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

The Bitter Pill That Heals

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_02-Fr_Joseph-The_Bitter_Pill_That_Heals.mp3


This lesson was taught by Father Joseph Gleason on Saturday evening, May 2, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Christ is Risen!
-Indeed He is Risen!

Oh, my. This is the eve of the Third Sunday after Pascha. So that means we’re still only halfway into Paschaltide. We’re about halfway towards the Ascension.

The Right Medications

There’s something I want everybody to imagine:

How many here have ever worked in or near a hospital? Half the hands are going to go up. I want you to imagine that all of your patients have been wonderful to deal with. It’s just the work that’s hard, right? The people are just cool all the time, right? Not really? Some of them are difficult?

So I want you to imagine a patient that’s more on the difficult side. You know exactly what you need to do. You know what needs to be done, but the patient is just difficult. You go in the room, you look at the chart, and you say, “Okay, this patient needs some blood pressure medications.”

You go over to the patient, and the patient has sneaked in some medications that they want to take on their own because they don’t trust the hospital to take care of things. So you see the patient just taking a couple of Excedrin. Okay, they took some headache medication. Okay? But, you know, that has aspirin in it, so you know that’s going to mess with the blood a little bit.

And you look, and you say, “What are you doing?” You see that they’ve also popped a couple of diet pills. So, okay, now the heart rate is going to go up a little bit. It’s going to do some things a little bit there.

Then you look, and they just took a swig of Nyquil. And you know that Nyquil has alcohol in it and all kinds of other stuff, and there’s Tylenol in that. You’re just saying, “Okay, look. You’re not supposed to be taking any of that. You don’t have a cold, so you don’t need the Nyquil. You don’t even have a headache, so why are you even taking Excedrin? You need to take your blood pressure medication. You obviously like taking medication, so just take this.”

“No. I’m not taking my blood pressure meds.”
“Why not?”
“I… I don’t have a problem with blood pressure.”
“You don’t have a headache either, and you just took some Excedrin.”
“That’s why I don’t have a headache because I’m always taking Excedrin.”
“But you don’t even have a cold. There’s no congestion.”
“That’s why I always take Nyquil. It keeps me from ever getting a cold.”
“Look. Just take. . .”
“I’m not taking that. I don’t want that.”

Is this person’s blood pressure going to get better because they took all of this other medication? I mean, they’re taking three times as much medication as the guy in the next hospital bed over. Why isn’t this one going to get better? He’s not taking the medicine he needs.

So you get very frustrated with this patient. You pass it off to another nurse. You go to the next person. You say, “Okay. This is going to be a lot easier. Now, this person – this person – they’ve been complaining all day of a really bad headache. So I’m going to give them 800mg of ibuprofen.”

You pull it out, and they say, “I’m not taking that.”
“What do you mean you’re not taking it? You said you had a headache.”
“I’m not taking that because that’s not going to help my headache. I’m going to take these.”

And you look, and it’s a couple of blood pressure pills. So they pop some blood pressure medication.

You say, “That’s not going to help your headache.”
“I’m not taking the ibuprofen. I’m not going to do it.”

How frustrating would it be to you as a doctor, or as a nurse, or as a medical assistant if you had all of this medication, and you took it to each patient, and every patient was willing to take lots of medications except the med for whatever they were sick with? Would that be frustrating to you? Would that be bizarre? Would that be weird?

Then don’t ever go into the ministry, because that’s what the ministry is all about.

The Church is a Hospital

All of us, myself included, we’re all sick. Right? The Church is a hospital. You’ve heard this before. But think it through.

Take pride for example, which is the root of every sin. Have you ever heard the saying that arrogance and pride are that strange sickness that makes everyone sick except for the person that has it? Have you ever heard that? It’s true. Right? If somebody has really pronounced arrogance, if they’re just full of themselves, that person himself is not upset about it. Is he? He doesn’t even notice it. He makes everybody else sick. Everybody says, “Man, that person needs some more humility.” And what’s the last thing that person’s going to want help with? His pride.

You might get him to admit he needs help with this, or that, or the other. He might enjoy studying the Bible. He might enjoy doing all these other things. He might do prostrations. He might do Bible studies. He might take the sacraments. But that? Oh boy.

But it’s not just that sin. It’s every sin that’s like that.

Calvin, if I walk up to you, and I say, “Calvin, I’ve got to tell you something.” Now, imagine that you haven’t joined the Church just yet. You’re still looking into Orthodoxy. Okay? And I say, “Calvin, I’ve got to shoot straight with you. If you come into the Orthodox Church, no homosexual activity.” How difficult would that be for you? Would you be able to go along with that? No problem? Okay. That wouldn’t be a stretch. Okay. Well.

[There is laughter.]

What if I said, “In the Orthodox Church, we’ve got to warn you, you have to be faithful to your husband. Sorry, but you’re stuck with him the rest of your life. That’s just the way it’s going to be”? Would you have said, “Oh darn! I’m not going to become Orthodox”? No. Not at all.

Denise, you’re looking into Orthodoxy. You’re trying to decide, and somebody says, “Now, there’s a lot of stuff you’ve got to believe if you’re going to be Orthodox, a lot of stuff you’re going to have to believe. One of them is that Jesus is God! He’s not just good. He’s not just a prophet. He’s not just wonderful. He’s God! He created the whole world.” Would you be cool with that? Is that one of the barriers to coming into Orthodoxy? Not really. Alright?

These are easy things. And that’s the way most of us are because nobody is sinful in every single way.

I know a person, just chatted with her yesterday, who has a real problem with the doctrine of the Trinity. For her, that would be a hurdle to overcome before she could come into the Orthodox Church, before she could become fully Orthodox.

There are some people out there who have a real problem with the Church’s stance rejecting gay marriage. They can say, “Man, I could become Orthodox. I could join the Church. I could believe everything the Church teaches. But that. . . I just. . .” They don’t mind the icons. They don’t mind the prayers to Mary. They don’t mind the incense, and the Liturgy, and the deity of Christ, but, man, they just really think that we’re mean to gays.

That’s the way the devil gets us. It’s very rare that he makes us sick at every single point. It’s the rare person you meet who is simultaneously an atheist, and a homosexual, and has children but doesn’t take care of them at all, and is lazy. I mean, you know, there [are] a lot of hard-working people that are atheists. There are a lot of Muslims who love their wives and children.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

What’s my point in all this? My point in all of this is: A lot of the doctrine of the Orthodox Church and a lot of the medicine of the Orthodox Church doesn’t bother people for the most part.

I could go to almost any Protestant and show them a bunch of things that the Orthodox Church believes and they’d say, “Hey! I believe that too. That’s good stuff.”

I could go to a Muslim and pick out certain things that the Orthodox Church believes and show it to them and say, “Oh! I believe that too. That’s good stuff.”

I could go to a Roman Catholic and show them a lot of things that the Orthodox Church teaches and say, “Oh! I believe that stuff too. That’s wonderful! Let’s all be brothers and sisters and get along.”

What makes you Orthodox, fully Orthodox, is when you accept everything. You say, “But none of us –  unless you have reached theosis and uncreated light is coming out of your fingertips – none of us are there yet. Are we?” Is there any one of us that, perfectly, has got our heart, and our mind, and our beliefs, and our practices fully Orthodox? Are we there yet? Have we arrived? I haven’t. God help me if I stop trying. God help me if I don’t try to do better tomorrow at it than I am today. But, in all honesty, no, I have not arrived yet. I have a lot more climbing to do before I reach that point, and that’s the nice way to put it.

If you haven’t arrived yet, what that means is that some sin remains. Some sin remains! [Does] anybody in this room deny that? Do we need to argue that point? Does everybody recognize that, when you look in the mirror, you look at somebody that has sinned over the past 24 hours?

Now, it would be a heresy if I said that that’s unavoidable. It’s avoidable. You can stop! You don’t have to keep sinning. But with most of us, God doesn’t show you every dirty closet in your life all at once and overwhelm you. He goes [through] one door at a time. You invited Him into your house. He’s been cleaning out your house and blessing your house, but there [are] still a few rooms He hasn’t gotten to yet. When He gets to those rooms, it’s going to be like a mini conversion experience all over again.

Can any of you relate to what I’m talking about? What was your conversion experience like to begin with? Did you look at your life and say, “Man, it’s squeaky clean, so God let me in!” No. You looked at your life and you saw, “Oh! I hate to admit it, but there is some bad stuff here. Some of it . . . I know it’s bad, but I kind of like it, and I don’t want to give it up.”

Then you’re convicted. You pray. You decide that you love Christ more than you love your sins that you’ve given up. It’s washed away in baptism. You go to confession. You take the Eucharist. You’re chrismated. You get all these different sacraments [including] the sacrament of healing. As time goes by, you’re already in the Orthodox Church, and then, you realize, “I just. . . There’s still a certain sin I’m dealing with. I need to get rid of that. Oh! But I like that! I don’t want to get rid of that one.”

Then you decide, “Okay, I love Christ more than I love this sin. So, yes, Lord, you can clean that one out too.” Then He goes on to the next room. Can anybody relate to what I’m saying? Is this your experience? Is this your walk, or is this just me? Is this everybody? Okay.

That being the case, even though we’re already Orthodox, even though we already do believe in Christ, even though we already do believe in the Teachings of the Church, we shouldn’t be surprised when the old man tries to pop up whenever we’re dealing with some new sin that we haven’t fully repented of yet. Maybe up until now we didn’t even know it was a sin. But that next closet, that next door of your life is opened up, and, all f the sudden, it’s pain again. It’s like, “Am I going to have to change my beliefs on that? Am I going to have to stop doing that? Am I going to have to sacrifice that?” It’s just like the person at the hospital that’s taking all these different medications except the one that they need.

What do I mean by that? Let’s say you have somebody that struggles with the sin of lust. Now, for whatever reason, let’s say that God has cleaned out some other rooms in that person’s life first. Okay? So that person used to be completely selfish with their money [and] wouldn’t tithe a penny. But the Holy Spirit convicted them, and they submitted their finances to God. Now they tithe regularly. Every check that comes in, they’re giving some back to God because they recognize that that’s His.

Well, that’s medication. That’s humility of finances. Let’s say that’s written on the little pill: Financial Humility. So they’re taking that medication. Okay, they’re taking that medication.

Let’s say another sin that they used to deal with was gluttony. They weighed 350 pounds [and] had five meals a day. They never stopped stuffing their face. They realized that was a sin. It was hard work, but over a couple of years, they dropped most of that weight. They’re down to a decent size now. They faithfully keep the fasts. They’re not perfect yet, but they’re making good traction on this. They’re really doing well at food humility. So there’s medicine number two: Food Humility. Alright I’m taking that medicine.

And there’s other medicine that’s more obvious like the Eucharist. There’s a medicine that you take every week. Now, I’m taking that medicine. You take the medicine of the sacrament of confession. You take the medicine of the sacrament of healing. You take the medicine of daily family prayer. There’s another pill that you’re taking daily: Praying together with you family in the presence of God.

So you’re taking all these medications. And then [screeching noise], it’s like one of those terribly squeaky doors in an old haunted house. It’s so dark, and dusty, and musty, and you’re so scared to even step into the room because you don’t know what’s going to jump out at you and get you. You look into that dark and filthy room, and it has all sort of unspeakable, filthy pictures, and videos, and activities in it.

The Lord says, “You’ve got to clean this room out. In fact, you’ve got to let Me clean it out. This is horrible, and, if it stays like this, I can’t live here.”

You say, “No, no, no, no! Don’t go in that room! Any other room in the house. Don’t go in that room. Don’t take away that mess. Don’t take away that website. Don’t take away those movies. Those songs? Don’t take away those songs! And also, the. . . You know the. . . Well, I don’t really talk about it, but don’t take that away either.”

“It’s got to be cleaned out, or I’m leaving. The Holy Spirit can’t live in a house that has this in it.”

We all know what the right answer is. Don’t we? The right answer is [to] let Him clean it out. We also know what the frequent answer is. The frequent answer is, “Can, can you come back tomorrow? Can you just help me clean out this other room? Look, look Lord! Look at how many other rooms of my house are cleaner than the house next door! In fact, look at all the houses in town. Nobody has as many clean rooms as I do.”

“Yeah, but this room needs to be cleaned.”

“Yeah. Okay, I know it needs to be cleaned. So, I’ll tell you what. We’ll compromise. I’ll throw away these magazines, and I’ll get rid of these movies, and the rest of it. . . We’ll wait on that.”

“The whole room needs to be cleaned out.”

And it’s like pulling teeth! The person is taking their spiritual medicine in about eight or ten different ways. They’re popping all these pills. But the pill of chastity, the pill of purity – oh! That’s the one pill they don’t want to take. And guess what? The one pill they don’t want to take is what? The one they need.

But it’s not just lust, is it? For some people, that scary, filthy, dusty room that nobody gets to go into, the one room they hope Jesus will just leave alone is called the Room of Obedience to Parents. “Yeah, Lord. I’ll go to church every day, pray every day, follow the fasts, take the Eucharist, read my Bible. But are You saying if Mom tells me to clean my room, I’ve got to do it now and without an attitude? I just don’t want to take that pill! The medicine of obedience, ugh!”

They’ll take all the other medicine, but they just don’t want to take that one medication. What’s the thing about that one medication? That’s the one they need!

For some people, it’s “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.”   It doesn’t just say “Love your wife in the kitchen and in the bedroom.” It says, “Love your wife as Christ loved the Church.” How much personal sacrifice and discomfort was Christ willing to go through for the Church?

C.S. Lewis said that the marriage that most perfectly mimics the picture of Christ and the Church is the one which feels the most like [a] crucifixion.[1] That wouldn’t go over real well on an A&E special about a wedding. Would it? But the marriage in which the husband sacrifices himself for life, to the bitter end, suffers, and finally even sheds his blood in death just to save his wife: That’s what we’re called to, folks!

So, if all you have to do is go to work a measly 40-80 hours a week to put food on the table, or all you have to do is fix some plumbing, or help out with some dishes and dirty diapers, or spend lots of time having heart-to-heart talks with your wife until you help get her on the straight and narrow path spiritually . . . Whatever it is, it’s nothing compared to what Christ did for us, and that’s what we’re called to do.

There are a lot of men who are willing to study the Bible for thousands of hours, but they’re not willing to sit and have a loving conversation with their wives for one hour. There are men who are willing to pray every day and take the Eucharist every week and be in church twice a week, but they won’t cancel their bowling night or their hunting trip so that they can hold their wife’s hand, and speak kindly to her, and treat her like a queen. Show her that she is still loved by you. You can take all the medicine in the world except the one pill you need to be taking.

There’s another room in the house called “Wives submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” It doesn’t say, “Submit to them as unto your boss or your job.” It doesn’t say, “Submit to them as unto somebody that you happen to agree with.” It says, “Submit to him as if he’s God.” If you think I’m putting too fine a point on it, read 1 Peter 3, it says, “Even if he’s an unbeliever,” in other words, even if he’s a spiritual loser, you call him lord. If you don’t believe me, read 1 Peter 3. You submit to your husband even if he’s not a spiritual leader at all, even if he doesn’t believe in God. Do like Sarah did, calling her husband lord.

Have you ever met any ladies that need that room in their house cleaned out? In this country, they’re not hard to find.

One that I’ve been wrestling with with somebody that is not here tonight. . . It has to do with the relationship of the Orthodox Church with other churches. He says he loves Orthodoxy. He loves this faith. He thinks it’s the fullness of the faith. But it just rakes like fingernails on a chalkboard. It makes him want to scream whenever you suggest that anybody outside the Church is not really a Christian, that we not only shouldn’t be but really can’t be in unity with Roman Catholics, Nazarenes, Wesleyans, Pentecostals.

His argument is, “Look. They love Jesus. They believe in Jesus the same as we do. They have the basics. We have the basics. Now,” he said, “I’m not saying that they’re right about everything. No. Our doctrine’s better. It really is. We really should baptize babies, and have icons, and have incense, and have bishops, and priests, and deacons, and all of this stuff that we do. It’s wonderful. It’s truth. It’s the fullness of the faith! But the Protestants and the Catholics – they still have the basics. They still have the minimum needed. Why can’t we just lay down our arms, lay down our shields and our swords, and just love each other? Why can’t we just realize that we’re all Christians, we’re all one church, we’re all one faith, and just pray for God to bring unity to the Church?”

Some of you know which guy I’m talking about. I love him. I think he’s a good guy. And if it remotely mattered what I liked or what I wanted, I’d just agree with him. If my druthers counted for anything, I would just agree with him and say, “Yeah. That sounds way better to me.” Honestly, Henry David, wouldn’t it be easier to talk to your family if you could just tell them, “Look, I go to my church. I think they do stuff better, but your church is fine too.” If you could say that honestly, wouldn’t that make things just a little bit easier?

[response unclear]

Exactly. You nailed it. I mean, I wasn’t going to put words in your mouth, but. . . It would make things easier, but then you wouldn’t be Orthodox anymore. The very moment you say that, you cease to hold to everything the Orthodox Church teaches.

Ironically (I love irony. I don’t love ironing shirts, but I love irony!). . . The irony of this is that I am going to quote a Protestant pastor, something that my dad used to quote years ago. Have any of you ever heard of Uncle Bud Robinson? Now, he’s heterodox. He’s not Orthodox. I’m not saying that he is, but he said something that’s true. He said something that was quotable. He had a really bad lisp. He talked “like thith” all the time, but he was very famous about a hundred years ago. And he’d preach whole sermons “jutht like thith.” But people would really listen to him he was very [engaging].

Some people were talking to Uncle Bud Robinson saying, “We just need to get together with other people. We just need to have unity.” And you can get that, right? At Protestant churches, don’t you hear people saying, “Oh, we just need to stop calling the Mormons heretics, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses heretics. We just, we all love the Lord. The Mormons, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Nazarenes, and the Orthodox – we all just need to have a nice bit schmooze-fest. We need to have unity. Let’s just get together and put our differences aside.”

Anyway, do you know what Uncle Bud Robinson said? He said, “You can get two cats,” (you know, meow?), “you can get two cats, and you can tie their tails together and throw them over a clothesline, and you’ll have union, but you sure won’t have unity.”[2] Now, you tell me: What would those two cats do to each other once you tie their tails together and hang them over a clothesline?

[Someone says, “That would be mean!”]

Yeah. It would be very mean. I don’t recommend doing this. Do not try this at home.

But think about it. If we took. . . What is it? Beanie and Lightning? I just saw one of those cats chase the other one up about twenty feet in a tree in our backyard, and they were like this far from each other. They were just clawing at each other.

So, if you tied their tails together and threw them over a clothesline, would you have union? They would be together. That’s about as close together as you can get. Their tail is tied to another cat. But you would not have unity. They would tear each other apart.

So it is when you take Orthodox doctrine and Roman Catholic doctrine, or Orthodox doctrine and Nazarene doctrine, or Orthodox doctrine and Pentecostal doctrine, or Orthodox doctrine and Anglican doctrine. They’re fundamentally opposed. It’s like matter and antimatter. You can’t put it together in the same room without – BOOM! And I’m not just talking about the people. I’m talking about the people. I’m talking about the beliefs themselves, the faith itself.

Is it possible, at the same time, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son? Can those things both be true at the same time – a true teaching about the Trinity and who God is, and a false, heretical teaching about the Trinity and who God is? Can we just match those up and said, “Oh, it’s true. It’s fine”?

I have a friend of mine who I think is in his fifties. He’s a Nazarene, and he has a friend who really, really likes him. She doesn’t believe in the Trinity. For him, this is one roadblock. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know. I think things may happen, but the Trinity thing is a little rough for him to get by.

On the phone with him, I’ve said, “Modalism is a heresy. Her rejection of the true teaching of the Trinity: That’s bad. That’s wrong. It’s serious.”
He said, “I know. I know.”
I said, “And as you’re talking to her about it, just as hard as you are on her about the importance of getting the doctrine of the Trinity right, you need to be just as hard on yourself because the church you’re in does not teach the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.”

He’s a Nazarene pastor, and the Nazarene church teaches the same doctrine of the Trinity that the Roman Catholic Church teaches which is not the same Trinity that is taught by the Orthodox Church. [They include] the filioque. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Now you say, “How can just a little thing like that make that big of a difference? I mean I paint my car red. You paint your car red and blue.  What’s the big deal?” We’re talking about the origination, or the source if you will. And it’s much easier if we start with Jesus.

Who is the source of Jesus? Who has begotten the Son? The Father, right? And we know that giving birth is something that a mother does, but begetting is something that a father does. So a father begets children. But instead of focusing on that, I am going to turn over to the mother just to make a parallel that we can focus on.

You know that a mother gives birth to a child. Right? Alright. Ruth, did you give birth to this subdeacon over here? He lived inside your body for months, and then you gave birth to him. Do you remember that day? It’s painful at first, but then it’s awesome. Isn’t it? It’s just an unbelievably amazing thing. What if we just made a tiny change in that day? I don’t mean like change your fingernail polish or change your hairstyle. Just a little change. Instead of Jeremy being born from your body, instead of you giving birth to Jeremy, just a minor change. That day, what if, you and Calvin gave birth to Jeremy? What if he came out of both of your bodies at the same time?

Can you imagine what that would be like? Honestly think. Can you imagine how that could even be? Can you . . .  How many years have you been a nurse? Since 1968. Have you seen some weird things in your time? Have you ever seen that? Have you ever seen a baby come out of a woman and a man at the same time? It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That’s not a minor change, is it?

How different would our entire universe have to be for it to be normal for a human baby to come out of its mother’s and father’s body at the same time so that, whenever you give birth to a child, it comes out of the mother and the father? It would just be a different world altogether. It would be a whole different society. We would be diffeent creatures. It’s just so much of a radical change that we can’t even imagine it. Right?

So going from, “I give birth to my son” to, “I and my husband give birth to my son” – those are two radically different things. As a parallel, would you agree that it would be a radically different thing if we say, instead of saying, “Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Father;” what if we change that to, “Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Holy Spirit both have begotten Jesus”? Do you think that’s a small, insignificant change? Or would you agree that would be a huge change to our faith?

So it is with the Holy Spirit. It’s a major, significant change to switch from saying, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father” to saying, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” By parallel, can you see what a radical difference that is? It matters.

Another thing: How important is the Eucharist to you? Do you just say, “Eh. I take it or leave it.” Everybody here, is that pretty much your attitude towards the Eucharist? “Eh, I take it if I can. It’s kind of nice.”

[response unclear]

Yeah. You’re exactly right. It says in Scripture [that] it’s such a big deal that if you partake of the Eucharist unworthily, God may make you sick or put you to death because of it [cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30]. But if you partake worthily, how big of a deal is it? What did St. Ignatius call it? The medicine of immortality.[3] He used the hospital analogy too, the medical analogy. He said [that] The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality which is the cause of us not to die.

Is it a little thing, or is it a huge, enormous, big thing if a church says, “That’s not the Body and Blood of Christ. It’s just bread and juice, and it just reminds us of Jesus, and, you know, you really don’t need it every week. We’re just going to have it, oh, I don’t know, three or four times a year. Three or four times a year, we’ll take the bread and juice, and we’ll think about Jesus. But it doesn’t really do anything. It’s just bread and juice.”

Do you realize what kind of blasphemy that is? And it’s ironic once again. In their case, they’re actually right. It is just bread and juice because they don’t have a priesthood. In the Orthodox Church, it’s the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Nazarene church, in the Pentecostal church, in the Baptist church, it really is just bread and juice because there’s no priest there to pray for the Holy Spirit to come down and make it into anything else.

When you have gutted the worship of God from the Eucharist, what’s left?

Think about it. What if I said, “I have an announcement for everyone. From now on, we’re still going to have incense, and icons, and chanting, and I’ll do preaching every Sunday. But, just FYI, from now on, we’re never, ever going to have the Eucharist”? How many of you would be here week after week for that? But isn’t this way closer than driving to Royalton or Evansville? Why would you go that much farther for church? Are you telling me you don’t like the rest of the service here?

[Subdeacon Jeremy: I’m not saying… No, I’m not telling you that.]

You’re saying, just that one little tiny thing. I mean, how big a part of the service . . . Honestly, how long does it take for everybody to come forward?

[Subdeacon Jeremy: Five minutes.]

Five minutes. I’m only going to change just five minutes. That’s all.

[response unclear]

Yeah, but we can go through that, but just, if I remove that five minutes, and nobody actually eats the Eucharist, you’re telling me you would leave this church and drive twice as far just to get the Eucharist?

[many responses at once, affirming that they would do so.]

It’s not the only medicine that we receive here because it is medicinal to hear the Psalms, to hear the preaching, and to have the fellowship. But if you remove the Eucharist, you remove the central medicine. The main thing that we come for is to eat the Body and Blood of Christ. And are we going to go to an Assembly of God church, or a Nazarene church, or a Baptist church and say, “Oh sure! You have gutted Christianity of its central act of worship, but [it’s] no big deal. We’re all still basically the same”

“But we still believe in Jesus.”
“Really? Do you believe Jesus when He says that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you? ‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.’ You say you believe in Jesus. Do you believe Him when He says that?”
“Well, that was just a metaphor for faith in Christ. That’s all that was.”
“Oh. Okay.”

I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ll leave it to you to go farther with this. I’ve only scratched the surface, and I’m not going to keep you here another hour. But that’s how long it would take. That’s honestly how long it would take.

Does anybody remember Subdeacon Jeremy’s message [The Original Gift]? The Orginal Gift versus the box full of rocks. It’s not just some minor things that we differ with with the Catholics and that we differ with with the Protestants. It’s fundamental after fundamental after fundamental after basic after basic after central thing one after the other. It’s like, “We’ll get rid of that. We’ll get rid of that. We don’t believe in this. We don’t believe in that.”

Just one more example that I can’t leave out: If you’re going to be Orthodox, is it kind of important for you to believe in the seven Ecumenical Councils? Can you just say, “Eh, the seven Ecumenical Councils – they’re okay, but . . .”? Is it okay to do that? No.

According to the 7th Ecumenical Council, what did the 7th Ecumenical Council in the Orthodox Church say about people who believe that Jesus is God, who believe the He became incarnate as a man, who believe in the doctrine of the Trinity as taught at the Council of Nicaea, who believe that we should have bishops, priests and deacons and apostolic succession from the Apostles, people who believe that Scripture is the inspired word of God, people who believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ? So far, who does it sound like I’m describing? All this is spot on, right? Spot on. Central basics. They believe all of that, but they just aren’t really big into the icons. That’s it. That’s the only thing.

“I’ll take everything else. I believe that Jesus became incarnate, that He is God, that He’s the only way to Heaven. I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. I believe in bishops, priests, and deacons. I believe in the Eucharist being the actual Body and Blood of Christ. I believe in baptism of regeneration. I believe my sins are washed away in the waters of baptism. I believe that, when I am chrismated, the Holy Spirit is imparted and goes from being outside of me to actually dwelling within me. I believe all of that, but I just don’t want to have anything to do with the icons. I don’t want to bow to them. I don’t want to kiss them. I think it’s wrong to ever burn incense before an icon. I don’t want to see or kiss a relic. That’s the only thing I’m not comfortable with.”

According to the 7th Ecumenical Council, what does the Orthodox Church say about those people?

Anathema. Cursed. Thrown out of the Church. Recognized as being outsiders, outside of the Church, enemies of Christ.

They agreed with us on every single point of doctrine except one. The only difference was that they just said, “You know what? We don’t want the icons. We think it’s wrong to burn incense to them. We think it’s wrong to venerate them, kiss them. We think it’s wrong to honor relics.” And for that one thing, the Ecumenical Council says they are anathema, cursed, outside the Church.

We have a couple of options with that. We can accept it, and that might be a hard pill to swallow. I know it is for that friend of mine who I’ve been talking to. But whatever pill is the hardest to swallow is probably the medicine you need to be taking. Whatever part of us is sinful, whatever part of us is not yet fully Orthodox, that’s the very part of us that is still clinging to our sin. And that’s the very part of us that is not going to want to take that medicine.

At that very moment that somebody tries to get us to take that medicine, we’re going to point to the other fifteen or twenty pills that we’re already taking, and we’re going to say, “Oh! No, no no! We’re fine. We’re already taking lots of medicine. There’s already lots of rooms in our house that are clean. I’m already taking my Nyquil, and my Excedrin, and my Tums. I’m taking some cough syrup.” Yeah, but you need blood pressure pills. You need this medicine right here because it deals with that sin right there.

So, whatever it is – if you still struggle with lust; if you still struggle with loving your spouse; if you still struggle with submitting to you spouse; if you still struggle with obeying your parents; if you still struggle with gluttony; (if you still struggle with he’s not here tonight, but) if you still struggle with this idea that the Catholics, and the Baptists, and the Nazarenes, that they’re not one with us, that they’re not part of the Church with us. Whatever medicine you’re having trouble taking is probably the medicine that you need most, and you can’t get out of it by taking ten other kinds of medication.

You can’t get out of cleaning that room in your house just by pointing to all the other rooms in your house that are clean. If Christ has come to this closet, and this closet is filthy, you’ve got to let Him clean it out. You’ve got to let Him give you this medicine.

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] “The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church and give his life for her (Eph. V, 25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is – in her own mere nature – least lovable. For the Church has not beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.”

Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. Glasgow: Collins, 1973.

[2] A common Irish and Southern American colloquial expression.

No source was located for Uncle Bud Robinson using this expression, but this type of colloquialism is characteristic of his preaching style.

[3] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians. Edited by C. Douglas. Honeyford. 1933.


This lesson was given by Father Joseph Gleason on Saturday, May 2, 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 Defending the Faith, Ecumenism, Filioque, Filioque, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Heresies, Humility, Miscellaneous, Pride | Leave a comment

Following Christ’s Example in Suffering

mp3 Audio:  Following_the_Example_of_Christ_in_Suffering.mp3


This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: John 10:11-16
Epistle Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25


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

In the Gospel we just read, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” In the Epistle reading today, in the book of 1 Peter, Saint Peter also talks to us about returning to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls . In today’s Epistle reading, he says this:

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. [1 Peter 2:13-25, KJV]

For a moment, I want you to think about Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, the way towards His Crucifixion. On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “I don’t deserve this. I am God. I am hole and perfect. I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t deserve this”?

On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “these sinners, these people, they don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve what I am doing for them. They’re not worth it”? On the way to the Cross, while people were cursing Him, spitting on Him, abusing Him, murdering Him, do you think He said, “I have to set them straight. If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will”?

On the way to the Cross, do you think Jesus ever said, “man, I just really want my La-Z-Boy, and a Dr. Pepper, and a nice TV show, and a hamburger. I just want to relax. I just want some comfort”? On the way to the Cross, do you believe that Jesus ever even thought any of those things?

When another person mistreats us (and I am not just talking about any random person out in the world, even though that counts too. I am talking about those closest to us – a parent, a child, a husband, a wife, a priest, a deacon, subdeacon, bishop; anybody that really matters to us). . . If someone mistreats us, at what point do we say, “I’m not putting up with this anymore”?

Why do we respond that way? Why are we often unwilling to obey the command God gives us in 1 Peter chapter 2 to patiently bear suffering and not to fight back? I think in most cases it is one of four reasons:

1. “I don’t deserve this.”

We put up with it for a while, and then finally we are done. We’re not willing to put up with it any more. The reason we give is, “I don’t deserve this.” In other words, “I am so good, that I deserve to be treated better than this.

2. “You don’t deserve this.”

We put up with it for a while, but finally we’re done. Our reason is this: “You don’t deserve this.” In other words, this other person is bad and undeserving of patience or respect.

3. “If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.”

“If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.” In other words, “justice depends on me.”

4. “I don’t like the way this feels.”

“I just don’t like the way this feels. It hurts, and I want it to stop now.” In other words, “I want personal comfort now at any cost.

Let’s look at these four reasons that we give for refusing to endure suffering, for refusing to endure verbal abuse from other people, for stomping our feet and lashing back at them in anger.

I Don’t Deserve This

The first reason is, “I don’t deserve this. I am so good that I deserve to be treated better than this.” We imagine that we ourselves are so good that we are above these rules that are set forth in Scripture.

“If I had been a rotten kid, then of course, I should be forced to listen to my parents. But I’m a good person, so I shouldn’t have to put up with this verbal abuse.”

“If I were an evil wife, then I would need to learn submission. But I’m a good wife. I’m nice to my husband, so I shouldn’t have to put up with this from him.”

“If I were a lazy employee, then of course I’d have to learn obedience to my boss. But I’m a good employee. I’m a good worker, so I shouldn’t have to put up with his from him.”

Yet, think about it: Did Jesus deserve what he suffered? No! Yet, when He received verbal abuse, He did not open His mouth in anger. When He suffered, He did not respond by threatening anyone. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and physical suffering. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” He was willing to endure suffering and death because He loves us.

When somebody mistreats us, when somebody is abusive towards us, why do we lash back in anger? Why do we return evil for evil?

You Don’t Deserve This

The second reason that we do this is because, in our hearts, we say, “you don’t deserve this.” The other person is bad and undeserving of patience and respect. We imagine that we would obey this command under better circumstances.

“If my parents treated me better, then I would honor and obey them.”

“If my husband was more respectable, then I would listen to him.”

“If my boss was more reasonable, then I would patiently listen to him.”

Yet, what does God say about the other person and how you should respond to the other person? In Philippians 2:3, we read: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

If you think you’re better than your parents, better than your spouse, better than your kids, better than your boss, you’ve already disobeyed this! You are commanded by God to be lowly in your thinking, not just in your words and actions but lowly in your thinking.

We are really good at putting on a show. We have learned how well humility works socially. So with our words, sometimes we are very humble. With our actions, sometimes we are very humble. But in our minds, we are still thinking, “you jerk! I am better than you. You don’t deserve my respect.” As Scripture says, out of the treasure of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Eventually, you can’t keep it back anymore. It just pops out of your mouth. You say, “where did that venom come from?” Well, it was in here [the heart], and it finally came out.

God says, in your heart, in your thoughts, in your mind, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.” That’s right! Think of yourself last.

When you think of your husband, think of him as being better than you. When you think of your wife, think of her as being better than you. When you think of your parents, think of them as being better than you. When you think of your boss, think of him as being better than you.

You say, “I can’t do that!” You can’t obey God? Stop saying you can’t do it, and start asking, “Lord have mercy on me. How can I do this?” He will answer.

In Romans 12:10, we read: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” If it is between you and that other person, you give preference to them. “Oh, but I’ve done that ten times already.” Great! Do it an eleventh time.

“But I have given preference to the other person 700 times.” Great! Time for 701. Christ went all the way to the Cross, and who in this room has gone that far yet?

The other person, the one you despise, the one you say is unworthy of respect: that person is created in the image of God. Not one of you in this room would dare to spit on the face of Jesus on any one of these icons that you see in this room, would you? Do you not spit on His image whenever you despise a person created in His image?

Leviticus 19:18 commands, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You say, “you don’t understand. This isn’t my neighbor. This is my spouse. This is my boss. This is an evil, abusive clergyman. This person so messed up that this person is my enemy!” Guess what Jesus says you are supposed to do with your enemies. You love them. You love your enemies.

In 1 Peter 3, what did Saint Peter tell us?

Finally all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. [1 Peter 3:8-9, NKJV].

Jesus would respond to His detractors when they mocked, when they asked Him questions from false motives. He would calmly, gently, and respectfully talk about it. There are cases in which they would say, “this is what’s going on. This is wrong. This isn’t right.” But never did that inflame His anger.

When do you see Jesus angry in Scripture? Rarely. When they had blasphemed the name of His Father by turning His Father’s house from a house of prayer into a den of thieves, a house of merchandise, a place of greed. Then Jesus gets angry. He makes a whip. He drives out animals. He knocks over tables. He makes a scene.

When there is a crippled man with a hand that has been withered up for years, and he cannot use it at all, the question is posed as to whether it is okay to heal on the Sabbath. The religious leaders are more interested in the letter of the law on the Sabbath than they are compassionate for this man. Because of their lack of compassion, it says in the book of Mark that Jesus was angered.

He was angered when His Father was blasphemed. He was angered when self-righteous religious leaders would have no compassion for the sick, the poor, and the suffering. Never once in Scripture do you see Jesus respond in anger when somebody verbally abuses Him or physically beats Him. Even when they give the ultimate insult and crucify Him as a common criminal, murdering the innocent, his response is, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

There are things which could arouse the wrath and anger of Jesus, but He Himself being personally attacked was not one of them. He did not respond in anger just because people attacked Him. Think about it: did Jesus patiently suffer all of this for the deserving or for the undeserving? He didn’t go through all of that because we deserved to have God die for us. We don’t deserve it at all, and He endured it anyway because He loves us. He has called us to follow His example in showing our love for one another, deserving or not.

If I Don’t Put a Stop To This, Nobody Else Will

When somebody mistreats us and speaks at us in anger, why do we lash back in anger? We say, “I don’t deserve this,” or we say, “you don’t deserve this. You’re not worth me bearing this.” Then the third reason, “If I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will. In other words, justice depends on me.”

We imagine that justice depends upon us and that we alone can carry it out. We imagine ourselves as knights in shining armor battling the forces of evil. We imagine that we would patiently endure suffering except for the fact that it wouldn’t do any good in this case. We imagine that if we keep our mouths shut and patiently endure suffering, then the “bad guy” is going to get away with it. In this way, we convince ourselves that we are lashing out against the other person not because of selfishness but because of a desire to do good.

Read Romans 12 beginning in verse 17:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceable with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather, give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” syas the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:17-21, NKJV]

 

Matthew 6:14:

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
[Matthew 6:14-15, NKJV]

As we read in today’s Epistle reading in 1Peter 2, Jesus set the example. He didn’t revile back. He didn’t threaten back. Jesus committed himself to Him that judges righteously. Jesus had no worries that justice would fail to be done. Jesus trusted His Father to take care of things all in good time. The man, Jesus, did not have to take justice in his own hands.

I Don’t Like the Way This Feels

Finally, there is a group of people that will lash back to verbal abuse in anger. They’ll return more verbal abuse back. They’ll “holler back.” They’ll complain back. It has nothing to do with any of these first three reasons. They aren’t thinking it through at all. They’re not saying, “I don’t deserve this.” They’re not thinking, “you don’t deserve for me to respond nicely.” They’re not even thinking about justice and that “if I don’t put a stop to this, nobody else will.”

This last group of people is the most self-centered of all. They just say, “I just don’t like the way this feels. This hurts. I want personal comfort now at any cost.”

It’s not that they think about how their actions are going to hurt their spouse, or their children, or their church, or their family. It doesn’t even cross their mind. They don’t think about it at all. All they think about is their own suffering, their own pain, and “how can I stop it now? I want comfort now.” Nothing else matters.

This reason is the most selfish of all. It does not even take the other person into account. In this case, you lash out in anger simply because you want to avoid pain at any cost. You seek your own personal comfort without taking time to think about what God commands and without thinking about how your words will affect the other person.

Read Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

There are many people in this world who have been deceived into thinking they are good people. You ask them, “how often do you plot evil things against your spouse?” That person will honestly say, “well, never! I never plot anything evil against my spouse. I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Okay, how often do you plot self-centered and vile things against your children or your parents?” This person will honestly say, “never! I don’t want anything bad to happen to my parents or my children.”

“How often do you plan to do wicked things to your boss or your co-worker?”

“Never!”

Because this person, truly from their heart, never makes evil plans for other people, never plans to do wicked things to other people, they think they are good, they are righteous. Yet, they are violating this command: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

You see, there are some people that don’t plan any evil things to happen to anybody else because they don’t think about anybody else at all. All of their thoughts are simply on “what’s going to make me happy today? I hurt. How can I stop that pain? Here’s something I want to do. Here’s something that would give me pleasure. Oh! This would be a lot of fun.”

And 24/7, every waking moment of every day, all they think about is themselves. They don’t have any time in the day to think evil thoughts about anybody else. They don’t think any thoughts about them at all. How their own self-centered actions hurt and affect other people doesn’t even enter their minds. They truly don’t care. They just don’t think about it.

So don’t just asked whether you have recently thought some evil thought about somebody else. Ask this:

When is the last time I put my own wants and desires and sufferings on the back burner and said, ‘how could I really bless my spouse today? How could I really bless my children today? What could I do that would show honor to my parents?’

Push every thought of self to the back burner, and focus on another human being, and ask, “how can I serve that person? How can I love that person? How can I show that person honor and respect and show that person that they are valued?” When was the last time you did that?

If you are a follower of Christ, you should do it every hour of every day.

Think about it: did Jesus patiently endure suffering and go to the Cross because He was trying to seek His own personal comfort? No. Jesus is our example.

Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering even though he deserved to be treated better. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering to help us even though we did not deserve to be helped. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering, and He left justice in the hands of God the Father, trusting Him to judge righteously. Jesus patiently endured verbal abuse and suffering, and He did not seek for His own personal comfort.

We say that we want to be like Christ. Do we really mean it? Are we willing to follow His example?

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 Sunday, April 26, 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 1 Peter 2:19-25, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 10:11-16, Pride, Suffering | Leave a comment

The Eighth Day

mp3 Audio:  2015_04_19-Fr_Joseph-The_Eighth_Day.mp3


This sermon was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Low Sunday, April 19, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23


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

In the beginning, God took six days to create the heavens and the earth, and He rested on the seventh. In response, we eagerly ask, “What happens next? What happens on the 8th day?”

Alas, Adam’s sin introduced a dark twist into the story, and thousands of years would pass before we could see the glory of the 8th day. And all through the Old Testament, God gave us hints and examples, shadows and types providing a foretaste of what that blessed day would look like. Israel was constantly reminded of the 8th day.

  • An Israelite entered into God’s Covenant by being circumcised on the 8th day.
  • The priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons was completed on the 8th day.
  • With livestock, your sacrifice of first fruits to God was to be on the 8th day. In general, any lamb, goat or bullock was not acceptable for offering until the 8th day of its life.
  • A healed leper was declared clean on the 8th day.
  • Ceremonial cleansing after an issue of blood reached completion on the 8th day.
  • Ceremonial cleansing of a defiled Nazarite reached completion on the 8th day.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles reached its climax on the 8th day.
  • King Hezekiah’s cleansing of the Temple was completed on the 8th day.
  • Ezekiel’s purification of the altar climaxed in God’s acceptance on the 8th day.
  • When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, on the 8th day, the people blessed the king and went into their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had done for David His servant and for Israel His people.
  • We also remember that, in Noah’s Flood, eight souls were saved by water, and King David himself was the 8th son of Jesse.

What is the significance of the number eight? Why does the 8th day figure so prominently and frequently throughout the Old Testament?

Around the year 150 AD, there were still people alive in the Church who had lived during the same time as the Apostles. At this time, St. Justin the Martyr had a written dialogue with Trypho the Jew. In this dialogue, St Justin said,

“For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e. with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead forever the first in power.”[1]

In Noah’s Ark, why were eight people saved? According to St. Justin, the number eight was prophetic. It pointed forward to when Jesus Christ, the Son of God would rise from the dead on the 8th day.

About 100 years later, around the year 250 AD, St. Cyprian was in Carthage in a council of 66 bishops. They considered a question that had been posed by a man named Fidus in a letter. Fidus had suggested that infant baptism should be delayed until a child is eight days old, because in the Old Testament circumcision had always been delayed until the 8th day. This was the response given from this council of 66 Orthodox bishops:

For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage, but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again and should quicken us and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came and spiritual circumcision was given to us. [2]

According to St. Cyprian and this council of 66 bishops, Old Testament circumcision was prophetic. It always took place on the 8th day pointing forward to when Jesus Christ, the Son of God would rise from the dead on the eighth day.

Long before we even reach the New Testament, we see the 8th day figure into numerous aspects of Israel’s history and Israel’s everyday life:

  • Whenever you read about Noah’s Ark, you would think about the number eight.
  • Whenever you circumcised your son
  • Whenever you offered God sacrifice of the first fruits from your livestock
  • And whenever you celebrated the annual Feast of Tabernacles you would think about the eighth day

The eighth day finally reveals its significance after the final week of the Old Covenant. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, Jesus performs his final works for our salvation. On Friday He says, “It is finished,” and gives up His spirit. On Holy Saturday, His body rests in the tomb as He keeps the final Sabbath in the Old Covenant. Then, on the 8th day. . .

  • On the 8th day death is defeated.
  • On the 8th day, the gates of Hell are shattered.
  • On the 8th day, the graves release their captive.
  • On the 8th day, the Son of God rises from the dead holding the keys of death and hell in one hand and the broken teeth of the devil in the other.
  • On the 8th day, the old creation begins passing away, and the new creation begins breaking into our present world, for when the Apostles look upon the Risen Christ, they are looking at a human body which has already crossed over from death into life.
  • They are looking at a human body that will outlive this present universe. When this world burns, and we meet the end  of the world as we know it, our Risen Savior will still be there, alive and well on the other side.When the Apostles see the Risen Body of Christ, they are seeing their own future. For in the New heavens and the new earth, our bodies will be like His.

The 8th day, the day of the Resurrection, is such a significant cosmic event that Jesus immediately leads his disciples to commemorate that day. From that day forth, every Lord’s Day is a commemoration of the 8th day. Every Sunday is observed as sort of a “little Easter,” a weekly celebration of the Resurrection of the Son of God. In the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus immediately sets up a pattern for his disciples to follow.

The first Sunday, on the day of the Resurrection, the Apostles were gathered together in one place. Jesus came to meet with them. Jesus said, “Peace be unto you.” The Apostles were able to see the wounds in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side. The Apostles respond with gladness, and their unbelief is gone.

Jesus says, “Even as My Father has sent Me, so send I you.” He’s talking about evangelism. He’s talking about the Gospel being carried out into the rest of the world.

The next Sunday, the week after the Resurrection, you see the same thing. The Apostles are gathered together in one place. Jesus comes to meet with them. Jesus says, “Peace be unto you.” The Apostles, this time including Thomas, were able to see the wounds in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” and his unbelief is gone.

Jesus says, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” Once again, He’s talking about evangelism. He’s talking about those of us who would believe the words of the Apostles and would believe in the Resurrection of the Son of God and would join His family in the Church.

Early in the Fifth Century, Cyril of Alexandria summed it up well. He said:

With good reason then we are accustomed to have sacred meetings in churches on the eighth day. And, to adopt the language of allegory, as the idea necessarily demands, we indeed close the doors. But Christ still visits us and appears to us all, both invisibly as God and visibly in the Body. He allows us to touch His holy Flesh and gives it to us. For through the grace of God we are admitted to partake of the blessed Eucharist, receiving Christ into our hands, to the intent that we may firmly believe that he did in truth raise up the Temple of His Body . . . Participation of the Divine Mysteries, in addition to filling us with divine blessedness, is a true confession and memorial of Christ’s dying and rising again for us and for our sake. Let us, therefore, after touching Christ’s Body, avoid all unbelief in Him as utter ruin and rather be found well grounded in the full assurance of faith.[3]

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] “Dialogue with Trypho.” In The Anti-Nicene Christian Library: Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, edited by Sir James Donaldson and Alexander Roberts, By St. Justin Martyr London: Hamilton and, 1870.

[2] “The Epistles of Cyprian.” In Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novation, Appendix, edited by Alexander Roberts, Sir James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, By St. Cyprian. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdman’s Pub., 1975.

[3] Cyril of Alexandria. “The Eucharistic Assembly.” In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture IVb, edited by Joel C. Elowski and Thomas Oden, 369. Dowser’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.


This sermon was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Low Sunday, April 19, 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 20:19-23, Symbolism in the Church | Leave a comment

Manliness, Machismo, and Masculinity

mp3 Audio: Sbdn_Jeremy-Manliness-Circumcision_of_the_Lord.mp3

This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


Epistle Reading: James 1:17-27
Gospel Reading: John 16:5-15


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

I’m going to go ahead and allow the girls and the women to stay in here, but this is a message predominantly to men. It will definitely have a lot of key points for women as well.

In the Epistle I read just a few minutes ago, the Apostle James says, “Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).

So what is a man?

A few weeks ago, probably two or three months ago, I was having a conversation with Hunter at [a] shop there in North City. I was explaining to him the difference between a “guy” and a “man.” He said he wanted to be a guy. He said he is a guy.

I said I am not. I said, “I am male, but I’m not a guy.” I said, “I am a man.” And I explained to him the difference between the two.

GUYS

According to the media and the things that are portrayed to us in our culture, a guy might be someone like Rocky [Balboa]. He’s a boxer. He’s a fighter, the ultimate fighting champion. He’s ripped with muscles, and he fights a lot. Or it might be like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the Terminator. [He’s an] action-adventure hero, and he can basically do just about anything – leap over tall buildings, you know, that kind of thing. He can do anything, and he can’t really get hurt.

You might have a man who’s really into sports. Maybe he plays golf. Maybe he plays football. Maybe he’s just watching it, and he’s the greatest fan of the Milwaukee Brewers or the. . . I don’t even know, other games, the Dallas Cowboys, things that people play. I don’t know. He’s their greatest fan.

Sometimes they put a man up as a tool man, Tim the Tool Man Taylor, and he grunts. That might be the portrayal of a man. Sometimes it’s combinations of all these. Sometimes it’s a hunter – a man who’s out gathering food for his family; and he has his gun or his bow and arrow, and he’s out hunting in his camouflage. I’ve heard, “If it’s brown, it’s down.” I’ve heard sayings like that. That’s a very [grunts] manly thing, according to our culture.

Some people put a man out as a partier. He’s a person who’s out with the guys. Maybe he’s got his bowling league that he goes to. [He is portrayed with] his red Solo cup in his hand. He’s a beer-drinking, burping kind of a man, scratching and all that. That’s a man, right? That’s what our culture portrays a man as.

Some of us say this new word I have recently heard called metrosexual. This is a man who is very prim and proper. He’s sculpted. He sculpts his chest hair. He sculpts his facial hair. He has his hair just in place. He even gets manicures. He has his nice car, his manicured suit, and he is out on the town to look his best.

We have farmers.
We have coal miners. We have construction workers – all those hard-working men.

We have girl-chasers. We have playboys and people who have lots of girls always on their arms.

We have the difference here being machismo versus masculinity. Machismo says, “I don’t wear pink.” Machismo says, “[Grunt] This is a man. I drink a beer. Come on, wife.” That’s machismo. Masculinity is something very different.

Our culture also portrays men often in sitcoms and things as the stupid dolt. His wife is dominant. He has no leadership. He’s an idiot.

What’s not included in any of our culture’s representations of masculinity or manhood is religion, Church, holy husbandry, or faithful fatherhood. Most of the time, our culture holds that in low regard while holding all these other things in high regard. Then is it any wonder why we have no men in our culture who are masculine, who will stand up and fight against things that . . .

Maybe [there is] sin in their family.
Maybe they need to protect their family.
Maybe there [are] a lot of things that men need to stand up for, and they’re not doing it, because the culture has given them these other images, these other icons to follow instead of the icons that we want to venerate and want to follow.

MEN

According to the Church, and according to the Bible, being a man is a battle. A man is a saint in the making, and there’s nothing more difficult in this life than actually becoming a saint or raising a saint.

There’s nothing more rewarding than being the leader in your home and bringing your wife and children to sainthood along with you.

[A man] doesn’t watch while his wife sits and talks to the serpent like Adam did – a poor example of what a husband should do. Instead . . .

I am not in contact with this man anymore, but I had a friend who used to play professional baseball. He was in Virginia. I don’t remember his name right now.   [He was a] tall, muscled, bearded man who had been a professional baseball player. Apparently he was . . .

. . . But very muscular.

I remember, one time we were at their church. Their family was coming forward to take Eucharist, and he had several children and his wife. They came forward. They all went to the altar rail to receive Communion, and he stood behind them. I don’t think he had his hands on his hips, but it was kind of like, “I’m standing behind my family, bringing my family to the altar rail to receive Communion.” And he didn’t move from there until every one of his family [members] had Communion, and then, when they stood up, he knelt down, and he got Communion.

I remember thinking,

“This man is bringing his family. They’re not following him. He’s not following them. It’s not like that. He brought them, and he placed them in front of the altar, and they took Communion together.”

And he’s a quiet man. I mean, he’ll get in your face if he needs to, but he’s a quiet man. Yet that, to me, when I looked at him, I thought, That is a man.”

The spiritual life is a bigger battle than any movie could portray. That spiritual battle is bigger and has bigger and [fiercer] monsters than any computer graphic artist could ever imagine. There is more combat, more struggle, more hardship, and more adventure in this life of a Christian man than any box office hit could ever put out. It requires more blood, more sweat, more tears, more perseverance and more courage than any superhero could ever muster.

When I was a child, there was a song we used to sing: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” Do you remember this song? Have any of you heard this? Then it would go to, “Oh be careful little hands what you touch,” I think. Then, “Oh be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little ears what you hear. Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down in love. Be careful little eyes what you see.”

This battle that we are in is on a lot of fronts. It’s a battle for our eyes, for our ears, for our mouth[s], for our hands, and four our souls.

THE BATTLE FOR THE MOUTH

Again, the Apostle James tells us today, “Men, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak.” So let’s talk first about the battle for the mouth, for the tongue.

A few months ago, I did a homily on St. Benedict and silence and the importance of silence in the life of a Christian. Proverbs tells us, “Where words are many, sin is not absent” [cf. Proverbs 10:19]. We are, then, to be practicing silence:

Silence in our speech for sure. That’s obvious.
Silence in our postings on Facebook.
Silence in giving your opinion when it’s not asked.
Silence in joking.
Silence in texting.

Silence doesn’t mean simply not talking either. There are a lot of shy people who will not speak, but they are not practicing silence; they’re practicing fear. That is not manly. The “silent treatment” is also not practicing silence. It’s practicing passive-aggressive anger. That is not manly.

Silence also means listening. James says, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak which leads you to be slow to anger” [cf. James 1:19]. I’ve heard it said, “You have two ears and one mouth. You should use them accordingly.” Listen twice as much as you speak.

Silence means being slow to anger. 

James says, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” [James 1:20]. If speaking quickly and listening, taking a long time to listen, doing it in the opposite way, brings about anger, and anger and wrath “worketh not the righteousness of God,” then maybe we should back that up and do the opposite and be slow to speak, swift to hear, and slow to anger so that we don’t have those outbursts of wrath, so that we do exemplify the righteousness of God.

It’s very import, also, to realize that silence doesn’t mean a lack of “nothing.” You replace it with something else. Silence – you replace your talking, the noise that you make with prayer. Prayer is manly.

I sent a link to Father Joseph this morning because I was looking this up. There is a website you might be interested to find. It is called “Cordbands.” They’re manly rosaries. They’re rosaries and prayer ropes made out of paracord that they use in the military. There are beads, but they’re masculine looking. They’re tough looking. That way, if you do have a problem with machismo a little bit, and you don’t want to carry a little dainty rosary, get a Cordband, get a manly rosary, and pray that rosary, because the rosary itself is powerful! The prayers that are behind that rosary are powerful.

That’s where you’re going to find your battle. You’re going to be able to fight in this battle when you’re doing your prayers. So don’t replace silence with nothing. Replace it with prayers. Replace it with manly prayers to our Mother Mary and to the saints.

It is masculine and manly to practice silence, to be the strong, silent, praying type. 

THE BATTLE FOR THE EYES AND HANDS

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 has one of the most important commands in Scripture in it. God told Israel,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” [NKJV].

I was also looking this morning, and I found that you can buy these little boxes with headbands on them, and the box opens up. You’re supposed to write Scripture verses on these papers, and put them in a box, and close it up, and then wear it on your forehead right between your eyes so that you can bind them as a frontlet between your eyes.

They sell these. Okay? They also sell similar things that wrap around your wrist so that it hangs on your hand. That way you’ve obeyed Scripture, right? You’ve bound it as a sign on your hand as a frontlet between your eyes.

What does this mean though for us? I’m not saying that’s bad to do. The frontlets between your eyes, meaning that your eyes are the window to the soul, and if you practice these commandments and remember that you have to keep them always before you – because that is the guard to getting in to you – you’ll realize that what He’s saying is, “Everything that you think about and let enter your mind: Remember this verse. And everything that you do with your hands, remember this verse.” As you rise up, as you lie down, as you go throughout the day, whatever you think, whatever you do, remember these verses. Remember these commands.

So, with regard to the Apostle James in our reading for today, Saint Bede the Venerable says this:

Filthiness [when James mentions the word filthiness] refers primarily to external things which corrupt our hands, whereas naughtiness [the superfluity of naughtiness that he mentions] refers primarily to internal things which corrupt our souls, [and] both [of these] must be overcome if we are to do good.”[1]

We have to protect our eyes and our hands.

CUSTODY OF THE FINGERS

Every time we do a Mass, Father Joseph and every priest who is doing the Eucharist, doing the Mass today – there is a period at which he stops using his fingers. You may see it. You may not.

But you’ll notice: It is in your book, in the book that you have there. When he begins to start doing the Canon of the Mass, and he’s starting to say, “In the night in which He was betrayed;” once he begins to touch the bread, he says, “This is My body,” and he places it onto the altar.

[From this point on], no longer can Father Joseph open these fingers except to touch the Eucharist, except to touch the bread, the Body at this point until, at the end, when his hands are washed in the Chalice afterward.

This is called “custody of the fingers,” and it happens every time we do a Mass. Notice today. You’ll see whatever he’s doing. . . I’m turning pages for him, because it’s difficult for him to turn pages like this. Father Michael’s learned to do it. He does it with these [other] two fingers sometimes.

Notice: Father Joseph has his fingers in custody, and he is not allowed to open them except to touch the Body of Christ until he washes his hands.

A COVENANT WITH MY EYES

In Matins, we read from Job. And in Job 31, Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” [cf. Job 31:1]. A covenant with my eyes.

Jesus says that if we have looked lustfully upon a woman that we have committed adultery in our heart [cf. Matthew 5:28].

The eyes are the windows to the soul and the primary source of the soul’s corruption. So, just like Father Joseph has custody of the fingers, we have to have custody of our eyes.

I read a book a few years ago called “Every Man’s Battle,” and the term they used was “bouncing your eyes.”[2] Immediately, when you see something, you look away. Bounce them as if it’s something hot, and it burns your eyes. Look away. Look away. Bounce your eyes.

Have custody of your eyes when you walk through that line at the grocery store and those magazines are right there in front of you, right next to the bubble gum and candy bars. Bounce your eyes from movies and TV shows. Turn it off. Change the channel. You know what? Stop following that show. If there’s a television show that you follow religiously, but every few minutes or every episode, there’s something in there that is immoral or impure, don’t just change the channel for that minute, stop following the show! Bounce your eyes. Have custody of them.

Bounce your eyes away from immodestly dressed or even modestly dressed but physically tempting women. Bounce them from her body and look at her face. It’s easier to respect a woman’s dignity by looking at her face than looking at her body. And remember that she is an icon of Christ and a daughter of Mary, and when you look at her in a way that she should not be looked at – with impurity – it not only hurts you, but it’s damaging to her.

Avoid the places where you have difficulty. Don’t go to that beach. Don’t go to that swimming pool. Don’t go to that holiday world water park. If that’s where you have trouble, don’t go there.

The battle for the eyes is a very, very tough one, but we are not victims. We are men! We are strong, and we are relentless. And we fast, and we pray. And we need to build those battlements and defend them. It is very masculine; it is very manly to keep your eyes faithful to God and to your wife.

BUILDING THE BATTLEMENTS

He says, “You shall bind them as a sign onto your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” And the battle for our hands includes everything that we do as well. Everything that we talk about, everything that we plan, everywhere we go, and everything that we do – this should be a sign upon our hand. I’m not saying that we can’t like to play sports. I have no problem with people who want to play golf, who like to have a game of pick-up basketball. I have no problem with that.

I have no problem with men who like tools, and who build things, and who create with their hands. I have no problem with hunting even for fun, for trophies, or for food for your family. Obviously we have no problem with farming or mining or things like that.

But that’s not what defines us! That is the arena in which our manliness, our masculinity is played out. That doesn’t define us for our masculinity. James says to put away all filthiness. Angry slaps, punching the wall, immoral sexual conduct with your hands, filthy gestures, video game thumb (Have you ever heard of that? People have carpal tunnel from typing. You can get the same thing from video games!). Do not tear down. You help others fix up and build up.

And men: Teach your sons to do the same thing. Women: Teach your sons to do the same thing. You have to ready them for battle. We are replacing these things that are evil, that are wicked, that are filthy, that are naughty with prayer and fasting. Instead, kiss your wife; hug your children, gesture with the sign of the Cross. Build up and don’t tear down.

And let the world know:

“I am a man. I have custody of my eyes. I have control of my hands. I have put away all filthiness. I have put away all naughtiness and wickedness. I am strong enough to have clean language. I am manly enough to pray and cross myself even in public. I am a warrior in the greatest battle that has ever been fought. I am a man, and I will lead my family to sainthood even if it kills me.”

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Bray, Gerald, and Thomas C. General Editor. Oden. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (N.T. XI). Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

[2]  Arterburn, Stephen, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey. Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation: One Victory at a Time. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2000.


This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in James 1:17-27, John 16:5-15, Manliness, Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

A Rose-Colored Priesthood

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_22-Fr Joseph-A_Rose_Colored_Priesthood.mp3


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Laetare Sunday, March 22, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


Gospel Reading: John 6:1-14


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

STOLEN SYMBOLS

Have you ever seen a symbol, or a color, or a word be hijacked by somebody else? A phrase, a word, a symbol that means one thing and has meant that thing for a very long period of time, and then some other group says, “Hey, I’m going to take that.”

Just imagine that you and your spouse are thrilled about the upcoming birth of your first child. You’re so excited. You get the baby’s room all ready. You decide to decorate it with Noah’s Ark. It’s a very common theme in the nursery. You put this picture of a big ship on the wall. You put all of these little pictures of furry animals. You put some water. Even though it would be accurate, you’re probably not putting floating corpses and things of all those that have been killed in the waters. You usually leave that out of the nursery. But the one thing you don’t leave out is the rainbow.

When you use Noah’s Ark in a baby’s nursery, one of the prominent themes is not just the ark and the animals, but the beautiful rainbow, the promise from God. Thousands of years ago, God puts this promise in the sky – in the sky! – promising that He never again will destroy the world through water. Have you ever wanted God to write His promises in the sky itself? Well this time He did? A beautiful rainbow!

Now I want you to imagine that somebody from an LGBT group shows up, and looks in your nursery, and sees the rainbow, and says, “Oh! You’re one of us! I appreciate you putting that rainbow up there. It’s a gay rights symbol.”

You scratch your head, and you say, “What? I didn’t… I haven’t even heard about this. What are you talking about?” So you go and research, and you find out that, sure enough, for the past few decades, that particular group has used this particular symbol. They do little lapel pins, and pictures, and tee shirts, and all sorts of stuff.

Now what do you do in response to this? Do you say, “Well, sure, I guess I must be one of you, because I’ve got a rainbow on the wall.”? Not necessarily.

Do you tear it down off the wall in embarrassment and say, “Well, since I, personally, am not part of that group, maybe I shouldn’t use this symbol. Maybe I shouldn’t use a rainbow.”

Or do you simply use this as an opportunity for loving evangelism, to smile at the person, and say, “Did you know that it has other meanings, too? We can talk about the meaning that you have for it some other time, but I want to tell you where this came from. This is really cool! This is awesome! Do you know where the rainbow came from?”

You don’t have to put down the other person. You don’t have to get angry. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it every time. You can talk about the positive thing. You can go to the Word of God. You can go to Scripture and say, “Look. Let me tell you where the rainbow came from. It’s thousands and thousands of years old! I didn’t make it up. You didn’t make it up. Let me tell you where it came from: Genesis chapter nine:

“Then God spoke to Noah and his sons with him saying, ‘and as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you. Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood. Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that  is with you for perpetual generations: I have set My rainbow in the cloud; and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be when I bring a cloud over the earth that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I shall remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh; the rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” and God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” [Genesis 9:8-18]

See, maybe the other person came to you wanting to start a conversation about what they were interested in, and you simply turn it to the Scriptures. You turn it to Christ. You turn it to the Gospel. You start talking about Noah, and the ark, and salvation, and God, and His power, and creation, and baptism, and you show this person: “Oh my goodness! There is so much more to this rainbow than I ever realized. I just thought it was something pretty in the sky. I just thought it was a symbol for this particular group over here. Oh my goodness! This is a promise from God. This is a promise from God that He will not destroy the earth again for its wickedness using water.”

In fact, the things that that group stands for, the gay rights group, that’s part of the reason He sent the flood. Go to Scripture. See what sorts of sins they were involved in. That’s one of them. It’s not the only one, but it is one of them. And look at Noah himself. In the Bible itself, Noah ends up lying naked in his tent. Two of his sons have honor not to even look upon their father’s nakedness. But one of them is look at naked old Dad, and talking about it, and telling everybody else, “Hey! Dad’s naked in the tent!” Because of this, a curse comes down on him and his descendants while those who had the righteousness to back in, and not look at their father naked, and cover him with a blanket were blessed.

The rainbow does not belong to the gay rights group. It’s our symbol. It’s not theirs. And they can’t have it!

There are other things that have been hijacked too, not just the rainbow. There are other things that marketers from different groups have tried to steal from us, and change our minds about, and make us embarrassed about, not just the rainbow.

THE TABERNACLE

If we go to Hebrews chapter nine, we read about one of the holiest items of the entire Old Testament: The Ark of the Covenant. “Then, indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” [Hebrews 9:1-5, NKJV/OSB].

Have you ever wished you could walk into the Holy of Holies, and peek into the Ark of the Covenant, and see these glorious relics? That’s what these are, by the way. The Church has always had relics, holy items passed down by the saints. Inside the Holy of Holies, we find two different cases of running into almond blossoms, blossoms from the almond tree.

First we look at the seven-branched lampstand. In the Eastern Rite Orthodox Church we still have seven-branched lampstands that go on the altar today, behind the iconostasis. This reminds us of the Light of Christ. Remember Jesus said that He is the Light of the World.

Well, how was this golden lampstand made? Was it just a simple golden lampstand with seven candles, and that’s it? Or was there more to it than that? In fact, the seven-branched golden lampstand was intentionally fashioned to look like it was covered with almond blossoms.  In Exodus 25 we read:

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. [Exodus 25:31-40, ESV]

Almond blossoms are a central part of what this seven-branch lampstand in the Holy of Holies is. Remember that Jesus said that He is the Light of the world.

The other thing that we see in the Holy of Holies, inside the Ark of the Covenant is Aaron’s rod. Remember Aaron, the high priest, older brother of Moses? Aaron’s rod signifies the authority of the priesthood. It signifies the life-giving wood of the cross, and it signifies resurrection. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Now, God was fully in control over the type of wood that He used to fashion Aaron’s rod. God could have made sure ahead of time that it was made from the wood of some other tree, but God, in His wisdom, specifically ordained Aaron’s rod to made from the wood of an almond tree.

PINK: A MANLY, PRIESTLY COLOR

Did you know that almond blossoms are pink? Therefore God has ordained that pink flowers are uniquely representative of the holy priesthood. When you see Aaron’s staff budded out with flowers, which we will read about here in a second, and then bearing almonds, if that staff of Aaron represents the holy priesthood, then when those flowers bloom, what color vestments is the priest wearing? Pink!

almond blossomI have a couple pictures here of almond blossoms. While you are reading that, I am going to talk to you about the blossoming of [Aaron’s] rod.

When the Israelites grumble and complain about who has the authority of the priesthood, God uses pink flowers to settle the dispute once and for all demonstrating that the high priesthood has been granted to Aaron alone. In biblical times, a man’s rod was considered a natural symbol of authority. It was a tool used by a shepherd to guide and correct his sheep. As we read in David’s famous Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . and Thy rod and Thy staff  comfort me” [Psalm 23:1,4 in Masoretic Text, 24:1,4 in LXX].

In Scripture, the rods of both Moses and Aaron were endowed with miraculous power during the plagues of Egypt. In Exodus 7, God sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh once more, instructing Aaron that, when Pharaoh demands to see a miracle, he is to cast down his rod, and it will become a serpent. When he does so, Pharaoh’s sorcerers counter by similarly casting down their own rods which also become serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallows them all just like Christ swallows sin, and death, and hell on the Cross and defeats them.

In Numbers 16, Korah’s rebellion was defeated. And in Numbers 17, to put a stop to the Israelites’ grumbling over who bears the authority of the priesthood, God causes Aaron’s rod, miraculously, to be covered with pink blossoms and to bear almonds.

Numbers chapter 17, starting in verse [one]:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”  [Exodus 17:1-12 ESV]

It’s a symbol of life out of death. It’s a symbol of resurrection. It’s a symbol of the authority of the priesthood. It’s a symbol that takes place with a staff made of wood that God created, and the wood that God chose to become Aaron’s staff and to become the symbol of high priestly authority suddenly bloomed into life and was vested in pink flowers which bore fruit as almonds.

AARON’S BREASTPLATE

Also, in most recreations of Aaron’s breastplate – they had twelve gemstones representing each of the twelve tribes of Israel – at least one of the gemstones is pink. One of the stones, Odem [1], may be carnelian, according to some scholars. This stone ranges in color anywhere from pink to a dark red. It is believed by many to have been the precious stone associated with the Tribe of Judah.

Another stone, Ahlama, [2] is widely understood to be the amethyst. This stone ranges in color from a bright pink to a dark purple. It is believed by many to be the precious stone associated with the Tribe of Levi.

A third stone, Yasepheh [3], is most likely what we call sardonyx. It is a stone which has alternating bands of red and white. When this stone is carved, the resulting effect is often pink as can be seen in certain pink cameos which have been fashioned from this particular stone.

Now, we cannot be too dogmatic about the specific stones used in Aaron’s breastplate. Much of the information about it has been lost to time, and not all scholars are able to agree over the specific precious stones and their colors. But since three of the twelve stones naturally occur in forms which include pink in their color range, it seems fitting that, when artists depict Aaron’s depict Aaron’s breastplate, they usually include at least one pink gemstone. It also seems interesting that two of the gemstones which can be pink are associated with two of the tribes that are most closely associated with Christ Himself, our high priest.

Carnelian has been associated by some with the tribe of Judah, and we all know that Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Others have associated amethyst with the tribe of Levi which happens to be the priestly tribe. Of course, Jesus is our great high priest.

ROSE OF SHARON AND LILY OF THE VALLEY

Of course, the pink almond blossom is not the only flower which Holy Scripture associates with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is also called the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Saint Jerome quotes from the Song on Solomon and provides us with some helpful commentary:

“There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.”[4] The rod is the mother of the Lord— simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself: “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys.”[5] [6]

In this passage from the Song of Solomon, Dr. J. Vernon McGee points out some interesting things about this Rose of Sharon. Regarding this passage, he says, “Many of the older translators have tried to make it clear that it is the king speaking here. In the old English Bibles, this is said to be the voice of Christ the Bridegroom. In the French, Italian, and Portuguese Bibles, this is designated as the voice of Christ. Many of the Church Fathers applied these words to the Lord Jesus.”[7]

rose of sharonSo here he says, “I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys.” These are two very interesting flowers. I suppose that, among all the flowers, the rose has been, especially in the East, the one that tops the list. And the Rose of Sharon is an unusually beautiful flower. The valley of Sharon is that coast valley that all the way from Joppa up to Haifa. It is a valley where you can see a great many flowers.

You have probably heard that the finest citrus fruit in the world is grown in Israel. The valley where most of it is grown – the rose grows in profusion in that valley! It is the very beautiful flower that speaks of Him.

Jesus is this Rose. Jesus is this Lily. Jesus is this King.

And while it is true that roses come in many colors, pink is one of the colors most closely associated with the rose. This fact can be seen by considering how millions of people speak about roses in numerous languages throughout the world. In most European languages, the color pink is the name of the rose flower. Like gulabi in Urdu; rose in French and [roze in] Dutch; rosa in German, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, and Italian; розовый (rozovy) in Russian; and różowy in Polish. In Latin, they say [roseus]. And in Finnish, it is called pinkki. I also consulted the RGB color wheel, which is a system used world-wide for standardizing colors, and I looked up the color rose. It is no surprise that what you find is a range of bright, rich shades of pink.

So what is the color rose? If we are to believe the languages spoken by the vast majority of people in Europe, and if we are to trust the RGB color wheel, then the color rose is the color pink, plain and simple.

MARKETING TACTICS

Of course, by now, everybody’s probably scratching their heads saying, “I thought pink was just for girls.” Thanks to the millions of dollars that large corporations have spent in marketing efforts over the last hundred years, there are a lot of people who take it for granted that pink is just a girl’s color. There are a lot of parents who will gladly don their daughters with pink shirts, pink socks, and pink dresses but would never dream of putting similar clothes on a boy.

But as I said, this is just due to corporate marketing, which is another name they use for brainwashing the masses.

It is similar to what happened with the clothes worn by Santa Claus. A couple hundred years ago, you could find drawings of Santa Claus wearing all sorts of colors. He was shown in clothes of different colors – green, purple, light blue, navy blue, brown or red. Some illustrations even depict him as a multi-color figure wearing blue trousers, a yellow waistcoat, and a red jacket. In some cases, he even wore brown, black, or white furs. On his head he used to have a mistletoe crown, a hat, a nightcap, a bishop’s mitre, or a hood. Other versions showed him holding a glass of wine or smoking a clay pipe. As he was believed to go down the chimney of houses on Christmas Eve, soot stained his clothes.

Everything changed around 1930. Coca Cola decided to use the image of Santa Claus in its winter advertising campaign and took on an artist named Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom chose the official Coca Cola colors – red and white – and designed a loose tunic fastened by a tight black belt. When Sundblom’s campaign was over, Santa’s image in a red robe had become popular over all the world. [This was] less than a hundred years ago.

Well, the same sorts of dollars that went into changing the clothes of Santa Claus to red and white went to convincing people that boys wear blue and girls wear pink. But throughout most of human history, this was not the case!

“‘In the 18th Century, it was perfectly masculine for a man to wear a pink silk suit with floral embroidery,” says fashion scholar Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute Technology and author of several books on fashion.”[8] According to Steele, pink was initially considered masculine as a diminutive of red and thought to be a war-like color. In the 1800’s, it was just as common to dress your son in pink as it was your daughter.

1840 - boy in pinkI have a picture from the painting society from the year 1840 – “Boy in a Pink Dress.” 1840 – Less than 200 years ago. Pass these pictures out to everybody.

This was not weird. This was not shocking. This was normal! Literally, for thousands of years, pink could be worn by both men and women without anyone thinking that this color had anything to do with gender:

A June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” . . . Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies.

Time Magazine chart 1927In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way.”[9]

So why do many people think that pink is just for girls? It is because we are the victims of marketing campaigns put on by clothing manufacturers less than 100 years ago.

LAETARE SUNDAY

The custom of using rose vestments is tied to the station churches in Rome [10]. The station for Laetare Sunday [which is today] is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where the relics of Cross and Passion brought from the Holy Land by Saint Helena in the 4th Century, mother of the Emperor Constantine were deposited. It was the custom on this day for Popes to bless roses made of gold, some amazingly elaborate and bejeweled, which were to be sent to Catholic kings, queens, and other notables. The biblical reference is Christ as the “flower” sprung forth from the root of Jesse ([Isaiah 11:1] – in the Vulgate flos “flower” and RSV “branch”). Thus Laetare was also called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to develop rose coloured vestments from this.[11]

“The rose vestments on Laetare Sunday is a custom originating in the fact that, as a symbol of joy and hope in the middle of this somber Season, popes used to carry a golden rose in their right hand when returning from the celebration of Mass on this day (way back in 1051 [before the schism between East and West], Pope Leo IX called this custom an ‘ancient institution.’) Originally it was natural rose, then a single  golden rose of natural size . . . The golden rose represents Christ in the shining splendor of His majesty, the “flower sprung from the root of Jesse,’ and it is blessed with these words:”

O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created, by Whose will all things are directed, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose, most delightful in odor and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy, in order that the people consecrated by Thee and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery through the favor of Thine only-begotten Son, Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother, may with sincere hearts show forth their joy. Wherefore, O Lord, on this day, when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign, confer upon us through her true and perfect joy and accepting her devotion of today; do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy, drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous, so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower sprung from the root of Jesse and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys, and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints.[12]

Why do we call this Laetare Sunday? It comes from the Introit, something which our dear chanter, Christa Monica, chanted for us today (except she did it in English instead of in Latin). The full Introit reads: “Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis,” and it continues on in Latin.

What does that mean in English? What are they saying? It means: “”Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘we shall go into God’s House!'”

Laetare means “rejoice.” Today is Rejoice Sunday. We’re halfway through Lent. I mean, there’s still half of it to go. We’re not to Pascha yet. But we’re half done! Half of it is behind us. We can see the finish line. We’re not at the finish line yet, but we can see it! And we rejoice, for one day, we take off the somber purple, and we put on the majestic, priestly, rejoicing pink.

The old practice of visiting the cathedral or mother church of the diocese on this day is another reason for the name. In England, natural mothers are honored today too. It’s almost a medieval mother’s day. Spring bulb flowers are given to mothers. Simnel cake is made to celebrate the occasion. The word “simnel” comes from the Latin simila, [which is] a high grade flour. It is also, historically, the only day during Lent on which it was permitted to have a wedding.

The Gospel reading from today came from John Chapter 6, on the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes – symbols of the Eucharist to come. Note the language used in St. Matthew’s account of this: “And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and giving thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the people” [Matthew 15:36]. He takes; He gives thanks; He breaks; and He gives.

[At] the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist, what words do we use? “Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands; and having lifted up His eyes to heaven, to Thee God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat ye all of this.'”

Take, give thanks, break, and give. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a premonition of the Eucharist.

See, Jesus wasn’t done with his whole ministry on earth just yet. Pascha hadn’t come just yet. He could see the finish line, but He hadn’t crossed it. The people were hungry, and they needed refreshment. So right in the middle of this time, before He’s even gone to the Cross, before He’s even given them their first Eucharist, He takes bread, and He gives thanks – eucharisto, ευχαριστώ – and He gives it to His disciples. Not even to the Cross yet, not even to the Resurrection yet, but He’s already giving them something to rejoice about. He’s giving them a refreshing!

That’s what Laetare Sunday is. We’re not to Pascha yet. We still have several weeks of fasting left up ahead. We have lots of repentance to do. Many more times we’re going to pray at the Stations of the Cross. We are going to follow Christ through Passiontide, Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, and then Holy Week all the way up to Golgotha itself when He’s been crucified, and He’s buried, and God is dead.

And then comes Pascha. Then comes the Resurrection. Then comes death defeated, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

We’re not to Pascha yet, but we’re halfway there, and we can see the finish line. We haven’t gotten the Eucharist yet, but He’s already breaking the bread.

GUARDING THE DEPOSIT

Nobody else can change what the rainbow means. It means Noah’s Ark. It means God’s covenant with man to never destroy the world by a flood. That’s what it means; that’s what it’s always meant; and that’s what it always will mean. Nobody is allowed to hijack that. If I have a child, and I want to put rainbows and Noah’s ark in the nursery, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. In fact, that’s what we did!

Well, they can’t have pink either. And girls, you’re welcome to wear it, but you can’t just have it for yourselves. I get to wear it to, because I am a priest! Because I am a man! Because I am a follower of Christ! Pink flowers represent the high priesthood and by extension the entire priesthood and Rose Sunday reminds us to rejoice.

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Called Sardios in the Septuagint

[2] Amethystos in the Septuagint

[3] Yašfeh in the Masoretic and Isaspis in the Septuagint and Josephus, but scholars believe that the original Hebrew reading was more properly rendered as Yasepheh.

[4] Isaiah 11:1

[5] Song of Solomon 2: 1

[6] Saint Jerome’s Letter 22: To Eustochium, 19.

[7] McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: The Complete Index. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988.

[8] Broadway, Anna. “Pink Wasn’t Always Girly: A Short History of a Complex Color.” The Atlantic, August 12, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/08/pink-wasnt-always-girly/278535/.

[9] Maglaty, Jeanne. “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink.” Smithsonian Magazine, April 7, 2011. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/?no-ist.

[10] http://thecatholictraveler.com/lenten-station-churches-of-rome/

[11] Zuhlsdorf, Fr. John. “WDTPRS – 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) – COLLECT (2002MR).” Fr Z’s Blog: “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” – Clear, Straight Commentary on Catholic Issues, Liturgy and Life by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. March 14, 2010. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/03/wdtprs-4th-sunday-of-lent-laetare-collect-2002mr/.

[12] “4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).” Fish Eaters. http://fisheaters.com/customslent7.html.


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Laetare Sunday, March 22, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in Aaron's Breastplate, Defending the Faith, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 6:1-14, Laetare Sunday, Symbolism in the Church | Leave a comment

Fresh Fruit and Old Rocks

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_15-Fr_Joseph-Fresh_Fruits_and_Old_Rocks.mp3


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: Luke 11:14-28


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

MY BURDEN IS LIGHT

There once was a cruel man who owned two slaves. He forced them to toil long and hard. He was very stingy. One day, he sent them on a very long and burdensome task.

He gave each one of them a very heavy, large bucket full of rocks, gravel, and sand. They were straining under the burden of this load. They were pushing hard. They were sweating. They were burdened down, and they had miles to go from the evil slave owner’s house to the town where he had sent them.

Along the road, they [ran] into this man who [had] a big smile on his face. He said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy. I have good news for you! This day, I have gone to your wicked master, and I have purchased your release. You don’t have to follow that slave owner anymore.”

They said, “But how will we live? Where are we going to go?”

He said, “I’ve taken care of that, too.” He said, “I sell fruit. I am a fruit merchant, and I have all of these wonderful wares,” and he showed them his cart. It was full of the most delicious peaches, plums, melons, apples, cherries, strawberries.

He said, “Carrying this is easy. You’ll find it’s much lighter than carrying all the stones, and the rocks, and the sand. Fill your buckets with my good, delicious fruit. Take it into the city. This is what you will do for me. You will find that the burden is easy. It’s light! It’s easy to carry! And as a bonus, if you get hungry along the way, I give you my blessing to eat some of the fruit yourself.”

Both of them responded with joy and said, “This sounds fantastic! Thank you so much. We would much rather work for you than for that other guy.”

So, eagerly, both of them got some of the fruit from the cart.

The first guy got an apple, and, by pushing really hard, he was able to wedge it about halfway down into the sand and the gravel. Then he got another apple, and he was able to push it down in there a little bit. He tried it with a peach, and it just mushed all over everything, and he ruined it. He got his hand all wet with peach juice.

Finally, he gave up trying to get the fruit into his bucket, and he just started stacking some fruit on top. Then he picked it up, and it was even heavier than before. So he’s lugging this heavy, heavy bucket full of gravel, sand, rocks, and fruit!

A lot of the fruit has gotten bruised. A lot of it, he has destroyed. He was hardly able to get any fruit into or on the bucket, and, now that he’s got it there, the bucket’s even heavier. He can hardly carry this thing. He struggles a few feet down the road, and finally, he gives up. He says,

“This is just impossible. I can’t do this! Following you is worse than following the other guy. I mean, it was hard. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like that other guy. I don’t like serving him. I don’t like being his slave. But at least I could barely get through it. But what you’ve given me is impossible. So here’s your fruit back. You can keep it. I’m just going to go back to being  a slave of the other guy.”

So, strenuously, he kept lugging down the road with his bucket full of rocks, sand, and gravel.

The second guy watched all of this. He took his hand, and he picked some of the sand and gravel up out of his bucket and tasted it. He spit it out! He took his bucket and tipped it over. He lifted it up, and he dumped it out. He looked up in there, and there was still a bunch of wet sand. So he got his hand, and he brushed it clean. He even asked, “could you please give me a rag, a cloth, or something?” And the guy that had the fruit cart handed him one, and he reached up in there and cleansed it out. He got every last grain of sand out of there so that this bucket was totally empty, totally clean.

He turned the bucket back over, and he started putting fruit in it. He filled that bucket with fruit. He got it full all the way to the top. He went to pick it up, and he almost got it too high because it was so light compared to what he had been carrying around.

With a smile on his face, and thanksgiving in his heart, and joy in his step, he started going down the road to the town very grateful to have a new master.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” [Matthew 11:30].

He wants us to give up the works of darkness and carry about nothing but the fruit of the Spirit. He says this is easy!

Why did these two men have different experiences? Why did the first man say that it was so hard?

WHAT’S IN YOUR BUCKET?

Well, if you are determined to keep your bucket full of rocks and you try to add fruit of the Spirit to that, it’s going to be even heavier. You’re going to find [that] it’s impossible. You’re going to bruise the fruit. You’re not going to be able to have that much of it. It’s going to fall all over the ground, and you’ll just make your burden even worse than it was before.

Everything worldly, everything secular, everything focused on pleasure, everything focused on entertainment can be these rocks, and sand, and gravel in your bucket, even if it’s not sinful in and of itself. Even if you look and say, “Well, there’s nothing that wrong about it,” it still takes up your time – time that you could be using for building up the Kingdom of God.

What is very, very easy is to spend hours a day with your family, with your church, with your friends in prayer, in studying the Scriptures, in reading the lives of the saints. That’s easy. It’s not difficult at all.

You know what’s almost impossible? It’s very difficult to fill your time with all the TV shows that you want to watch, and all the video games you want to play, and all the places that you want to go, all the things that you want to see, all the pleasures, all the entertainments, and then somehow find a few minutes out of the day to stuff the prayers into your schedule somehow.

It’s very easy. It’s not difficult. It’s easy to raise to your kids – daily memorizing Scripture, learning what the Word of God says, spending hours reading about the saints and about the Church, about what Christ has done, thinking on holy things. [They can be] singing (not just reading but singing) the music of the Church, singing the Psalms from Scripture [so that] when they’re just out taking out the trash or working in the garden or cleaning their rooms, and they decide they want to sing something, the song that comes to their mouth is not some profane rock song, or country song, or secular song that they heard on the radio. They just feel like singing, and so they start singing Psalm 51 or Psalm 128 or some chant from the Church. It’s just what comes out of them, because that’s what goes into them. That’s easy! It’s not hard.

I’ll tell you what’s very difficult. I’ll tell you what’s hard. I’ll tell you what’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible to fill your children’s hours with movies from the world, with songs of the world whether it’s on a TV set, on a Kindle, on an iPad, or on a movie theater screen – the entertainments of the world – and, after they’ve had hours of this poured into them, to somehow try to stuff ten or twenty minutes of prayer and godly singing into their day too. And even more difficult, even more impossible to actually expect, [is that] those ten or twenty minutes that you stuff into them are going to be what they want to sing on their own and what they want to think about on their own rather than all this other junk that you let them fill their days with.

You know what’s easy? You know what’s not hard at all? Giving 10% of your income to the Church, to God, to the Missions. I mean that as a minimum. It’s easy to give 15% [or] 20%. It’s not hard to give a good amount of your money to the work of God whether it’s to the local church or to missionaries overseas building the kingdom with your money.

I’ll tell you what’s really hard. What’s really difficult, what’s almost impossible is to say, “I need my wardrobe to be this big and this new, and I need this many new pairs of shoes, and I need to go on this many vacations, and I want to go to restaurants at least this many times. And, you know, a lot of times I don’t want to cook, so instead of cooking something that would cost two dollars I’ll just go buy something that would cost $20 or $30.” And, after you’ve spent all this money on material things, on your pleasures, on things that are not necessities so you can have something bigger, better, newer, more entertaining, to go back and scrape enough pennies together out of your budget to try to give some money to build the Kingdom of God – that’s hard.

THE ROAD

When people say that following Christ is difficult, when people say that following Christ is so hard, that’s because they’re determined to follow Christ only if they get to keep their rocks in their bucket, only if they won’t pour the sand out of their bucket, only if the gravel has to stay. “I want to keep my worldliness. I want to keep my pleasures. I want to keep my comfort. I want to keep my self-indulgence. I just want to add the fruit of the Spirit to that on top. I want to stuff it in there with it.” It doesn’t work. It does make it harder.

It’s as difficult as seeing a fork  in the road, one [path] going to Heaven and the other going to Hell and saying, “Well I have two feet. I’ll just follow them both.” That works only for a little while. Before long you’re going to be hurting. If you keep your feet trying to go in those two opposite directions, you’re going to be in a lot of pain real soon, and you’re not going to make a lot of progress.

Now, at first, you do. At first, your foot is able to go down the right path. You make progress for a little while, and then it just stops because you don’t have any more leg.

When there’s a split in the road and there’s two paths, one going to Heaven and the other going to Hell, what’s easy is to make both feet go the right way. It’s actually easier to do everything right than it is to be double-minded and be half-and-half.

What does that have to do with today’s Gospel reading? Jesus gave us a grave warning! The warning does not go to those people who have lived for the devil all their lives. They’re not even included in this. This is not for them. There’s other passages of Scripture that are for them. This is not it.

THE DEMON RETURNS

Jesus said, “There’s a man possessed by a demon. The demon has a stronghold in his life. That demon lives in there. The demon is in control, and the man is freed from it. The demon has been cast out. He was filthy, but now he is clean. Everything was disordered, and now it is better ordered. The demon was in, and now the demon’s out.”

He’s talking to us. There [are] all these wicked works of darkness that such were you, but now you are redeemed. Now, you’re in Christ. Now, you’re in the Church. You’ve been baptized. You’ve been cleansed. You’ve partaken of the Eucharist. He’s talking to us!

There’s a great warning: He said [that] a man can have a demon in him. He has the demon cast out. The demon goes out and wanders through dry wilderness places and can’t find rest anywhere. The demon has to have somebody to torment, somebody to bring down to Gehenna.

So, just out of curiosity, the demon goes and checks up on the former guy that he was messing with. And sure enough! There’s no demon in there. Sure enough, his house is clean. Sure enough, everything is set in order. Everything’s garnished. It’s a nice, well-kept house.

But the Holy Spirit’s not in it. You see, if that house was inhabited, if the Holy Spirit were filling that house, that demon would hightail it for the hills faster than you can imagine. He just finds it clean but uninhabited.

So he doesn’t just go back inside that house by himself and bring the man back to where he was. No, it’s much worse than that. He gets seven spirits more wicked than himself.

Did you know that there are demons more wicked than others? Any of you ever have to wrestle with the demons? Do you think demons have ever tried to make a stronghold in your life in the past? How does it make you feel to think that there [are] demons out there worse than those? You think you’re run-in with the demons has been bad? There [are] demons out there so bad [that] you haven’t even thought about it yet!

The point here is that the demons are persistent. They don’t give up just because you kicked them out once. [If] you kicked them out once, and you’re clean, and you let your guard down, you’re asking for trouble.

By the way, this would be very incompatible with Protestant teaching of “once saved always saved.” If you’ve ever heard certain Protestant groups (not all of them, but certain Protestant groups) teach “once saved always saved.” Once you’re cleansed, once God’s redeemed you, once you’re ready and following God, you’re set.

That’s not what Jesus says here. No, you’ve started on the right path, but believe you me, that was not your last battle. That’s not the last time you’ll see that demon. Not only that, but the next time, he’s coming back with reinforcements. He thought he had you, but you beat him by the power of God. So he’s going to come back with seven spirits more wicked than himself, and he’s going to see if the eight of them can take you.

Beware. Be sober. Be vigilant. For our enemy, the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith [cf. 1 Peter 5:8-9].  “Steadfast in the faith” does not mean “lazy in the faith,” “relaxed in the faith.” 

When was the last time you heard a general talk to his army and say, “Relax.” If it’s a time of war, if it’s a time of battle, is it time to relax? You can relax after you win, and you haven’t won until you are in Heaven. Then there will be an eternity for however much relaxation, and peace, and rest that the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Right now, we are at war, and the first time you beat an enemy, he doesn’t go away. He comes back stronger, harder, and with more reinforcements.

You need the Holy Spirit. You need the fruit of the Spirit. And you’re not going to get the fruit of the spirit in your bucket unless you dump out all the rocks. You only have a certain amount of time in a day. If you do everything that the Scriptures and the saints say that you should do, how much time do you think you’re going to have left for other stuff?

You see, we get it backwards. We look at everything we want to do, we pick out the two or three things that are just obviously wicked and we say, “Okay. I’m getting rid of those.” That leaves a little room in our bucket. So now we’ve got 80% sand, and rocks, and gravel in our bucket [with] a little bit of fruit.

We say, “Man! How much better this is than life was before! Man, I’m holy! I’m godly! This is great!” Well, praise God. You’ve made progress. That is good! God wants your whole bucket [to be] full of fruit though, not just 20% of it. He wants the whole thing, and he knows that, as long as you’re trying to do both at the same time, that you’re double-minded. You’re trying to walk two paths at the same time, and the more you try to keep the rocks and the gravel in your bucket and add fruit on top of that, you’re just making the whole bucket heavier, not lighter.

LOCK YOUR DOOR?

I like to think that at least some of the people, when the demon comes back, at least some of the people were smart enough to lock the front door – maybe not all of them. You knew that this was a demon. You knew that this was sin. You locked the door. You locked the heart, and you said, “I’m not letting that demon in again.”

So, like any good burglar, like any good thief, he comes in your back door.

You say, “I was smart. I was strong. I was vigilant. I put up this wall. I put up these barriers. I put these locks.” Yeah, but if you left your back door wide open, he’s just going to come in that way. What does the back door look like with sin?

The devil can win the battle against us if he can get us to focus on a few sins that are most wicked and convince us that if we get rid of those in their overt and open forms, then we’ll think we’re holy. Then all he has to do is get us sinning in the same spirit but in a different way.

You see, there are clusters of sins that go together. Imagine that you are a mafia mob boss. You’re a don, and you remember that, in your younger days, you actually murdered some people with your own hands. Somebody comes to talk to you and says, “You, you’re not going to get away with it. If you keep doing that kind of stuff, you’re not going to get away with it especially now that you’re the boss, now that you’re in charge of this crime family. The police are going to be watching you so closely, you don’t dare even give the appearance that you’re putting anybody to death, that you’re killing anybody. I mean, if you even carry a gun around, they’re going to try to nail you.”

So, you say, “Well, in that case, I’m not going to kill anybody. Hey, Mario, you know that guy that we need put on ice? You take care of it.” And for the rest of his life, he never lifts a finger. He never pulls a trigger. He never gets a knife out. He doesn’t kill anybody; he just gives the order, and somebody else does it. In a court of law, if that could be proven, would [the jury] say, “Not guilty”? “Oh! You aren’t the one who pulled the trigger. You weren’t even in the same county when the guy was killed. All you did was, you just ordered the hit man to do it. Well, you’re free. No problem then.” It’s still murder. You may have no blood on your hands, but you still have blood on your record and blood on your soul. You’re still guilty of murder whether you pulled the trigger or not.

So it is with many other sins. Saint John Cassian wrote something called his Conference with Abbot Serapion,[1] and in a portion of it, he talks about clusters of sins, how one sin leads to another. The spirit of one sin causes others.

“From gluttony proceed surfeiting and drunkenness.” So, even if you beat gluttony, and you have no problem with it, if the devil can get you to have a problem with alcohol, he’s just as happy because it’s the same spirit. It’s the same sin. It’s just a different form of gluttony. Instead of gluttony on food, now it’s gluttony on alcoholic beverages.

“From fornication filthy conversation, scurrility, buffoonery and foolish talking.” You say, “Well, in my younger days, I had problems with fornication, but I beat it! I confessed it. I ran away from it. God has forgiven me, and I don’t do that anymore!” So the devil comes in your back door and says, “Yeah, but you can tell some dirty jokes, act like a buffoon, talk foolishly, just joke around.” That’s still the spirit of fornication whether you ever commit the act or not.

“From covetousness [comes] lying, deceit, theft, perjury, the desire [for] filthy lucre, false witness, violence, inhumanity, and greed.” You may think that you’ve beaten covetousness. You may think that you don’t have envy for more than what God has given you. You may think you’re content with what God has given you. The devil will just come in the back door, and, instead of letting you see openly that you have covetous thoughts, you’ll have greed. You’ll have violence. You’ll lie. These are all connected to the spirit of covetousness.

“From anger [proceeds] murders, clamour and indignation.” You say, “I’ve never killed anybody.” Do you get angry? Do you have problems with indignation?

“From dejection [comes] rancor, cowardice, bitterness, [and] despair.” A lot of people today don’t even realize that dejection, and despair, and depression is a sin. They think it’s just a medical condition that you’ve got to take a pill to fix.

“From accidie [comes] laziness, sleepiness, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability both of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.” It’s all connected to sloth. It’s all the same spirit. You say, “Well I’m not lazy! I get up. I do this, and I do that, and I do this, and I do that.” Okay. But are you rude to people? Instead of carefully opening your mouth only when you have something edifying to say to build somebody up in Christ, do you just chatter: “Well this this this, and this this this, and blah blah blah, and yadda yadda yadda, and chatter chatter chatter chatter chatter”? Idle chatter!

Restlessness, even sleepiness: Are you sleeping more than you should when you should be up with prayer vigils, when you should be reading the lives of the saints, when you should be getting deep in the Scriptures? You just get drowsy way too easily. All these things are connected into what’s call accidie. It’s a type of sloth.

“From vainglory [comes] contention, heresies, boasting and confidence in novelties.” You may say, “Well, I’ve had a real problem with pride, and vainglory, and boasting. I’ve tried to get rid of all that. Well, you’re playing spiritual Whack-A-Mole. You knock it down in all these places, and the devil says, “Well, I’ll just come in the back door. Let’s try contention. Let’s see if I can get you to be at odds with somebody else and – friction and just not getting along.” Much, much contention comes from a spirit of vainglory, a spirit of pride, a lack of humility.

“From pride [comes] contempt, envy, disobedience, blasphemy, murmuring, backbiting.” You say, “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy.” Well, wives, do you disobey your husbands? Children, do you disobey your parents? Men, do you disobey your priest or your bishop?

Contempt: “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy, but, oh! I just can’t stand that person!” It’s the same sin. It’s the same demon just popping up in a different place, coming into your house through a different door.

THE STATE OF YOUR HEART

Are you content to keep your bucket full of rocks? Are you content with two or three apples and a smashed up peach on top of that bucket of rocks? Are you going to say, “This is my fruit of the Spirit”? Are you going to let that demon come back? The demon you got rid of, the demon you fought so hard against, the demon you were released from – are you going to let it come back with seven of his wicked friends into your home, into your heart so that the last state of your heart is worse than it was at the first?

Did you know that can happen? You can have and ugly, demon-possessed heart. Christ can cast the demon out of it, and you can have a clean heart. The demon can come back with seven of his wicked friends. They can come in, and your last state is worse than the first. You end off worse than if you had never known Christ. Whatever that is, I don’t want to have anything to do with it! Not in my heart. Not in my marriage. Not in my family. Not in my home. Not in my church.

If the demon has been cast out, and your heart has been cleansed, and your house is clean, then give thanks to God that that battle has been won. And be sober and vigilant, for that is not your last battle! Even as we speak, the demons are trying to come in your back door.

Don’t think that, because you have valiantly and vigilantly barred up and locked the front door, that you don’t need to worry about the back. You need to take this seriously. You need to re-evaluate everything. Everything! Every type of reading material, every type of movie, every type of sports, every type of pleasure, every type of restaurant that you go to, everything you eat, what you sleep on, the type of furniture you buy, the color of paint that you use in your house. I am leaving nothing off the list. Literally anything that you do, any decision that you make, any word that you speak, anybody that you vote for, anybody that you don’t vote for – anything that you do, you need to come back around and say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine [and] no big deal, but let’s look at it again.”

Then you circle back around after a month, and you look at everything again. You say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine, but now let me look at it again!”

You see, when you’re covered in sewage – when you’ve been in the sewer and you’re just covered in filth – you smell so bad that nobody’s going to notice your bad breath. All they’re going to smell is the filth that’s all over you. Here’s the mistake that we often make: We go take a shower. We wash all of that filth off. We give thanks to God that we’re so clean and pure and that we smell so good, and then we say, “Good morning brother,” and they’re knocked over by our rancid, horrific breath. Then we [sniff test and say], “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know I ever had bad breath!”

Just because you defeat the devil once, just because you’re cleansed of something, don’t assume that you’ve already won the entire war. Don’t assume that that horrific sin that you defeated is the only sin there is.

The spirit of love for Christ, the spirit of obedience to Christ, the spirit of humility says that continually, you keep coming back and asking God to re-assess your whole life from top to bottom to find every room in your heart that is unclean, to find every closet that is unclean. [Humility says] to literally speak nothing, spend nothing, and do nothing except that which builds the Kingdom of God in your heart, in your marriage, in your family, in your home, in your church, and in your community.

God didn’t just say, “Let few impure words come out of your mouth.” He said, “Let no unclean word come out of your mouth, but only that which will edify your brother,” which will build him up in Christ [cf. Ephesians 4:29].

Heavenly Father,

Please wake us up to the seriousness and the extent of this battle.

Please help us to realize that, just because you have graciously granted us victories thus far, that we cannot let down our guard, but we must double up our efforts, for the enemy will return like a flood with reinforcements, with greater power, with greater wickedness; and we must submit to you that you might set up a standard against them.

Please don’t just grant us the fruit of the Spirit, but give us the wisdom and the clarity of thought and purpose to empty every rock out of our buckets – every impure thing, and not only every impure thing, but everything that we think is neutral. We don’t have time for anything neutral.

Lord, please purify our hearts of anything and everything that is not fully in submission to Christ.

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


[1] Gibson, C.S., trans. “Conferences (John Cassian).” In The Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 11. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1894.


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full service secretarial support (including homily transcriptions, editing services, and publishing assistance) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 11:14-28 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Take Your Medicine and Be Healed

mp3 Audio:  Take_Your_Medicine_and_be_Healed.mp3

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28


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

THE HOSPITAL

There were twelve very sick men. They were still able to walk around, but they an illness which was so severe [that] they knew their life was in danger. They didn’t want to go to just any clinic. They went to the absolute best hospital that was available. [This hospital had] the best doctors, the best medications, the best staff, the best reputation. And they were admitted. There were still twelve beds that were available. They were admitted, they were allowed in. They were to be given care at this fine hospital, and they were very, very happy about this. They were very proud of it, for they knew that there were literally hundreds of people outside that hospital who had not been able to come inside.

Some of them had conversations with one another. They said, “This really is a good hospital. They recognize our value. They recognize how good we are. They recognize that if anybody is going to receive treatment and have their health taken care of, it should be us.” They were very pleased with themselves, and they kept having these conversations one with another. Some of them would look out the window and kind of turn up their noses at the riffraff outside, those undesirable, unworthy people who did not have an entry into this hospital.

The doctor on duty came around and carefully checked out each one of these twelve men, made notes on their charts and gave appropriate prescriptions for medication for each one of these men. Finally, in the due amount of time, the nurses came around to give them their medication. When the first nurse walked into the first room, she said, “Sir, here is the medicine that you’ve been prescribed.”

He just kind of went, “Ha ha ha. I don’t need to take that. I don’t need to take that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “No. You don’t understand. I’m already in. I’ve already been admitted to this hospital.”
She said, “I know, Sir, but you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “You’re not listening to me. I’m not one of those riffraff outside. I understand. They need medicine. I get that. I am already in the hospital. I’ve already been admitted. I’ve already got a room. I’ve got this bed. And you work here! I mean, you should know this is the best hospital around.”
She said, “Well, yes, of course. That’s why I work here.”
He said, “Well, it’s the best hospital around, and I’ve already been admitted to it. I’m already in the hospital. I don’t need that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you have to take your medication, or you’re not going to get better.”

He got angry, and he started yelling at her, and finally he just threw her out of the room.

So she went to the next man. This poor nurse went to each one of these twelve men, and each one of them treated her the same way. They threw her out. They got angry with her for suggesting they needed to take medication. They all said, “We don’t need your medicine. We’re already in! This is the best hospital. We’re in it. We’ve been admitted. Now leave me alone.”

Of course, in the due amount of time, all twelve of these men died. Being in the best hospital did not heal them. Being admitted to the best hospital did not get rid of their disease because they refused to take the medication.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the ER, one of the riffraff came in, one of the people who had not been admitted to a bed in the hospital. The doctor on duty checked the person out and said, “This is a very serious case. We need to deal with this right away.” He wrote out a prescription. And because these twelve men had not taken their prescriptions, there was still some of this medicine available. They got some of that medication. They brought it down. They gave it to this person in the ER. That person lived. The person was healed. The person did not die.

This is sort of similar to what we are dealing with in today’s Gospel. This foreign pagan woman who lives outside Israel in the accursed region of Tyre and Sidon (read throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and see the curses that God gives to Tyre and Sidon). . . When Jesus speaks of Tyre and Sidon, he speaks of those cities in the same breath as he speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah. [It was a] wicked, pagan, Canaanite area [of] people who were not part of Israel, people who are not part of God’s people, people who did not have the Mosaic Law. They didn’t have the Temple. They didn’t have the true faith that God had set up on earth.

It’s interesting how often in Scripture and in history and even today, there are people who are among God’s people – they’re already in, they’re admitted, and because they are already in, they think they’re already healed. They think they don’t need to take their medicine, and they die just like those twelve men in that hospital.

You had twelve tribes of Israel. They were in! They were God’s people. They had the best Doctor in the world – God Himself. They had the right worship. They had the right God. They had the right temple. They had the right liturgy. They had Scriptures. They were in! And so many of them died because they refused to take their medicine.

Many of the Jews became very angry one time when Jesus was talking to them. They were talking about being in, about being among God’s people, and Jesus hearkened back to the Prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He said there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah went to the Widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. (Remember, we talked about Sidon? That’s the area from which the lady of Zarephath was from – right in between Tyre and Sidon.)[1]

ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW

Elijah goes to her [and] asks for something to eat. She said, “I have almost nothing left. There is a great famine. There is a great drought. All I have left is just a little bit of flour, a little bit of oil. There’s just barely enough left that I am going to make just a tiny bit of bread so that my son and I can have our last meal and then die.”

Can you imagine it getting down to the point that you only have enough food left for you and your children to have one more meal and then that’s it? There’s not grocery store. There’s no food in your garden. There’s no more food in your house. Any of the wild game has already been shot in that area, and captured, and eaten. People are starving all around you. Now it’s you and your family. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve already tried everything, and your pantry is empty. Your fridge is empty. You have nothing.

To this woman in such a desperate straight, Elijah makes what seems like such an audacious request. He says, “Okay. Make that for you and your son, but first, use some of it to make me some bread.” Now in today’s progressive culture, I am sure that there are a lot of women that if faced with such a request would quickly do the “z-snap” as fast as they could and tell him where he could take his request. But this woman was more spiritual than that, a little more sensitive than that, a little more tuned in to God than that.

This man of God heard her plight; he understood her sorrow. He knew that it was just her and her son and that they had almost nothing left, and even then, he asked her to give. He didn’t come to her with more food or money or anything. He came to her, and he asked her to give even in the midst of her poverty. But he also brought her a great promise from the Lord. He said, “For it has been revealed to me by the Lord that until the day that this famine is over that the oil in your container will never dry up, and the flour in your container will never go empty.”

He promised her an unbelievable miracle, and she believed it. And in obedience to the prophet’s words, she went to her little jar of flour. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It looked the same as before. She saw no difference. She went to her jar of oil, just a little bit left, and it wasn’t full and running over. She saw no difference. But in obedience to this prophet of God, she dips into that flour, she dips into that oil, and instead of making food for her and her hungry son, first, in a labor of love and trust, she makes a little loaf of bread. She lets it rise. She cooks it, and she brings that fresh, hot loaf of bread not to herself or to her boy, but to the man of God, and he eats it.

Then she goes, and the little bit of flour still looks the same. [She] dips into it [and] dips into the oil, and she makes a couple loaves of bread for her and her son. It should all be gone. She goes back, and she looks, and there is still a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil. The level hasn’t gone down. There is not very much in there, but it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get used up. So for the next three years, every day, she dips out a little bit if flour and a little bit of oil, and she makes some bread for herself, her son, and for this prophet of God.

Then something worse than famine, worse than hunger, worse than fear happens: Her son gets sick, and he dies. She is weeping. She is grieving. She is calling out to God and to His prophet. And Elijah goes in, and in prayer to God, the boy is raised from the dead, brought back to life. [This is] miracle #2. The grace of God saving the lives of this woman from the area of Sidon, this area of Tyre and Sidon! He sends mercy to this woman and her boy.

THE WOMAN FROM THE AREA OF TYRE AND SIDON

And here in the New Testament we have a woman from the same area, the same region, from the area of Tyre and Sidon. And she, no doubt, had heard the reports. The name of Jesus was not new to that area. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read that, at times, Jesus would go, and preach, and heal people, and crowds would come from all over, not just from Jerusalem, but from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, and he would heal people. Then of course, they would go back home, and they would talk about what they had seen and experienced. So this woman, no doubt, had heard of Jesus.

In this particular case, Jesus and His disciples had gone to that area trying not to be found. They needed some peace. They needed some rest. They needed some time away from the crowds. So he wasn’t outside preaching, and teaching, and healing. It says in Scripture that they were staying in a house. They were trying not to be found. But this one woman got word: “Jesus is in town. He’s come to where I am. He’s over here in Tyre and Sidon, this area over here. Really?” She left her demon-possessed, sick child at home, and she went out and she sought Jesus. As we know, ultimately Jesus has compassion on her and on her boy, and He heals him.

He does it at a distance. So many times in Scripture, we see Jesus touching somebody and healing them – touching the hem of His garment, and they’re healed. But there’s at least a couple of times in Scripture where we see somebody having great faith in Christ, recognizing that Jesus doesn’t even have to physically walk over to where you are to bring healing, but as the Lord of the universe, He can simply speak and healing will come to you at any point wherever you are over great distances.

As far as I can find, there are only two places in the New Testament where, instead of saying faith or “O ye of little faith,” only two places could I find where Jesus said, “You have great faith.” He’s praising them. He’s honoring them. He’s saying, “You have great faith, a big faith.” Ironically, both times, he doesn’t say it to Jews. He doesn’t say it to those who are called God’s people. Both times that Jesus says, “Oh you have great faith,” he says it to Gentiles.

SPEAK THE WORD ONLY: THE ROMAN CENTURION

In the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a Roman Centurion: He wasn’t born Jewish. He wasn’t part of the people of God. He wasn’t in. He wasn’t brought up in the right religion. He didn’t know the Christian Scriptures. But he had faith in this Jesus. He had faith in Christ, and he asked Christ to heal his servant. Jesus said, “Okay, I’ll come to your house and heal him.” And then, in great faith [the centurion] spoke those immortal words, this Gentile, Roman Centurion, said,

“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed” [Luke 7: 6-7, Matthew 8:8].

We remember that in our liturgy saying very similarly, “Speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”[3] We look up to the Roman centurion’s faith, and we in the Church try to emulate it.

He recognized, in humility, that he didn’t deserve for Jesus to come to his house. He recognized that Jesus didn’t even need to come to his house, because he had faith in the great power of Christ to simply speak and have the healing take place miles and miles away. And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I have not found so great a faith, not in all of Israel.”

The second Gentile whom Jesus says has great faith is the woman from today’s Gospel reading: this Syrophonoecian woman, this Canaanite woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon. Now, we all know that Tyre and Sidon has been cursed in Scripture. We all know that this is not Jerusalem; this is not Israel; these are not God’s people. They’re not the ones who are in. Oh, but the ones who are in refuse to take the medicine! The ones who are in refuse to accept God Himself in human flesh. But those who are outside, those who are foreigners, those whom God’s people considered outcasts and unworthy of salvation, they receive healing when they come to Him in faith.

THE PROPER ORDER

Now, Jesus says there needs to be a proper ordering of things: First you must feed the children before you feed the little dogs [cf. Mark 7:27]. The idea in Greek here is not the strays that are running out in the street, but the little puppies, the little dogs that run around in your house and are your family pets.[3]

First, you feed your children. Now what is implied there? “First you feed the children, but later, I’m going to feed you too.” Jesus wasn’t saying no. He wasn’t saying, “I’m only going to feed the Jews. I’m only going to heal them. And Gentiles, I’m going to have nothing to do with.” He simply says there’s a proper order to things, for salvation comes first unto the Jew and then unto the Gentile as we read in the first chapter of Romans.

She doesn’t argue with Him, she doesn’t disagree with Him, but like the centurion, she has humility. She recognizes that she isn’t worthy to receive this great miracle. She doesn’t claim that she is worthy. She agrees with what He says that He must come to His own people first, to those whom He called His own people. He came first to them, and He was healing them, and He was showing the Gospel to them.

But in her great faith, she realizes that, even as He was doing things in their proper order, that He is so powerful that without breaking the rest, breaking that time of rest that He had set up for His disciples in this house away from the crowds, without leaving that house and walking publicly, and going all the way to her house, and drawing lots of attention to Himself, without leaving behind anything that He was doing as He was going about the proper order of things, that He could still heal her daughter.

[This is] very similar to the idea that the centurion had: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” She doesn’t tell Him, “Well, I am just as good as any Jew. If you are going to heal them, then you owe it to me to heal my child.”

No she doesn’t talk back to the Lord. She’s not haughty. She doesn’t even disagree with Him calling her a dog! She doesn’t disagree with Him calling the Jews children and the Gentiles little dogs. In faith, she simply says, “Yes, Master, but even the little dogs are able to eat up the crumbs under the master’s table” [c.f. Mark 7:28, Matthew 15:27].

“Lord, I know I am not worthy of the feast, but healing my child, having mercy on me in the midst of my anguish, healing my family. . . Lord, I know you are so powerful that even one single crumb that falls down to the floor – that’s enough to heal me. I don’t presume to be worthy of the feast. You know what? I don’t even need the feast. You are so awesome that if I get just one little crumb that falls down to the ground while You are feeding the children, if I get just one little crumb, that’s going to be powerful enough to heal my child.”

And He says, “Oh, woman, you have great faith.” You see, with His words, with His waiting, He had tested her, and her faith shone like the sun. Finally, He praises her, and He says, “Woman, you have great faith. Be it unto you even as you will” [Matthew 15:28].

Indeed, she did have great faith. She didn’t stay there and plead with Him begging Him to follow her to her house to heal her child. She believed that He had the power, simply with what He said, to heal her child. So she leaves. She had been so persistent before, but now that He has said that, she believes Him, and she walks away. She goes home to find her child healed.

TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

The Roman Centurion, this Canaanite woman from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, they were not in. They were not in Israel. They were not the people of God. They had not been admitted inside the hospital. They just showed up at the ER, and they had faith in the doctor. And when the medicine was prescribed, they were willing to take it. That medicine is Christ.

The Jews had the right religion. They had the right Scriptures. They had the right God. They had the right liturgy. They had the right genealogy and history. They had the right traditions. But when Christ shows up in the flesh, they reject him, and they die in their sins.

But any of those Jews which did accept Him, which did take the prescription, which did take their medicine, which feasted on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith – their souls were healed. And not only them, but all of us in the world who are Gentiles: Formerly we were foreigners. We were outcasts. We were outside the faith. We were not part of the people of God. We were no better than any other pagan on the planet. But in faith, we come to Christ, and we say, “We want whatever You have. Whatever medicine You have for us, we’re going to take it.” We feast on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith, which the early Church called “the medicine of immortality. Saint Ignatius called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.”[3]

It is not just the Eucharist, but it is all the Lord gives us: It is baptism. It is chrismation, ordination, marriage, the sacrament of healing. It is Lent. It is fasting. It is prayer. It is controlling our tongues. It is not only uprooting our outward actions which are sinful, but it is uprooting every sinful thought from the heart, every selfish inclination, every bit of anger, every bit of pride, every bit of whining and complaining. All these are prescriptions from the Lord that He gives us so that we might live.

Indeed, the Orthodox Church is the New Israel. The Orthodox Church is the people of God. The Orthodox Church is the hospital, and it’s the best hospital you can be in! If you’ve been baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, and you’ve taken Communion, then you are admitted into the hospital. You’re in the best hospital you can possibly be in for your soul. And if you do not take your medicine, you will die.

God doesn’t bring us into the Church so that we can live like the world and go to heaven anyway. God doesn’t bring us into the hospital so we can stay sick and live anyway. God brings us into the hospital so that we can take our medicine and be healed.

I have a nurse in the room. Denise, all medicine is delicious isn’t it? It’s not, is it? Some medicine tastes absolutely horrible. It’s bitter going down! Some medicine, you can’t take by your mouth, but you have to have this big, fat needle stuck right into your back. That feels good, doesn’t it? Then they inject the medication. There are other ways you can receive medicine which are also not pleasant. So you choose: “Do I take the medicine even though it is not pleasant because the doctor has prescribed it so that I might live, or do I say, ‘That medicine doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t taste good; I don’t like it,” and then die?” Die, even as you are sitting in the best hospital around?

God does not give us Lent to torture us. He doesn’t give us daily family prayers to leave a bitter taste in our mouth. God doesn’t give us Scripture to read because He wants us to be bored. God has invited us to be healed. He has invited us to have life! When Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He paid your insurance policy in full. All your medical bills are paid. All you have to do is take the prescription. You have to take your medicine.

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] The story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth is found in 3Kingdoms (1Kings in Masoretic Text Bibles) chapter 17.

[2] This prayer is used by the Western Rite Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Anglicans.

In Western Rite usage at Christ the King, Omaha, this prayer is used just before Holy Communion:

Three times, the priest says: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” and the people respond “but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

Then the people, together with the priest, recite the pre-Communion prayers of Saint John Chrysostom:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Moreover, I believe that this is truly Thy most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine Own precious  Blood, wherefore, I pray Thee: have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance, and vouchsafe me to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries unto the remission of sins and life everlasting. Amen.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief do I confess Thee: remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom.

Let not the communion of Thy holy Mysteries be unto me for judgement or condemnation, O Lord, but for healing of soul and body.

It should be noted that there are several liturgies in use by the Western Rite Orthodox Churches of the Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Church, and that this prayer is used in various places:

  • As presented above with the pre-Communion prayers.
  • In the Ambrosian Mass after the Peace is given, and before the priest communes.
  • In the Gregorian Mass of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, this prayer is optional, and is omitted from the general usage text.
  • In the Gallican Mass, which is a facsimile liturgy with significant Byzantine insertions, in use among the ROCOR Western Rite by only one parish of record, this prayer is not found.
  • In the Sarum Mass, this prayer is not found in the common text.
  • In the Gregorian Liturgy authorized for use by the ROCOR Western Rite as of 2015 and the Moscow Patriarchate in the early 1900’s, this prayer is said by the priest immediately after the Agnus Dei and immediately before communing the faithful. The priest and the faithful repeat the prayer thrice while striking their breast.

One Anglican priest describes it thus:

Just before Holy Communion, the celebrant raises the host and proclaims to the congregation: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” The people respond with [this prayer]

That response is adapted from the centurion’s prayer in Matthew 8:8. The centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant at home. When Jesus said he would come to the centurion’s home, the man responded that he was not worthy to have Jesus visit his house. Besides, if Jesus would stay there and “only say the word,” then the servant would be healed. Jesus did; the servant was cured. Jesus praised the great faith of this gentile centurion.

By substituting the word “I” for “servant,” the Church has adapted this prayer into a preparation for receiving Holy Communion.

How do you know when you are worthy to receive the Eucharist? Strictly speaking, no one is ever worthy. Jesus’ healing makes us less unworthy.

In this prayer before Holy Communion, worthy means that the person has confessed any mortal sins and is properly disposed to receive this sacrament. “Only say the word” is a way of acknowledging that all healing and grace ultimately come from God.

(Fr. Dale Hall, Franciscan Friar, Anglican Mission Chattanooga, TN, April 17, 2016, Interview with Maria Powell).

In the Western Rite Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is frequently used.

[3] The Greek word here is κυναρίοις, which is translated as “house dog,” a diminutive of κύων, dog. Diminutive forms connoting familiarity, this dog would necessarily be a dog with which one is familiar, a pet.

[3] The Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 20: “Assemble yourselves together in common, every one of you severally, man by man, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David’s race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to the end that ye may obey the bishop and presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ.”


This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 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, editing,  and publishing services) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 15:21-28, Pride, Western Rite Orthodoxy | Leave a comment

Being Tempted In the Wilderness

Mp3 Audio: Fr Joseph-Being_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness.mp3

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11


Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil

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

Imagine being alone in the wilderness without a friend anywhere around, and you’re going one-on-on with the devil himself. You’re being tempted by Satan, the most evil of all the angels, the most powerful of all the wicked demons. Have you ever had a period in your life where you felt like you could relate to that experience – where the devil himself has shown up, where the devil himself is tempting you? You wonder how long it’s going to on, and you’re wondering, “When will it end?” What kind of thoughts go through your mind at times like that? “What have I done to deserve this? What sin did I commit to deserve going through this? Why me, Lord?”

Indeed, when we sin, particularly when we sin willfully, we may go through some very, very tough times that are directly a result of our own sins. So it is a question that must be asked. If you identify some sins that you have committed, and you can see that what you are presently going through is a result of those, then repent of your sins. Call out to God for mercy. Go to confession. The Lord will forgive you of your sins if you confess them with a contrite heart, and in time, He’ll bring you healing.

But as we see in the stories of Job in Scripture and of Jesus here in the wilderness, not all difficult times and not all temptations come as a result of our sins. Indeed, Jesus had already, prior to this point, lived thirty years without sin. That’s impressive – to live on this planet as a human being for thirty years, throughout his entire childhood and early adulthood, thirty years, without a single sin! You’d think after that type of an accomplishment that you’d be free from trouble, that you would deserve for no problems to come your way.

Yet we read something incredible. In Scripture, it doesn’t say, “the Spirit was busy somewhere else, and when the Holy Spirit wasn’t looking the devil attacked and started tempting Jesus.” That’s not what it says. It says, “The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” [Matthew 4:1]. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit led Him to!

Obviously this is not something that we seek out on purpose. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” [Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4].

There are times, with the righteous, that the Holy Spirit of God will lead a righteous person into the wilderness, into temptation, to withstand an attack from the tempter. Job endured it. Jesus endured it. We read of other righteous men in Scripture and righteous women who endured it.

Now, if you are not facing the devil because of your sins; if you are not facing difficulty, and trials, and temptation in the wilderness because of something you have done wrong, you have to ask:

“If I have been so faithful to God, if I am a good Christian, if I am walking with the Spirit, why would the Holy Spirit lead me into temptation? Why would the Holy Spirit intentionally put me in a situation where I am alone, out in the middle of nowhere, being tempted by the devil?”

I believe the first reason is simply [that it] is a test. God has every right to test us! He already knows what’s in our hearts, but many times, we do not, and other people who are watching do not know. You may see somebody who seems very pious, very righteous, very good on the outside, but you simply have never seen them when they are in trouble – how they lose their temper, how they cuss, how they are mean to everybody around them, how they lose all their patience, how the things of God suddenly do not become very important to them anymore because they only want to focus on how they can solve their troubles.

There [are] other people who may strike you as very quiet, and meek, and perhaps even weak; and you tell yourself, “now that person – if that person ever faces adversity, man, they’re going to be the first to crumble! There’s no way that person could ever stand up to anything.” Yet, when thrown into the heat of adversity, that quiet, meek person that you never suspected had any strength at all is the only one who sees it through faithfully to the end.

[This is] like the three Hebrew children. These young guys, even when faced with the threats of the king, and with threats of torture and death itself, they would not bow the knee to a pagan god.

Esther – just a Jewish girl. Just a girl! There’s no way she would risk her life and put herself in danger of execution by standing up to the king of Persia. Yet, she did. She fasted and prayed for three days, and, risking her life, she went in before the King Xerxes and laid everything on the line to risk her life so that she might bring salvation to God’s people that they would not be executed.

God can see into the heart, but we cannot see into each other’s hearts. The angels and the devils – they cannot see the depths of our hearts. It is through testing that the wheat is separated from the chaff, that the silver and the gold are purified and that the dross is burned away. Through fire, it is revealed what we are actually made of.

If you are made of gold, silver, precious stones, the fire purifies you, and the heat and the light from the fire makes you shine like the stars in the heavens; it only makes you look better, more glorious. But if you are made of kindling, if you’re made of wood, hay, straw, stubble, then when the fire comes, it burns you to a crisp. We might not know the difference between the two except for the difference that comes by the fire.

In this life, in this world, all of us are being tested. If there is anything within you that is stubble, that’s straw, that’s chaff, that fire comes to burn it away, and by the mercy of God, may He grant that you are not chaff, that you are not all stubble, but that, at your heart, you are gold; you are silver; you are precious stones. In other words, you have a heart that is dedicated truly to God.

If that is the case, then no amount of temptation, no amount of testing, no amount of fire will destroy you. It will be painful. It will be difficult. But when silver goes through the fire, it doesn’t come out destroyed; it comes out purified.

I once heard a story about how a silversmith purifies silver. He’ll heat it up, and heat it up, and heat it up. The impurities come to the top as this scum, this dross, and he’ll clear it off of there. What’s left is silver that is more pure.

Then he’ll do it a second time: He’ll heat it up, and heat it up, and heat it up, and that scum and the dross that come to the top, he’ll take it off of there. Now it’s even more pure. He’ll do it three times, four times, five times, six times! Even seven times.

Do you know how the silversmith knows that his job is done, that the dross is all gone, that the scum is gone, that the impurities are gone, and that what he is left with is perfectly pure silver? The silversmith knows that it is ready whenever he looks down into the crucible, and he looks at the molten silver, and it is so pure and so clear that he can see the reflection of his face in that molten silver.

As you are tried in the fires, as you are literally melted down so that the dross can be purged off you, the point at which God will know that His job is done is when He can look down at you and see His own reflection, when He can see His own face when He looks at you.

PRAYER AND FASTING

How do you stand up under such testing? Jesus, at one point in His ministry, spoke about a demon that His apostles could not cast out of a child, and Jesus easily cast the demon out. Jesus said, “This kind only comes out not but by fasting and prayer” [cf Matt. 17:21]. So not just prayer with your mouth, and with your heart, and with your mind; but your body itself performing ascetic labors, fasting, adding power to your prayers.

Indeed, we see that in the wilderness, Jesus didn’t immediately go out into the wilderness and begin His temptation right off the bat. He goes out into the wilderness, and He fasts for forty days and forty nights.

If there’s any stronghold in your life, a powerful stronghold where Satan and the demons have set up, and it seems like, in so many ways, you are free, and you’re following God. Yet, in this one particular area of your life, it’s just like the devil will not let go. I have to ask:

“Have you only prayed for release, or have you fasted and prayed for release. Are you only willing to pray with your mouth, or are you also willing to use your mouth to push away pleasures, to push away the things of this world, and to fast for a certain period of time so that the strength of your prayers might be increased?”

Jesus didn’t just go face the devil. He fasted, and he prayed. Then he faced the devil.

STUDY THE SCRIPTURES

How else did he stand up under this testing? He had an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures. To each and every temptation that the devil threw at Him, the first three words Jesus used in reply were, “It is written.” Jesus didn’t run back to the synagogue to look through the scrolls and try to find answers to everything the devil was saying. Jesus knew it by heart. These are things Jesus just had memorized.

Anything the devil would throw at him, Jesus would quote Scripture and say, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God [Luke 4:4]. It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God [Luke 4:12]. It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God only, and Him alone shall you serve [Luke 4:8].”

We need to know the Scriptures. We need to study the Scriptures. We need to know what has been written by the Saints. We need to know what is in the Ecumenical Councils. We need to know the teachings of Scripture and the teachings of the Church by heart because the moment that the devil shows up, you’re not going to have time to put everything on hold for a few weeks so you can go study the question out and then come back and respond to the devil. You need to have already prepared.

PREPARE FOR BATTLE DURING PEACEFUL TIMES

I believe it was one of Aesop’s Fables that talked about this wild pig that was out in the forest just sharpening his tusks up against a tree.  This animal came up on him and said, “Wow! What sharp teeth you have! I see you are furiously sharpening them. Where is the enemy?”

The pig said, “There is no enemy around.”
“Well where is the battle? Where is the fight?”
The pig said, “There is none.”
The other animal said, “Then why are you sharpening your tusks?”
And the pig said, “Because when the enemy shows up I won’t have time to sharpen my tusks.”

And so it is. Do we lazily sit in front of our television set all day long being entertained, filling our mouths with potato chips and everything that makes us feel good, going out and having fun with friends? We go out with friends, and we play video game, sand stay on the computer all day, and just fill all of our days with entertainment, and become couch potatoes. If we do that, do we really think that, the day the devil shows up to tempt us, that we’re going to have strong muscles and be ready to go, to stand up against the enemy?

No. If all you seek is pleasure and entertainment in this life, then when the devil shows up, you’ll be too fat, and too flabby, and your tusks will not be sharp enough for the battle!

Jesus had already prepared through fasting, through prayer, and through years of studying Scripture. Jesus knew what Scripture says so that the moment the devil tempted him with a lie Jesus could identify it immediately as evil.

Something else when you go into this type of testing and temptation from the devil: notice that even the devil himself quotes Scripture. “Go cast Yourself off the temple, Jesus; for it is written His angels will have charge concerning Thee and they will bear Thee up lest Thou dash Thy foot against a stone” [c.f. Matthew 4:6]. And sure enough, it’s in Scripture! Our chanters chanted that Psalm [90 (91)] for us today out of the Psalms. And sure enough, that’s what it says.

If you look at what the devil says Scripture says, and then you go and look at that Psalm, sure enough, he quoted it correctly. Now, if you didn’t know what was in Scripture, if you were too lazy and too ignorant to have spent a lot of time studying it and to really learn what’s in the Bible, you might be thrown for a loop. You might say,

“Hey, I’m going to really fight against the devil, and then, gasp, the devil is the one quoting Scripture to me! Well, I guess if Scripture says that, I had better go along with it. Maybe that’s not the devil after all. Maybe this is an angel of God coming with enlightenment to show me the truth. I mean, he is quoting Scripture!”

I’ll tell you a little hint, another reason why you need to know your Bible backwards and forwards, why you need to be so familiar with Scripture: Whenever the devil or the devil’s followers come to you quoting Scripture, they will be very, very selective about what they quote. But if you know the full context of what they are quoting, if you know the whole story, if you know the big picture, you’ll be able to identify it for the lie that it is.

A good example is this Psalm:

For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep the in all thy ways
They shall bear thee in their hands that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
[Psalm 90(91):11-12]

And then the devil stops quoting. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with just quoting a piece of Scripture. You can’t quote the whole Bible from cover to cover every time you open your mouth. If you’re not familiar with this Psalm, you might say, “Man, well if the devil quoted from it, what’s wrong with what he was asking Jesus to do? What was wrong with that?”

It’s very interesting that the devil didn’t quote the very next verse. The devil says, “They shall bear thee in their hands that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” The very next verse in the Psalm is, “Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.”

Who is the lion that goes about, prowling, seeking whom he may devour? Remember what St. Peter said? “The devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” [1 Peter 5:8].

Who is the adder, the snake, the serpent? The devil. The liar. The tempter.

Who is the dragon? In the Book of Revelation, who [is] the dragon? That’s the devil.

So here in one verse, we have three different animals mentioned all three of whom are representative of Satan himself – the devil. The devil is the lion, the adder, and the dragon, and according to this verse, Christ and all his followers will tread him under our feet.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil so that he might be tested and tried. But just like a father who encourages his son to go into a race, just like a parent who encourages their child to go compete in some sport, they don’t encourage them to do it so they can lose; they encourage them to do it so that they can be victorious and win.

That is why God sends us into testings and trials. He is our loving Father. He is up there cheering us on. If you could see God right now, I think He is looking down from Heaven saying, “That’s my boy! That’s my girl! I’m so proud of them! Look! Look!”

God loves you. You’re His kids! He’s proud of you. He didn’t send you into the race so that you’d be defeated. He sent you into the race so that you could cross the finish line with that ribbon streaming behind you. He sent you to win. This is an opportunity to win the race, to beat the devil, to take part in the crushing of the head of the serpent yourself, to be victorious. This is an opportunity God has given you to give glory to Him.

Would you really rather God said, “Oh, I don’t ever want you to be victorious. I don’t want you to win. So just don’t get in a race at all.”? No! God wants you to know what it feels like to cross that finish line victoriously. God wants you to know what it feels like to run that hard race and win it! God doesn’t send you into temptation and trials so that you might be defeated by the devil. He sends you into those temptations and trials so that you might crush the devil.

It’s a time for your testing. It’s an opportunity for you to give glory to God. Then finally, the temptation itself is also an opportunity for you to flex your spiritual muscles and to grow in preparation for something greater that is coming.

You see, this was not the last time that the devil tempted Jesus and attacked him. No, it was going to get worse, and it was going to get worse, and it was going to get worse until finally, a little over three years later, it was going to go all the way, all the way to the mat. It was going to go to the point of torture, crucifixion, and death.

I ask you again:

Do you think that if you indulge yourself in food your whole life without fasting; if you indulge yourself with pleasures at all times without worship and without prayer; if you let your spiritual muscles get flabby for weeks, and months, and years; then when the time comes where somebody holds a gun to your head and they say, “You either deny Christ or you die,” do you think you will have what it takes to be a martyr for Christ? Do you think you will have what it takes to repel the temptations that the devil sends your way? Do you think you will have what it takes to win the whole battle if you do not first prepare?

RUNNING THE RACE

I guarantee you something: Whenever an Olympic runner runs across the finish line and breaks that ribbon, and wins the gold, never does that winner say, “Whoa! How did I get here? How did this happen?” That never happens, because nobody who fails to prepare, nobody who fails to run for the prize will win the prize. People who are couch potatoes and lazy don’t win Olympic gold medals ever. And the same thing is true in the spiritual realm! If you are spiritually lazy, you will not win the prize. If you want to win the prize, then you must run; you must train; you must prepare.

Think of how it is physically. If you want to win the Olympics, if you want to win the gold in an Olympic race, can you eat like everybody else eats, or do you have to discipline your body? Can you spend your time pursuing trips, and pleasures, and video games, and all these entertainments, or do you have to spend hours and hours in training?

We’re not talking about your body. We’re talking about your eternal soul! We are talking about the biggest stakes the world has ever seen. We are talking about heaven and hell, life and death. We’re talking about eternity in joy versus eternity in torment.

St. Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the sake of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.” The devil wants to distract us into laziness, into cowardice, into self-centeredness. The Holy Spirit is calling us to fight, to fast, to pray, to resist temptation, and to grow up.

You see, Jesus didn’t start His public ministry and then, a week later, go to the Cross. Jesus went for forty days of fasting and prayer. He resisted the devil valiantly and faithfully. He faithfully followed God for the next three years. Then finally, when the time came, He had every bit of strength that He needed to go to the Cross.

God does the same sort of thing with us as we follow in the footsteps of Christ. He will call you to fast. He will call you to pray. He will call you to all-night vigils. He will call you to study the Scriptures. He will call you to learn the teachings of the Church. He will call you to give alms and to help those who are in need.

If you faithfully do all these things, your spiritual muscles will get stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger. Then, when the fiercest onslaught from the enemy comes in your life, whatever time that is, whether it’s soon or whether it’s twenty years from now, you will be strong enough by the grace of God to stand up under it, and to be victorious.

Those are some of the reasons why the Holy Spirit, at times, will lead you into the wilderness for temptation. It is so that you may be tested. It is so that you may have an opportunity to glorify God and to be victorious, and to win a battle. And it is for further preparation, so that your spiritual muscles might be strengthened, so that you are ready and able to meet those future battles.

May the Lord help us to be faithful.

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


This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 1, 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) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Bible Study, Fasting, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 4:1-11, Prayer, Temptation | Leave a comment

When You Fast

mp3 Audio: 2015_02_25-Fr Joseph-When_You_Fast.mp3


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


Gospel Reading: Matthew 6:16-21


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

The first three words of our Gospel reading today are “when you fast,” not “if you fast” but “when you fast.” It is a given. If you are a follower of Christ, then you will have times of fasting. If you do not have times of fasting, then you are not a follower of Christ. The very fact that He assumes it, “when you fast,” signals to us that this is something right at the center of what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Christ and a part of His Church.

When you fast, do not do it like the hypocrites. They disfigure their faces, and they look all sad because want other people to see what they are doing.[1] These are the people who are blogging every day on their blogs and on Facebook [saying], “Oh! It’s been so much time without meat. I don’t know how I’m going to survive.” Or, if you’re doing a full fast, “Oh! I’ve gone all day with just water and no food at all. I’m starving!” [They are] looking for sympathy, looking for other people to say, “Oh, how spiritual you are!”

Jesus said, “Don’t fast like this.”
You will fast if you are a follower of Christ, but not like that.
Jesus said, “Wash your face. Anoint your head. Smile! Don’t let people know that you’re fasting” [c.f. Matthew 6:17].

This isn’t something that we do for everybody else to see. This is something that we do for God to see, and it’s something that we do specifically for the case of spiritual warfare. Think of the people in Scripture who have fasted and prayed, and God heard their prayers.

ESTHER

Esther, before risking her life by going in to the king in an attempt to save her people: For three days, she fasted. From my understanding of that particular situation, that didn’t just mean that she laid off Big Macs for three days. That was three days of just water, three days of nothing. Every time her body said, “Man, I really want to eat something,” she just kept praying.

There are a lot of us who would be impressed with somebody who just prays for three days about something. “Man, you’re spending hours a day on your hands and knees, pouring your heart out to God in prayer. Isn’t that enough?” Esther did pray, but she also fasted.

NINEVEH

Look at Nineveh. This wasn’t even Israel! This wasn’t even the people of God. It was just a pagan city that worshiped a pagan fish god. The Prophet Jonah came and prophesied destruction upon them for their wickedness and their idolatry. From the king down to the lowest servant, this entire city repented!

Can you imagine if [President Barack] Obama came on TV and said, “I have sinned against the Lord. We have earned great judgment from on high for our many wickednesses, but I call upon everybody in this nation to fast, to pray, to put on sack cloth and ashes, and to call out for mercy before the Most High.”? Across this nation, if hundreds of millions of people were to bow the knee to Christ, and to fast, and to pray, what a revival that would be!

That’s what happened in the city of Nineveh. They prayed. They fasted, and God heard them, and no disaster came to their city. God had mercy on them, because they humbled themselves before Him.

ONLY BY PRAYER AND FASTING

Is there something in your life – whether it’s freedom from a particular sin that has beset you, whether it is a particular relationship that you have struggled with so hard, whether it’s’ something with your spouse or something with your children? You have already tried praying, and praying, and praying. Have you tried fasting and praying? Have you tried a period of time where you go without food entirely and have nothing but water, and pour your heart out to God in prayer?

There are times that when you fast and pray that God hears from heaven.

Think about the disciples to whom Jesus gave the power to perform miracles and cast out demons. Yet, there was one particular child who had been tormented by this demon from early youth. The disciples, the Apostles themselves could do nothing about it. They couldn’t fix it. They couldn’t cast that demon out. Then Jesus easily cast the demon out of the boy.

The Apostles asked Him, “Why couldn’t we do it?” Jesus said, “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

There are some works of the devil, according to Christ, which you can combat not by prayer alone. It’s not enough. You can pray, and pray, and pray, and even you are an apostle, that demon will not let go. But if you fast and pray, you do warfare on a spiritual level, and you defeat the enemy. Then the devil flees.

There is a joke going around on the internet. That jokes says that Orthodoxy is just Christianity only harder. I used to think it was really funny, but I don’t really think it’s accurate the more I think about it. It’s just Christianity.

Anything easier than Orthodoxy is not Christianity. But it is inaccurate for another reason: Fasting wasn’t given to us just so God could cross his arms, frown, and say, “Ha! See what I am going to force you to go through, peons? You’re going to do it just because I said so, that’s why,” like God is up there trying to be hard on us. That is so far from the truth!

Yes, God requires it of us, but why? Is it just to be hard on us? Is it just to mess with us? Is it just to give us some tough rules so that we have to sweat through life and have difficulty?

God wants you to be free.

He wants you to be from every wile of the devil. He wants you to be free from every demon. If there are some demons that will only let go of you through fasting and prayer, then it is not the hardness of God, but it is the mercy of God, it is the goodness of God, it is the love of God that requires you, at least one time out of the year, to focus on doing the very thing that makes the demons let go.

If there is such incredible power in fasting and prayer that it can make demons let go in cases where even the apostles, without fasting, couldn’t make the demons let go, then isn’t it good of God to require of us that there are at least some times in our lives when we fast and pray?

That’s not hardness. That’s not meanness. That’s saying we are in battle against an enemy that is not merely trying to kill our bodies. We’re not talking about a little, tiny, temporary thing like World War I or World War II. If you get involved in World War I or World War II, you might get your body killed.

No, we’re talking about much higher stakes. We are talking about a battle in which the enemy wants nothing less than your eternal damnation, and the eternal damnation of your spouse, and the eternal damnation of each and every one of your children. Those are the stakes. What kind of a general would send his warriors into battle having never practiced shooting a gun?

[Matushka] Amy, you got to see some of how the United States Army works overseas. When they are about to send thousands of people into combat, is it standard practice to, the day before combat, bring them all into a room, hand each one of them a gun, and say, “All right. You’re going to get to try it out for the first time tomorrow. Good luck!”?

Is that how they do it? When do they give a soldier a gun? When you’re still in basic training and you haven’t been deployed to the combat zone yet. Before you actually go into combat, are you likely to end up receiving weeks or even months of practice in taking the [gun] apart, putting it back together, and firing it?

So it is with spiritual warfare! God is a good general, and He wants you to be well-prepared. So, he assigns times of fasting and prayer. You can add to those.

It can be June. You don’t have to be anywhere near Lent. It can be the middle of June, and you can have something major going on, and you can fast and pray. You don’t have to just do it when the whole Church is doing it. You can fast and pray on your own just like Queen Esther did.

But throughout the year, you get your practice. God assigns times for you to put food off to the side and make it secondary, put your physical and bodily needs off to the side and make them secondary, and first focus on the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Learn through doing that the power of your prayers during that time of your life. Learn what it means to do spiritual warfare. Part of the point of it is not just for you to practice but for you to be reminded that you are in a war. The demons are invisible to us. The angels are invisible to us.

No matter how long we’ve been a Christian, we far too easily fall asleep and fall into the dream land of this world around us. [We] think that life is for nothing than to eat, and drink, and be merry, and have nice grilled hamburgers, and video games, and TV, and just enjoy life. You only live once! It’s true, you only live once, and then you go to the judgment seat. From that point on you spend eternity in either heaven or hell. So, because you only live once, you need to spend every moment of that life preparing yourself to be able to go to heaven and making sure that hell is not where you end up or you’ll be beating yourself up for all eternity saying, “Why didn’t I repent? I only live once.”

The fact that you only live once is not proof that you need all the pleasure you can get. No. St. Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the sake of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.”[2]

ADAM AND EVE

God has told us that in fasting and prayer he hears us. He has told us that in fasting and prayer we have a power over the demons that we do not have otherwise. We also know from the teaching of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers that, when sin first entered the human race, it was through sinning in food that we first fell. They could eat everything in the whole garden, but God told Adam and Eve: “this one tree right here – do not eat that. Just one thing. Just fast from that one thing.” 

It would be like if God told you that you could have every hamburger at McDonald’s except for the double quarter pounder. Any of the other ones are fine, just not that one. You can go to Baskin Robbins, and you can have any flavor of ice cream except pistachio. That doesn’t even seem much like fasting, does it? You can have anything you want except for this one thing. That’s how easy God made it! Because they wouldn’t keep that fast, here we are.

That’s why we have a cemetery across the street full of dead bodies. That’s why all of our families in this church, over and over and over for the past several weeks, keep getting sick.

So how do we get out of this?

We die through food, and we gain eternal life through food. God gives us the Eucharist – holy food to eat to restore us to life. He also gives us the chance to be obedient in regard to food and to fast like our forefathers Adam and Eve did not.

They refused to fast from even one food in the Garden. Now that we are following Christ, now that we are seeking to be obedient to Him through food, through obedience to God in regard to food, we say, “You know what? My belly is not my god. I am not going to be enslaved by my stomach and eat just because my stomach says I am hungry.” 

You see, before the fall, Adam and Eve’s spirit and soul were in charge, and their fleshly body was a servant to their spirit. With their spirit, they communed with God and performed righteousness, and their fleshly body was merely a servant.

But today, [for] people who don’t know Christ, it’s flipped upside down. The fleshly body is in charge, and their soul and their spirit have become slaves. They call it freedom. “I have freedom to do whatever I want. I can eat whatever I want. I can sleep with whoever I want. I can watch TV and watch any show that I want. I can play all the video games I want. I can play whatever I want. I can sleep whenever I want.” They call it freedom. That’s not freedom; that’s slavery!

Do you realize what slavery is? For your spirit, for your soul, for your mind to be enslaved to the desires of your flesh so that whenever some chemicals rumble around in your stomach you stop whatever you’re doing and [think], “I’ve got to eat, and I’ve got to eat now;” you’re enslaved to your flesh. 

“Oh, I’m bored, and I’m too lazy to do anything useful. I don’t want to be bored anymore, so I’ve got to watch the TV; I’ve got to play the video games.” You’re a slave to your flesh. 

“Oh, these chemicals are running through my bloodstream, and that girl looks really pretty.” So you drop everything and pursue unclean activities. You’re a slave to your flesh. 

You’re not in control. Your entire life is being run by your fleshly body and its passions. That’s not freedom. That’s slavery. 

Through Lent, through fasting, through prayer, we remind our bodies that our bodies are not in charge.

Our stomach is not here to control our mind and our thoughts. Our mind, our thoughts, and our spirit is here to control our body. So as we go through this, it very important that we do not complain, that we do not grumble against God, that we do not mope around and say, “Man, I wonder why God makes us do this stuff.”

We need to trust Him as a loving Father. We need to recognize that He does this because He loves us, and He’s trying to heal us. Through doing this, He puts us in a position that our prayers have greater power, and this is something to thank Him for.

I am going to end the homily at this point, and before we continue Mass, I would like us to take three or five minutes. We have all, children and adults, been fasting from meat all day. Those of us who are adults have been fasting from all food today – nothing but water.

Christ has promised us that there is a special power that comes in fasting and prayer. What I’d like for us to do at this time – you can either come to these rails, or you can stay where you are and pull out the kneeler. We’ve already had many corporate prayers by the Church, and we will have many more. I’d like us to take three to five minutes and offer up some personal prayers – not just things that you’ve prayed about before at some point, but today, while you are fasting and praying, I want you to get on your knees, and I want you to personally pray before God believing that when you are fasting and praying,

He hears you. 

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


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Matthew 6:16, NKJV/OSB: Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.

[2] Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber 1954; The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery 1984; and On Ascetical Life, SVS Press 1990.

 


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 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 and presentation transcription, editing services, and publishing assistance) to Orthodox Clergy and parish communities.

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