Russian Bibles Are Totally Different from American Ones. Here’s Why . . .

Page after page, and book after book, differences keep popping up. If you were to take the average English Bible and translate it into Russian, you would get something that is quite different from many of the Bibles that are actually in Russia.

Many people are surprised to find out that there are significant differences between Bibles in Russia, and most Bibles in America. Most English Bibles contain 66 books, while Russian Bibles traditionally contain more than 70. And within individual books, there are important differences as well.

For example:

  • Russian Bibles contain an important prophecy of Christ that is fulfilled in the Gospel of Matthew. American Bibles are missing it.
  • Russian Bibles contain the story about a family who is referenced in the book of Hebrews. American Bibles don’t have it.
  • Russian Bibles tell us exactly who Job is, and how he is related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. American Bibles keep it a mystery.
  • Russian Bibles tell us how Queen Esther’s uncle Mordecai prayed, and how God was at the center of the entire story. In most American Bibles, the book of Esther never mentions God at all.

There are many other examples, but these will do for now. Page after page, and book after book, differences keep popping up. If you were to take the average English Bible and translate it into Russian, you would get something that is quite different from many of the Bibles that are actually in Russia. And at this point, most devout Christians are probably scratching their heads, asking the following question:

How can this be?

There are multiple answers to this question. There are many historical and linguistic details involved, so it is not possible to explain everything in a single article. But we can at least begin to answer the question. Today, we will focus on a single point:

Continue reading this article at its original location on the Russian Faith website . . .

 

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Posted in Masoretic Text, Septuagint, The Canon of Scripture | Leave a comment

How Should Decisions be Made in the Family?

St. Benedict of Nursia

When an important decision needs to be made in the family, should the father make the decision unilaterally? Or should he get input from his wife and children?

The same question can be asked in a church, or in a monastery. Should the Abbot or Bishop make all decisions unilaterally? Or should young church members be allowed to provide input?

Dictatorship or Democracy? It is often assumed that these are the only two options. Should the man in authority make all the decisions? Or should we vote on everything?

The Orthodox Church teaches us to do neither. It is a false dichotomy invented by the devil, and we should not fall for it. There is a third option which is advocated by Orthodox Saints. It is possible for all people to have a voice, without having a vote.

St. Benedict of Nursia is one of the great fathers of Orthodox monasticism. He was born in the 5th century, and the Serbian Orthodox Church includes an account of his life in the Prologue of Ohrid. He founded many monasteries, and he wrote a definitive guide regarding how monasteries should be run. This guide is called the Rule of St. Benedict, and it has been used as a foundational document to start countless thousands of monasteries.

During the time of St. Benedict, monasteries included both adults and children. The abbot of the monastery was not merely called “Father”, he actually stood in the place of a father for any boys who were in the monastery. Thus the Rule of St. Benedict includes many specific provisions for the proper training and raising of godly children. Many of the principles which govern the management of a monastery, are also principles which can be applied to the proper management of a family. An Abbot in a monastery is similar to a Father in a family. There is even a book available which explores this connection in some depth.

In the third chapter of the Rule, St. Benedict explains the Orthodox way to make weighty decisions:

Whenever anything important has to be done in the monastery, the Abbot must assemble the whole community and explain what is under consideration. When he has heard the counsel of the brethren, he should give it consideration and then take what seems to him to be the best course.

The reason why we say that all should be called to council is this: It is often to a younger brother that the Lord reveals the best course. But the brethren must give their counsel submissively and humbly and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions.

The decision should, however, depend mainly on the Abbot’s judgment, and all should be joined in obedience to what he considers the soundest course. But just as it is fitting that disciples should obey their master, so it is incumbent on him to settle everything with foresight and justice.

– St. Benedict of Nursia

Notice how St. Benedict avoids falling for the false dichotomy. He does not give everyone an equal vote. But he also does not allow the Abbot to make unilateral decisions, until he has first sought council from the very youngest members of the monastery. And since 6th century monasteries normally included children, that means grey-haired Abbots were patiently listening to the opinions of young boys.

St. Benedict gives the reason for this. The Father of the community needs to hear the opinions of the young, because “It is often to a younger brother that the Lord reveals the best course.” Just because you are older and wiser does not mean that your opinion will always be better. God loves to encourage humility. And there is nothing more humbling for an Abbot, than to hear a child come up with a better idea.

Still, the Abbot is the Abbot. He is the leader of the community, and the course of action is not put up to a vote. Once the Father has heard everyone’s opinions, and has given due consideration to everyone’s concerns, it is he and he alone who makes the final decision. He may conclude that one of the younger brothers had a good idea. Or he may conclude that their suggestions are unwise. He may rule in agreement with the majority of the brothers, or he may rule against the majority.

Regardless of what decision he makes, his decision is final. And everyone in the monastery – everyone in the family – should joyfully obey his decision, without complaining.

In an Orthodox family, major decisions should be made in a fashion that is something like this:

  1. The father requests input from his wife and children. He patiently listens to what they have to say, and he carefully considers their ideas.
  2. After considering everything, the father makes a decision. His decision may or may not be in agreement with what his wife and children said.
  3. His wife and children joyfully obey his decision, without complaint.

This approach actually strengthens the authority of the father, and decreases any risk of rebellion from his wife and children. This is because people find it easier to trust and obey a leader who has taken time to hear their concerns.

It is true that some children will balk at step #3. This happens when they have not been properly trained. If Dad makes a decision, and the children complain about it, it is important to provide them with discipline, so that they learn how to behave in a godly manner.

An Orthodox family is neither a dictatorship nor a democracy. We do not share authority equally. We do not vote on what to do. But neither do we make unilateral decisions, without listening to the thoughts and concerns of those who are under our authority. By following the Rule of St. Benedict, we avoid both errors.

 

Posted in Humility, Manliness, St. Benedict, The Orthodox Christian Family | 2 Comments

Blessed is She that Believed

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_24-Fr Joseph-Blessed_is_She_that_Believed.mp3


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on the Eve of the Annunciation, Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Annunciation


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

There are three stories I’d like to look at from the Scriptures. The first story involves Sarah in Genesis chapter 18. The second story involves Zacharias in Luke chapter one. The third story involves the reason for our feast today: The Annunciation. In every case, an angel from the Lord comes and bears great news: a womb which was not expected to bear fruit miraculously will bear fruit after all.

SARAH

In Genesis 18 starting in verse 9:

They said unto him, where is Sarah, thy wife? And he said, behold, in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. [Genesis 19:9-15, KJV]

ZACHARIAS

In Luke chapter one beginning in verse 5:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course.
According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. [Luke 1:15-22, KJV]

ANNUNCIATION

Luke 1 starting in verse 26

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [Luke 1:26-47. KJV]

Then she continues with the immortal words of the Magnificat.

These are all righteous saints of God, venerated by the Church, looked up to with great honor for thousands of years. Yet, where we catch the first two saints in their weakness, we catch the Theotokos in her strength.

When the Lord comes to Abraham and Sarah, the picture we are given in Genesis 18 is that of three angels walking and meeting with them. Upon this angelic visitation, when Sarah hears the words, “Sarah thy wife shall have a son,” she does not believe. She doesn’t respond with faith. She doesn’t respond with joy. She doesn’t respond with belief, but she responds with mocking laughter within herself. “There’s no way! There’s no way. I’m ninety years old. The old man’s 100. It just can’t be.”

The Archangel Gabriel appears to this holy priest, Zacharias. He too is a saint. He was a priest of God. It says in Scripture in Luke 1:6 that he and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. When the Archangel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that his wife shall conceive, he doesn’t believe it.

This is not a virgin birth. This is not something completely outside the course of nature. The angel has already told him, “your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son. You two are married. You two are going to come together. You’re going to have a child.” He already knows the how. He’s not in the same position as Mary who genuinely has to ask, “how is this going to work? I don’t know a man.” The angel has already answered that question ahead of time. The angel said, “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” It is true that he is old, and his wife is old, and they are “well stricken in years.” But Zacharias is a priest of God! Do you think he’s never heard of Abraham and Sarah? He should have known better.

He faltered at this point. Holy Scripture tells us that he faltered at this point. Archangel Gabriel himself says, “because thou believest not my words,” that he would be made mute, that he would be made dumb, that for the next nine months, he would be completely unable to speak.

BLESSED IS SHE THAT BELIEVED

These are pillars of the faith, saints venerated by the church. Yet, at the most miraculous, at the most glorious time that the promise comes to them, they don’t believe. Not so with Mary.

The Archangel Gabriel appears to her and tells her that she will give birth to the very Son of God. Realizing that she is not with a man in any such way to bring about such an event, she asks, “how will this work out? How is this going to happen? How can this be?” She wasn’t doubting, but she was very curious as to how this was possible.

The angel answers her question, and in faith and humility she responds, “behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.”

In Luke 1:45, we hear righteous Elizabeth say to Mary, “blessed is she that believed.” Blessed is she that believed – greater than Sarah, greater than Zacharias.

Sarah did not believe. Not believing that the promise of Abraham was to be fulfilled through her, she had given her servant Hagar to Abraham to conceive a child. Thus was born Ishmael. When the angel spoke, and she heard the words of the angel, she did not believe. She laughed.

Zacharias did not believe even though he had the example of Sarah, even though the angel Gabriel had already told him how the child would be conceived, and even though the angel Gabriel was himself a heavenly sign of what was promised. When is the last time you had an angel show up from heaven to deliver a message? He questioned the words of the angel, and was struck dumb.

Mary believed. The angel had not yet told her how his promise would be fulfilled, so she asked about the details, but she believed his promise nonetheless. Then Elizabeth said, “blessed is she that believed.” Then look at her response. Mary said, “behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.

She didn’t laugh like Sarah: “ha! Virgins can’t conceive children!” There is no laughter. There is no mocking. There is no lack of faith. She didn’t doubt the miracle promised by the angel and ask for some sign above and beyond the appearance of the angel himself. She didn’t do like Sarah and seek some worldly way, according to the ways of men, to bring it about. She didn’t go to sleep with some man to make conception happen the expected way. And she did not complain about the sorrow, pain, suffering, and ridicule that she herself would endure because of the miracle that was going to take place.

Far too many people underestimate just what she was saying when she said, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Not fifty years ago in this country, to be a teenager not yet married and to show up pregnant was a really big deal – ostracized, cast out, ridiculed, called every name under the sun, forced to move away to avoid the shame. In this culture 2000 years ago, all of that was true and more. According to the law, a fornicator or adulteress could be stoned to death.

Notice that the angel gave her no promise of deliverance. For all she knew, she was welcoming the death penalty on herself knowing that she was pure, knowing that she was innocent, and knowing that the angel had appeared to her alone and to no one else and that nobody would believe her story. “Virgin birth? Yeah right!”

She wasn’t stupid. She knew the culture she lived in. She knew the circumstances. She didn’t whine. She didn’t complain. She didn’t say, “could you please at least show some other people signs from God or let angels show up to other people so that everybody knows that I really am pure and this really is a virgin birth?” The angel promised none of those things, and she requested none of those things. In full trust and submission to the will of God, she says, “be it unto me according to thy word.”

“Be it unto me according to thy word even if, for the next 2000 years, large groups of people call me a whore.” Is that shocking? It’s in the Talmud. To this day, Jews who reject Christ refer to the Talmud and to their traditions and say that Mary was an unclean woman, and the word that they use for Jesus us “bastard.” It’s blasphemy! It’s filthy, and yet this is the type of ridicule to which she willingly subjected herself when she said, “be it unto me according to thy word.” “Nobody else may believe that this is a virgin birth, but I know that it is. My Son knows that it is, and God knows that it is. And that’s enough.” She wasn’t seeking the praise of men. She was seeking the praise of God and God alone.

While Zacharias had responded in unbelief and was struck dumb, unable to speak, Mary responded in belief. When Elizabeth blessed her for believing, Mary’s tongue was filled with the praises of God, and she spoke the prayer which has been immortalized as the Magnificat, which in the Orthodox Church is chanted daily.

Mary was believing.
Mary was humbly accepting in her response.
Mary was trusting that the glory promised was worth any sorrow on the way.
Indeed, she is highly favored.

WHO AM I THAT THE MOTHER OF MY LORD SHOULD COME UNTO ME?

Just look at the words that come from Righteous Elizabeth: “who am I that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?” Mary hasn’t even given birth to Christ yet. Mary hasn’t gone into the heavens yet. Already as just a little teenage girl, maybe 13 or 14 years old, this elderly woman (they’re not peers. They’re not the same age.) who is the wife of a priest, this saintly, righteous, godly woman who is so holy that Scripture itself says that Elizabeth was “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” – this holy saint Elizabeth, a priest’s wife in old age, says, “I am not even worthy that this teenage girl should come to me.”

What an amazing picture this is if we can get it into our minds and we can recognize the gravity of what is going on here! 

Ours, sadly, is not a culture of honor, but we read about kings, and princes, and queens, and regal courts. We read about knights. We read about the middle ages. We have some idea from the stories of the idea of honor, this idea of obeisance, this idea of a knight bowing before his king, a knight bowing before his queen. Even in our society, there are some families that still know how to teach children to give respect to their elders. You don’t call them by their first names. You him “sir,” and you call her “ma’am.” Since the beginning of time, even in the most honorable of cultures, when have the elderly ever bowed down to the young? When have the priests wives ever bowed down to the laymen?

There is something incredible going on here if you can get this picture in your head, for you have a little girl . . .

[Fr. Joseph] Come here Katie. How old are you?
[Katie] Twelve.
[Fr. Joseph] Just stand up here for one minute. Come up a little farther. Stand right here.

When you think of Mary, don’t think of someone in her twenties or thirties or forties. Think of somebody about this size and age right here.

Now, I realize you’re not well-stricken in age, Christa. You’re not nearly anywhere close. . . It’s going to be another forty years until you’re Elizabeth’s age. We’re not making that comparison, but still, would you agree you’re a little older than Katie, older than 12?

[Christa] Yes.
[Fr. Joseph] Would you stand right up here?

I want you to get this picture in your mind. I’ve read this passage so many countless times, and it’s only just recently that I realized, “oh my goodness! What is going on here?”

In what society would you expect to see this woman [the older woman] look at a little twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl and say, “who am I that you should come into my presence?”

If you saw that happen and you didn’t know any of the context, wouldn’t that blow your mind? Wouldn’t you say, “what is going on here?” I might expect it in the other direction. Okay, if you’re a priest’s wife, and you’re a kid, I can see that if you [the adult] said that to her [the child]. Or if you [the adult] are her elder, an honored member of the community, and you [the child] are a kid, I could see you [the child] saying that to her [the adult]. But when does an elderly woman who is the wife of a priest tell a twelve-, thirteen-, or fourteen-year-old girl, “who am I that you should come unto me?”

How honored was Mary if Saint Elizabeth was so  lifted up, and honored, and praised in the Scriptures, and yet even she was in awe when this little teenage girl came into her presence? That tells you something about the sanctity of the Theotokos, of Mary.

[to Katie and Christa] You two can sit down.

Now, a person may say, “that’s just silly to give that much honor to anybody: ‘who am I that you should come to me?’.” Well, this is in Scripture. It’s not just anybody doing this in Scripture. It is a woman who is the wife of Zacharias, the wife of a priest. Scripture says that she is blameless. Scripture says that Elizabeth “walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” How many of you can raise your hands and tell me that you have done the same? I’m sorry, but if Elizabeth followed all the commandments of the Lord and was blameless, if she came around, I’d be saying to her, “who am I that you should be coming unto me?”

God covered His bases when He wrote this book, because God said, “Elizabeth is holy. Elizabeth is righteous. Elizabeth is honorable. So when Elizabeth says to this child, Mary, “who am I that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?”, that is what I call honor. That is what I call respect. Mary, according to Scripture deserves our honor. She deserves our respect. As Elizabeth herself said, “blessed is she that believed.”

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


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on the Eve of the Annunciation, Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including homily transcription and publishing services) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.


O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou has borne the Savior of our souls. 

Posted in Annunciation, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Genesis 19:9-15, Luke 1, Luke 1:15-22, Luke 1:26-47, Mary the Mother of God, Sarah, Zacharias | Leave a comment

Fasting Rules

During the Lenten fast, is it OK to eat tofu-burgers, egg substitutes, shrimp, and vegetarian dishes that are prepared in a delicious manner? Or is it more spiritual to avoid all delicious food, and to make sure that Lenten meals are as bland as possible? (Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that tofu-burgers are delicious.)

There are multiple reasons for the fast.

One of the reasons is simply obedience. The Church tells us to abstain from certain specific foods, so we do. Hamburgers and fish are prohibited. Shrimp and lobster are permitted. The point is not about what we like or don’t like. The point is that we obey the rules given to us. On this point, a trip to Red Lobster is obedient, while a simple tuna fish sandwich is disobedient.

Another reason for the fast is for the sake of spiritual exercise, so that our body learns to obey our mind, instead of the other way around. We are not to be slaves to our bodies. Rather, our body is to obey our mind, and our mind is to obey the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing evil about eating a hamburger. But when our body wants a hamburger, and we tell our body “No!”, we are performing a spiritual exercise. It is sort of like weight lifting. The more you exercise, the stronger you get. That way when your body wants to sin, you have greater strength to tell your body “No!”, and to resist sin. On this point, it is good to tell your body “No!” when it wants to eat something delicious. Whether that delicious food is made of meat, or whether it is vegetarian, we gain benefit from the spiritual exercise of abstinence.

Of course, just as everyone is at a different level of physical fitness, so everyone is also at a different level of spiritual fitness. Some people can easily benchpress 315 pounds. Other people struggle to benchpress 135. Some people can go all day eating nothing but prosophora and drinking nothing but holy water. Other people are at the full extent of their current abilities, simply to avoid the hamburger.

This is why we keep our eyes on our own plates. Loading people down with too much exercise, too quickly, is disasterous both in the gym, and in the spiritual life. If you are able to lift 225, but you only lift 135, your strength will decline. If you can only lift 135 pounds, and you try to force yourself to lift 225, you will hurt yourself.

We should be content when our Orthodox brothers and sisters simply avoid meat, eggs, and dairy. In so doing, they are being obedient, which is one of the central purposes of the fast. And at the same time, they are already saying “No” to certain things they find to be delicious, so they are benefitting from the spiritual exercise as well. Glory to God for this!

Quibbling over tofu-burgers can cause spiritual harm, just as it could cause harm if you criticized the new guy at the gym, because you think he hasn’t added enough weight to his benchpress.

Posted in Fasting | Leave a comment

Virtue Precedes Reason

Clouded Vision

I am reminded of a woman who scrubbed and scrubbed, frustrated with a smudge that wouldn’t wash off, not realizing that the dirt was on her glasses rather than on the window. She worked for hours in vain, when a simple rinse of her glasses would have cleared up the entire situation.

So it is with modern philosophy. Many carefully reasoned arguments are like so much scrubbing. Scholars spill pints of ink to justify a mountain they clearly see on the horizon, when in truth it’s just a bit of sand on their spectacles.

It takes humility for an intellectual to lay down his pen, and faith to believe that God heals the blind. Of course, the moment God washes the man’s glasses, he opens his eyes to find that faith has moved mountains.

As long as a man’s glasses are stained with dirt, he cannot see the world clearly. And as long as a man’s soul is darkened with unrepented sin, his view of the world will be similarly darkened. Reason cannot wash a soul any more than it can cleanse spectacles. It takes water to do that.

This is why we need clean eyes. The dirt in my eye doesn’t just make it difficult to see the speck in my brother’s eye. It also makes me unfit to correct flaws in my brother’s argument.

Virtue Precedes Reason

Faith is the foundation of reason, and virtue precedes coherent thinking. People hope for reason to lead them to God, when in reality it works quite the other way around.

Reason is valuable and useful, a gift from God. It is good for a man to use reason. But reason only helps us if we use it reasonably. We put ourselves in danger if we use it at the wrong time, or in the wrong way.

This is why I am skeptical about people who place great faith in “natural law” and “public truth” as reasonable foundations for rational inquiry about God and ultimate Truth.

I am astounded that John Locke said, “In arriving at truth the individual is self-sufficient in himself there is no need for any special kind of grace and one can rely on the abilities given to him in creation by a benevolent deity.”

I am even more astounded when I meet Christians who agree with him. There are those who see no necessary connection between a life of virtue and the ability to form a coherent argument. A person outside the Church cannot see clearly enough to identify the correct first principles for a reasonable argument. And even if a person is inside the Church, his spiritual eyes (and thus his reasoning abilities) are darkened by any remaining sin which he is not yet repenting of.

The horizon may be flat as can be, but sand on the viewer’s glasses will give the appearance of rocky crags. The window may be clear as ever, but dirt on the woman’s glasses will darken her view of it. There may be great things to be seen in the workings of nature, and a man’s mind may have a great potential to use reason, but as long as that mind is darkened by sin, a man can never see nature clearly, and he can never reason adequately.

Walking Trees

At this point, the careful observer might be tempted to give up hope. After all, even after walking with God for years, what man on this earth is completely free from sin? If the presence of sin always clouds reason, and all men have sin, then shall we give up on reason altogether? Is rational inquiry altogether hopeless?

In the Gospels we read of a particular blind man, healed by Jesus. At first, the man is able to see nothing. All is darkness. Then Jesus spits on his eyes, and lays his hands on him. The man partially regains his sight, saying, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then Jesus lays his hands on the man a second time, and the man’s sight is fully restored.

I believe Christ heals man’s reasoning in a similar way. At first, a man’s vision is completely darkened. He sees nothing. He doesn’t come to Christ because he sees Him. Rather, Christ touches him first, and that is the reason why he can see. But his vision is still blurry. His reasoning abilities are still fuzzy. He is now able to see men, but he is still not able to give them an eye exam.

Many of us are still at this point, waiting for Jesus to touch us a second time.

Thus we begin to reason rightly, but we do so clumsily. We still see men as if they were trees. Unfortunately, at this point, many people place too much faith in their own reasoning abilities, thinking they have acquired evidence that men do, in fact, have roots and leaves.

This is why we should use reason very tentatively, and with great humility. Indeed, as Jesus continues to touch us, and as we continue to repent of our sins, the picture will grow clearer and clearer, until we can truly see other people as they are, and see the world as it is.

Eventually, we will be able to see that trees are trees, and that people are people, and we will clearly know the difference.

But we do not reach that point through a long chain of reasoning. We reach that point through knowledge of God, virtuous living, and continuous repentance. Then, and only then, will we be able to reason clearly and truly.

Thus, a man who loves reason is necessarily a man who walks with God, and practices virtue. A man who loves reason must be in the Church, and actively follow the Church’s teachings. Without faith and virtue, there can be no true reason, for faith and virtue necessarily come first.

Public Truth vs. Public Blindness

As mentioned earlier, there are many intellectuals who claim the existence of “public truth”, which is equally available for all. There are supposedly areas of knowledge which are clearly visible to all men, and can serve as a common ground for rational inquiry.

Though it has been demonstrated that this view is largely misguided, there is at least one sense in which the concept of “Public Truth” is actually valid and useful. There is one key piece of information which is truly available to all, and it serves as a helpful starting point. If we are honest with ourselves, we all know that we are blind.

The blind man called out for Christ’s help, not because he was able to see Jesus, but precisely because he wasn’t able to see Him. He didn’t call on Jesus because he had seen everything Jesus had done. He called on Jesus because he hadn’t seen anything at all. He acknowledged his blindness, and in humility he asked God for help.

Using “Public Truth” and “Natural Law”, it is not possible for an unillumined man to use pure reason to arrive at accurate knowledge of God and the Christian Faith. He may stumble over true statements here and there, but his reasoning process as a whole will always be riddled with error.

Even a Christian man is severely limited in his ability to reason, if he holds onto sin and refuses to repent of it. He may see “men like trees, walking,” but his vision won’t get any clearer until he begins living a life of repentance, actively practicing a life of virtue. A man preoccupied with sinful pleasures cannot use reason correctly.

These men cannot rightly use “Public Truth” or “Natural Law” to pursue rational inquiry.

But either man can humble himself and acknowledge his blindness, asking God for healing.

And this is why many men never learn to reason correctly. They do not learn, because they are not willing to humble themselves. They refuse to believe that they have blindness which makes them incapable of coherent thought. They stubbornly claim that their eyes are fine, and they protest that nothing is wrong with their sight.

In the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

 

Posted in Christian Education, Defending the Faith, Humility, John 9, Mark 8:22-26, Pride, Repentance, Scripture Interpretation, Spiritual Living | 1 Comment

A Homily on the Eve of All Saints Day

allsaintsiconmp3 Audio: WS_30014 – Dn Joseph – All Saints Day – 2014 10 31.mp3


This sermon was preached on the eve of All Saints Day, Saturday evening, October 31, 2014 by Dn. Joseph Gleason at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


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

Saints and Sinners

Ultimately, there are only two classes of people, not three. Some people seem to think that there are three: The first class of people are the worst class. Those are the ones who completely turn their backs on God, utterly reject His Church, and spend eternity in hell separated from fellowship with Him. The second group is the best of the people: Those who are exalted in heaven as saints. Then the third class is the rest of the people, the rest of us, who are just lazy, bumbling Christians who could never live up to the saints. Thankfully, though, we still manage to stumble into heaven somehow.

In fact, the Church does not have such a distinction. There is not a separate class of people who are naturally super-spiritual ready-made saints, and the rest of us are not relegated to second-rate status just hoping to stumble into heaven through the back door. As I have pointed out before, this sort of thinking actually dishonors the saints. Now, if I could see a show of hands – anybody that wants to dishonor the saints, raise your hand. I don’t see anybody raising their hand. We’re here to honor the saints not to dishonor them.

When we say that the saints are far holier than we could ever be, we are not paying them a compliment.

Gremlins and Ferraris

An analogy that Subdeacon Jeremy and I have discussed at various times and both of us have used in sermons in the past is the difference between a Gremlin – an old, beat-up car from the 80’s painted some color that you wouldn’t want to see – and a NASCAR – one of the best, most souped-up, state-of-the-art engines that you can imagine, in perfect condition manned by one of the top drivers in the field. If you were to take an old, beat-up car from the 80’s that you got for $500 off of an old jalopy car lot, and you were to put it in a race against a NASCAR, or against a Ferrari Testarossa, or against a Porsche, and a sports car were to beat the old Gremlin, how shocked would you be?

Let me ask you something: How much would you congratulate the driver of the sports car? You sit there, and you watch this race; and this master NASCAR driver gets in his state-of-the-art machine; and he slams down the gas, and he speeds out; and, almost as soon as he hits the gas, he’s crossing the finish line. About three or four minutes later, putt putt putt putt backfire putt putt putt putt, this old car finally putters across the finish line. After watching such an exciting race, would you walk up to the NASCAR driver and say, “Man, that was amazing! You just really knew what you were doing. You just creamed him. You really beat him! Good job!”? Would you praise him?

Why wouldn’t you be impressed? Why wouldn’t you go pat him on the back and congratulate him? Why not? [Someone replies: “They’re not in the same category.”] Exactly! They’re not even in the same category.

It’s only impressive if they start with the same engines, the same level of cars. Now, if you put two NASCARS head-to-head, and you put Dale, Jr. in one of those cars, and you put Henry David Gross in the other car, and Henry David beats him, he’s going to get a lot of pats on the back. He’s going to get a lot of congratulations. He’ll probably be on Channel 3 News. And in some local race, if you were take a couple of old, beat-up cars, you paid $500 for each of them, and you put two people in there, you still might have a pretty exciting race. I’ve seen some cool races between bikes, between side-by-sides, just about anything. As long as it’s evenly matched, then you’re impressed when somebody wins.

You see, we treat the saints like they’re NASCARS. We treat the saints like God gave them something that we don’t have. “Well, how come we don’t have everything together? How come we’re not as faithful with our prayers? How come we’re not as faithful with how we’re raising our children? We’re not quite as deep into reading the Scriptures, and we don’t really know what the Church Fathers taught, but, you see, that’s just because God just, He didn’t give us what He gave the saints. He gave them a Porsche, and He gave me a jalopy. He gave them Ferrari Testarossas and He just gave me a Gremlin. He gave them NASCARS! Well, God, He just stiffed me. He just gave me a little moped. How am I supposed to compete on that?”

You see, we think we’re honoring the saints. We think we’re lifting them up, but actually, we are dishonoring them. What we are saying is: “You being a saint? That’s no big deal. That’s not impressive. God gave you more than he gave me. If God had given me what He gave you, then I would be a saint just like you.”

That’s pride. That’s not honoring the saints. That’s pride!

You want to honor the saints? Read the lives of the saints. See how they struggled against sin. See how they fell into sin and then repented of it and then turned their backs on it and conquered it. See how they struggled, not for days, or weeks, or months, but for years in deprivations, in tortures, in ridicule, in hunger, in famine, being poor, having nothing but the clothes on their backs if that.

They weren’t given anything that you weren’t given. The only thing different between the saints and us is our choice.

At the same time, this is sobering and it’s encouraging. It’s sobering because you go home, and you look in the mirror, and you don’t see a saint there, and it’s not God’s fault. But it’s also very encouraging because it means we’re not stuck here. What you see when you look in the mirror – you’re not stuck with that! You don’t have to stay there.

You see, here’s the deal: God gives everybody old, beat-up cars. In this world, we all end up with old, beat-up cars. That’s what we start with. That’s not God’s fault. If you want to see the fault behind it, look at Adam and Eve and the sin that came into the human race. But we all start out broken. We all start out [as] beat-up jalopies, old cars.

Here’s the deal: God gives us the Church where we can get a new engine, body work, paint, the best fuel. You can be fixed up to the point that you are a NASCAR. You can be fixed up to the point that you are a Ferrari or a Porsche.

But it takes a lot of work to turn one into the other! It’s not something you do overnight, and it’s not something you do being lazy. And it’s not something you do with minimal sacrifice. You’re going to have to spend a lot of time in the body shop if you’re going to turn a Gremlin into a Ferrari!

God intends all of us to become saints without exception. In eternity, there are only two classes of people: You’re going to have those in hell, separated from fellowship with God, and you’re going to have full-blown saints and nothing in-between. You’re either going to be one or the other.

You face struggles? Well, the saints faced the same struggles. They conquered their struggles. You can conquer yours if you choose. They were victorious over sin. You can be victorious over sin if you want.

A Lifetime of Repentance

While the Protestants are busy filling the world with books, the Orthodox are busy filling the world with relics, for we are all called to be saints. Therefore, halfway is not good enough. We are called to become saints, and that requires a lifetime of repentance.

Repentance is not something you do once and then get it over with. That is the lie, the outright lie, behind the “sinner’s prayer” and the “eternal security” that is taught by certain branches of Protestantism. This [is the] idea that if, just one time in your life, you feel bad enough about what a wretched sinner you’ve been, that if you come down front [of the church], and kneel down, and cry, and ask God to forgive you, that that one event once in your life, that is repentance, and now you’re a Christian, and you can’t lose it, and you’re going to heaven. That’s a lie! Millions of people go to hell because they believe in that lie!

Repentance is not something you feel. Feeling bad is not repentance. Feeling bad is the motivation to repent. Repentance is what you do after you feel bad about what you did. If you say, “I’m so sorry. I feel bad that I hurt you like that,” and you don’t change your actions, you have not repented!

Repentance, metanoia, literally in Greek, means to change your mind. Meta is change. Noia is mind.[1] That means you literally have to turn a 180 and start thinking differently.

You are thinking selfishly. Now you are thinking, “Okay, how can I give?” Your thoughts were constantly dwelling on  yourself. Now turn your thoughts away from yourself and onto the other person. Your thoughts before were greed and “give me.” You’ve got to turn your back on that and say, “Okay, how can I give? How can I give to somebody else to help them?”

Repentance is something you do daily until you look like Jesus. Our goal is to be like Christ in every way, and that goal is attainable.

I’m going to say that again. You have heard for years that, yeah, we’re supposed to be Christ-like. We’re supposed to be little Christs, Christians, but you can’t do that, so don’t even try. No.

Our goal is to be like Christ in every way, and that goal is attainable.

The Race of Faith

The only way you cannot be like Him is [that] you cannot become the second Person of the Trinity. You can’t be God. But you can become just like Him.

However, it is not easy. It requires great struggle. When I was twelve, the school coach put me in a race called the 800-meter dash. Twice around a quarter-mile track, I started well, and my schoolmates cheered for me. But I got tired too quickly and slowed down. Then I got a pain in my side and slowed down even more. I was so far behind that I think the next-slowest person crossed the finish line about a minute before I did. It was bad. I don’t even think they registered my time, because the coaches had stopped looking at the finish line before I ever arrived there.

This is not how we are supposed to run this race – the race of the Christian faith. We must take the faith seriously as life and death and give it our all.

At a recent matins or vespers at home, I had a talk with my kids about what it looks like to be faithful, about what it looks like to be an Orthodox Christian. I talked about one of the ways that Satan commonly deceives us to convince us that we’re okay when we’re actually in great danger. You see, one of the best strategies that Satan has devised to keep us from following Christ is sort of like vaccinations. He inoculates us with such a weak strain of Christianity that we build up our defenses, and we never contract the real thing. We have such a watered-down faith that we never actually catch the real disease.

And here’s what we do: We compare ourselves, not with Christ but with others. We say:

Man, look at all those people out there that are so wicket. Look at all that gay marriage out there. Look at all the abortions. Look at all the Protestants, and Catholics, and all the Buddhists, and all the false religions, the Christian religions but that aren’t Orthodox, and they reject the true Church. And look at me! Look at my family! We pray three times a day. That’s 21 times a week. Every morning, we’re praying matins as a family. Before lunch, we’re praying noon prayers. Every evening, we’re praying vespers. You know what? Some of us are so holy that we’re throwing compline in too! And then there [are] other prayers throughout the day. And we’re reading Orthodox books. And we go to Orthodox Church, not just every Sunday morning but every Saturday evening. And not only that, but on feast days in the middle of the week we show up for church for that too! And we have icons in our house and incense! God is so lucky to have us. God has got to be so pleased with us!

This is where I said:

Kids, I want to ask you a question. I want you to imagine that three times a day, without being forced, without being told to, just three times a day because you want to, on your own, you come into the room where your dad and your mom are, and you listen carefully. Mom and dad sit down with you and they tell you: “This is what you need to do: You need to clean your room. You need to get along with your brothers and sisters. You need to eat your vegetables. You need to do your school work. You need say your prayers. Here’s all the things that you need to do.” And you listen, and you memorize what we say, and you not, and you say, “Yes, Daddy. Yes, Mommy.” You hug your mom and dad. Then you go out, and you do absolutely nothing that we told you to do. 

Then faithfully, at noon, you come back in again and listen, and Mom and Dad tell you again, “Okay, here’s what you need to do.” And you say, “Yes, Daddy. Yes, Mommy. I love you.” And you hug us, and you walk out, and you do absolutely nothing that we told you to do. 

Then in the evening, a third time, you come into the room, and you listen carefully. Mom and Dad tell you, “Here’s what you need to do.” Then after that you walk out, and you disobey everything that Mom and Dad said. 

I said, “If a day went like that, by the end of the day, do you think your Dad and Mom would be smiling and patting you on the back saying, ‘Good job! You came and you listened to us three times today, and you listened to everything that we told you to do. Good job! We’re so proud of you!’?”

Well, my kids unanimously agreed that would not be the result of that day. The result of that day would involve some paddling. It would involve some sore behinds that would not be able to sit down for a while. Mom and Dad would not be pleased at all.

“But three times that day we came right before you, and we asked you what you wanted. And you told us, and we memorized what you wanted. And we hugged you, and we said we loved you.” That’s true, but then when you walked out, you did not do what we said. So, by the end of the day, we’re not proud of you. We’re not pleased with you. We’re not patting you on the back. Now it’s time to pull out the rod of discipline, for you have not honored our words with your actions. 

Now we, as adults and children come before our Father in heaven every Sunday morning to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood. From the preaching, from the reading that we do in the lives of saints, through the Liturgy, through the hymns, through the Psalms, through the Scriptures; we hear what our Heavenly Father has told us we must do.

He doesn’t keep secrets from us!

He tells us:

  • This is the way marriage is supposed to work.
  • Here is what is required of husbands.
  • Here is what is required of wives. 
  • Here is required of money. It’s not yours. Even the job that you worked to earn that money – I gave that job to you! That’s a gift. Everything you have is Mine. Here’s what I require you do with your money.
  • Those kids you think are yours – I knit them together in your womb. I loaned them to you for a while. You are a steward of My children, and you will answer to Me for how you raise them.
  • Here is what I am telling you to do when you raise your children.
  • Here is what I am telling you to do with your food. 
  • Here is what I am telling you to do with your body. 
  • Here is what I am telling you to do with your clothes. 
  • Here is what I am telling you to do with your speech and your tongue. 
  • Here is what God tells you to do with your entertainment!

100% of your life, God has something to say about it. You come Sunday morning, and you hear from the Heavenly Father [that] this is what you are to do. On Saturday evening at vespers, you come before your Heavenly Father, and God says, “This is what I want you to do.” Wednesday morning, the ladies get together to study Scripture and the saints together, and the Heavenly Father tells us, “This is what I want you to do.” Thursday morning, the men get together for their men’s Bible study, and our Heavenly Father tells us, “This is what I expect you to do.”

Every day in our homes, we pray together as families at matins. In those prayers, in those prayers, in those psalms, in those Scripture Readings, our Heavenly Father says, “This is what I expect of you.” When we pray together at noon, God says, “Here’s what I expect.” As families, when we daily come before Him and pray at Vespers, our Heavenly Father says, “This is what is required.”

I don’t want to hear about how many times you pray, or how many times you go to church, or much Scripture you’ve memorized, or many chants you know, or how much incense is stuck in your clothing or your head coverings.

What I want to know is: In between your prayer times, in between the times you go to church, are you doing what your Heavenly Father told you to do? If not, then at the end of the day, don’t expect Him to pat you on the back and say, “Good job! You showed up to hear My commands.” He never says, “Well heard” or “well memorized, my good and faithful servant.” The only congratulations that He ever gives is, “Well done” [cf. Matthew 25:23].

You come to church, you pray, you read the books, you study the lives of the saints, not because those things do one little bit to get you into heaven. You do those things so that you may learn what it means to be a saint, and to think like a saint, and to live like a saint, and to do the things that saints to. Then when you leave the church, when you leave the Bible study, when you set down that book, when family prayer time is over, now let’s see you worship God with your life! Now let’s see whether that prayer that you just prayed did any good. Let’s see whether that church service you just went to has done any good.

  • How do you love your wife, husbands?
  • Wives, how do you respect your husbands?
  • Parents, how diligently on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis are you raising up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord?
  • Children, how consistently are you honoring and obeying your father and mother?
  • Are you obeying God with your entertainment?
  • Are you obeying God with your reading and music choices?
  • Are you obeying God with your money?
  • Are you obeying God in your marriage?
  • Are you obeying God with alms, and tithes, and offerings?
  • Are you obeying God in regard to prayer?

You see, prayer is double-sided. During prayer we learn how to obey God, but prayer itself is also something which He tells us to do. Studying the Scriptures tells us how to obey God. However, studying the Scriptures is also something that He has told us to do.

This is not a time to be overwhelmed, and to give up and to say, “I fall so far short that I might as well give up and leave.” No, this is a time to say:

Wow! I have already repented so much. I’ve already grown so much. I’m already so much better off now than I was a year ago or five years ago. But you know what? When you put it like that, when you start comparing me to Jesus, when you start comparing me to the saints, when I look in the mirror, I see [that] I have a whole lot more repenting to do.

And that is exactly where each one of us needs to be: Rejoicing in hope, knowing that God has already cleaned out so many of the rooms and the closets of our lives but humbled by the fact that there [are] a whole lot more closets that need to be cleaned out, made sober by the realization that we are not saints yet, at least not in the sense of the saints that we venerate. We have not been perfected yet in the same sense that saints in heaven have been perfected. And until we have reached perfection – for God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect” [cf Matthew 5:48] – until we have reached perfection, we daily need to be repenting. We daily need to be growing. We daily need to be looking at our lives and saying, “Okay, is there one more corner of my life where I still have not submitted to Christ? Okay, that corner goes down today, because I am going to be closer to Christ today than I was yesterday.” Then tomorrow, you say, “There’s another corner of my life where I still haven’t submitted to Christ. I’m taking that one down today. I’m going to make progress every day. I am going to plod ahead, because I still have a long way to go.”

If you think that you’ve already arrived, you’re already backsliding. But in humility, if you recognize that you still have a long way to go, and, instead of giving up, if you say, “I am going to go there. However hard it is and however long it takes, I am going to defeat sin, and I am going to be like Christ,” if you do that in humility, then Christ will be right there with you. And whether you die today or fifty years from now, God will meet any gap that is there. He has promised to be patient. He has promised to be gracious. He has promised to forgive us our sins, to be kind to us in our weaknesses. There is one promise, however, which even Jesus did not give us:

Jesus did not promise to be there by our side and to carry us through even when we are willfully lazy.

See, the moment you decide you want to be lazy in the faith, the moment you decide that, “I’ve already come far enough. There’s no need to press on. I’m going to make it to heaven anyway,” that is the moment when you’re in trouble.

So, if you don’t want to be in trouble, if you want to be the recipient of the promises of Christ, then press on diligently every day to repent of more thing. Then repent of one more thing. Then repent of one more thing. And take it seriously, not stopping until you have crossed the finish line.

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


NOTES

[1] Greek: μετάνοια, from μετανοεῖν (metanoein), μετα is change, νοεῖν is from νοῦς (nous), meaning mind.


This sermon was preached on the eve of All Saints Day, Saturday evening, October 31, 2014 by Dn. Joseph Gleason at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription, editing, and publishing services to Orthodox clergy and communities.

Posted in 2014 Homilies, All Saints Day, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Heresies, Once Saved Always Saved, Orthodox Homilies, Repentance | Leave a comment

Christ the King Sunday 2014

christ_the_great_high_priestmp3 Audio: WS_30013 – Fr Michael – Christ the King Sunday – 2014 10 26.mp3


This sermon was preached on Christ the King Sunday, October 24, 2014, the parish feast day of Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois by Fr. Michael Keiser.

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

 

 


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
[Colossians 1:15-18 NKJV]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Amen.

We have icxcnikaa King. We have a Ruler in the Kingdom which is difficult for many people this day to understand. Perhaps the great sin of our age, if I can express it that way, is the idea that, basically, it’s a free-for-all, that we are accountable to no one or no-thing unless we are going to fast and [the police] pull us over or we make a mistake on our taxes and [the IRS catches] it. But [the idea is] that basically there is no authority over us and that we can do with our lives and with our bodies what we wish. In fact, more and more, the law seems to be on that particular side.

If we’re born a man and we want to say that we’re a woman, we can do that. But we can do much more than that. We can go to work on our bodies, and cut parts off, and sew parts on, rearrange things around inside, and pump enough estrogen to scream like banshees. But the simple fact is: We will still stand before Christ’s judgement seat as the man or woman He created us to be regardless of what we look like and how we’ve lived. You can’t change the DNA. If you’re a woman, you’re born with [X] DNA. If you’re a man, you’re born with [Y] DNA. That will never change. Anything you do is external until it begins to seep into your soul.

So the idea that there is someone to whom we owe obedience even over and above the Constitution of the United States is something that’s just very difficult for most people to understand, but then God’s Kingdom and His ways are very difficult for most people to understand.

God created the world by bringing order out of chaos, not the other way around. But today the order seems to be breaking down more and more, and the chaos seems to be taking over more and more. So let’s go back and visit this.

When God, through His Word, which is the pre-existent Christ (Whenever it refers to God’s Word in the Old Testament, it’s talking about Jesus. He just hasn’t been incarnate yet.) . . . When God, through His pre-existent Word, creates the world (so that is Christ who is Creator. He does the act fulfilling God’s will) . . . If you go back and read your way through Genesis, you see a very ordered process of bringing things together, of putting things together from the lowest to the highest in very definite hierarchy. So the world is created with – the Greek word is τάξις [taxis], looks like “taxi” but is “tock-see,” which means, “an order.”** It is created in an order that God has established, that governs the relationship between man and beast, between men and women, between all kinds of things, but it’s meant [for creation] to live according to an order.

Of course, for a brief while, it did. You know, Adam and Eve followed the rules. They did what they were supposed to do until they finally got kind of greedy for knowledge and ate of the one tree. The one rule they had – one rule! I wish we had one rule. The one rule they had was [to] keep away from the cotton-picking Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And they wanted to know what God knew. So they found out what God knew, and it got them thrown out of Paradise, because they weren’t ready to know what God knew. It’s like your five-year-old sitting down and trying to study what E=mc2 means. I don’t know! You know, I mean, there’s knowledge that comes when you can understand the knowledge.

So all of this overthrows what God has established, but there is still, within the creation, elements of that order. In Colossians here it talks (I think it’s a wonderful image.) about how Christ is the center of all things, “holding all things together in Himself.” It’s like He’s got His arms embracing the entire cosmos and keeping it from just spinning off into God-only-knows-what by the word of His power, by the will of God.

So this order exists within the creation. We don’t send racoons to high school. It would do no good. Well, sometimes I wonder. But normally we don’t do this. We send human beings to high school, because they can supposedly learn and figure out how to run their own lives, and the world, and what have you as part of the order in creation. Now, they keep playing at it. They keep trying to mix animal and human parts and that sort of thing, and I’m sure one day, they’ll come up with an alligator that can run for governor, but we’re not there yet (unless you’re living in Florida during this election).

If we overturn enough of this order, we really begin to bring all kinds of mess into the creation. That’s what sin does. Sin just screws it up. It disrupts everything when we refuse to follow God’s laws. It messes up everything. So if you want to know why we have earthquakes, and typhoons, and floods, go home and look in the mirror. It is our rejection of God’s life that introduces into the creation Christ made all the chaos, all the disintegration, all the sickness, all the death that we’re dealing with at this point. God didn’t do it. We did after we had been set in a paradise of plenty.

So that affects the world. There’s an order within the world, and that includes within it, by the way, things such as garments, and traffic laws, and all the things that we establish which are supposedly meant for the protection of people. They don’t always work that way, but the idea, I’m sure, somewhere, in somebody’s brain, is to help us and protect us, and I agree. I mean, I’m not libertarian enough to say that we do away with speeding laws. I mean, I drive in Florida. I know what that would do. I mean, there are laws that are necessary. Paul says this. Paul says that the civil authorities are the powers that be, in other words, the powers that are established [c.f. Romans 13:1-7]. The civil authorities he was talking about, I should point out, were neither Jewish nor Christian. They were pagan. Then he still says this [is the] structure God has set us in. The state is there to be the protector of those who are good and the punisher of those who are evil.

So yes, we pay our taxes, we obey the law, we do what we can, we mutter about infringement, and all that good stuff, but until such time as they start putting cigarette smokers in concentration camps, probably we haven’t got too much to worry about. And since pipe smokers we put in charge of the camps, I’m not worried at all.

So there’s the order in the creation. There is an order in the Church, and Paul refers to it here. He says  “Christ is the head.“He’s also the body. Now, the visible Church, the Orthodox Church, is the guarantee of Jesus’ incarnation, is the guarantee of His becoming flesh. It is a physical entity transcending time and space. We come to it. We worship in it. We receive stuff from it. We offer to it. We know it’s something real. The Church is nothing invisible.

But the Church also has various levels that are above this creation. All those who have died in Christ are members of the Church. They haven’t ceased to be. All the saints are members of the Church. The Virgin is a member of the Church. We are in communion with them. We are one with them. Our communion is just not [with] the Orthodox on this planet. Our oneness in Christ extends to all of those who have gone before us. It is what G.K. Chesterton, who was a famous English author in the 19th and 20th Century referred to as “the democracy of the dead.”[1] It says [that] all of those people who lived the tradition before us get a vote as to what we believe, and they outvote us every single time.

So, if you find one of those churches that is just going totally off the rails, you can be pretty sure they are not of that tradition. They are not of that tradition, because their saints and their departed faithful are obviously not guiding and directing along with the Holy Spirit what’s going on.

Also, within the visible Church, we have a hierarchy of clergy; we know that. We have, basically, bishops, presbyters, and deacons. “Priests” is another word for “presbyter.” There are other things like subdeacons and all that. The basic governance of the Church is: bishops, presbyters, and deacons.

The bishops gather in things called synods, which, in Greek, means “coming together,” synaxis. Gathering together is where the word “synod” comes from. They pray, and they do their best under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make decisions for the governance of Christ’s Church.

Sometimes, we have really big meetings called councils. [We] haven’t had one of those in a long time, but there’s one supposedly coming up next year in 2015.[2] We’ll see. They’ve been predicting things like that for all the time I’ve been a priest. But we will see if we actually have it.

They make decisions not just for a local group of the Church. The Synod of Antioch and Damascus makes decisions for the Antiochian Church. Our own American Synod, our American bishops make decisions for our Church. A council supposedly affects all Orthodox everywhere if (and this is something people often forget) it’s accepted by the Church, in other words, [by] us. If the bishops gather in a council and make all kinds of really brilliant decisions and just send them out, and everybody ignores it, we don’t consider it a council. The Holy Spirit has got to guide the majority of the faithful of the Church to accept what the synod or the council has decided.

It’s not like Rome where you send out a memo and, supposedly, it’s implemented. It doesn’t always work that way, let me tell you, but that’s the theory. Everything comes from the top down. With us, the authority is there. The authority is much more effuse precisely because no one should be allowed to have authority if they are not willing to be accountable to the entire Church, to his bishop. to his own community.

A lot of guys become priests, especially if they’ve come out of Protestant traditions where they’re often held on a very tight leash. A Baptist pastor can be fired by vote this morning if they wanted to. So there [is] not a lot of job security in some of these groups. They become Orthodox priests, and all of the sudden, [they] think they’re Irish monsignors with all kinds of power and authority to tell people to go jump off of whatever bridge they want them to that particular day. It doesn’t work that way. A priest must be accountable to his people. A priest must be accountable to his bishop, and a bishop must be accountable to the synod, and the synod to the patriarch. Somebody’s got to be accountable for what they do. They just don’t have the right to make decisions and say, “You must do this.”

We have had congregations that have pulled back. I can give you an example: I have a friend who does a lot of book selling. He’s in charge of the book store at Holy Trinity Monastery up in New York. He does a lot of work in Russia, and goes and visits and brings stuff back to sell and that sort of thing.  He went over there (This is probably about ten years ago when he was over there.), and he and his friend went to vespers at a fairly newly-built Orthodox Church in Moscow. They went there, and there was a priest and a chanter and them. That was it. That’s very unusual in Moscow. That’s really very unusual.

So [my friend] asked [the priest] afterwards, “Is this a brand new church?”
He said, “No. It’s been here for a while.”
He said, “Well, where’s the congregation?”
He said, “A couple of weeks ago, we had a visiting delegation from the Episcopal church in the States, and they had probably sent over every female priestess they could find to try to get our support for what they’re doing.”

The Episcopal church used to give money to the Church in Russia, but the Russian Church now refuses to take it because of the doctrinal instability and craziness, and marrying whatever you want including your German shepherd. And a female priestess came to, I think, liturgy at that church, and the priest invited her to stand back in the altar, and when she walked back into the altar, the congregation walked out of the church. He said [that] they’ll be back when he apologizes. She had no business being back there. She was not Orthodox, and she was not blessed or tonsured.

That’s the kind of accountability that’s supposed to be there. If a priest were to begin to preach heresy – if I stood up here and said we actually have a quadrinity [of] Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Mary – you ought to walk out on me, really. Really! And then have a meeting later at which you sit me down and say, “Excuse us, Father. We’re not great theologians, but we know enough to know that’s dumb, and that’s not the faith.” If I refuse to repent, you write to my bishop!

Now, you don’t do that for silly things like what kind of coffee I bought for the coffee hour, but I mean in terms of important salvation[-related] stuff, you have that responsibility. Saint John Maximovitch [of Shanghai and San Francisco], who is a very beloved figure among Western Rite people once wrote that every Orthodox Christian has a responsibility for the total faith and to defend it from anybody, including clergy if they get off track![3] This happens. In the history of the Church, bishops have gone off on rabbit trails and gotten into some kind of false teaching or heresy, and people have pulled back.

There was a very famous council, the Council of Florence, at which the Byzantine Emperor, who was desperate for papal troops to fight the Muslims, took a delegation to meet with the Roman Catholic Pope and cardinals in an attempt to reunite the two churches. He basically forced his guys into an agreement. “You agree with this or you’re not going home.” All but four of them, I believe, agreed and signed the union decree with the Roman Catholic Church based upon no doctrinal agreement whatsoever, just [the emperor’s] desire to get military help.

Word got back as they were sailing back to Constantinople, and when they came in, there were all these people standing on the dock waiting for them to come in. The guys said, “This is really popular.” Well, no. They wouldn’t let them off the boat until they tore up the agreement, because they knew it was false.

So never let anyone tell you (although bishops are good at this) that it is the hierarchy that is responsible for everything in the Orthodox Church. This is untrue. Our Bishop John wouldn’t tell you this. He has more sense. Occasionally, the longer in the office, the bigger the head [of the bishop] gets, and it gets a little weird. All of us are responsible for the teaching of the Church.

We have that kind of order. I [as a priest] am accountable to my bishop. You people are accountable to me, but I am also accountable to you. This is very hard for a modern man to figure out, because we have a creation that is a hierarchical order. We have a church that is a hierarchical order. We have families (I’ll talk about this in a moment) that are a hierarchical order in which there is no inequality whatsoever.

Metropolitan JOSEPH and I are equal before God. He is no better, no worse, no farther advanced, no higher up the ladder. We are equal before God. But in terms of how the Church works, I take my orders from him, and I am obedient to him. Now, the fact that I am obedient to him or to the last metropolitan whom I served with for forty years, or served under for forty years, still means that he has to be accountable.

There were many times, well not many, but there were probably about five times when he made decisions that I vigorously dissented from, and I informed him of this. I did it respectfully. I did it as one Christian should to another four out of five times, but the fact is, you know, you’ve got to say what you say.

Now, having said that, I saluted smartly, said, “Aye aye, sir,” and went on and did what I was supposed to do. But being obedient doesn’t mean you are a trained seal. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the freedom to speak. St. Benedict [of Nursia], in his rule for monks, has one chapter that is entitled, “What To Do When the Abbot Asks You To Do Impossible Things.” And he says [that] if the abbot gives you a task that you think is just beyond your ability, and capability, and expertise, then you go to him, and you say, “Hey, Father, you’ve got this one wrong. I can’t do this. I’m not good at this. I haven’t got a brain for it,” or whatever. He says if after that, [the abbot] says, “Okay, don’t worry about it,” you’re cool. If, after that, he says [to] do it, you go and do the impossible.

That’s how Christian obedience works. It’s never slavish. It’s never oppressive, or should not be. If you encounter some place or someone who wants to make it so (and we’ve got lots of priests out there who want to “be your spiritual guide”), run! Don’t walk. Run! Come back here. We’ve got reasonably sane people. I said “reasonably.”

Now, the hierarchy goes from the Church down to our daily lives and into our families. What is it? The second lesson in matins that talks about the relationship between husbands and wives and that sort of thing? Here’s where it really gets sticky, not for us but for other people outside the Church trying to understand. We say that the husband is the head of the house as the priest is the head of the Church. Your house, your home, your family is your own little church, and your husband is the priest of that; he is the head of that. Wife helps. Children hopefully obey everyone and what have you. But again, he has to be accountable to his wife and his family.

In my first parish, which was primarily made up of people from the Middle East, the husbands thought that [this] teaching gave them the right to be the sheikh of the tent and were very disappointed when I kept explaining to them, “No. You can’t tie her behind the car and pull her down the road if she doesn’t cook the steak right.” This happens in the Middle East. It’s not supposed to happen among Christians, but it does. It’s a very patriarchal and very hierarchical culture, and I’d have to say, “No. You can’t do it. We’ll call the cops if you do that. They’ll take you away. What’s your problem?”

I, as a father and a husband, don’t have the right to do whatever I wish. Even the family, if possible should move by consensus. The Church moves by consensus. When we make decisions, we try to move by consensus – consensus as being the surest sign of the Holy Spirit. So you talk to your family. Certainly you do. If the kids are too young, obviously you aren’t going to ask them about what to do with the mortgage on the home. That would be silly. But there are decisions even the children can take part in, and you seek a consensus.

We tried to establish, in my family, (Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, because when I want something, I want something.) that if I was going to make a major purchase that was for me, I always, basically, asked my wife’s blessing on that, because I was spending our money [and] not just my money. We reached the point where we figured [that], if we couldn’t agree, then we would not make any decision. We would go back and pray more and think about it more. There have been relatively few times in my marriage when I have simply had to go out on a limb and make a decision by myself. There have been some, but not too many.

See, God works even in our marriage. And, oh, we talk about husband here, wife here. You’ve got that wonderful line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding:[4]  “husband is head; wife is neck. And the neck turns the head” towards what it wants to see. There is a relationship there. There is a co-mutuality there which reflects itself in all parts of our life: in the family, in the Church, and ultimately (although, I don’t see how we’re going to do that short of the Lord’s return) within the entire creation, because that’s the one that’s gotten so completely out of whack.

We are all called to some kind of authority. We are all called, eventually, to some kind of obedience. That only works if we allow Christ our King (the feast we celebrate today) to be our Savior and our Lord and to be consistently in the midst of our lives, our decisions, and our love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
God is One
Amen


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] G. K. Chesterton, in “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy (1908), p. 85

[2] This is planned for June 2016 in Crete. For more information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-Orthodox_Council

[3] This paraphrase does not appear linked to any singular direct quotation, but the editor has found many linked sources directly from St. John Maximovitch, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco which are connected to this concept. For example:

  • Footnote 294 on p. 143 of New Zion in Babylon (Vladimir Moss, 1964) speaks of this concept in the Russian Church during the Soviet Era.
  • The Orthodox Veneration of Mary The Birthgiver Of God (St. John Maximovitch, translated Fr. Seraphim Rose, 1978) esp. Chapter IV on The Nestorian Heresy and the Third Ecumenical Council speaks largely of the importance of Christians holding firm to the Orthodox faith even against the errors of their bishops.

Saint John was well known to have spoken about the unity of the Orthodox Faith and its preservation against heresy throughout his life and earthly ministry.

[4] “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck.  And she can turn the head any way she wants.”


This sermon was preached on Christ the King Sunday, October 24, 2014, the parish feast day of Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois by Fr. Michael Keiser.

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support including transcription, editing, and publishing services to Orthodox clergy and communities.

Posted in 1438 A.D. - Florence, 2014 Homilies, Christ the King Sunday, Colossians 1:15-18, Fr. Michael Keiser, G.K. Chesterton, Orthodox Homilies | Leave a comment

Knitters of the Garment

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_17-Fr_Joseph-Knitters_of_the_Garment.mp3


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Epistle Reading: James 1:22-27


Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 

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

THE SWEATER

A man meets with his friend and admires his luxurious wool sweater. The comfort, beauty, warmth, and craftsmanship is exquisite. He asks his friend where he can get one like it. The friend replies, “This sweater is one of a kind. I made it myself. Would you like to make one for yourself?”
“How can I do that?”
“First, get the right kind of sheep. Feed it right. Care for it carefully, and it will give you excellent quality wool. Next, when it is springtime, you need to carefully sheer the wool from the sheep. Then wash it. After that, you need a good spinning wheel. With practice, you can learn to spin your sheep’s wool into high quality yarn and thread which you can use for making your own clothes. Finally, you need to learn how to knit. With practice, you will be able to knit your homemade yarn into the most excellent sweater you have ever owned.”

The man was impressed with the excellent quality of his friend’s sweater, and he knew he could never find anything like it in a department store. So, with great excitement, he went to Amazon.com and purchased stacks of books. He bought books on raising sheep; he bought books on spinning thread; and he bought books on knitting.

Over the next several years, he became an expert on all of the available literature on these subjects. When he met sheep farmers, he would talk with them for hours. When he met people who owned spinning wheels, he would sit, mesmerized, watching them spin thread. And whenever he saw afghans and clothes that had been knitted, he closely studied the craftsmanship and had detailed discussions with the people who had made these things with their own hands.

Years later, in tears, this man sat down with his friend. “I’m so upset. I’ve put in the past ten years studying everything I can about sheep, wool, and knitting, but I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I don’t even have one homemade sweater in my closet. I feel like I’ve gone through all of this effort for nothing. It just doesn’t work.”

The friend said, “How are you doing with your knitting? Have you at least made some afghans or something?”
“Oh. I don’t have any knitting needles. I don’t know how to knit.”
“Well, how are you doing with spinning thread? Is your spinning wheel working okay?”
“I don’t know how to spin thread. I don’t own a spinning wheel.”
“Well, how are your sheep doing? Are they healthy?”
“I don’t have any sheep.”

The friend replied, “Reading about sheep is not the same as raising real sheep. Talking about thread is not the same as operating your own spinning wheel. Having conversations about knitting is not the same as actually knitting something with your own hands. Reading books about sweaters is not the same as making sweaters. Knowledge in your head will do you no good until you actually start applying it to your life. If you want to get anywhere, then you actually need to do something.”

BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD

In today’s Epistle reading from the Book of James, God gives us this command: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.”

There are people who attend church regularly, read stacks of books about Orthodoxy, have conversations for hours about Orthodoxy, and yet they do not put what they learned into practice. The church attendance is good. The reading and study is good. And the conversations are good. But they are not sufficient. By themselves, they are not enough to make you a faithful Christian. To be a faithful follower of Christ, it not only matters what you think and what you say, it also matters what you do.

According to Holy Scripture, God judges our actions. God judges our deeds. God judges our works. And if you are not doing the deeds of a Christian, then no amount of Bible reading or church attendance is going to save you. God does not just want to know what you believe with your head. God also wants to know what you believe with your tongue, and your fingers, and your feet. He wants your entire body submitted to Him, not just your mind alone.

The Wise and Foolish Virgins

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us three parables to teach us what the Judgment will be like.

The first parable is of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

There are ten virgins who are waiting for the marriage supper. Obviously, this is a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Are you going to be included in it, or will you be barred from its gates? And this is not the story of the five virgins and the five prostitutes. No! They’re all virgins, all ten of them. All of them have kept themselves pure. All ten of them have kept themselves free from sinful activities. They’ve kept themselves free from lust and gluttony and these sorts of things. These are ten virgins.

But, when you read the Church Fathers on this passage, you see that there is also the oil in their lamps. Their virginity is a picture of their purity, them avoiding sin, but the oil in their lamps is a picture of their good works done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Five of them are well-prepared and have enough oil in their lamps to make it all the way to the marriage supper of the Lamb. But five of them are foolish, and their oil runs out, their good Christian deeds run out too soon.

Then, when the time comes, just being virgins is not enough to get them into the supper. They also have to have their light burning. They have to have the oil burning. They have to have the good deeds, the good works. They knock on the door, and they pound on the door, and they say, “Please, please, please let us in.” And Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

The Talents

The second parable in Matthew 25 is The Parable of the Talents.

The master gives a certain number of talents to the first servant. He diligently works with it, and by being faithful with it, he does business, and he multiplies it into twice as much. And he gives all of it back to his lord when he returns. The lord says, “Because you have been faithful in this, look, I’m going to put you in charge over ten cities.”

The second servant, the master had given less money, but that servant was faithful with what he had. He worked hard, diligently. He did business. He doubled the money, and he gave all of it back to his lord when he returned. And the lord said, “Because you have been faithful in this, I am going to put you in charge over four cities.”

And then there is the third servant. The master gives him one talent, and he does not waste it on wine, and women, and song. He doesn’t spend it on himself. He doesn’t go out and squander it. He doesn’t steal it. The only thing he fails to do is to work with it, to multiply it, to take that money that his master had given him, to go do business, to double it, and to present it back to his lord to show himself fruitful with good deeds. That same talent of money that his master had given him he buries in the ground. And when his master returns, he just gives it back to him. And his master says, “You wicked and lazy servant.” Then he is cast out where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The Sheep and the Goats

The third parable in Matthew 25 is of the Sheep and the Goats.

The sheep are at His right hand. The goats are at His left. To the sheep, He says, “Welcome, thou blessed of My Father, into the kingdom that has been prepared for you. For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. I was sick and imprisoned, and you visited me.”

They said, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty, or sick, or in prison?” And He said, “I tell you the truth: Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.”

Then He turns to the goats, and He says, “Depart you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”

They [said], “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison, and not try to help?” He said, “I tell you the truth. Inasmuch as you have not done it to the least of these my brethren, you have not done it unto me.”

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, He doesn’t ask them how much Scripture they memorized. He doesn’t ask them how many Sundays they were at church. He doesn’t ask them how many times they worked to learn what the Lord commands. The only thing He judges is whether they followed what the Lord commands. You see, learning it is not enough. You have to go do it. The only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scriptures, is between what they did and did not do.

A Vision of Heaven

Revelation Chapter 20, starting in verse 11:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. (Revelation 20:11-12, NKJV)

Revelation 19 is also very interesting. It says:

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (Rev. 19:7-8, NET).

Now, this is a popular picture of Heaven, a popular vision of Heaven that people have in their heads. That is, [the popular picture is] of the Saints of God dwelling in the presence of God dressed in robes of white. We picture these sparkling, clean, shining white garments. But what are those garments? Where do you get those? You can’t go to Wal-Mart and get that white garment.

In Revelation 19:8, it finishes: “For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

I am going to repeat that: “The fine linen IS the righteous deeds of the saints.” Do you want to wear a white robe in Heaven? That robe is your good deeds. If you do not do good deeds, you will not have a robe to wear in Heaven.

[In] Matthew 22, Jesus gives another parable of judgment and the marriage supper of the Lamb when he gives the Parable of the Wedding Feast:

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.  So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and  cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 22:11-13, NKJV)

Do not go to the marriage supper of the Lamb without a wedding garment. Don’t try to get into Heaven without a white robe which is the righteousness, the righteous deeds of the saints.

I KNOW YOUR WORKS

At the beginning of the Book of Revelation, Jesus sends letters to seven churches calling them to account for how faithful they have been to him. Some of the churches have been more faithful; some have been less faithful. Jesus says different things to each church, but there is one thing which Jesus says to each and every church without exception. At the beginning of every letter, Jesus says, “I know your works.”

To the Church at Ephesus: “I know your works . . . Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” [Rev. 2:2,5]

To the Church at Smyrna: “I know your works . . . Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Rev 2:9,10]

To the Church at Pergamos: “I know your works . . .  I have a few things against you . . . Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” [Rev 2:13,14,16]

To the Church at Thyatira: “I know your works . . . and as for your works, the last are more than the first . . . all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” [Rev. 2:19,23]

To the Church at Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.” [Rev. 3:1-3]

To the Church at Philadelphia: “I know your works . . . you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name . . . you have kept My command to persevere . . .  Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” [Rev 3:8,10,11]

To the Church at Laodicaea: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth . . . [You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” [Rev 3:15-16, 17-19]

And today, to the Church here in Omaha, Jesus says likewise, “I know your works.” Jesus is in your home every day, and He is paying attention to the things that you do.

DEMONSTRATING OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH

  • In your family, husbands, do you show love to your wives? Or do you love your games, your guns, your, hobbies, and your career more?
  • Wives: Do you show respect and obedience to your husbands? Or do you pout and complain whenever you don’t get your own way?
  • Children: Do you obey your parents? Or are you rebellious?
  • In your day-to-day life, do you humble yourself before other people? Or do you demonstrate pride?
  • Do you eat light, healthy food to God’s glory? Or are you guilty of gluttony?
  • Do you guard your eyes and your thoughts? Or are you trapped by lust?
  • Do you respond to your spouse and children with patience? Or are you guilty of selfish anger?
  • Do you give alms and help people who are in need? Are you generous? Or are you enslaved to greed? Do you work hard to pray with your family every day, to provide for your family both physically and spiritually, to clean your home, to diligently teach your children everything they need to know to be faithful Christians? Are you setting that example in every area of your life? Or are you guilty of sloth and laziness?

The only way we can be acceptable in God’s eyes is for our actions to be in obedience to Christ. Our Christian faith is demonstrated in the way we speak to our spouses, the way we speak to our children, the way we diligently teach our children, the way we clean our homes, the way we work to provide for our families, the way we generously give to those in need, and the way we share the Gospel with those who need it. It’s all action words. Your faith is shown in the way you speak, teach, clean, work, give, and share the Gospel.

Our Christian faith is demonstrated by the way we spend our time and the way we spend our money. I have long said that if you want to see whether a man is really a Christian or not, if you want to see whether a woman is really a Christian or not, just look at their checkbook and their calendar. Anybody can talk a good talk. But look at their checkbook, and look at their calendar. Where did they spend their money, and where did they spend their time? You show me that, and I will show you who or what they worship.

It is not good enough for us to assess our convictions. We also need to make an assessment of our actions, for Jesus knows our works.

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


 

This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed and formatted by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including transcription and publishing services) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:22-27, Matthew 25:1-13, Matthew 25:14-30, Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 2, Revelation 3 | Leave a comment

Turning All Thoughts Toward Christ

mp3 Audio:  Fr Joseph-Turning_All_Thoughts_Toward_Christ.mp3


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Passion Sunday, March 29, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: John 8:46-59


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

We have been in Lent for a month now – over a month. Yet, when we walk into the church today, we see a very different picture. Something has changed. The whole period of Lent is a period of fasting, and prayer, and asceticism, and repentance. Yet, when we walk in today, we see every icon, every Cross covered, veiled – veiled with violet, the color for repentance, a somber color.

The only icons not veiled are the Stations of the Cross. Everything else is covered. We walk in, and instantly, we realize that something is different; something has changed. The stakes have been raised. The ante has been lifted. Something big, something serious is about to happen.

We have entered the great and final two weeks of Lent. We have entered Passiontide. Today, the fifth Sunday in Lent, is Passion Sunday. In today’s Gospel, wicked men tried to kill Jesus. They wanted to stone Him to death, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. He hid Himself, and as He has hidden Himself, so – with the exception for the Stations of the Cross – have we hidden the Cross, have we hidden the icon of Him.

It is fitting that where the Master is hidden, so are His servants. The icon of the Theotokos and Virgin Mary, the icons of the saints – they have all gone into hiding and we’ll not see them again until Christ rises from the dead.

Oh, the humility of an all-powerful God who does not take immediate revenge but rather hides Himself!

You may say, “what’s the big deal? Any of us could do the same. If somebody was trying to stone me to death, I’d hide myself.” That’s because you are weak. It’s because I am weak. It’s because we are in fear for our very lives.

But Jesus is God! He created the entire universe. He created those stones that they were about to throw at Him. He created the men that were about to throw the stones. When they came to attack Him, their hearts were beating because Jesus kept them beating.

If you had that kind of power, and somebody attacked you and tried to kill you, would you hide? Or would you just say, “hearts, stop beating” and be done with it? Or He could have let them throw the stones, and they could have bounced off of him without hurting Him. He could have turned them into bread before they hit Him. Then he could have fed some poor with that bread.

His hands were not tied. He was not running in fear. He knew that, even though He had come to die, He did not come to die that day. He came to lay down His life, not by being stoned but by being crucified. Stoning would have been very merciful compared to crucifixion.

Jesus wasn’t looking for the easy way out. He didn’t kill his attackers. He didn’t even take the easy way out in death and say, “hey, stoning is better than crucifixion.” Jesus took the humble path, not taking vengeance on them even while they were attacking, not seeking an easy death even though he knew that the death was coming which was so horrific on Calvary.

When he finally hung there on the Cross in Calvary, he said, “Father, forgive THEM, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Jesus was in total control. He could have beaten them that day. He could have submitted to death that day, but He chose to have mercy on them! He knew that his time for death had not yet come. So, in full control of the situation, He hid Himself. For someone who is all-powerful, that is a great testament to patience, to mercy, to love, and to humility.

The only icons not veiled are the Stations of the Cross. Throughout most of the year, we keep all the icons uncovered so that we may venerate them all. During Passiontide, the Church’s gaze turns to the path that Jesus took to the Cross and the grave.

By veiling all other icons, we remove distractions. Our attention is drawn directly to the things which Jesus suffered for our sake. This reminds us that sometimes we even have to abstain from things that are good so that we might direct our attention to that which is even higher and better.

Food is good! Yet during Lent, we abstain from good food so that we might give more attention to spiritual matters. Icons are good! Yet during Passiontide, we cover them so that we might give more attention to Christ’s death on the Cross.

Passiontide marks a shift in our focus, not only during the liturgy but also in our own personal lives at home. During the season of Lent, we greatly increase our effort in reducing our dependence on worldly pleasures. We increase our prayer through following the Stations of the Cross on Fridays, through praying the litany, as we do at various times throughout Lent and hopefully in our own home prayer life.

We increase our fasting. Throughout the year we abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, but during Lent, it is six days a week. It is throughout the week. We fast from all food whatsoever until noon. Even for lunch, we eat only a half a meal or less. Throughout Lent we abstain from all meat.

Also, if we are following Lent in its fullness, there’s less celebration during Lent and more mourning for our sins. In league with that, we reduce our traveling during Lent. We try not to take vacations during Lent.

Even in the liturgy, we wear different colors. We wear these purple colors for penance: violet, and then on Good Friday we will actually wear black.

During Lent we do all of these things to humble ourselves, to master our physical bodies, to eradicate self-deception, to remind ourselves that we are sinners, to weep for our sins seeking forgiveness and cleansing, and to defeat the passions.

Focusing on our sins that we may repent is better than doting on our own righteousness that we may boast. Yet even in this, our gazes are turned inward. Even focusing on personal sins is dangerous, for we focus on what is personal, and thus, our eyes turn in upon ourselves.

When we turn our eyes away from thoughts of our own righteousness, and gaze instead upon our sins, humility begins. When we turn our eyes away from our sins and turn our thoughts toward Christ, humility matures.

Forget your good deeds, and repent of your sins. There you will find forgiveness. Forget yourself altogether, and remember nothing but Christ. There you will find glory.

As I’ve said, Passiontide marks a shift in our focus not only during the liturgy but also in our personal lives at home. During Lent, we did all those things we just discussed, but during Passiontide, even though we continue doing our ascetic labors of fasting and prayer, we continue doing them, but we turn our thoughts even more towards Christ esteeming thoughts of Him to be of greater value than thoughts about the struggles we each are going through.

You keep fasting, but you stop thinking so much about your fasting and think more about Christ. You keep praying, but you look at the content of those prayers. Instead of them being so much about yourself, you’re focusing them on Christ and on other people.

As you pray, turn your thoughts less to yourself and more to gratitude for what Christ has done and more to the needs of others. As you fast, you will still hunger, but instead of choosing to think about the hunger, turn your thoughts towards Christ being beaten, humiliated, shamed, starved, and executed – Him doing all of this that you might live. If you contemplate the Cross, then you’re own problems will fade away into relative insignificance.

As you humble yourself, remember that thinking of yourself humbly is less humble than to forget about yourself altogether. Fill your mind not with yourself, but rather let your thoughts be focused on Christ and upon your brothers and sisters in Christ. Put yourself last! Consider every other person to be better than yourself, and treat them accordingly. “For great is the might of the Lord, but by the humble, He is glorified” (Sirach 3:20).[1]

The path to the Cross is the path to humility. You cannot follow Christ without walking towards the Cross. As Jesus Himself said in Luke 14:27, “and whosoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

There are stages in our lives that we go through, stages of growth. A little child starts out nursing and drinking from a bottle. Then they start eating solid food, but they only use their hands. Then finally, when they are old enough, you give them a spoon and a fork. When they are even older than that, you give them a knife.

So it is with us. We start out absolutely selfish, absolutely self-centered. Every thought that we have is on me, me, me. “What makes me happy? What takes away my pain? What gives me pleasure? What do I want to do?” You constantly look at your spouse, and your children, and your job, and everything in your life is means to an end to gratify yourself.

Then you meet Christ. Then you meet His Church, and you are challenged to do things that are difficult. You are challenged to do things for others. You are challenged to put other people first. You are challenged to fast, and to pray, and to have ascetic labors. But all of these challenges don’t come all at once.

At first, it is very common that, even though you realize you are a sinner, even though you realize that improvement needs to be made, your focus is still on yourself. You used to think you were a pretty good person. Then you met Christ, and you found out you weren’t. You used to think that maybe you made some mistakes here and there, but you’re not a filthy rotten sinner. Then you met Christ, and you found out that – nope! Even I, myself, am a filthy rotten sinner.

So you start trying to clean up those sins. You start trying to repent. Now, instead of focusing on what you thought was your righteousness, you are focused on your own sin. You focus on praying more. You focus on fasting. You focus on trying to read the Scriptures. You focus on trying to go to church. You focus on how you speak to other people. You focus on how you spend your money. You focus on how you spend your time. In all of these ways, you’re looking at yourself saying, “I need to get rid of this sin, and I need to get rid of that sin, and I need to get rid of this sin, and I need to get rid of that sin.” But in this whole process, you are still focused on yourself.

You are doing much, much, much better than you were before you came to Christ, before you came to the Church. It’s better to really look at yourself and to really check to see whether there are virtues that are growing, to check to see whether there are sins that you are getting rid of. From time to time we all have to do that throughout our lives, no matter how mature you get in Christ. Even that, as good as it is, is not as high as you can go.

You see, there comes a point that, moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, with most of your time, you can forget about yourself entirely. You’re not thinking about your good deeds, but you’re not even really focused on your sins and how you’ve repented, because you’re not thinking about you at all.

Your thoughts are stayed on Christ. Your thoughts are stayed on your spouse. Your thoughts are stayed on your children. From morning to noon to night, you spend so much of your time thinking about Christ, working hard to serve Him, working hard to serve your spouse and your children from a heart of love, that by the end of the day, when you come to your prayers, you realize that you have some repenting to do and there are some virtues within you that are growing, but it dawns on you that throughout most of the day, you’ve hardly even thought about you at all – good or bad.

That’s the next step in humility. We know what that tastes like. We have some idea what that feels like. Not anything Christian, not anything in the Church, but just in the world, have you ever gotten so enraptured with something that you’re doing that you forget yourself entirely?

Have you ever watched a TV show from start to finish without doing any introspection or thinking of yourself at all? You are just focused on what they’re doing, on this entertainment that is flowing in.

Have you ever been playing baseball, or basketball, or volleyball, or soccer, or football, and you get so into the game that you’re playing that you don’t even think about yourself at all but are just lost in the joy of the moment?

Henry David, have you ever been out shooting your bow during target practice, and you’re just so enraptured with what you’re doing that you don’t think about anything else for a while? All you’re thinking about is just shooting that bow.

Kids, have you ever been doing work with the animals and having so much fun with the ducks, or the chickens, or the baby goats that for a half-hour or hour that’s all you’re focused on, and you don’t think about yourself at all?

We know what that feeling is like. We know what it is like to be so enraptured in something, so lost in something, so fully consumed with something that we don’t have good thoughts about ourselves; we don’t have bad thoughts about ourselves; in fact, we don’t have any thoughts about ourselves because our entire being is focused outside of ourselves on some other thing or on some other person. That is what Christ calls us to.

Repentance is necessary. We need to look into our own hearts. We need to ask Christ to look into our hearts. We need to fast. We need to pray. We need to do all these things. But if Christ is truly Who we seek, if humility is truly what we seek, if love is truly what we seek, then we will never be satisfied fully as long as our gaze is turned upon ourselves, as long as we are still looking in the mirror. If you are looking in the mirror, and you see something absolutely beautiful. If you look in the mirror, and you see, “I am ugly with sin. I need to repent,” then you are starting with humility.

You repent, and you repent, and you repent, but at some point, you turn away from the mirror altogether and just look in the face of Jesus. Then you turn to Russ, and you see the face of Jesus. Then you turn to Katie, and you see the face of Jesus. Then you turn to Betty, and you see the face of Jesus. You look into the eyes of your children, and you see the face of Jesus. You look at your spouse, and you see the face of Jesus. You are so enraptured by the face of Christ that you forget yourself entirely. You go into worship of the Lord. By serving your wife, by serving your husband, by serving your children, you serve Christ. You see something far more beautiful than you ever saw when you were standing in front of that mirror.

As the saying goes, true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] In Orthodox Study Bible (SAAS), Wisdom of Sirach 3:19


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Passion Sunday, March 29, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support, including  transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Humility, John 8:46-59, Lent, Passiontide | Leave a comment

Joy From Suffering

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_03-Fr_Joseph-Joy_From_Suffering.mp3


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 2, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: John 16:16-22 


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

A woman calls her mother on the phone:
“Mom, I just had some tests done at the doctor’s office. For the next few months, it looks like I’m going to be getting really, really sick. Among other problems, the doctor says I can expect high blood pressure, back pain, nausea, and weight gain.”
“Oh no, Honey! What did he say you have?”
“He said I’m going to have a baby.”

That’s not usually the way that phone call goes, is it? Normally, we expect the conversation to go more like this:
“Mom! Great news! I just found out I’m going to have a baby!”
“Oh Honey, that’s wonderful! Congratulations!”

That’s more what you would expect, isn’t it? Mother and daughter both know what’s coming. They’re both aware of the morning sickness. They’re both aware of the back pain, and they know that she will have to watch her blood pressure. But they don’t even mention any of that because they’re so excited about the new baby. They know some suffering will be involved, but they don’t even mention it because they know the suffering is tiny in comparison to the magnificent reward of having a precious new child.

What would be sorrow is turned into joy. If it wasn’t for that baby, you’d look at those months in a whole different light. If the woman said, “I was sick and throwing up for months, and my back was hurting and I gained 40 pounds,” making all these trips to the doctor, if a baby wasn’t involved, you’d be really worried about her. You’d look at this as a horrific trial in her life. But when you know that the reward is a baby, you don’t even think about the pain. You don’t even think about the suffering because you’re looking forward to the joy of holding that baby in your arms.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.  Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. [John 16:20-24, KJV]

In just five verses, we see the word “joy” repeated four times. Joy, joy, joy, joy! Your sorrow shall be turned into joy! In our Psalms that we chanted this morning, one of those Psalms was Psalm 16:

 I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. [Psalm 16:8-11, KJV]

What are we to make of passages like this? In the Gospel of John, Jesus [is] saying, “Joy is coming, but you’re going to have to go through some sorrow to get there.” Psalm 16 in verse 11 tells us that in His presence is [the] fullness of joy, but, in verse ten, mentions the fact of his death.

What are we to make of passages like James 1:2: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” [KJV]? There’s a tough command. The last time temptations were sent your way, did you respond in joy? Do you count it all joy when you suffer? Scripture says that we should. Joy comes as a reward for suffering, and that joy is what makes the suffering bearable. 

Any of you ladies who have children, you know what it’s like to go through nine months of pregnancy. How would you feel if somebody told you, “You’re going to have to go through that, and there will be no reward at the end. No baby. Just go through nine months of this, and then there’s no reward”? Would that be a pretty bitter pill to swallow? Would that be pretty tough to take?

Yet, I know many of you would gladly go through it again just to hold another child in your arms. The joy is what makes the suffering bearable. 

This goes for physical suffering. It goes for emotional suffering. It also goes for the type of suffering that we go through vicariously for another person that we care about.

Physical Suffering

Physical suffering: Migraine headaches, ulcers, back pain, hip pain. How does this help us? One way it helps us is that it reminds us that we are dying. You say, “But I don’t want to think about death!” That’s why it’s good for you. It makes you think about death. When your body starts falling apart, when things don’t work the way they used to, when you no longer are an invincible 18-year-old with muscles in your earlobes, you start realizing that, “You know what? I’m going to die.” That’s not ulcer you’re going to get. That’s not the last back pain you’re going to get. It’s not that last hip pain or headache that you’re going to get. In fact, it’s probably going to get worse.

My sweet Aunt Ruth spent years working in hospice. You can probably confirm what I’m saying. When people start getting these kinds of pains, do they usually clear up and get better before they die, or do they get worse? They get worse. That’s why we need hospice care.

There’s a passage in Sirach that says (and I am going to paraphrase it) always be thinking about death, and you will never sin [c.f. Sir. 7:36]. See, as long as there is no judgment, as long as there is no Hell, you can do whatever you want. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But if you’re a Christian, you know that death is not the end. You know that, if you have rejected God, that death is not the end of your troubles but only the beginning.

When you know that Judgement Day is coming and you will stand before Christ, and not only will you give account for everything that you ever did, but it says in Scripture that you will give account for every idle word spoken. Even on days that you didn’t slip up with your actions, did you slip up with your words?

It says in Scripture that, on that day, God will judge the secrets of the hearts of men. Even on days that you didn’t slip up in your actions and didn’t slip up in your words, did you curse someone in your thoughts? Did you show disrespect for someone in your thoughts? Did you have any pride in your heart?

It is good to be reminded of your death so that you can repent today! So that you can go to confession today! So that you and God can deal with those sins today so that you don’t have to deal with them on that day.

Physical suffering like headaches, and back pain, and hip pain reminds us that we’re dying, reminds us that Judgement Day is approaching, reminds us that we are not Superman. Most importantly, it humbles us. When you’re 25 and strong [with] big muscles and [a] thin waist and you can run for an hour without getting tired, it’s really hard to avoid pride. And pride is the single most dangerous thing in the universe. If you don’t have it, the devil and all his minions cannot hurt you. If you have it, you turn into a devil yourself without their help.

Pride is that which turned the most beautiful archangel into Satan, and humility is that which can take a mere man and make him like an angel. Physical suffering humbles us. It’s not impossible but it is more difficult to be arrogant and high-minded about yourself when your body is wracked with pain and you’re having to walk with a walker. That’s not a curse from God; that’s the grace of God that gives us whatever we need to encourage us in the direction of humility. In so doing, physical suffering helps to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ who learned obedience by the things that He suffered.

The next time you have physical suffering, still you put on a bandage, still you go to a doctor, still you pray for deliverance, but in the meantime, rejoice! Give thanks because it is not in vain. That physical suffering that you are enduring is not for nothing. It’s not meaningless. It’s not useless. God is using it for your good.

Remember Romans 8:28? “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” “All things” means all things! That includes that five-day-long migraine headache, the ulcer that makes it so that you can’t eat a single thing and you’re doubled over in pain, the back pain that lays you out for a week where you can’t do anything, the hip pain that makes it almost impossible to climb a flight of stairs. It’s not useless. It is working for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, to humble you, to make you more like Him, to remind you of your death so that you can repent of your sins.

Give thanks to God for this. Don’t just give thanks to God in the midst of suffering. Give thanks to God for the suffering and for the good that He is working in you through it. 

Emotional Suffering

What about emotional suffering? Loneliness, rejection, frustration with people you thought were your friends and then they don’t stick with you? This helps us too. This, too, can be a gift from God if it received correctly. Emotional suffering reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. Even if you are in perfect health, can you be happy by yourself? Only for so long. We need other people. We need relationships.

This also reminds us to be kind to other people so that we don’t make them feel this way. You may have caused someone else to feel lonely, or rejected, or frustrated, or upset, or angry; and you may not understand what is so wrong with the way you were behaving until you yourself are on the receiving end. So this is educational. This is to help you. This is to give you an opportunity to repent. So once again, when you are going through emotional suffering, this is a good opportunity for God to humble us.

Jesus suffered these kinds of sufferings as well. He was abandoned by his disciples. He was rejected by people he came to save. He was mocked, cursed, shamed, and spat upon. You say you want to be like Christ? Then you, too, must walk a similar path.

With physical suffering and emotional suffering, there is another good which this serves. If everyone on Earth were perfectly healthy, had no needs left unmet, had no distresses, no sicknesses, no troubles, it would be much more difficult to find opportunities to demonstrate your love for those other people. You see, unless that two-year-old gets a thorn in his finger or a bee sting in his arm, he can’t run to Mommy crying so that Mommy can hug him, and kiss him, and embrace him, and comfort him.

However much that embrace from your mother meant when you needed comforting, that couldn’t have happened without the bee sting to begin with, without stepping on the thorn to begin with.

This contributes to the salvation of other people who love the Lord. Remember Jesus saying how important it is for us to give alms? For us to give alms, there has to be somebody in need! There has to be somebody poor. In regard to physical suffering and emotional suffering, maybe you are that person. Maybe the very reason you are poor is because somebody else needs to give alms to somebody. Maybe the reason you are sick is so that somebody else can minister unto you and show the love of Christ. Maybe the reason you are distressed is so that somebody else in the Body of Christ can show their love for Christ by comforting you.

Compassionate Suffering

We have physical suffering. We have emotional suffering. Then, finally, we have suffering for someone else – in other words, compassion. Indeed, this is part of what it means to be a Christian. If you don’t have this kind of suffering, you don’t even belong to Christ.

In James, we read: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world” [James 1:27, KJV]. In Matthew 10, Jesus says:

He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward. [Matthew 10:40-42, NKJV].

So visiting orphans, visiting widows: you can find them at any nursing home that you want to visit. Just having compassion for a child and, in the name of Christ or in the name of one of His disciples, simply giving a cup of cold water to that child out of compassion, Jesus said you will not lose your reward. This is part of the very warp and woof of what it means to live as a Christian.

But if we are to have compassion on people’s physical and emotional needs, how much more, if we truly follow Christ, how much more are we to weep for the lost? Jesus said [to] pray that people will be sent out into the harvest [cf. Matthew 9:38, Luke 10:2]. He said the grain is glistening and white. It’s ready for harvest.

Suffering from compassion from the desire to see the salvation of another human being: How does that suffering help us? How is it a good thing?

One of the excellent results of this kind of suffering is that person’s salvation. In many cases, the sorrow you feel for the lost is the very motivation for you to bring evangelism to that person. If the person responds well, that person will be saved, and your sorrow will be turned into joy. It very well may be that that person does not come to Christ, that that person does not come into the Orthodox Church unless you yourself go to that person and, not in condemnation, not in anger, but in tears of compassion, pouring yourself out to that person, saying, “I love you so much! I know you don’t want to listen to me, but you’ve got to listen to me. This is that important.”

In many cases, you will not find the heartfelt motivation to have that conversation again, and again, and again with that person unless you begin with that suffering, that weeping, that crying out before God for the soul of this other human being. Don’t grieve because you suffer in that way. Thank God that He has granted you tears, for those tears of compassion are the very things which have the power, if you let them, to drive you to bring Christ to that other person.

It may not be your personality type to open your mouth and talk about Christ, talk about His Church, talk about God. That just may not be your style. You may not be the sort of person who gets up in front of a group of people and talks about the Gospel. You may not be the sort of person who likes to have long conversations about theology, and the Church, and the doctrines, and the teachings of Christ But if your heart is broken when you even think about that spouse, that child, that parent, that friend, if it breaks your heart to even think about that person not being in Heaven with you, then that can be the motivation you need to go and do what’s uncomfortable, and talk to them, and pray for them for a day, for a week, for a year, for the rest of your life, whatever it takes to bring that person home.

But what good does this suffering for their salvation do if the person does not respond well? If a hundred times, even a thousand times, you go to them with the truth, you go to them with the Gospel, you invite them into the Orthodox Church, and they just reject it entirely. They want nothing to do with it. In such a case, something comes about that is called division, which Jesus said in certain cases is a good thing. If a person does not respond well, it serves as an opportunity for you to demonstrate, through your actions, that Jesus means more to you than anything and Jesus means more to you than anybody.

You see, if you didn’t care about the other person, if you didn’t grieve for them, if you didn’t weep for their salvation, then the two of you parting ways – they to their religion and you to yours – wouldn’t mean much. But the fact that you love them, the fact that you weep for them, the fact that you want more than anything to see them with you means that, at some point, you have to choose: “Am I going to stick with this person even if it means turning my back on Christ and His Church, or am I going to stick with Christ and His Church even if this person turns their back on me because of it?”

While you grieve being forced to choose between Jesus and a beloved family member, you glorify God, and you show your love for Christ when you show that your relationship with Him is more important than your relationship with your family members. In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus says this:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’;  and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

One of the excuses that we give ourselves for why we do not take the Gospel to our loved ones is that we fear division:

“If I tell them Jesus is the only way to Heaven, they’re not going to like that. Man, if I tell them the Orthodox Church is the true Church, that it’s the way we’re supposed to worship God, that’s going to offend them. And God wouldn’t want division. He’d want to keep us together. He wouldn’t want there to be any division between us.”

Well, Jesus says precisely the opposite. He says, “I did not come to bring peace but to bring a sword.” Jesus says that He came to set parents against children and children against parents. Of course, He would rather that everyone repent, but that’s up to them, not up to Him. If nobody in your household has repented, then there’s peace. You all are in agreement in serving the devil. If everyone in your home repents, then there is peace, for you are all in agreement serving the Lord. But there is free will. You may choose life. You may choose to follow Christ, and that other person in your own household may choose death, may choose to continue serving the devil. The moment those two choices have been made, there is now division in your house where there was not before. And Jesus would rather there be division in your house and you get saved then there be peace in your house and all of you go to Hell.

Your love for Christ needs to be more dear to you than even the love you have for your family. And yes, you pray for the division to go away. You pray for peace. But that can only happen in one way – not by you turning your back on Christ and His Church, but the only way that division can truly be healed is for the other person to repent and to follow Christ. That is why you continue to witness to them. You continue to evangelize them, and you continue to pray for them until you die.

There can also be good unintended consequences. You go through all of this, praying to God that, through your efforts and your prayers, that the other person is brought to repentance and salvation, and yet, that person may say, “I’m not interested.” And then, you may throw your hands up and say, “Well, what good was that?”

You may do something good for someone, and yet someone else may benefit. I can think of at least a couple of cases where I have poured out my heart writing something, not for the general public, not to be published, but just for one person that I’m talking to trying to show them the truth about something, and that person rejects it. It seems like I went through all of that for nothing. Yet, later, I find out that that particular article has literally touched tens of thousands of people that have benefited from it after the fact. I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for one person, and that one person wouldn’t listen. Yet, after the fact, tens of thousands of people benefit. You may find that the same thing happens in your life.

I remember one time at an airport probably ten [or] twelve years ago, I talked, and I talked, and I talked for probably twenty [or] thirty minutes to a guy, and he just showed no interest whatsoever in the Gospel. I talked, and I talked, and he just didn’t seem interested. And just off to the side, this lady had been listening, and, finally, she turned, and she squinted her eyes, and she said, “Where do you get this stuff?” She wanted to know more. Then our seats on the airplane ended up being next to each other. So I had this entire flight to talk to this woman about Christ. She’s not even the one I was initially trying to talk to, but she got “hit,” if you want to call it collateral damage. I was shooting the Gospel at somebody else, and yet it hit her.

Pour your heart out for that person that you love, and God will make that seed sprout and grow. Of course, you want it to grow in the heart of the person you’re talking to, but you don’t know what the Lord has planned. You pouring your heart out for that one person may splatter over onto cousins, or grandchildren, or aunts, or uncles, or neighbors, or somebody you’ve never even met before.

This other family, this other person: Is it worth their eternal soul, is it worth their salvation for you to pour out your heart in this way even if the person you are talking to doesn’t respond? Yes! It is worth it.

In Matthew 25, we read about the sheep and the goats. In this passage, the only difference given between them is what they did and didn’t do. Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the sick and the imprisoned? Did you give water to those who were thirsty? And I think, by extension, we can say, “Did you preach the Gospel to those who didn’t know it? To people who knew nothing of the Church, did you talk to them and share it with them?”

None of your suffering is in vain. Joy is born from sorrow. Joy vanquishes sorrow. True joy cannot be taken away from you, but Jesus also says that your joy needs to be made full. And for your joy to be made full, you need to realize that you’re suffering for a reason.

Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” [KJV]. If you’re not living in joy every single minute of every single day, then you’re not fully focused on the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy.

Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” [KJV]. 

Galatians 5:22 [and 23]: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” [KJV]. If you don’t have joy, you are lacking fruit of the spirit.

In Colossians [1:11], the Apostle Paul prays that we might be “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” [KJV]. In all of this, we are called to be like Christ.

Hebrews 12:2: ” Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” [KJV]. If you are called to be like Christ, that means you are called to despise the suffering, despise the shame, and, for the joy set before you, endure that suffering, endure that cross.

To believe what it says in Romans 8:28, that “all things work together for good for those who love God:” That means your migraines work together for the good of those who love God. Your ulcers work together for the good of those who love God. Your back pain and your hip pain work together for the good of those who love God. Your emotional suffering, loneliness, rejection, frustration with people works together for the good of those who love God. Your grieving, your suffering, your compassion for other people who do not yet know Christ and His Church – that works for the good of those who love God.

So don’t fall into despair when you suffer. When you suffer, rejoice knowing that you are going through it for a reason and that you will receive your reward in due time. 

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


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including transcription and publishing services) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 16:16-22, Joy, Suffering | Leave a comment