The First Sunday after the Resurrection

MP3 Audio: WS330348_Sdn-Jeremy_Low-Sunday-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Jeremy Conrad.

~

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

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

How many of you have been to Seminary? Taken any theology classes or anything like that? I just barely started with mine. One of the topics that we started with in the very first semester of reading was “Essence and Energies.” The Essence and Energies of God. I taught in our Sunday school class 8 months or a year ago, some of the distinctions between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox beliefs on God, and on the Church, and things like that. One of the things that we discussed was the Roman Catholic view of created grace versus Essence and Energies. So for some of you, it’s not the first time that you’ve heard this terminology. But when you are doing your reading about the Orthodox Church, you may run across the concept of God’s Essence and His Energies. I’m going to try to explain it to you, because it’s very important regarding what happens to Christ during His death and resurrection, and what will happen to us as well.

When you talk about the Essence of God..In Greek it’s the ousia, is what they call it…When we say, “being of one substance with the Father”, in the Creed that we just said, the Greeks would say “homoousia”…One substance, one essence. The “ousia” in Greek is basically speaking of his being, his nature or his substance. And as human beings we find that any attempt to describe God-ness, what God is, falls short because we don’t have any frame of reference on how to describe Him. We do know that God has a mind and a will and emotions and things like that, from reading Scripture, but God is uncreated while we are created. And so, his essence is pretty well incomprehensible to us, simply because there is nothing in creation that we can use to describe Him and say that “it’s like this.”

So typically what we use are negative terms. We’ll say, “You know how you and I are created? Well, He’s not.” “You know how you and I have a beginning and an end? Well, He doesn’t.” “You know how we have to be in one place all the time? He doesn’t.” We just say what He’s not. We describe things that we know, and then we say, “it’s not that.”

There’s an old story, Jon, you would probably know this better than I. “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” They said these things were hovering in the air in the same way that bricks don’t. So however bricks don’t hover in the air, this is how those hover! Okay, this was just a line in a story, and that’s what we typically try to do with God. We try to explain Him, but we have no frame of reference to do it. Tell me, what is it like to be eternal? No beginning and no end? We don’t know. Because everything we know of had a beginning in creation. And everything that we know of has an ending in creation.

We try to say, “Well, eternal means not a beginning and not an end.” How do we describe eternity? As a kid I would try to do that, and it would rack my brain trying to think about it. I was like, “Who’s God’s Mom, and how did He come to be, and how has He always been there?” Trying to explain God-ness is like trying to explain infinity or eternity. We don’t have a way to describe it because we don’t understand it. It’s incomprehensible, so God’s Essence – who is God and what He is – we just take it and say, “He’s got an Essence.” Some parts are told to us, but we are not able to tangibly or even in our subconscious completely understand Him. So if you wanted to describe what God is, you couldn’t do it, at least not correctly. This God-ness is His essence.

Well, fortunately for us, God has chosen to interact with His creation. So the ways that He interacts with us is His energies. So when we say things about the grace of God touching us through the Sacraments, that we are actually touching the Body and the Blood of Christ, we are actually experiencing the Holy Spirit in our lives. The way that we experience God, the way that He touches creation, that is His energies. It is two parts. You can’t really dissect them, but you can describe them separately. You can’t take them apart and say, “over here is His essence, and over here is His energies.” God is Essence and Energies; we can not comprehend God-ness, but we can experience His energies. It’s a very deep theological concept. Books and books and years and years of talk and debate have gone into this. I’m trying to nutshell it so you can get an understand it. So, is this clear as mud? There are a lot of important theological ramifications to this, which is one of the things which separate the Roman Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church.

So what is important in today’s message is that all three Persons in the Holy Trinity are identical in Essence, in God-ness. Whatever it is that we are trying to describe, they all three have it. They are all three identical in Essence. Homoousia. Of one substance with the Father. That’s what that means. Now they have been identical from eternity past and they will continue to be identical into eternity future. They will remain always. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit all have identically in their Essence, what it means to be God, whatever that is. Where they are different, where they are distinct, is in their Energies, in how They interact with creation. For instance, the Father is eternally the Father and He could never go to the Holy Spirit and thank the Holy Spirit for sending His only begotten Son. The Holy Spirit didn’t send His only begotten Son; the Father did. The Son is eternally Son, and you could never thank Him for coming on Pentecost. He didn’t. He sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Do you get the concept? You can’t thank One for doing the Others’ acts. You can see them as the same in essence, but in the way that they act with creation, the way that they interact even with each other, is different. It is not identical. Their energies are different. So while they are identical in essence, in God-ness, they are not identical in their energies. They are indistinguishable from each other in their essence, but they are distinguishable from each other in their energies. . . .

An essence and energies distinction is not only with God, but us. We also have essence and energies. Okay, what is man-ness? Human-ness? What does it mean to be man? And someone would try to describe it, and I’d say, “No, that’s an energy.” What is man-ness? “Well, you have body.” No, that’s energy. I would make somebody mad doing that. I don’t want to do that, so I’m telling you, just as the essence of God is unknowable to us, the essence of man is unknowable to us also. We can’t really quite put our finger on it. You can’t really describe it. But, my face, my hands, the way I act, the way I talk, my voice, the way I smell . . . those are things that emanate from my essence and are distinguishable from each other. So, we are all equally distinguishable as man, in our humanity, but we are distinguishable in our energies, in the way that we play out into creation. You look different, you sound different, you smell different, you are different. Your emotions are different, your actions are different, the way that you operate in creation is your energies. Over here we have God’s essence and energies, and over here we have man’s essence and energies. We’ve got both.

This sounds more like a Sunday school lesson than a sermon, but there’s a purpose in this. What it is, and what it does. What it is and what it does. That’s the difference.

I teach you all to say this. And this is utterly amazing to me. Do you know what the Annunciation of Mary was? You know when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Hail, highly favored one”, and told her that she would conceive a child, and she would conceive God. At the Annunciation, we believe and we teach that this is the point of the Incarnation, the moment at which God became flesh. He took upon flesh and became man. This means that God, complete in essence and energies, also took on the essence and energies of a man at the same time. Now, the Father didn’t do that. The Holy Spirit didn’t do that. The second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, now has an essence and energies of deity, and an essence an energies of man in one person. He’s both. . . . He is everything that it means to be God and everything that it means to be man in one Person. Talk about incomprehensible. Talk about, “Whoa, what does that mean?” He kept his complete God-ness and also took on complete man-ness at the same time. Doesn’t this rock your world? This is cool to me.

I once heard this analogy. The Incarnation is like a hand in a glove. The hand represents God, taking on the form of flesh, and now this God can animate a glove. So it looks and appears as a glove, but inside the glove there is actually a hand. But when you take the glove off, what do you have? You have a hand and this dead, inanimate . . . that is a horrible analogy; do not use that! If you use that, you’re bordering on some kind of heresy that I probably can’t explain or even pronounce.

The reason why I tell you that is because you’re going to hear different times, people try to explain things. And we do this because we don’t comprehend it, so we try to say, “Well, it’s like this or it’s like that.” We try to form an analogy. But you have to be careful, because if you start to make these analogies,  you begin to travel this heretical road that has already been traveled centuries ago, and the Church has dealt with that. But what I’ve been told is that it’s kind of like that game Whack-a Mole. Have you ever played that game? You just think you’ve got the heresy knocked out and THUNK, it pops up over here, and you knock the heresy down and THUNK, it pops up over here and you spend your lives, or the Church does, playing this cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole, trying to kill all the heresies, and they keep popping up again because people aren’t plugged into the Church strong enough.

The Church will keep you grounded if you stay plugged into it. Don’t use that hand in the glove kind of thing, okay? Using that analogy would mean that Jesus could just take off His man-suit, like I take off my surplice and hang it up on a hook and walk around. This man-suit is just hanging over here, it’s a partially human body. But God is over here, essence and energies, with just this body of a man. That’s NOT how this worked.

Is that what it means to be human anyway? Just to be this “suit”? If there is such a thing as a complete human without a human spirit in it, I don’t know what it is. If you look at a dead body in a casket, is it fully human? It’s the body of a human, but would you say that the body laying there is completely human? Is it complete? No. It’s missing something vital, that human spirit that needs to be in there. So in order to be fully human, we have to possess both the body and the spirit. We have to have the essence and the energies together as well. So, you may be getting flashbacks from my two previous sermons, but the reason I was preaching them before, about the body separating and coming back together, was to reach this point eventually. When Jesus became incarnate, He did not keep His God-ness and then take on an inanimate human body and put it on like a glove. He didn’t do that. He took on the entire human essence and energies, both body and spirit. Jesus is fully human, just like you are, just like I am. There is nothing different in His humanity than what you have. The only difference is that He never sinned. He was sinless completely. Other than that, He was identical in humanity, just like you and I are. Identical to us! The same way that we have man-ness, He does. The same way that we have a face and hands and smell and has all that, He does. He is identical to us. But He also retains 100% of His divine essence and energies as well.

So prior to the Incarnation, before He became man, the Son of God did not have a human nature. He had no human body, He had no human will, He had no [human] emotions. I’ll tell you something weird: Jesus didn’t exist. The Son of God did. The second Person of the Trinity did. But there was no person named “Jesus”, son of Mary or son of Joseph. There was no Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t exist. Until He took on flesh and took on human nature at the Incarnation. The Son of God was only spirit, at that point just like the Father and the Holy Spirit are. And at the Incarnation, He took on flesh, took on the human nature, a human body, a human will, human emotions, everything that it means to be human, He took on and became “Jesus” at that point.

So the Son’s divine essence is Eternal. The second Person of the Trinity is eternal and uncreated, stretching unchanged all way into infinity, into the future. Jesus’ human essence had a beginning, but now will never have an end, just like ours will never really have an end. Except for one period of separation. One short period of separation that Jesus experienced. When Jesus died on the cross, His human nature was separated. It was not separated from the divine essence and energies, but His human nature was separated basically from itself, just as what will happen to me and what will happen to you when we die. Our spirit separates from our body and we have two separate pieces. Our human body goes and lies dead in the grave to decay in the ground. Our human spirit will either go to Hades or to Paradise. In this state we are still fully human; we’re just not together. So let me show you.

Right now, my spirit is joined to my body. My spirit can go [banging chest three times] “This is me.” I can touch me, because my spirit is inside of me and I can touch my body. When I die, and I become separated, my spirit can no longer go (banging chest again, three times), but it can go, “Over there, that’s me. That’s me too, over there in the grave.” That and this will be me. Just right now, they’re together, but then they’ll be separated. So if that’s me, and this is me, but together they’re me, we’re just separated right now. That’s not a preferred way in which to be. That’s not how we want to be. The Saints in heaven right now, Saints all around us right now – their relics, their body – we have a relic of St. Benedict underneath our altar. That is a piece of the body of St. Benedict. That is St. Benedict. He is also a spirit in heaven. That’s him too. The two of them together make him human. It makes him full. So Jesus, same thing. The body of Jesus dies on the cross. His spirit separates. The two together are still Jesus, but they are separated. The body goes into the tomb. It does not decay, according to Scripture, but the spirit goes to Hades. And it spends a little bit of time there, preaching to spirits in prison. (“He descended into Hell, the third day He rose again” from the Apostles Creed, right?) He goes down there and He is separated. The two parts make up Jesus.

When the blood dropped off of Jesus’ brow on the cross, that was the blood of God. When His body lay in the tomb, that is the body of God. Yet, His soul is in Hades. And guess what never died? The essence and energies of the divine nature. That divine nature never went anywhere. It never ceased to exist. It never stopped creating. It never stopped holding all things together by the power of His Word. The divine essence and energies of the second Person of the Trinity, is eternal and unchangeable, it is there forever! That didn’t die on the cross. . . . So the body of God lay in the tomb and His spirit is in Hades.

Try to grab this. I can’t! I’m sitting here trying to explain it to you, but it doesn’t make comprehensible sense to me really, because I have no frame of reference to explain this. I’m trying to get a point across here about how this works, because on Easter Sunday, something that had never ever happened before, happened. The divine essence and energies of God commanded that the human spirit of Jesus come back out of Hades and rejoin with His body that was laying in the tomb. And it completed His humanity once again. Instead of being separated, they are completely together. Now, divine essence and energies and man essence and energies are combined back into the God-Man, Jesus, the Son of God. And yet it wasn’t identically the same body anymore. Jesus says a couple of times before he died, imagine a seed – we’re planting gardens right now, right? – Imagine a seed being planted in the ground, when it grows, does it look like a big seed? No. That seed has to die. And that seed becomes a plant. It could be a tree. It could be broccoli. But the seed had to die and yet there’s continuity. You can still tell, “Well, I planted a watermelon seed and I got a watermelon plant.” But the seed had to die in order to make the plant. In the same way, Jesus’ body, and ours as well had to change. It’s not identical. And the way that we can see this . . . I’ve heard it told that the tomb stone rolled away, not so that Jesus could get out, but so that they could look in. Jesus’ body walked right through the walls of that tomb. He wasn’t Spirit when he did that; he was a body combined when he did that. And yet that body walked right through the walls of that tomb and got out of there. And when the tombstone rolled away and they looked in there and he was gone, that wasn’t because he had to walk through that hole; it was so that we could look in! Because we need proof.

What time is it right now? 10:25? How many of you looked at your watch when I asked that? I saw you do that! Is it because you didn’t trust her to be able to tell us what time it was? What was the reason? Maybe it’s habit? Maybe our man-ness has something to do with not trusting.

Poor doubting Thomas. He gets a bad rap. NONE of them believed. They all doubted. Several of them went to the tomb to look in. They didn’t believe Mary. They didn’t believe the women that went there to anoint His body. They had to check for themselves. And as we read in the Scripture today, they are hiding in the room. This is after they’ve been told of Jesus’ resurrection, they are hiding in the room with the door locked, hiding from the Jews. What are they doing that for? Because they had to check their watch too. They had to check and see if Jesus really . . . “Really? That can’t be!”

Jesus walked through the walls of the tomb. When Mary saw him in the garden, she didn’t recognize him at first; she thought he was the gardener. When the two men were walking on the road to Emmaus, they are walking with Jesus! I would love to have heard this sermon. It has to be the best sermon ever preached. He’s walking with these two men and he starts telling every single place in Scripture, in the Old Testament that they had at that time, that foretold the prophecy of Christ. Walking with them, and . . . “Oh, really? I didn’t know that…Yeah, this is where it prophecies this, and this is where it prophecies this . . .” They are walking with Jesus and they didn’t even know it until they get to dinner and they said, “Stay with us. Stay with us for dinner. Would you like to ask the blessing?” Sure . . . He holds up his hands and breaks bread and what do they see? They see scars. Immediately they recognized him and he disappeared. He wasn’t a spirit; he was a body and disappeared. How did he do that? Because his body is different now. It is not the same body that he had before he died.

Jesus’ body was different when he resurrected. He walked through the walls of the tomb; he walked through the walls where the disciples were all sitting up there scared to death. They are hiding from the Jews and Jesus just showed up right in the middle of them, it says that right here: “When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst of them” . . . Just walked in. And at first they thought he was a ghost. One of the versions I read, said they thought he was an incorporeal being. I doubt any of them said, “Oh no! An incorporeal being!” No, they probably said, “a ghost!” You know? Could you imagine?

So, Jesus has to calm them down. He says, Wait…Wait a minute. Touch me. Whoa. You just walk through a wall and yet, I can touch you? Wait, touch these. (Holding out his hands) Touch this. (Showing his side). Well wait a minute. How come you don’t have any holes up here on your forehead. How come you don’t have any whip stripe marks from where the cat of nine tails… I got a new body. I’m keeping these other scars for souvenirs. I want you all to touch me. I want you to see me. And when you get to heaven you’re going to do it again. I want you to touch me, I want you to see me and feel me. I’m keeping these scars for a souvenir and I want you to see. You are all a bunch of doubting Thomas’ and you gotta touch me. Had Thomas not asked, they still would have been up in that room doubting. So he shows up and says touch me. Same thing happened at the death of Mary. . . .

Mary finds out a few days before she’s going to die that she’s going to die. And all the Apostles that can make it, come…Guess whose not there? Thomas. I think that he was in India at that time if I remember right. Somewhere a long ways away. He didn’t make it to the death of Mary. Mary was living with John, I believe in Ephesus at the time. He didn’t make from India by the time she died, and she had died and they put her in the tomb. They had closed up the tomb. Then Thomas shows up. Late again. I couldn’t make it, but I want to go see her. They said that she is already in the tomb, and he said, I can’t believe it! Open it up. And they go in there and open it up and the first thing they notice is the beautiful smell of flowers. Not decaying flesh as you would expect, but flowers! And they go in there, and she is gone. Her body is gone. . . . The Orthodox Church teaches that she did die, but that her body was assumed into heaven. Guess what? Guess what story we would have no clue about had Thomas not doubted? We wouldn’t know about the Assumption of Mary. We would have thought she was still in the tomb. We have no relics of Jesus, and we have no relics of  Mary other than a few items of clothing.

Deacon Joseph right now, today, is at an Orthodox Church in Hanceville, Alabama. And he texted me last night and let me know that he venerated relics of the true Cross, clothing of Jesus and Mary and of Joseph, and a relic of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. The real Cross and clothing from the Holy Family! He saw them today! They are there! We don’t have any relics of Mary’s body, or Jesus’ body, because their bodies are in heaven. They’ve been assumed. But we wouldn’t know that, had Thomas not been the doubter again, and wanted to go look. We have Thomas to thank for some of our theology, because he had to touch. He had to see. And Jesus said, blessed are you who believe without touching, without seeing. But how many of us really could say that would be us? We had to have eye witnesses to do that. And so, Thomas is there to give us that . . . he touched him and put his fingers into the holes of his hand and into his side. He saw that Mary’s body was missing, and smelled the flowers. He was there . . . . We would have done the same thing had we been there.

And then, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” “Come on…Bring some fish, bring me some honeycomb. I’m going to eat.” Do incorporeal beings eat? Do ghosts eat? Uh, not that I know of. Jesus ate in front of them! So, they touched him, they talked with him, they probably smelled him. They heard him, they all experienced all their senses with him and then they watched him eat in front of them. And not for just one day. He stayed with them for forty days. And not just with the twelve, but with many of the disciples, many of the people that were around. He stayed for forty days to show himself to many people. He needed lots and lots of eye witnesses for this Christianity thing to take hold. And then forty days after his resurrection, Jesus gives them one final command. We call it the Great Commission from Matthew 28. And he begins to rise from the ground right in front of them. And he continues to rise, completely divine in essence and energies, completely human in essence and energies, Jesus rising up off the ground, up into the sky and into heaven. And Jesus in heaven, right now, continues to have both divine nature and human nature in one Person, right now in heaven, and He will for eternity!

Once again, He did not hang up his man-suit on the way up. He didn’t do that. He is right now in heaven, just that way. With his mother, by the way who is also assumed bodily into heaven. We know that there are at least two full bodies in heaven. We assume that Elijah and maybe Enoch, and could be Moses. There is a section in Jude that says that Satan and the Archangel Michael were arguing over the body of Moses. I bet I know who won, but if that is the case, then Michael could have taken Moses’ body. They both appeared on the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. There are real human beings in heaven right now! And that gives us hope. So as those who saw his glorious ascension looked up into the sky, and they watched his human body rise, all of a sudden there are angels. And they said, “This same Jesus who is taken up into heaven shall so come in like manner.”

He’s God, He’s man, together. He went up and He is going to come down in like manner, scars and all. Will so come in like manner. As you have seen him go into heaven, Jesus will one day return. Completely human and completely God, to complete the resurrection of our souls and our bodies. All these Saints that we are talking about in heaven that we pray to, that we venerate, and their bodies are here . . . they can’t go (stomp stomp) “I’m here, and I’m also over there.” They can’t even pat themselves; they have no hands to do it with. When that happens, when Christ returns, he is going to rejoin them together again. Push them back together again and make us fully, completely, un-separated human beings with a new body that can’t decay, that can’t get sick, that can’t get bruises, that can’t hurt, that can’t get hungry, that can’t stink…Okay? All those things about our bodies that are fallen…Gone. That decayed in the grave.

The new body rises up. Just like the seed. It has continuity, it’s a little different, but it’s the same. It comes back again. And we who have died and become separated in our humanity with our bodies in the grave and with our spirits in either Paradise or Hades, we get reunited and resurrected just like Jesus. And we will be forever, completely, whole human beings in essence and energies, only perfected as God intended for us to be at creation. The good news of Easter doesn’t end with Jesus’ resurrection. It ends with ours! Boy is that ever good news!

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

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Jeremy Conrad.

Posted in Sdn. Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

If You have been Raised with Christ

MP3 Audio: WS330347_Fr-Michael_Pascha-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

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Epistle Reading: Colossians 3:1-7

Good morning. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

I’m looking in the third chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, and he says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where is Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are of earth.”

We celebrated all of Holy Week from Palm Sunday until now, the Feast of the Resurrection. Most of you have been very faithful in this and have been here for service after service. We come here to this day, and we proclaim to the world our belief in the reality of Christ rising from the dead, the restoration of his soul and his body which have been separate just as ours is separate, preparing for his ascension into Heaven. This is my thirty-ninth Holy Week or fortieth – time flies when you’re having fun – and we go through Easter-tide. Even in Church when we say, “Christ is Risen”, and we get, “Indeed He is Risen”, and the enthusiasm begins to die a little bit, because many a time we don’t allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and conquering of death to be a reality for us.

Now there are two kinds of death. There is physical death, the death of the body. And that we shall endure because it’s a part of life in the creation. We plant, things grow, they die, they return to the earth – you know, it’s simply a part of how life goes. And that in and of itself is not the biggie from the Christian perspective. Spiritual death – that is being separated and cut off from God. This is the biggest issue that faced mankind up until the time that Jesus went to the cross. And quite frankly it’s still, I think, a bigger problem today. Now there are people, even Christian people, who are afraid to die. That should not be. There is no reason for us to be, if we actually believe in what we are commemorating and celebrating and entering into now. There should be no fear of physical death whatsoever. But sometimes people’s faith weakens, or it’s not as developed as what we would like, and we become afraid. But we know about the resurrection, so even if we approach our own death, perhaps somewhat fearfully, we know what the end is going to be. What know what the possibilities are going to be.

What really should be scaring the bajeezus out of us is spiritual death – being cut off from God. This is what happened of course to the people of Israel. Well, it happened to everybody, not just to the people of Israel. Once Adam sinned, once death came into the creation, we were cut off from God. And it let loose in this world a long list of nasty things. Not just death, but disease. Not just disease, but disintegration. Not just disintegration, but upheaval. What Adam did – God bless him – took every palm tree and pussy willow over the side with him when he fell into spiritual death. Every time a major crisis happens somewhere in the world, whether it’s an earthquake in California, or a flood in Bangladesh, or an avalanche in the Himalayas . . . We get people, even people going on TV offering up opinions and saying, “Well, if there was a God, why would He allow this?” He didn’t bring it about! Adam is the one who rejected the life that God gave him. We are the ones that continued on in that rejection. God has nothing to do with it. If you want to go and find out who causes ferries to sink and mountains to fall down, go home and look in the mirror because the sins are ours! They are mankind’s. Not God.

So that spiritual separation from death – which Adam inaugurated – is also overcome, when Jesus rises from the dead, establishes His Church, ascends into Heaven, all of those things. Do away with that [death], if – of course – we are faithful. But you see, it always comes down to our choices. God has done absolutely everything necessary for us to share a life with Him. But He can’t live it for us. We are the ones who have to be willing to live in faithfulness and righteousness in terms of following Christ daily. And that’s where some of us become almost kind of atheists, not in terms of denying that there is a God, but by continuing to live as if there were no God.

In the chapter beforehand – second chapter, twentieth verse – Saint Paul writes, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe,” (and the elemental spirits of the universe are those things which are in opposition to God: Satan, and his demons, all of that) . . . “If you have died with them, why do you live as if you still belong to the world?”

And we do! At least I do. I will go home, I’ll recover for a couple of days, and then I’ll get ready for my next trip. But I’ll be grumping about who did this, that and the other thing, and that particular congregation, and I’ll say, “Lord, when will they listen to what I have to say, and what-have-you . . .” Because we tend to live as if everything we commemorated this week didn’t really happen.

Now remember what I told you . . . about God and time: that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity – are not bound by time. Time only affects the creation and us in the creation. So for God there is no yesterday. For God there is no tomorrow. There is now. For those of us who run according to the clock – have to be at work at a certain time, have to be at Church at a certain time, gotta be here, gotta be there – that can be a hard concept to wrap your brain around.

But for God, everything that we commemorated this week happens all the time, eternally. We don’t mean that we re-sacrifice Christ, but that His offering of His sacrifice goes on for all time until the Second Coming. So we don’t commemorate an event, we participate in it. It’s almost as if, for us, the Church was a time machine that took us right back to what Jesus endured and experienced during His life. So Paul goes on and he says, “When Christ who is our life appears that we may also appear in glory”, we have to concentrate on the things above. We have to concentrate on the things of God. And again, this is our choice. We can continue to live as if the world and the things in the world are more important to us than God, or we can say, “You know, this resurrection thing has ‘mystery’ written all over it. It has ‘important’ written all over it. And I’ve got to start living that way, because my life is now hid with Christ in God.”

What we can do – and this is the wrong response – is to continue in our passions. Paul says, “Put to death therefore whatever is earthly in you. Fornication, (that’s sexual immorality between people) impurity, (that’s the Bible code-word for gay sex) passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is (and this I think is the interesting description) idolatry.”

Idolatry. Now we know what idolatry is. Idolaters worship Idols. The Canaanites did that; the Phoenicians did that. Many people in the Old Testament times did that. Many people of the time of our Lord worshiped Diana and Zeus and all of those gods, and had little handmade statues of them. On their super-bowl day, they drove their chariots around with their little statues of Zeus on them, hoping they were not going to get themselves killed or something like that. And yet he says fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness are idolatry! The reason being is that when we sin – when we give into our passions and our pleasures, apart from God – we are worshiping ourselves. It’s a self idolatry. The Scripture is clear, no idolatry can be in the Kingdom of Heaven. So if the result of our Easter is just to go back to business as usual, just to go back to committing the same sins, getting wrapped up in the same situations, then we kind of fall into that atheism which may acknowledge God’s existence but does absolutely nothing about it.

He goes on and he says, “Put these things away.” I love when he says, “On account of these things, [things mentioned], the wrath of God is coming.” The wrath of God is not what you look like at 6:00 in the morning. The wrath of God is God’s hatred of sin, not the sinner. Never, ever, ever does God hate a sinner. He desires not the death of the sinner, but that we should repent and live. But He hates those things which cut Him off from us. And that’s His wrath against those things. So it says, “Put off anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with it’s practices, and have put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator.”

Like I said, if we go back to business as usual, we begin to self-destruct again. And God, who has given us freedom – He has already sent three boats and a helicopter, you know – isn’t going to stop us because we are free and we want to be free. God loves us so much that He allows us to go to hell if we so choose. He’ll call after us, He’ll send patriarchs and prophets and teachers. Sometimes He’ll even send angels and archangels. He’ll do everything He can [to show you] that this is the wrong way to go. One thing He’ll never do is stop you from going that way if you wish to. God loves too much to control us. God loves too much to prevent us from living freely, even if it means denying Him.

Now we can go the negative way that way, or we can say as he says, “Put on God’s Chosen One’s Holy and Beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you. So you must also forgive.”

The resurrection is about life and restoration. How many relationships have we killed. How many families have been pulled apart. How many friends have been pushed away by our anger, by our wrath, by our malice, by the false and superficial judgments we make about other people, often without having all the facts (but that doesn’t tend to slow us down a great deal when we get into that kind of mode). That’s not what the resurrection is about.

The resurrection is about embracing those who have hurt you, forgiving those who have abused you, opening your hearts to those whose hearts are closed and stony, because Christ rose from the dead to change fear into hope, anger into joy, long-suffering into patience, and above all, compassion.

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

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Pascha – Easter Sunday Morning

 

 

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Pascha – Saturday Night Vigil

 

 

 

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Holy Communion – Good Friday

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Veneration of the Cross – Good Friday

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The Death of God

MP3 Audio: WS330346_Dn-Joseph_The-Death-of-God.mp3

This homily was preached on Friday evening, April 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

What sort of a eulogy could be given for such a man?
What sort of obituary could possibly be written?

Here lies one homeless man, without a wife, without children, with no employer, with no college degrees. He has no articles published. He has written no books. His own countrymen are the ones who rejected him and gave him up to death. Those who followed him for awhile, abandoned him. He’s not even a citizen of the empire which crucified him. He does have a mother living, but we all know what she is . . .

After all, the religious leaders, they may contradict each other on many things, but one thing they all agree on is that they don’t know who his father is. Ironically, this is one of the few things wherein Jesus agreed with them. They do not know who his Father is.

Had the philosopher Nietzsche lived a couple thousand years earlier, just for a few days, he would have spoken truly when he said, “God is dead”. What can it possibly mean for God to be dead? The Son of God, The Word, The Logos – The One who created the worlds. What can it possibly mean for the Way, the Truth and the Life to be dead?

Before we can understand the crucifixion, we first have to be immersed into the mystery of the Incarnation. It is a common misconception that one member of the Trinity took a leave of absence from heaven, put on a man suit, and walked around down here for thirty-three years, before he finally got the opportunity to hang the suit up and return back to heaven. In the meantime, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit [supposedly were] just waiting with bated breath for the Trinity to be reunited. As I said, this is a misconception, for that is not what happened.

As Saint Athanasius writes in his classic, On the Incarnation of the Word, the second Person of the Trinity did not have anything subtracted from Him. The Way, the Truth, the Life, the Logos, the Word of God, did not give up His omnipotence. He did not give up His omniscience. And He did not give up His omnipresence. You see, He has always been everywhere and in all places in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth. There is nowhere in all of creation that you can go, or ever could have gone, to escape the presence of the Word of God. His humility came not in subtraction, but in an incomprehensible addition to the second person of the Trinity. For at the Incarnation, He did not strip off His “God suit”, as if such a thing were possible. At the Incarnation, He added a human body, and a human mind, and a human will, and a human soul, to His being.

And what this means to us, literally boggles the mind. For it means that in the Incarnation, the Son of God not only was truly the son of Mary, not only was he conceived and growing as the little baby in her womb, but at the same time, that same Son of God was knitting that body together in her womb. He was creating His own body!

The Son of God is the One who created the very tree that would be cut down and fashioned into the Cross which would be used to crucify him. The Son of God is the One who by the power of His creation and by the power of His very life and deity, nurtured and fed and grew the wheat and the grapes, which would go through their own personal Golgotha and Gethsemane as they were crushed and ground to make the very first loaf of bread and chalice of wine that would become the Last Supper. It was His life that pulsed through the hands of the men who slapped him. It was His thorn bush, that He created, that was woven into a crown of thorns that was to go on His head. When the Roman soldier stood at the foot of the cross and sent a lance piercing through His side, it was this Son of God – this Lord of Life – who was keeping that soldier’s heart beating, even as that soldier was verifying that God’s heart had stopped.

It was not only in life that the Son of God was in Heaven at the same time as He was on earth, but also in death. For you see, in death, His human soul and His human body were unnaturally separated. His corpse went into the tomb. His soul went into Hades. And as a human soul in Hades, preaching to the spirits in prison – at the same time, as God, He is still part of the Trinity, still holding everything in the universe together by the word of His power, even as His body is in the grave and His soul is in Hades. Like Schrodinger’s proverbial cat, He is dead and alive at the same time.

Christ said, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man will lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And certainly in the lives of the Saints and the lives of the martyrs, we see cases of people willingly giving up their lives for their friends, willingly confessing Christ, willingly taking martyrdom upon themselves, as Saint Ignatius did around the year 107. He willingly sought martyrdom so that those under him in his diocese might be shielded from the wrath of the emperor. We read of men and women who laid down their lives for their friends. And however difficult it was, however loving it was, it was still just a one-time thing. For once you have been turned over to the executioner, there’s nothing more you can do about it. It may have been very difficult to become a martyr, it may have been very difficult to profess Christ and to refuse to offer that pinch of incense to the emperor. But once you are turned over to the executioner, now it’s just a matter of time. Say what you like, do what you like, but chances are, you’re going to die.

But it was not so for Christ at His passion. He did not make a one-time decision to go before Pilate, and to be as silent as was necessary for Pilate to finally make the decision to send Him to Calvary. As Jesus was walking the Via Dolorosa, as the spikes were being pounded into His wrists, as He was reeling under the pain on the cross, there was not one moment in which He said, “Oh . . . I had the chance to escape this! But now there’s nothing I can do about it.” At no point on the cross was He a helpless victim.

For you see, His love was such that He did not just lay down His life once. But He laid it down continually, over and over, every second, every moment. For there was no point of time at which He failed to be in perfect control of the situation. Some of you have seen The Passion of the Christ, the movie. And if you’re like me, you can just barely bring yourself to watch the screen when He’s being flogged. You see the unbearable pain racking His body, the tremors and the shivers, the blood splattered literally everywhere, so that you wonder how it is that He even survived to be crucified.

Do you realize that with every lash of that whip, every second that passed, every drop of blood that fell, He had the option to walk away? The shackles were powerless for those hands that had fashioned the world. These hands which had healed, that had even raised the dead, were not powerless to heal the body that was His. Those spikes, which He created, had no power to hold Him to that shameful tree. As has been said many times, it was love that kept Him on the cross. For the joy set before Him, He despised the shame. He knew that death, and hell, and the grave, could not hold Him. . . .

He gives up His life as a ransom for many. And the death and the corruption and the hell that had terrorized the human race from the very beginning, since the time of Adam’s sin – that power was broken – for 100% of what was owed to death was paid that day. But [according to St. Athanasius] it was a double miracle, for not only were all of us captives released through that act, but once death clamped it’s jaws down on the Lord of Life, it realized – just a little too late – that it had bitten off more than it could chew.

The grave couldn’t hold Him. Death could not hold Him down. He made a triumphant show. And in front of the entire cosmos, He embarrassed the devil. He embarrassed all of the demons. He took the teeth of the lion and removed them, so that all he was left with was a roar. He took the keys of death and hell away from the evil one, so that now it is the Son of God who holds them.

And He has done something absolutely amazing. He has taken a symbol that was the very epitome of shame, rejection, finality, corruption, stench, and death, and He has turned it into what we call the “life-giving Cross.” Do you realize what a contradiction in terms that would have sounded like to first century ears? The “life-giving cross”? That would be like the “life-giving electric chair”, the “life-giving lethal injection”, or the “life-giving firing squad.” It would be like taking the shame of the Nazi symbol for Nazi Germany, and somehow having the power – not just in the life of one person or one community, but worldwide – to convert that into a symbol that everybody hallows and praises and venerates as a life-giving and glorious symbol.

Do you realize what a hideous symbol the cross was to somebody who lived in Rome? How many years of your life would you have to watch what road you take, so that you don’t smell the rotting flesh of your own family members and neighbors, as the wrath of Rome is displayed for all? How many times would you have to see a tortured person in the last days of their life? How many times would you have to smell the rotting flesh of human beings? How many times would you have to see the carrion ripped off by buzzards, before you grew to absolutely despise and hate even the idea of two sticks of wood crossing each other?

It makes it all the more amazing when we hear from Justin Martyr that the Jews, when celebrating the Passover, did not roast the lamb in exactly the same way that we may imagine it – on a spit. We have this idea of a single skewer placed through the lamb, rotating over a fire, much like the Greek Orthodox do today for Pascha. No. It was the tradition of the Jews 2000 years ago – for the feast of the Passover – they wouldn’t use metal; they would use wood. And not one piece of wood, but two. And not in parallel, but these two pieces of wood would be placed as a cross. The skewering would be done in one direction as we might predict, and then the other piece of wood would be put crossways, and the feet of the lamb would be affixed to that. So every year, they are literally roasting and eating the flesh of a lamb that has been roasted on a cross of wood.

The lamb’s blood had been put on the lentel and the doorpost. And the flesh of the lamb was eaten, not in most cases to save yourself, but on that very first Passover, it was to save your children. For it was not the heads of the household that were condemned to death, but you put the blood of the lamb on your home so that your firstborn might be spared. And then, in the crucifixion, we hear of these people that God had redeemed from Egypt, saying, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him! His blood be on us and our children . . . ”

Thanks be to God that Christ is our Passover Lamb, sacrificed for us. And not unlike the passover lamb: it was not just for the person embracing it, but it was for the firstborn, it was for the children, it was for the generations. So today, the promise is made not just to you, but the promise is made to you and your children and your children’s children, even unto a thousand generations, and to those that are afar off, even as many as the Lord shall call.

They needed that blood of the lamb for protection for their homes. They needed to eat the flesh of that lamb for the protection of their home. And so do we, the Church. We need the blood of the Lamb and the flesh of that Lamb that we consume, as His broken, bloody, sacrificed body is fed to us in the Eucharist. Christ is our Passover, sacrificed for us.

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

~

This homily was preached on Friday evening, April 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Holy Communion, Holy Week, Israel, Passover, The Incarnation, The Orthodox Christian Family | Leave a comment

Stations of the Cross

MP3 Audio: WS330345b_Fr-Michael_Stations-of-the-Cross_Good-Friday-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Friday afternoon, April 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.
Immediately after this homily, Fr. Michael and the congregation commemorated the Stations of the Cross.

~

Today is the oddly named day, “Good Friday” – good for us, a bit of a downer for our Lord. Today, all the Church’s vision turns to the Cross. Last night we commemorated the Last Supper and all that goes with it, the Institution of the Eucharist. Tomorrow night will be the Vigil, in which we see how the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ. But today we focus on one thing, and one thing only, and that is the Cross – and Jesus’ death on that Cross.

The Stations of the Cross probably – I don’t know that it’s been documented very well – is probably one of the oldest traditions of the Church. The first couple of centuries, Christians weren’t particularly interested in history, because they assumed on their reading of Scripture that the Lord was gonna come back, and judgment would happen, and they would be in Paradise and in Heaven. And of course that didn’t happen on their timetable.

And so by the third century, especially after Constantine – the Roman Emperor who tolerated Christianity, and then joined it later on – had a mother who was much more gung-ho. And Helena, whose own background was kind of mixed, really converted. And having an Emperor for a son, she apparently had a fairly large travel budget, and she went everywhere she could go.

And so she went to Jerusalem and began trying to find the sites that are mentioned in the Bible and in tradition about Jesus’ experiences, and where things happened. And it is to her, of course, that the finding of the actual Cross, and actual site of Golgotha, are attributed. And given the fact that this was a living memory, people passed it down – and it hadn’t been that long since our Lord’s death – they probably got it right, I would assume.

Had there been tourist agents, then they would have gone nuts booking tours, because Christians began flocking to the Holy Land to such an extent that St. Eusebius – who was a bit of a grump anyway – complained that they were ruining the place. You know, you go there, and there’s nothing but tourists. You know, it’s become one big tourist trap. And it is even to this day, frankly. If you’ve ever been there, there’s a lot of people there with cameras, and you know, Japanese tourists there with three cameras, and . . . you don’t know how many of them are there for piety’s sake. But during Lent and Holy Week you do.

And it’s almost like what happened when Jesus went in for his Passover. It was the hope of every faithful Jew, to spend at least one Passover in Jerusalem. And it’s estimated that the population of Jerusalem might have swelled to something like 100,000 to 200,000 people. Now, Jerusalem is a small town by our standards, maybe the population of Eldorado and Harrisburg combined . . . it was not a big place.

And what the Sanhedrin would do – the Sanhedrin was both religious council and city council – they would . . . pass legislation that would, for Passover, extend the boundaries of Jerusalem out about 10 miles. That included Bethany, by the way. So when Jesus stops to be with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, technically he is keeping Passover in Jerusalem. And he would just go in, come back, go in, come back, until the time to be at rest. So that way everybody could keep Passover in Jerusalem, and everybody was happy.

Well, then of course the Christians started to come. There went the neighborhood! They came up, looking for all kinds of places and things, and eventually pretty much nailed down where everything was that is mentioned in the Gospels, and also within the traditions that developed afterwards.

And that became a fairly normal thing to go from place, to place, to place, not necessarily with cameras, but with Bibles, and with prayer beads. And this was a religious pilgrimage, not a tour. And they would pray, from place, to place, to place. And there are even accounts by the 4th or 5th century, of people spending all night on Golgotha, or in the Garden in Gethsemane, to share that with the Lord.

Now, it is important to remember that when we do something like Holy Week, where every day we hear something different about what happened, and we really get cranked up on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we are not doing these services so we can pretend we are with Jesus. We are with Jesus – and it’s not like we are watching a movie; we are not extras in a film – because God is completely outside of time. God created time, but he himself is not bound by time. For him, there is no tomorrow. For him, there is no yesterday. In God’s life, and eyes, and existence, it’s all now.

When he looks at human history, he sees all of human history in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, in a nanosecond. He sees it and understands it all.

So we are with him, because for him, the Last Supper is still going on. The cross is still going on. The empty tomb, the Resurrection, are still going on. For him, these are present realities. And since the Church – his body – transcends both time and space, we are outside of time as well. And therefore we are experiencing this now, just as God did – just as Jesus did.

It’s important, I think, to remember that, because sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the pageantry and the presentation, that we forget that – that it’s not a play we are watching – that we are there, we are in the crowd, we are shouting, “Give us Barabbas. Crucify Him!” We are doing everything those people are doing, because we are with them.

And so eventually a whole service develops, which gets called “The Stations of the Cross”. And if you go to Jerusalem even today, Israeli soldiers are out in the forest to protect the crowds that will wander through Jerusalem carrying a cross, usually accompanied by monks – the Franciscans are really big about this. But you have all kinds: you got Roman Catholics, you got Orthodox, you got Anglicans (because there is an Anglican presence in Jerusalem), and you probably got Moslems. Remember the Moslems regard Jesus as the greatest prophet next to Mohammed. They accept the virginal conception. They commemorate some of the same saints we do. They commemorate Elijah. They commemorate George. They commemorate Moses.

And then they go to our monasteries and pray. So you’ve got this entire mixture which goes from site, to site, to site, praying and trying to experience that with our Lord.

So when somebody says to you, “Hey, why do you do that? This is some kind of Roman Catholic devotion,” just smile sweetly and realize they are idiots. You know, this has been going on since probably the late 300s, in some form or another. And all Christians in Jerusalem have taken part in this, and probably a few who were not. So as we go around, from icon, to icon, to icon, listen carefully to what the prayers say.

I told you last night about the service we had in Eustis last Friday, where all of the Orthodox clergy, regardless of background, regardless of rite, came to us to celebrate the Stations of the Cross. Most of them had never seen this before in their lives. And I was deeply moved when an old Greek priest spoke, not just through accent but tears, as he read the prayer at the station where Christ dies on the Cross. It’s all one experience, it’s all one salvation, regardless of what our individual personal backgrounds are. Some of us may work in mines, some of us may fly around the country talking to people about God, some people get retired, but it’s all one God and one salvation and one experience, that makes us as close to each other as we are to our families, and as close to Christ, who of course is called our “elder brother”.

When it says that he is the “firstborn of many brethren”, it mean’s he’s the oldest son in the family. He’s there naturally. We’re there by adoption. But if you’re an adopted child, you’re legally a member of the family that adopted you. So God has adopted us into his family, Christ is the older brother, and we are the younger brothers and sisters. But it’s all one family. And we share, now, with his family back then, in this present reality of Christ allowing himself to be offered on the first altar for Christians – that’s the Cross – and taking onto himself not your sin, not my sin, not your sin, but every sin that has ever been committed, every sin that is being committed, and every sin that will ever be committed, from the creation of the world to the end of created time. That’s the burden he takes on himself.

Our salvation has been won. We just need to have sense enough to embrace it, and to accept it.

~

This homily was preached on Friday afternoon, April 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser. Immediately after this homily, Fr. Michael and the congregation commemorated the Stations of the Cross.

Posted in Fr. Michael Keiser, Holy Week | Leave a comment

Maundy Thursday Homily

MP3 Audio: WS330345_Fr-Michael_Maundy-Thursday-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Thursday evening, April 17, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

~

I was telling the fellows early the last Friday, our Bishop John was in Eustis at my church, my home church. And at that Friday evening we did an Orthodox service at the Church in Eustis. Of course, Eustis is a Western Rite congregation like this one. Everybody else is Eastern Rite. And all seven Byzantine Rite clergy, including the guy from Daytona Beach, came over to share the Vespers and in the Stations of the Cross, which we’re going to do tomorrow. And with one exception, probably none of them had ever seen it in their lives. And they were up in the altar with us, and they participated in the Vespers, and they participated in the Stations, by which I mean they followed Father around the church. Each one of them read a prayer twice – there were seven of them – so they could each read a prayer twice, including this very older immigrant Greek priest who read so movingly in broken English, the prayer about the death of Jesus on the Cross. And for something that they’ve never seen before, they found it very profound and very moving.

What Bishop John found very profound and very moving, was the fact that it happened at all – that clergy coming together like that for something that was not part of their tradition, did so to support and minister to each other and to their various congregations. Because people from their congregations, when they came into the Church were like, “What are these people, Roman Catholics, or what?” And during the procession around the Church, Bishop John turned to me and said, “It’s certainly not such-and-such a city,” where we’ve had great problems, not just between Eastern Rite and Western Rite, but where every Orthodox priest seems to have his knives sharpened towards every other Orthodox priest there.

What Jesus tries to show, of course, and what He does the night of His arrest, is that Christianity has no meaning unless it involves humility, and repentance, and sacrifice. God doesn’t care about the shape of the vessels. God doesn’t care about what each individual chant sounds like. The Orthodox Church is like a garden with many flowers in it, none of them of which are identical, but all of which make up the glory and the beauty of the One garden. What is important is repentance in the heart. Humility in the heart. Faithfulness in the heart.

Those are the things that transform us so that we can be saved. Liturgical life of the Church provides the context in which we can worship and respond to God. But as I’ve told you many times before, that doesn’t mean much unless it’s followed by action in our own lives. The Lord of the universe kneels before twelve guys who frequently just don’t get it. In fact, still don’t get it. Won’t get it until after the Cross and the Resurrection. They are still debating amongst themselves, and in their own hearts, whether this guy is who he thinks he is or not. “I mean, we like following him around because we’re his groupies. And when people see him and they say, ‘Hey, there’s Jesus and his groupies,’ and some of that glory goes on to us. And people say, ‘You’re with Jesus . . .’ yeah, I’m with Jesus. I’m one of those.” And another day, you’re not going to respond that way. [Eventually] they’ll say, “I don’t know who you’re talking about. No, I’ve never seen the man. I do not know him.” But at that time, it’s still kind of fun to be hanging around with Jesus, and to be recognized as one of his followers.

And then of course, he will ask them after this supper, and after this washing of the feet, to go to Gethsemane with Him, and simply to stay awake long enough to support him in prayer. And this they cannot do. Whether they’re tired, distracted, or whatever, they fall asleep. He, of course, is in this great confrontation with evil. He’s wrestling with this evil. The evil would have him decide, “This is no fun at all. I don’t want to do this. I’m going to leave. I’m going to go.” In the garden, Jesus accepts the cup of suffering which his Father has lovingly mixed with His own Hand, and drinks it full, preparing himself to take on the sins of the entire world. And these guys can’t stay awake a couple hours. So, he comes back one time and wakes them up saying, “Guys, come on. I need some support here. Help me with your prayers. Help me with your strength.” And he goes back and they fall asleep again. And finally, after the third time, he realized that he’s done all he can do, and it’s time to go to what is inevitable, to what must be.

We will go nowhere in our Christian lives, we will go nowhere in prayer, unless we have those two arms of faithfulness and perseverance. We must accept what Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Church teach without reservation. We simply accept them on faith, because God gives them to us and calls us. Because if we are debating within our hearts about what is real and what is not . . . we’re never going to be able to focus enough on God to follow Him. And if we cannot persevere time and time and time again, in prayer and in humbling ourselves before each other, whether it is literally or metaphorically washing each others feet, by which I mean simply helping each other with problems and in strife and support in them – But again, we’re dead in the water. You must be faithful and accept Christ at His word. You must be persevering. And if you do those things, then Christ will claim you as one of His own. And you will share a life with Him in His Kingdom. But it is hard; it is not easy. There are so many distractions. There are so many temptations, even for our Lord.

It was such a struggle that the Scripture says that His perspiration was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Have you prayed until you’ve shed blood lately?

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

~

This homily was preached on Thursday evening, April 17, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

Posted in Fr. Michael Keiser, Holy Week | Leave a comment

Two New Catechumens

April 14, 2014 – Maundy Thursday
Welcome home, Denise and David!

Posted in Missions and Evangelism, Other Sacramental Practices | Leave a comment