth of children is intentionally avoided, the bond between the spouses declines into a simple occasion of satisfying the desire of the flesh and thus shifts towards acts that are sinful.
(Fr. Dimitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 5, pg. 182)

Fr. Seraphim Rose classifies birth control as a “severe sin”:

On the subject of birth control, the Orthodox Church is certainly no more “liberal” than the Catholic, and any kind of interference with the natural object and result of intercourse, i.e., the begetting of children, is strictly condemned as a severe sin. Certainly the “pill” falls into this category. The “wisdom” of man is one thing, the law of God another. As to abstinence [from sex] on fast days, this is part of the same asceticism or self-denial that decrees fasting from foods. Married love is not regarded as evil any more than meat or eggs are, but our life here is a preparation for an eternal life where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, where there is an endless feast not of earthly foods, and a part of the discipline on the way to this Kingdom is through taming the flesh to the Spirit. St. Paul speaks of husbands and wives denying each other (1Cor. 7:5), and this is interpreted as referring especially to preparation for Holy Communion, but also to other fasting periods.”
(Fr. Seraphim Rose, Letters from Father Seraphim: Letter May 5/18, 1970)

Bishop George (Shaeffer) of Mayfield simply explains, “No contraception is ever allowed.”

And according to St. Justin Popovich’s disciple, Bishop Artemy (Rantosavlievich):

The Church cannot condescend any further, and she considers sinful any means of method, whether natural or artificial, to prevent conception and avoid procreation. For they who employ such means prove that they consider sensual pleasure the sole purpose of intercourse. From this it becomes evident why the Church does not permit Holy Communion to such individuals, nor to anyone else who does not conform to the Apostle’s  ordinance concerning self-control (1 Cor. 7:5) and to the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church [See Canon LXIX of the Holy Apostles and the commentary, as well as Canon XIII of the 6th Council, Canon III of Dionysios of Alexandria, Canon XIII of Timothy of Alexandria, Canon V of John the Faster].
(Bishop Artemy , “The Mystery of Marriage in a Dogmatic Light” in Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith vol. 1, nos. 3/4, p. 57)

Fr. Josiah Trenham sums up the historic teaching of the Orthodox Church on this subject:

Those not prepared to assume the responsibility of sexual relations ought not engage in them. The intense pleasure of sexual relations are designed by God to promote the procreation of children, since the difficulties inherent in childbearing and Christian parenting might otherwise tempt spouses to avoid this solemn responsibility. Today’s contraception culture strikes at the heart of the God-designed unity of pleasure and responsibility, opting to embrace pleasure while avoiding the responsibility of childbearing and calling it “family planning.” Such planned parenthood and family planning is in reality planned barrenhood and family banning, and as such has been vigorously forbidden by the Holy Fathers throughout the history of the Church. St. Paul teaches that married women find their salvation in and through childbearing.
(Fr. Josiah Trenham, Orthodoxy Today: Sexual Relations, November 16, 2005)

In 1968, when Pope Paul VI released his Humanae Vitae encyclical, condemning all forms of birth control, Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople said, “We are in total agreement with you.” The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church may differ on many things, but this is not one of them.

What about Menopause, Pregnancy, and Infertile Times of the Month?

While the Saints of the Orthodox Church have consistently forbidden birth control via artificial methods, they have not uniformly forbidden sexual activity during times of infertility. While some have discouraged sexual activity in such cases, the consensus of the Saints is not strict in this regard.

Marriage - St Gregory the TheologianSt. John Chrysostom, in his fifth homily on Titus, says there is nothing sinful about sexual relations between an elderly husband and wife. What God has blessed during their fertile years, does not become illicit when a woman reaches menopause. Likewise during pregnancy, and infertile times of the month. The Church does not require couples to engage in sex, or to avoid sex, based on fertility.

What the Church does require, is for sex to take place in one context alone. There is only one place where a husband may issue his seed, which can ever lead to pregnancy. And that is the only place where he is ever permitted to issue it.

What about Priests who Disagree?

Throughout the history of the Orthodox Church, it has been possible to find bishops and priests who are in error, and who do not hold to the fullness of the Faith. Today is no different. It is possible to find bishops and priests who are ignorant of the Church’s traditional teaching, or who are aware of it, and reject it. Whenever faced with this unfortunate situation, what is a faithful Orthodox Christian to do?

The answer is clear:  Follow the consensus of the Saints.

Conclusion

In the entire universe, there is only one place where a Christian man may legitimately issue his seed. His seed is intended for the wife of his youth. She has a sacred chamber, and that chamber is the only place where sexual activity may take place in a holy way.

As the Orthodox Saints have unanimously agreed for the past 2000 years, the seed is neither to be killed, nor to be spilled in an unnatural location. This principle makes every form of birth control forbidden. At no time is it ever permissible to seek for the pleasure of sex, while artificially avoiding the possibility of pregnancy.

 

Additional Information

For more information on this topic, the following resources are recommended:

Posted in Contraception, Genesis 38, The Orthodox Christian Family | 1 Comment

Follow the Doctor’s Orders

MP3 Audio: WS330352_Dn-Joseph_Follow-the-Doctors-Orders.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: James 1:17-21

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

We read today in the Epistle of James the Apostle:

“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness and receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls.”

There are a lot of congregations in the world that recognize the importance of the Word of God, the preaching of the Word of God, the study of Scripture. It’s a mistake if that’s all you do: if you forget about the Liturgy, if you forget about the music, if you forget about the sacramental life of the Church. But there’s another danger. You see, Churches that understand the importance of Liturgy, the Churches that understand the importance of the Sacraments . . . some of them forget the importance of the Word of God, the central importance of Scripture, the fact that the Word of God engrafted in your heart is able to save your soul.

But how does it save your soul? How does it do it?

I want you to imagine that you just got the worst news of your life. You have talked to the doctor. The doctor has run tests and has confirmed it’s not benign. It’s cancer, and it’s not operable. And you have a maximum of six months to live, six months to get your ducks in a row, six months to say goodbye. How would you feel at that point? How dejected would you be, how depressed, how sad? How much of a shock would that be to you now at your age today, if you found out that you have a maximum of six months remaining on earth?  They bring you to a room with nine other people who have just received the same diagnosis, for the same type of cancer.

And then, miracle of miracles, the Angel of the Lord appears! The angel of the Lord appears with a prescription in his hand, and he guarantees that this prescription is able to save your life. And he writes out ten copies of it, and hands one to each person, including you. Now, how would you feel? How happy would you be? How joyful would you be? The news of the cancer would have been such a shock. But now, to receive this prescription in hand for this medication that is guaranteed by God himself that it is able to save your life – you could walk out of there with joy. You’d show that prescription to your spouse, to your children; you’d say, “I’m free! I’m home free! I’m going to be healed! I’m going to make it through this!” But in just a few short months, there are some funerals for some of the people in that room. Even though they received this guaranteed prescription that is able to save their lives, some of them still go to their graves, killed by the cancer.

Throwing Away the Prescription

You see, just as you walk out of the hospital, you look down and you see a couple of wadded up prescriptions on the ground. And you unfold them and you look and you realize, there’s a couple people in that room that just didn’t believe it. They thought they were seeing things, they didn’t buy it, and they didn’t even hold onto the prescription; they just wadded it up and they threw it away like trash. The prescription is not going to do them any good. It was able to save their lives, but they just threw it away.

My friends, the Word of God is a prescription that is able to save your souls. Don’t just wad it up and throw it away. Don’t leave the Bible on the shelf. Don’t leave the Scriptures in a corner collecting dust. It says in the Psalms, “Lord, your Word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.” It’s not going to do you any good as long as it’s closed. You have to open it. You have to hold it near your heart. You have to read it. You have to memorize it. You have to learn it. You have to let it become a part of you. You have to drink in the very Word of God from the Scriptures. You drink it in through reading it, through hearing it in sermons, through studying it, through reading what the Church Fathers have said about it. Make the Scriptures – make the Word of God – such a central part of your life that you know them, that they are a part of you. Because, no matter how good the prescription is, it is not going to do you any good if you just wad it up and thrown it away. You have to hold it close to you. You have to read it. You have to have it close to your heart and in your heart.

Not Getting the Prescription Filled

Those two people died because they didn’t keep it. But your heart is broken because two of your friends who were also in that room – they also went to their graves – you attended their funerals not many months after this event. And it was a very curious thing that many people talked about, very unusual . . . for at both funerals people walked down, and they walked past the casket to pay their last respects, and at both funerals, there was a cold, dead hand in the casket just grasping and clutching the prescription, holding it close to their heart!

You see, all those months they had held it close to them, they never let it go, they read it, they memorized it . . . but they never went to the pharmacy and filled it.

I’m sorry, but a prescription that’s able to save your life won’t do you any good if you don’t fill the prescription. Just last night we talked about one of those medications called the Eucharist – the Blood and the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said in John 6 that, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. There’s the prescription. You’ve got to go to the pharmacist – you’ve got to go to the priest – to get the prescription filled. You’ve got to take the medication. You can’t just read about it. You’ve got to take this medicine of immortality that is an antidote to prevent us from dying.

Oh, but that’s not the only prescription in Scripture. There’s also this prescription for baptism, for the washing away of your sins. There is a prescription for confession, for confessing your sins, having your sins forgiven by God. There is a prescription in Scripture for husbands to love and cherish their own wives as much as they love and cherish their own bodies. It says right there in Scripture that your very prayers can be hindered – God can close up his ears to your prayers – if you are not loving your wives and treating them the way God wants you to treat them.

Wives, the Bible has a prescription for you to respect your husband. And there’s nothing in there about whether you think he earns it or not. It just says, “Wives, see to it that you respect your husbands” . . . “submit to your husbands.”  “Children, obey your parents.”  That’s a prescription given to you in Scripture.

Scripture doesn’t just talk about our relationships, it talks about our pocketbooks, our money, our bank accounts. You turn to the book of Malachi, it says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me in tithes and offerings.”

“Well pastor, don’t talk to us about money.”

Hey, I don’t have any skin in the game. I don’t make any money here. That’s the nice thing about volunteer work – you can talk about money – because I don’t get paid anything by the Church.

Even in the Old Testament, even before Christ came, the standard was ten percent. If a hundred dollar bill comes into your home, ten of those dollars go to God. If a thousand dollars come into your home, a hundred dollars goes to the Church. If ten thousand dollars comes into your home, a thousand dollars goes to God.

And it’s a double-edged sword. You see, if you don’t do it, God says you are robbing God – you are a thief. But he says, if you do it, it’s like medicine. The way he words it in Malachi, he says,

“If you will bring your tithes into the storehouse, God himself will open the floodgates of heaven and will pour upon you such blessing that you will not even be able to contain it.”

Do you think God meant it when he said that? Or do you think he was lying? Well, if he meant it – if God’s telling the truth – that’s medicine, that’s healing. But you’ve got to fill the prescription. And in this case, the priest isn’t the pharmacist . . . you are. You fill the prescription. You tithe.

If you turn to the book of Tobit in the Old Testament, in chapter four and in chapter twelve it tells us that “alms delivers from death.” Now, alms, that’s not tithes and offerings. Alms is different. Alms is where you sacrifice your own money for somebody less fortunate than yourself, to help the poor. There was no command given in Scripture for you to give them a fifty-question questionnaire to find out whether you think they deserve it or not, to find out whether they’re worthy. What hypocrisy! If you truly believed that only the worthy should have money in their hands, then you would give away every penny that you have, because you don’t deserve any of the money that you have. You are not worthy. I am not worthy. Help the poor. Pour out your heart to love those who are in need. Give alms. For as it says in Scripture, alms delivers from death. Well, isn’t death what we’re trying to be healed of around here? Isn’t sickness and suffering and sin what we’re trying to be healed of? There’s the prescription . . . give alms. And once again, you are the pharmacist. Don’t just read it in the Scriptures, but fill the prescription. Do what it says.

And I’m pretty sure that I’m staying in context with what the Apostle James meant, because if you go to the very next verse in the book of James that we read from this morning, he says,

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For he that is a hearer, but not a doer, is like a man that beholds his face in the mirror, and then turns away and forgets what he saw.”

The Word of God is a mirror – you open it up and it rips you open just like heart surgery.  It cuts and it divides like muscle from bone, like tendon from ligament. It cuts exceedingly fine, it lays you open and you see yourself, whether good or evil. Don’t walk out of here and forget what you saw. If you see any area where you need repentance, any area where you need to fill the prescription and obey God, then repent immediately, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Repent while it is still called “today”. Don’t just read the prescription. Don’t just hold it close to your heart. Don’t just memorize it, but fill the prescription. Take the medicine.

Drug Interaction Precautions

See, the first two people died of cancer because they didn’t keep the prescription – they threw it away. The next two people died of cancer because they kept it, but they didn’t fill it. Alas, there are two more people who died. They kept the prescription, they didn’t throw it away. And they went to the pharmacist and they filled the prescription. And they started taking the medicine, but they still died.

How many of you have ever worked in the medical industry? I’ve been an EMT and know we’ve got a nurse, we’ve got . . . you were a CNA . . . we’ve got a number of people here that have been in the medical field. Have you ever heard of a “drug interaction precaution”?  “No mono-amine oxidase inhibitors, no MAOI’s.” Or, more likely, “Don’t take this with alcohol.” Have you ever seen that on drugs? Don’t take this drug with alcohol. We’re not saying you can’t have a drink. Just don’t drink it when you’re taking your medicine.

Well, these two guys, they were drunks. They kept the prescription, the filled the prescription, they were faithfully taking the medicine. But every time they took the medicine, they downed a pint of whiskey. And the alcohol that they drank in that quantity messed with the medication just a little bit, and they died even quicker than they would have if they hadn’t have taken the medicine.

You see, in the book of James, in our Epistle reading today, it tells us about a little drug interaction precaution. It says, “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls.”

It doesn’t just say, “Here’s the word that’s able to save your souls.” First, it gives you the drug interaction precautions. It says, “Lay aside the filthiness. Lay aside the naughtiness.  That stuff is like mixing alcohol with your medicine.”

You can be chaste. You can be generous with alms and with tithes. You can be faithful to your spouse. You can love your children. You can do all of the things that you know you should do. But, over here, are you harboring some wickedness? Are you holding onto some greed? Are you holding onto some lust?

Knowing full well the command that Scripture gives to parents to raise your children up in godliness, not just for an hour a week or an hour a day, but literally from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep at night – 24/7 – Scripture commands you to raise up your children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. For a part of that day, do you send them somewhere for an hour, or for two hours, where somebody who is ungodly is raising them up in something other than Christianity? Where some non-Christian influence is having its way with your children who have been created in the image of God?  Scripture says that your children are to be rendered unto the Lord alone. Are you rendering unto Caesar the thing that is God’s?

You see, we can do this right, and this right, and this right, and that right. You don’t have to break all Ten Commandments; you only have to break one of them.

You can be generous, you can worship God alone, you can be honest, but maybe you’re just a thief – there’s your drug interaction. Your greed, your theft, can destroy your very soul.

Perhaps you’re very generous with your money.  Perhaps you are diligent in the way that you raise your children up in godliness 24/7 without exception, but you hold onto lust. You hold onto filthy thoughts, you hold onto naughty thoughts. You don’t act on them, but you dwell on them, you think about them, you saturate yourself in them, even though you know what Jesus said. You know he said that to think it is to make you guilty of doing it.  You can be generous, you can be a faithful parent, you can be a loving spouse, but you can just hold onto lust and it can destroy your very soul.

These are the drug interaction precautions. You can keep Scripture close to your heart and memorize it. You can take the medicine, you can take the Eucharist, you can do all these things that Scripture says, but if you’re intentionally holding onto sin and refusing to let it go, you are endangering your soul.

Two died because they didn’t keep the prescription.  Two died because they didn’t fill the prescription.  And two died because they ignored the warnings.

Not Finishing Your Medicine

There are two more funerals, even after those six. You see, there are two people who kept the prescription. Not only did they keep the prescription, but they filled it. They went to the pharmacist, they took their medication, and they did what it said. Not only did they do what it said and take the medicine, but they even avoided the drug interactions; they even avoided the things that they were warned to stay away from. And still they died. Why?

You see, the prescription was very clear. It says, “Take this pill once a day for six months.” And they faithfully filled the prescription. And they faithfully took the pill once a day for five.

You see, three months into it they were already feeling so much better. The cancer was already in remission. And, finally, by the fifth month they said,

“Man, I feel as good as I did when I was twenty. I’m so healthy, there’s no sign of there being any cancer left in me. This medicine has worked so well, there’s no need for me to take it anymore. I’m just going to cruise. I’m just going to coast.”

Any of you in the medical profession, you know . . . However much medicine you’re given, how much of it do you take? All of it. You don’t take half of your medicine and then stop.  You don’t take three quarters of your medicine and then stop, or you endanger your life.  You risk getting deathly ill again.

King Uzziah is one example that breaks my heart. For over fifty years, he was a good, holy, godly king of Israel. He is praised by God in Scripture as being good and godly, ruling Israel for over fifty years. And then he decided that he had been good for so long that he could stand to be just a little less vigilant, that he had earned the right to pretend that he was a priest, even though he was not a priest. He was a king, and he walked into the temple and he presumed to take some of the duties of the priesthood on himself, and instantly God strikes his head with leprosy. And now this king that had faithfully served God, and faithfully led Israel for over fifty years, is now an outcast in his own country. He now has to go outside the city, outside the gate – and even in death he is separated and not buried near the other kings – for he was buried as a leper, the fifty years of faithful service forgotten. He died an outcast.

You see, if you’re climbing the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”, climbing rung after rung throughout your life and finally you get up to that twenty-ninth rung, just before you reach the top, if you fall off of that rung, God’s not going to say, “Good job, you almost made it.”  No, no, no, no, no . . . the higher on the ladder you are, the closer to heaven you are, the higher up you are, and the farther you will fall and the harder you will hit when you do fall. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve served God. It doesn’t matter how faithful you’ve been. It doesn’t matter if you have served God night and day for seventy five years . . . you don’t ever give up. You don’t ever stop. You don’t ever figure that you’ve done “enough”, and now you can just cruise on into heaven with your foot off the gas. We’re commanded in Scripture to “be sober, be vigilant, for your enemy the Devil as a roaring lion prowls about seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith.” Are you remaining steadfast? Are you holding on? Are you persevering? Because I don’t care how faithful you are, I don’t care how pure you are, if you do not persevere, you will not make it. You have to remain faithful all the way to the end.

Summary

Ten people with terminal cancer. Ten people receive a miracle from God. The angel of the Lord shows up and gives them ten prescriptions and a promise to all ten of them saying, “This prescription that I’m giving you is able to save your life.” And eight lay dead in the ground. Because, you see:

  • The prescription won’t do you any good if you don’t keep it.
  • The prescription won’t do you any good if you don’t fill it and do what it says.
  • The prescription won’t do you any good if you ignore the warnings.
  • And the prescription won’t do you any good if you do not persevere and follow it all the way through.

The Word of God is able to save your souls. You need the Word of God. You need the Scriptures. You need the Bible. It is able to save your soul . . . IF you keep it, read it, memorize it, hide the Word of God in your heart. IF you fill that prescription, and do what it says.

Don’t just read about Baptism and the Eucharist, and faithfulness to your spouse, and faithfully raising your children, and faithfully giving of your money to God and to the poor. No, do what it says. Don’t be the fool who holds the prescription in his hands and fails to ever go to the pharmacist to fill it. Keep the Word of God. Obey the Word of God. Fill the prescription.

Avoid the things that you’re warned to stay away from, that would be sin: filthiness, wickedness, naughtiness. Any song, any television show, any book, any thought that would turn you away from Christ, get it out of your house, get it out of your mind. Be absolutely merciless against sinful influences in your home. Eradicate them. Be determined that your home will be a haven for nothing other than godliness and holiness and submission to Christ. Don’t even let one demon live in one corner of your home – you can’t afford it.  What if you survive and make it to heaven, but that demon gets one of your grandkids? Is it worth it? Eradicate sin from your home. There’s your drug interaction precaution.

And not only must you keep the Word of God, not only must you obey the Word of God, not only must you avoid the things you’re warned against and avoid sin, but you also must persevere until the end.

A Story of Two Sons

“This is so daunting, Father Deacon. This is so daunting, Pastor. There’s so much, and there’s so many ways in which I fall short. How am I ever going to make it?”

Let me ask you something: Let’s say you have two sons and you tell them to mow the lawn. You send one to the front lawn and one to the back. The first son is diligent, he works hard, he checks the oil, pours gas into the mower, he starts it up, and he’s working hard and he’s sweating, and he’s not perfect . . . he misses a few spots. But you look out there and you can just see, he’s intent, he’s working, he’s pushing, he’s doing the best he can, he’s really pouring his heart out because he loves his dad. He loves his mom. And he trusts his parents. And since they have asked him to do this, since they have entrusted him with this task, he is doing it diligently. He doesn’t do it perfectly. His weed-eating needs some work. When he was mowing, he missed a couple of spots, but man, you could see his heart was in it.

The second son in the backyard. You look through the window and you see, about five minutes into it, he started sweating a little bit and he just decided it was too hot, so he just let go of the lawn mower and he walked around and just started looking at stuff around the yard and kicking a pine cone. And he finds his way out into the front yard and picks up some rocks, and when you finally walk up to him, he’s throwing rocks at cars that are going by. He’s not even trying. His heart is not in it. He’s making no attempt to be diligent and hard-working, and loving and obedient to his mother and father.

Which son are you going to give a pat on the back, and which son are you going to take on a trip to the woodshed? Neither one did their job perfectly, did they? But which son are you going to praise for diligence, and reward for diligence? And which son are you going to have a conversation with that he doesn’t enjoy?

Let me ask you something . . . Do you want God to pat you on the back? Or would you prefer for God to take you to the woodshed?

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

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:17-21, Tobit 12:9, Tobit 4:7-11 | Leave a comment

The Baptism of Naaman

naaman-is-cleansedThe Old Testament Scriptures are soaked with the waters of baptism. From the Creation, to the Flood, to the rescue of baby Moses, to the Exodus of the Israelites, Scripture plunges us into the theme of baptism again and again.

Naaman the Syrian provides us with another example of baptism in the Old Testament. His story can be found in the fifth chapter of 4 Kingdoms (2 Kings). His Israelite servant girl says that her God can heal him from leprosy. In response, he goes on a long journey to Israel and meets God’s prophet, Elisha. Instead of asking Naaman to perform some great task, Elisha simply asks Naaman to immerse himself seven times in the waters of the Jordan river. Naaman complies, and is fully healed:

So Naaman went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to Elisha’s instruction, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was cleansed. Then he, with all his aides, returned to Elisha and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I have come to know that in all the earth there is no God except the God of Israel. . . .” (4 Kingdoms 5:14-15)

Of course, early Christians spoke Greek, not English. And according to the Greek Septuagint, Naaman was baptized. In the passage above, the English word “dipped” is translated from the Greek word “baptizo”, which is the same word used for “baptism” throughout Scripture. (Ever since the days of Jesus and the apostles, the Church has recognized the Greek Septuagint as being an authoritative copy of the Old Testament Scriptures.)

When early Christians saw the word “baptizo” in Scripture, they thought of “baptism”, and the book of 4 Kingdoms is no exception. Naaman went down and was baptized in the Jordan.

St. Irenaeus comments on the connection between Naaman’s baptism and Christian baptism:

It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord.

~ Irenaeus of Lyons

Indeed, Naaman is not only cleansed physically, but also spiritually. When he goes into the water, he is a leper and an unbeliever. When he comes out of the water, his flesh is restored like the flesh of a little child (verse 14), and he professes faith in the God of Israel (verse 15). He is regenerated both in body and soul.

This baptism is also significant for Naaman’s descendants. Scripture suggests that Naaman’s leprosy was not merely an individual malady, but was a generational curse which would propagate leprosy to all of one’s children and grandchildren. Indeed, when Naaman’s leprosy is transferred to Elisha’s unrighteous servant, Gehazi, it is a leprosy which plagues future generations (verse 27). Thus, when Naaman is cleansed of his leprosy, it is not only a healing for him – it also brings healing to his descendants who will come after him. He no longer has any leprosy to pass on to his children.

It is fitting that this baptism takes place in the Jordan river – the same river where John the Baptist would eventually baptize repentant Jews, and would even baptize Jesus himself.

St. Gregory of Nyssa takes note of the Jordan waters used for this particular Old Testament baptism:

Yes, and yet again his disciple Elisha, when Naaman the Syrian, who was diseased with leprosy, had come to him as a suppliant, cleanses the sick man by washing him in the Jordan, clearly indicating what should come, both by the use of water generally, and by the dipping in the river in particular. For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism. These then are indications in deed and act of regeneration by Baptism.

~ Gregory of Nyssa

Significantly, Naaman is from Syria, not Israel. He is a Gentile, not a Jew. Thus his baptism is prophetic of the Christian era, when countless Gentiles would flood into the Church via baptism.

With Naaman’s story in mind, let us proceed to answer four questions:

  1. How do we know that this passage speaks of baptism?
  2. Who were the recipients of Naaman’s baptism?
  3. How were the recipients chosen?
  4. What was accomplished by Naaman’s baptism?

How do we know that this passage speaks of baptism?

In 4 Kingdoms 5:14, the Septuagint uses the word “baptizo”, which is the Greek word for baptism.

Who are the recipients of Naaman’s baptism?

Naaman is the recipient of this baptism. His future children are benefactors as well. Through this baptism, they are freed from inheriting a leprosy which otherwise would have infected them.

How are the recipients chosen?

Naaman is chosen because he seeks out God’s prophet and heeds his instructions. And because Naaman is cleansed, Naaman’s descendants are freed from a generational curse of leprosy.

A man walks with God. That man is baptized. As a result, all of his children receive blessings, and are in a sense born “clean”.

What is accomplished by Naaman’s baptism?

Without the waters of baptism, Naaman never would have been cleansed from his leprosy. Had he not been baptized and healed, he would not have come to faith in Israel’s God. His baptism divided his old life from his new life. His baptism did not merely represent rebirth into a life that was disease-free and idolatry-free. God used his baptism to actually bring it about. God used baptism to remake Naaman into a new creation.

Posted in 2 Kings 5, Holy Baptism | Leave a comment