Christ Has Ascended!

MP3 Audio: WS330354_Dn-Joseph_Ascension.mp3

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

~

Gospel Reading: Mark 16:14-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

I repeat: The Son of God never left heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we have to ask: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That couldn’t happen until Jesus ascended into heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

 

 

Posted in Ascension Day, Fr. Joseph Gleason | Leave a comment

Kids Singing with Fr. Joseph and his Mandolin

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

Not Quite Converted

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

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

~

Gospel Reading: John 16:23-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what is conversion?”

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

You say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, if you say,

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

I would simply say:

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

Sacred Seed, Sacred Chamber

orthodox wedding - blessed with children

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

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

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

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

St. Nikolai Velimirovic said it well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Numerous forms of birth control were available in the Early Church

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

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

 As Megan Evans has noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

1st – 2nd century

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

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

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

3rd – 4th century

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

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

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

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

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

5th – 6th century

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

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

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

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

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

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

7th – 8th century

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Eve Levin points out,

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

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

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

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

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

(Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, On Masturbation)

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

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

 

Faithful Orthodox Christians continue to avoid contraception today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Priests who Disagree?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

Additional Information

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

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

Follow the Doctor’s Orders

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

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

~

Gospel Reading: James 1:17-21

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

We read today in the Epistle of James the Apostle:

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

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

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

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

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

Throwing Away the Prescription

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

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

Not Getting the Prescription Filled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Interaction Precautions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Finishing Your Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Story of Two Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

The Baptism of Naaman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Irenaeus of Lyons

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

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

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

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

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

~ Gregory of Nyssa

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

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

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

How do we know that this passage speaks of baptism?

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

Who are the recipients of Naaman’s baptism?

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

How are the recipients chosen?

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

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

What is accomplished by Naaman’s baptism?

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

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

A Million Dollars and a Bee Sting

MP3 Audio: WS330350_Dn-Joseph_A-Million-Dollars-and-a-Bee-Sting.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 11, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: John 16:16-22

“But I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice and your joy no man taketh from you.”

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

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Now what do you have to be upset about?

Have any of you ever walked through a casino? Ever seen gambling tables or slot machines? Somebody told me something that I believe is true. The lottery and gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math. Most of the people who walk out of the casino, you don’t see them dripping with riches. But I haven’t seen one single owner of casino standing on a corner begging for bread. I think they have tipped the scales in one direction or the other.

But just hypothetically, let me ask you to imagine something. Imagine you have some insider information. You have a friend who has spent a lot of time in places like that, and he’s found one particular slot machine and he tells you, “Look, they may call it gambling, but this particular slot machine isn’t gambling, because every time you pull the lever, money comes out. Every time!” You say, “Well, you mean most of the time?” “No, every time. It doesn’t matter. If you put a penny in there, you put a quarter in there, you pull it quickly, you let it spin a while and then you pull it…It doesn’t matter. Money comes out every time.” Think you would give it a try if you knew it wasn’t a gamble?

And so you ask a little more – “So, are you telling me that they rigged this so it just pops up jack pot every time? No, no, no, no, no…Every once in a while it will pop of jack pot or winner, but most of the time, it will pop up and it will say you’re a loser. The lights won’t flash, you’ll just hear a buzz like you lost, but money still comes out of the thing.” Would that bother you? Would that bother you that it told you that you lost? If it didn’t stay “winner”, if it didn’t say “jackpot”, but money was still pouring out of that machine into a bucket that you’re holding there? It wouldn’t bother me a bit. I’d “lose” a hundred times a day if that’s what was going to happen. Now, what is my analogy?

Jesus says, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you.” No man! Not even the tax man, not even the murderer. Not even the person who badmouths you, not even the diseases that attack you. There is literally nothing that is going to take your joy away. Why could that be? Because Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! And if Christ is risen, than we too shall rise like Him. It says in Romans 8:28, a very famous verse: “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” That doesn’t just mean that when people encouraged you, or when you went to Church, or when you took the Body and Blood of Christ, or when you read your Bible. That means that when you broke your hip, all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. When redneck moving company used a tractor to carry stuff from the U-Haul to the house, all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. It might not have been what you expected, but you still got your stuff moved in, didn’t you? You got to the destination, and that’s the point.

Let me ask you something:

  • If you’re saved from every sin that you’ve ever committed, if not one of them is held against you . . .
  • If your body, even though it aches and pains and dies and gets buried in the grave, if it comes back out and is healthy and healed and walking and your resurrected body is walking around with God in Heaven . . .

What do you have to complain about?

When we read the lives of the Saints, sometimes you read some really encouraging stuff. But most of the time, you’re reading about somebody who got killed. Not exactly the type of hero that the world would lift up and say,

“Look at this person! They fought for everything they believed in, they didn’t give in, and they got killed!”

Not a lot of movies or stories like that the world is pushing. Because you see, to the world, only if “winner” pops up, if “jackpot” pops up, if the lights are flashing, if everybody is cheering for you . . . That’s the only kind of winning that matters. But if you get killed, if you suffer, if your U-Haul gets stuck in the mud . . . Well, that’s just all the cause in the world to say, “I’ve lost. I’ve had a bad day. Woe is me.”

I want you to imagine that somebody walks in the door back there . . . and tells you, “You just won a million dollars!” And you say, “How could I have won a million dollars? I didn’t even enter any kind of [contest].” “Maybe it was an error, but all I know is, all you gotta do is go downtown in Omaha, show them your ID, show who you are, and they’ve got the million dollars. You get it today free and clear, no taxes.”

That would be a pretty good day. Would you be happy about that?

Now, on the way there, a yellow-jacket comes across and stings you. OH!! It smarts! So, of course you just don’t bother to pick up the million dollars, because you sit down on the sidewalk and start crying, because this ruined your day. You got stung by a bug.

That’s dumb, isn’t it?

It makes just as much sense as the complaining that we do on our way to our resurrection.

It’s already a sure thing. You don’t deserve resurrection any more than you deserve a million dollars. But God’s already promised it to you. He’s already given it to you. He’s already purchased it for you! And are you going to fail to go pick it up just because you got stung by a bug? Just because you temporarily have a little money troubles? Just imagine that you’re on your way downtown and a bill collector intercepts you and says, “I caught you, buddy. That twenty grand I’ve been after you about for 4 years, and you’ve been ducking and dodging me and you haven’t paid up . . . Well, I want my pound of flesh now.” Would you just throw your hands in the air and say, “Oh, no. This is a horrible day.” You’d just laugh at him because you have a million bucks waiting for you as soon as you get downtown!

We’ve won far more than a million dollars. We’ve won eternal life. We have won resurrection. We’ve won forgiveness. We’ve inherited sonship and daughtership to the True Father of us all. What do you have to complain about?

Jesus said in this Gospel – Jesus said, “You’re going to have sorrow, because the world’s going to think they’ve won. I’m going to be dead. I’m going to be in the grave, but then I’m coming back. And you’re going to see me again. And you’re sorrow will turn into joy.”

It’s not that they have sorrow, and the sorrow gets taken away, and now we get this new thing called “joy”. No, the sorrow itself is turned into joy. Because what were they sorrowing about? Jesus has been crucified. It’s the worst possible thing they could imagine, other than themselves being crucified. Jesus is dead; He’s been crucified.

Their sorrow turned into joy, because what is their joy? Jesus was crucified! And in that, I’m released from my sins. He’s trampled down death by death. After His crucifixion, He went down into hell and He harrowed it! He took captivity captive. He punched out the devil’s teeth. He took the keys of death and hell and hades from Satan! He stomped on the gates of hell. He came back up, and He has resurrected His body, and He’s promised to resurrect mine too. Jesus was crucified! The very thing that caused their sorrow, is the very thing that now they proclaim from the rooftops with joy. Their sorrow has turned into joy.

I talked about this a few weeks ago, but it just never ceases to amaze me when I think about it – that the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ has scars. Now, is there anybody in this room who questions the ability of Jesus to heal a wound? I think he showed that throughout his life multiple times. And even on his resurrected body, he looks very whole and intact. You don’t see all these stripes all over him and this disfigurement. He’s healed, he’s whole, he’s glorified. And yet, still, he kept the holes from the nails in his hands and in his feet, and from the spear in his side. He could have healed those wounds just like all the rest of them. The sorrow was turned into joy.

Do you want Jesus to get rid of those wounds? Or do you want to see them yourself, because he’s taken something sorrowful and made it glorious? What sorrow have you endured in your life? With your health, with your finances, with your family relationships – do you believe that Christ can take your sorrow and turn it into joy? So that no longer are they open wounds that you try to forget, festering sores that poison your attitude. But those very scars themselves are something that Christ turns into something glorious to shape your character, to strengthen you, to toughen you up, to humble you, and ultimately to change you into the very image of Jesus Christ Himself.

Is there any suffering you’ve endured that brought you off of your high horses, cut down your pride, and humbled you just a little bit? Thanks be to God, you’re more like Christ now.

Is there any suffering that you’ve endured personally in your life that has made you a little less careless, and a little more diligent in standing up against sin? Well, thanks be to God. Through that suffering, God has worked on you and honed you down and has made you more like Jesus Christ.

If you could turn back the clock, would you undo that suffering so that you could be less like Christ? Would you undo the things that you’ve gone through so that you would not be humbled? So that you would not be tenderhearted toward God, so that you would not be diligent against sin?

“Oh, but . . . I can see some sorrow in my life that fits that description, but there’s some sorrow that still hurts. There’s some sorrow that I just can’t see any purpose in it at all!”

I’ll tell you, on Good Friday, the Apostles didn’t see a whole lot of purpose in the Cross. They didn’t see the reason that He was being put to death. But their sorrow turned into joy because Christ kept His promise. It comes down to a matter of trust in your Heavenly Father. Do you believe that He was telling the truth when He said that all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purpose? Do you believe that? Whatever suffering that you’re enduring right now, and you don’t know the reason for it, even though you don’t know the reason for it, do you believe that God is working it for your good? And if God is working for your good, then what are you upset about?

In the book of James, there’s a verse that we are commanded:

“Count it all joy when you suffer various trials.” (James 1:2)

That’s a tough command for some of us to keep. But it is a command of something that we are told to do. It’s something that God has instructed us to do. He doesn’t say, “try to hang on to a shred of joy even as you grit your teeth and go through these trials.” No. He says, “count it all joy when you suffer trials.” And it goes on in the book of James to explain and say, “for these trials are the very things which are working in you.” This gift of patience – Patience is a type of trust in God. And if you need more trust in God, and if you need more patience, according to Scripture, one of the ways God can build up more patience in you is to send you through suffering and trials. You ask God to be more like Him. You ask God to be able to trust Him more . . . Praise God! He answers that prayer, and He gives you what you need to acquire that patience, to acquire that trust, to acquire that love. And part of what the Doctor has ordered is suffering. Suffering is not meaningless.

But how do you rejoice in it? How do you avoid grumbling about it? How do you avoid just giving a sour face, and in your heart feeling bad about it?

It’s a matter of perspective. It’s like the example I gave earlier. If you’re just sitting outside and a yellow-jacket was to sting you, and you just start swelling up, and it itches, and that’s the only thing that happens all day, you might say that’s a bad day. If you win a million dollars and a yellow-jacket stings you, are you going to be sitting there crying, or are you going to be jumping and laughing? Which is going to be the overpowering emotion if those two things were to happen on the same day? Obviously, if you won a million dollars, you’d be so ecstatic, so incredibly happy about it. You’d be calling everybody, telling everybody, you’d be jumping for joy.

And somebody would say, “What’s that?”

“What? . . . Oh, I got stung by a yellow-jacket. . . . Anyway, I won a million dollars!”
You wouldn’t even notice it. You wouldn’t even pay attention to it.

What would you think if somebody did the opposite? They got their million dollars and it was in a bag, and they were all sour and down and crying and upset, and all they can talk about all day was about “this stupid bug and the sting” that they got in their arm.

“Yeah, but you got a million dollars!”

“I know, and I’m happy about it. I’m glad and it’s better than being in debt, I guess. But I got stung! It hurts! Will you go to the store and get me some calamine lotion? Waaaahh!”

Does that sound like any Christians you know? Any that you see in the mirror? I’ve been guilty of that. That’s a sin.

Sometimes people think, “Well, there’s real sins, like murder and adultery and theft. We stand against those, because those will send you to hell. And then there’s sins, ‘little sins’, you know, like grumbling and complaining and worrying and greed . . . you know, stuff like that. You shouldn’t do stuff like that. Slap, slap, slap. Don’t do that.”

No, no, no, no, no! Don’t mistake what I’m preaching for being a lighthearted sermon against “little sins.” I want you to listen carefully to what I’m about to say. Grumbling, and complaining, and having an ungrateful attitude, will send you to hell.

I’m going to say it again. I want to make sure you hear me, because this is not preached often. Grumbling, complaining, and having an ungrateful attitude, will send you to hell.

“Aw, Pastor, now you’re going too far. You’re just trying to put your thumb down on us and really nitpick on these little sins, I mean, come on.”

Open up your Bibles. Or if you don’t want to take the time to do that, just think of the Psalm that we sing together every single Sunday morning. If you’re doing daily prayer with your family, the Psalm that you sing everyday is Psalm 95. It starts off with praise and exultation and glorifying God. And then the second half of the Psalm says, “Today if you will harden not your hearts . . .” like the Israelites did in the wilderness, at Meribah and Massah, which translated is provocation and temptation.

When you read what it’s talking about in Scripture, it’s not the people that were being provoked and tempted, it was God. They were tempting God and they were provoking God. They weren’t tempting Him to sin; they were tempting Him to snuff them out.

Read Psalm 95. Read the book of Exodus. Read the book of Hebrews, and it’s very clear. They griped, they groaned, they mumbled, they complained, and God finally had enough of it. “You are not going into the Promised Land. Your corpses are going to rot in the wilderness and your children will go into the Promised Land.”

Some people think it took forty years for this group of people to travel across this desert. No, it only took a few days to cross the desert. Only a few days. A desert that took forty years to cross would be bigger than this whole world. It only took the Israelites a few days to cross the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. God sent them in meandering circles wandering around in the desert in the sand for forty years, just to kill off all the complainers. You don’t believe me, go back and read it: 1 Corinthians 10, where it recounts the adultery of the Israelites in the wilderness, and it recounts the grumbling and the complaining of the Israelites in the wilderness.

It doesn’t talk anything about theft, or coveting, or greed, or murder. The main things it focuses on is that the Israelites were sexually immoral, and the Israelites were grumbling and complaining. And for this cause, God let them die in the wilderness, and did not allow them to enter into His rest.

Then you say, “Well, that may be how God dealt with them, back the in the Old Testament, but that was before the Cross. That was before grace, that was before mercy, that was before Jesus.” At which point I would simply direct you to 1 Corinthians, chapter 10, where not once, but twice the Apostle Paul says, “Here’s what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. Here’s how they were judged, here’s how they died, here’s the trouble they got into.” And then Paul says, “These things are written for us! For us and the Church. These things are written for us that we may not sin as they did!”

Do you want your corpse to rot in the wilderness and for you to miss out on the Promised Land? If not, then flee from sexual immorality. The Israelites were sexually immoral and thousands of them were put to death in the wilderness. These things were written for us that we might not sin as they did. Therefore, you flee from sexual immorality, so that your corpse doesn’t die in this wilderness.

And fleeing from sexual immorality as Jesus said, is not just don’t touch. Jesus said don’t look! Don’t even look! If you’re lusting with your eyes, Jesus says you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. Guys, don’t even look at that pretty girl who lacks discretion in the way she dresses. Women, don’t even look at guy who has a bigger paycheck and bigger biceps than your husband. Don’t even look.

And lest we were to believe that sexual immorality is the only thing that God is concerned about, Paul also tells us very explicitly that the Israelites grumbled and complained and moaned and groaned and whined in the wilderness. And for this reason, God was not pleased with them. Their corpses died in the wilderness and they did not pass into the Promised Land. These things are written for us that we may not sin as they did.

What God did with Israel was a picture of what God would do with us in the Church:

  • They are released from Pharaoh and slavery.
  • We are released from the slavery to sin and to Satan.
  • They were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea when they crossed the Red Sea.
  • We are baptized when we are dunked in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and we enter the Church.
  • The Promised Land is the rest into which they entered.
  • Heaven is the rest into which we enter.

And in-between the baptism of the Red Sea and the Promised Land, you have the wilderness. Friends, that’s where we are today. You’ve already been released from your sins and bondage to the devil. You’ve already, if you’ve entered the Church, you’ve already been baptized. But you’re not in Heaven yet. Omaha, Norris City, McLeansboro, Southern Illinois . . . you’re in the wilderness whether you live in the city or in town or in the country. You’re in the wilderness. You’re marching around in the desert. There’s not a lot of fun things to do in the desert. There’s not all the good leeks and garlic and the delicious things to eat like they had back in Egypt. There’s also not the rest and the marriage supper of the Lamb that you get in the Promised Land. You’re marching around in the dessert and all that you get to eat is manna . . . bread from Heaven . . . the body of Christ, the bread from Heaven . . . the water from the Rock, the blood of Christ – Christ Who is our Rock.

You’ve made it out of Egypt, you’ve made it across the Red Sea, you’ve made it into the wilderness. Don’t die here. Don’t let your body drop here in the wilderness. Don’t allow your past to be one of conquering and victory and deliverance, only to die out in the desert, just within sight of the Promised Land. It is a serious sin to have a constant attitude of negativity and complaining, sourness, anger, and being upset. Yes, we’re attacked. Yes, bad things happen. Yes, you’re health gets attacked. Yes, your family gets attacked. And all of these things are like bee stings on the way to pick up your million dollars.

Christ is risen! You have the resurrection to look forward to. If you believe that, than nothing should get to you. Jesus said, “your heart shall rejoice and you joy no man taketh from you.” Is there anybody in this room that wants to try to make Jesus a liar? Do you want to make Jesus a liar in this?

Jesus said, “your heart shall rejoice and your joy no man takes from you!” Can the doctor’s bad news take the joy away from you, if he tells you that you’ve only got 6 months to live? Can the IRS take your joy from you, because they tell you that you owe far more than you thought you did? Can your spouse or your parents or your child take your joy from you, because they choose to turn their back on God, and they do their best to just rip your heart out? Jesus said if you get this, then no man takes your joy from you.

Joy is a choice. Joy is a statement of your priorities. If you believe that you’ve got a million dollars and you believe that you just got stung by a bee – Whether you’re rejoicing and jumping for joy and smiling, or whether you’re sitting there crying and holding that bee sting, is going to be based on which of those two things you think is weightier, which of those two things is more important.

And if you’re focusing all day on the bee sting, that means that the million dollars doesn’t really mean that much to you. You’re counting the bee as being worthy. You’re saying this dumb bee is worth more than that million dollars.

Christ has given you resurrection from the dead! I don’t care what news the doctor gives you. Your body is ultimately going to be healed and you’re going to live forever. You’re going to be having this glorified body in the presence of Christ and the angels. I don’t care what sins you’ve committed in your life or what people have sinned against you. God has promised deliverance. God has promised to forgive you, to wash you clean of every stain of guilt, so that you can stand before Him perfected in the image of Jesus Christ. What more could He give you?

What more could you want? If that can’t make you smile every day – If that can’t make you jump for joy and make you want to talk to people about it, what else can God do for you?

If a family member betrays you, and you believe that, and God forgives your sins and promises you resurrection and eternal life and you believe that, but you spend all your time whining about this over here, you’re saying, “Well, yeah, the resurrection and forgiveness thing, that’s nice, but it’s not nearly as important as this.” You’re treating it as worthless.

If you get horribly ill so that your body is wracked with pain and nothing seems to fix it, if you find out that you have cancer, if your hip is shattered and you can’t walk on it at all except in excruciating pain, if you find out that you have a terminal illness, or your child has a terminal illness, or that your child was just killed in a car accident, and you say . . . “Yeah, I know that I’m forgiven of all my sin and that Christ has forgiven me and that I’m going to be resurrected, but I’m going to pine away for the next six months because I’m crushed over this event,” you’re saying that this event is more important than salvation and resurrection, and the fact that even my child is going to be resurrected.

Your finances are in a shambles, and you get depressed and down. And you’re sad, you’re grumpy. And your grump wears off onto everybody else, so that everybody around you is dragged down, and they get upset too because you’re complaining about money. And you say, “Yeah, Jesus saved me and he forgave me of my sins and someday I’m going to be resurrected from the dead, but . . . there’s just not enough money in the bank account.” That’s the sort of grumbling and complaining and whining that the Israelites did. “We don’t have the food that we like from Egypt. All we get to eat is this stupid bread from heaven, this manna stuff. It’s too hot out here. All you give us is water to drink. Where’s the meat! You gave us the Promised Land, but there’s big guys over there and we’re going to have to fight them, and we don’t want to have to fight them. It’s just too hard. We’re going to stay out here in the sand or we’re just going to go back to Egypt.”

Grow up! Be strong. Be courageous. Act like men! Act like women! Realize that you’re attitude every day reflects whether your circumstances are more important to you, or whether your resurrection and your salvation are more important. Which do you consider to be more glorious, the million dollars or the bee sting?

How do you do this, though? “It’s in Scripture and you’re making sense, but it’s easier said than done, because you get into a funk, you get depressed, you get upset. How do you just snap out of it?”

There’s many ways. One, is to just refocus. Stop staring at the bee sting and start looking at the million dollars. Has anybody ever in this room suggested to you that maybe daily prayer would be a good idea? Do you think that more often you pray and you’re focusing on your salvation, that it might just lift your joy a little bit? Because during the time that you’re praying to God, you’re not thinking about what that person did to you, or how bad that hip hurt, or how low the bank account is. You’re focused on Christ. You’re focused on the “million dollars”. Focus on it more often: every morning, every evening, and every chance you can get in-between.

Another thing we’re told in Scripture: We are commanded in Scripture is to sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, speaking and making melody in your heart to the Lord, encouraging one another. You’ll focus on somebody other than yourself. Find some way to encourage them. Even if you can’t get yourself out of a funk, just say, “You know what? I’m going to go try to encourage this person over here. I’m going to try to lift this person’s spirits. I’m going to try to do something to help them have a better day.” I guarantee you, your attitude will rise and your joy will ascend very quickly.

A third thing you can do is simply to recognize that grumbling and complaining and negativity is a sin. As long as we don’t think it’s a sin, it makes it easier to hold on to it and stroke it and nurse it. But if you say, “No, I’ve looked at the word of God, and it’s a sin! And if it’s a sin that means I don’t have to do it, because God’s not going to force me to sin,” that right there will help you get out of it.

The fourth: If you’re in a funk and you don’t know how to get out, then humble yourself. Humility is always the first step out of any hole, out of any sin. Humble yourself and tell somebody. Talk to somebody you trust, somebody who you know loves you. And say, “This is what I’m struggling with. I don’t want to be down in the dumps about it. I don’t want to be complaining about it. I don’t know how to get out of this. Can you help me?  Can you pray for me?”

It used to be that I didn’t know how to fix certain problems with plumbing. I could have stayed at home and just let the water run all over my yard and just say, “Well, I pray to God every day about it, and the plumbing is still broke. I don’t know how to fix it. So I pray to God every day, but it’s still broke.” Or I could humble myself and call Henry David and say, “How do I fix this thing?” And he could say, “Well, here’s the fittings you need, and here’s the gunk you need, and if you put this on here, and rub this on here, and do this . . . it will work.” And it did.

Never, ever use an excuse for yourself saying, “Well, this all sounds good, and I think God will want me to do this, but I just don’t know how.” Never let “I don’t know how” be an excuse for not going farther up and further in, in your walk with God. If you don’t know how, then humble yourself and ask somebody. If you don’t know how to do something, then humble yourself and ask somebody.

You don’t know how to make your kids behave as well as God says they should?
Humble yourself and ask somebody.

You don’t know how to get a hold of your emotions and make them joyful all the time, regardless of circumstances?
Humble yourself and ask somebody.

You don’t know how to keep a positive attitude even in the midst of pain and suffering?
Humble yourself and ask somebody.

God has called us to joy. God has called us to a life where everyday we are thankful to be alive, and we are thankful to be able to live for Him. We are thankful for the opportunity to show others the Light of Christ. And the Light of Christ doesn’t show through a sour face. It just doesn’t. The only way you’re ever going to be successful in evangelizing, and drawing other people to Christ, and showing them the glory of following Him, is if they see a smile on your face when you’re talking about it. And not just that, but when you’re talking about a lot of the other things in your life. They want to see joy, they want to see peace. And you don’t have it, then get it!

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
You feel better already, don’t you?

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

 ~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 11, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Ephesians 5:15-21, Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:2, John 16:16-22, Psalm 95, Romans 8:28 | Leave a comment

Good Shepherds Defend Their Sheep

MP3 Audio: WS330349_Dn-Joseph_Good-Shepherds-Defend-Their-Sheep.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 4, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: John 10:11-16

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

There was a hired man set to watch over this flock of helpless sheep, and he set a very good example for these sheep. He didn’t have anything to do with wolves. He never lied to the sheep and told them that wolves were a good thing. In fact, he even showed video tapes to his sheep, and read books to his sheep about how dangerous the wolves are. Not a day went by that he didn’t show them a video about the “Big Bad Wolf” or read them a story about “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf”. He taught the sheep over and over and over that wolves are bad. And then one day a wolf arrived and he — just like we read in this parable from Christ — he ran. He was scared of the wolf. He ran away, he didn’t care about the sheep, he didn’t protect the sheep. And all the sheep recognize, “This is a wolf!” But there was no shepherd there to protect them, and the wolf scattered the sheep and ate several of them for his meal.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” He’s the good shepherd, and these Pharisees are just the hirelings. They’re just the hired hands, just the servants. They don’t really care about the sheep. They may teach and teach and teach, but they will not lay down their lives to protect the sheep and to fend off the wolves. Jesus shows himself as the good shepherd, for he was willing to lay down his life for us, his sheep. So we can easily know that he is the good shepherd — he is the shepherd and the bishop of our souls.

Jesus is the one we are to follow as our shepherd. But we are called by his name, we are called Christians, for we are to be “little Christs”. We are to be Christ-like. And one of the most important ways that we are called to be Christ-like, one of the most important ways were are called to be Christians, is to imitate him in his role as a good shepherd. For you see, from the very beginning, God has given husbands to be good shepherds to protect their wives, fathers and mothers to be good shepherds to protect their children, and bishops and priests and deacons to be good shepherds to protect the Lord’s flock.

And how many times in history have we seen that these shepherds have been derelict in their duties, and the sheep have suffered because of it? It’s the entire story of Scripture. You start in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Adam was supposed to protect his sheep, his wife. When the serpent shows up, before Eve even starts a conversation, he should have been over there battling that thing to protect Eve from the serpent. But he just stands by, more of a mouse than a man. Now he doesn’t encourage Eve, he doesn’t say, “Oh, Eve, you need to listen to the serpent. Hey Eve, you need to do what God commanded us not to do.” No. He had never spoken anything to her but truth. He had never suggested that she do anything other than obey God. But when the serpent came, he did nothing!

Husbands, when your wives have started talking to the serpent, have you ever just kept your mouth shut and stood by because you didn’t want to fight? And it’s a sad thing, because not only were you too scared to fight the serpent, not only were you too scared to fight off the wolf, no . . . you were too scared to fight with the sheep! You didn’t want to fight with her. And so for the sake of peace in your relationship, you turned her over to be consumed by the wolves, by the serpent. You were not a good shepherd.

Parents with children, there are so many sad and difficult examples, but let’s look at David. I like David because it says in Scripture without a shadow of a doubt; he was “a man after God’s own heart”. He was someone in whom God took great pleasure. He was a great king of Israel; he was a good man. He wrote the Psalms that — three thousand years later — we still sing today in Church. [David was an] ancestor of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. [He was] a good man, a man after God’s own heart. And yet, as a father, my own heart breaks and I literally have been moved to tears – just bawling – when I come to that Scripture where he’s just pouring himself out, “Oh Absalom, my Son, my Son!” For you see, his son was dead. And not dead as a righteous man, but dead in rebellion against God and against his father, hating his own father to the point that he was trying to get his own dad killed.

That’s not all it says in Scripture. It says that when Absalom was young, he was handsome, he was strong, he was popular . . . but nobody ever said to him, “What are you doing?”

His dad wasn’t a dad to him. He didn’t get on his case. He didn’t hold his feet to the fire. He didn’t obey the Scripture that commands parents to lay heavy burdens of labor and work on their sons. He didn’t correct his son. He didn’t raise up his son in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And his son ended up not only rejecting God, but rejecting his own father David as well, and finally dying a rebellious death at enmity with God and his family.

His hope has been lost for his son Absalom, and all he is left with is tears, crying out for the son that he failed to shepherd as a good father. With our children, is it ever the case that we say, “Hey, I’ve always told them the right thing to do. I’ve always set a good example for them. I’ve always told them that you should be in church. I’ve always told them that you should not lie. I’ve always told them that you should be kind. I’ve always told them that you shouldn’t fill your minds with filth in music and TV and books and stuff. I’ve always told them the right things to do.” Well, that does just as much good as showing videos and reading books to your sheep, telling them how dangerous the wolves are. It’s not enough.

No, when the wolves show up you get your staff – or your Mossberg 500 or your Remington 870 – and you hightail it towards that wolf, you get in between that wolf and your sheep, and you kill the wolf.

Being a good shepherd does not just mean being a good example. Being a good shepherd does not just mean telling them the right things to do. Being a good shepherd means you stomp on the snake’s head and you kill the wolf. You defend your sheep!

It’s not just husbands and wives.
It’s not just parents and children.
It’s also pastors and churches.

There are many churches today – even inside the Orthodox Church – where the priests teach wonderfully, where the priests set a good example. But then when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, in a confessional and in face-to-face contacts with their parishioners, when it comes to rooting out every last bit of sin mercilessly – mercy on the people, but merciless on the sin – they’re cowards. Because, “Well, what would my Bishop say if a third of the congregation just decided not to come back? What would the Bishop say if we don’t grow as fast as they think that we should? What would the board say?  What would my salary say if there’s not as much money coming in as we think we need?” And so, for all of these other self-centered concerns, they’re not good shepherds.  They do not defend and protect their sheep.

To this day, there are many people, whether they be priests and bishops and deacons, whether they be husbands with their wives, whether they be parents with their children, that have thought of themselves as really good shepherds. They say, “I set a good example, I don’t have any photos or posters up on my wall that say, ‘I love wolves’. None of that! I don’t lie to my wife. I don’t lie to my children. I don’t lie to my parishioners and tell them that wolves are good. No! For years and years I keep telling them, ‘This is what’s good, this is what’s good, this is what’s good…’, and I tell them the truth right from Scripture.”

If you’re not willing to lay down your life and get in between the wolf and the sheep and kill the wolf, then all of your teaching is in vain. It’s just a crap shoot. It’s just a roll of the dice. Because maybe your sheep will listen to you – maybe they’ll successfully  fight off the wolf, or maybe not. With your wife, with your children, do you just want to play with a “maybe”?

Let’s say it’s a real wolf, and let’s say it’s [your children named] Hunter, David and Daphni. Let’s say for the past eight years you’ve daily told them, “Look, this is what a wolf looks like, this is what a wolf smells like, this is how you kill a wolf, this is why a wolf is bad…”

And then you look out [the window] and Hunter, David and Daphni are playing just across the street there, and you see a real wolf come up. Would you just go to the window and watch out and say, “Well, I told them wolves are bad, they should know what to do.” Or would you be high-tailing it out that door to get in between them and that wolf and say, “If you’re going to take a piece out of those kids, it’s going to be over my dead body.” That is a good shepherd!

Now it gets difficult, because you are physically defending your sheep. You’re getting in between your sheep and sin. And I’ve got a little secret for you that’s really not a secret at all – sheep like sin. You get in between the sheep and their sin, and you’re going to find out that the sheep can bite too. The next time your wife wants to flip on the TV to her favorite TV show and you know . . . it’s one that you’ve said a hundred times, “That’s not godly. That’s not bringing Christ into our home.” But she wants to watch it anyway. Are we men without chests? Are we cowards?

Or can we get in between our sheep and the wolves and say, “That channel goes off or I’m unplugging this thing. If you plug it back in and turn it back on, then I’m taking this outside and I’m taking a sledgehammer to this thing.”

Now, it was a slightly different situation because Amy was in agreement with me over it, but there are some of you that have been here long enough that you’ll remember on Palm Sunday a few years ago I took my (What was it?…30-, 40-, 50-inch, I forget) 30-some-odd-inch TV, about yea big, and another TV out into the parking lot here, and as part of our Palm Sunday festivities, I took a sledgehammer – I took a hammer to the TVs. Now I know that not everything that comes through there is always a wolf. But so many of them do come through there; I just finally decided to shut the gate – shut that gate entirely. That’s what we did in our home.

Your wife wants to go somewhere and do something and you say,

“Well wait a minute… this is what you’re supposed to be doing, and those people that you’re wanting to go hang out with at that thing, well, I know what they’re like. I know what kind of influence they are. No, honey, I know you’re going to be upset with me, but you’re not doing that.”

She’s like, “Well, I didn’t ask your permission, I’m doing it.”

“No, honey, you’re not doing that.”

“Well, who do you think…”

“I’m your shepherd. I’m protecting you from the wolves and you’re not going to whatever that thing is.”

“Well, that’s male chauvinism, that’s just wanting to grind…” 

No, no, no, no, no. Male chauvinism is how the devil twists all this around. For you see, if a guy is just trying to serve himself, if he’s saying, “Oh, you can’t hang out with your friends, you can’t go to church because I want you to stay home and fan me with palm leaves and feed me Bon-Bon’s and bring me a beer to my easy chair while I watch football,” that’s male chauvinism. Then you are being a pig! But if you stand up as the man in your house and you lay down the law and you let your wife know this is how it’s going to be, and your motive is entirely her protection and the protection of your family, that’s not male chauvinism; that’s being a good shepherd. That is the very point at which you are supposed to be in charge and the leader of your home. Do not allow your wife to play with the wolves! Don’t allow her to have that conversation with the serpent. The moment that serpent comes in your house, you chop his head off and you stomp on it.

With your children we do the same thing. We say, “Well, I’ve told you that you ought to be reading your Bible instead of playing those video games. I’ve told you that instead of fighting and arguing and being like that, that you should be kind to each other. For years I’ve told you what you should be doing, that you should keep stuff clean and you should be orderly and you should be respectful. I’ve set a good example. I’ve told you all the right things.”

The shepherd’s rod is for fighting off the wolves. It’s also for giving a sound whack on the rump of a sheep that needs to be redirected in another direction. I don’t care what the wolves are – if it’s the TV shows, and maybe it’s not sexually explicit stuff, maybe it’s not murder and bloody, maybe it’s just one of those “innocent” TV shows where the people have nothing to do with God and the kids talk disrespectfully to each other and to their parents – turn it off! That has no place in the home of a Christian. If it’s video games that are bloody and include murder, if it’s movies that include that kind of stuff, turn it off. Get it out of your house.

Maybe it’s just distractions. Maybe it’s good things like gardening or shooting guns or playing board games or anything, that in and of itself, is harmless. And yet your kids are more addicted to having fun and seeking pleasure than they are in seeking the things of God. Well, maybe they need a fast from those things for a while, so that you can get things settled in your family that:

“We’re not here to have fun . . . We’re here to be godly. We’re here to be holy.”

“I’m not here to raise you up to be 35-year-olds in a man-cave drinking beer, watching football and playing video games. I’m here to raise you up to be godly men and godly women, and so you are in some training. And I’ve only got a few years left until you turn 18, 20, 25 . . . and with these few years that I have, I’m going to raise you up to be men, and I’m going to raise you up to be women.”

“And anything that distracts you from that is a wolf, and I’m going to cut it off. Anything that distracts you from becoming a godly man or a godly woman, I’m going to kill that serpent.”

Am I doing it because I just want to be controlling, and I want to grasp my kids and make sure that they have no room to breathe?

No, you seem to forget . . . it’s the serpents that wrap around you and constrict you to the point that you can no longer breathe. The serpent is trying to kill your children! If you want your children to be able to breathe, then get the boa constrictor off of them and then they will be able to breathe.

They’re so drowning in self-centeredness, and pleasure, and pleasure-seeking, that they don’t even have enough lung space to breathe in the peace that comes through a disciplined life – of prayer, and studying Scripture, and patiently honoring your father and your mother, and waiting upon them, and waiting upon the Lord. It’s their self-centeredness, it’s their pleasure that is killing them, that is making them unable to breathe. Kill the snake! Kill the wolf!

Have the courage as a dad and as a mom, to not let your kids decide for themselves. 

I’m sorry, but that’s one of the stupidest things that I have ever heard come out of parents’ mouths. And it’s dangerous for me to say this, because in this day in this culture, I’ve heard it come out of the mouths of many parents: “Well, we just want them to decide for themselves.”

That’s not just misguided, that’s stupid.

And maybe that doesn’t apply to anybody in here. If so, that’s great. If it does, don’t get mad at me. Don’t get angry at me. Go back and rethink it, relook at it. When it came time for your children to learn to brush their teeth, did you say, “Well, I don’t want to impose on them. I mean, what if they’re just not the ‘toothbrush type’? I’ll let their teeth rot and get yucky and gunky, and then, by the time they’re 18 years old, I’ll let them decide for themselves whether they want to brush their teeth or not.” I’m sorry, they won’t have any teeth left to brush if you wait until they’re 18. When you’re 4, when you’re 6, when you’re 11, why do you brush your teeth every day? Because mom and dad said, “You’ll brush your teeth every day.” Now, when you turn 18, when you turn 20, when you move out of the house, it’s true, you can rebel against that and choose for yourself to stop brushing them.  It would be foolish, but you can do that. But as long as you live under my roof, I’m going to protect you from the wolves of plaque and gingivitis. You will brush your teeth!

When it comes to eating, I’m not just talking about pickiness with food, I’m talking about some kids that just don’t want to eat, hardly at all. Let’s say your kid goes two days, three days, and they just won’t eat a thing. Would you say, “Well, I don’t want to impose. By the time they get to 18 or 20, you know, then they can decide for themselves whether they want to eat or not”? Amy’s sister, Lisa, was like that as a little baby. It’s not that she wouldn’t eat much; she literally would not eat at all. Do you have traumatic memories of this, Betty? Do you remember what the nurses did? Did they tell you, “Well, you don’t want to harm her psyche by forcing her to do something that she’s just not ready for, so wait another five or ten years and then see if you can get her to eat”? Lisa never would have lived into adulthood if she had done that. These nurses told her, “It’s so critical that your daughter eat healthy food, it has got to be forced. And I don’t care what a battle it is, you get the food down her!” And if I remember right, didn’t they take you into a room, and you had to do it too? And was it torture as a mom to have this little girl screaming and crying and looking at you like, “What are you doing to me!” and having to force her mouth open and get food in her mouth and, whether she liked it or not,  to get some nutrition down her?  Are you glad that you saved her life?  Was it worth it to save her life?  Yes!  If you had not forced her to do what she didn’t want to do, she would have died of starvation.

We need to stop thinking of ourselves as good shepherds because we’ve set a good example.  We need to stop thinking of ourselves as good shepherds because we have told, 1000 times, our sheep, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do.”  It’s time, if we are going to be good shepherds, for us to get up off of our shepherd butts, get in between our sheep and the things that are killing them, and – with force – kill the wolves!

Hey kids, this is one rare chance that you get to speak during church. In our home, sometimes you get sick, sometimes you get grumpy, sometimes you don’t feel like it and, because of that, how many days does Daddy allow there to be where we just don’t pray that day as a family? . . . [kids all respond] . . .

What? Zero?! But what if somebody is sick? What if somebody doesn’t feel like it? What if somebody is grumpy? What if somebody comes to visit? What if somebody complains?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .

None? Zero? No! I don’t let the wolves into my house. What are the wolves? The wolves are anything that would stop us from praying to God as a family. I don’t let it happen! In our house, how many days go by that we don’t sing praises to God as a family?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .

None? Okay. Well, how about this – I’ve got a better one here – we’ve got to get to some exceptions here somewhere. In our home, how many weekends out of the year do we miss church entirely? . . . [kids all respond] . . .

None. But I’m not talking about here in Omaha. I mean, we live here, I’m the pastor . . . obviously I have to come to church. But let’s say that we go on vacation to Colorado, or even better yet, Rapid City, South Dakota. We traveled over 1000 miles, we paid all this money for a big ol’ cabin near the woods, we went and saw sights and everything. And on the way there, while we were there, and on the way back, there were some Saturdays and some Sundays and some church services there, weren’t there? How many Sundays did you miss out on church? . . . [kids all respond] . . .

None! Well, how? We couldn’t come here to church.
. . . [kids all respond] . . .

What? Oh, there are churches there? We don’t even go on a vacation without finding out if there is a church there. If there’s not, then we don’t go on vacation there. When we go on vacation there, we go to church there. I don’t let the wolves into my house.

How many times have I told you kids to be kind to one another and not to fight?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .

Lots? Okay. So, how many times at our house do you fight and Daddy hears it, and Daddy just doesn’t do anything about it? . . . [kids all respond] . . .

None. I don’t let the wolves into my house.

You don’t say, “Well, kids will just be kids. They’re going to argue and complain.” No!  “Well, kids will just be kids. They’re going to disrespect their mother sometimes.” No!  “Well, kids are just going to be kids. You know that sometimes they’re just going to get into TV and they’re going to get into the stuff that they’re doing that’s having fun, and they’re not going to have such an interest in Scripture and prayer and being with the family and being at church.” No! A good shepherd does not let any wolves into his house.

If you already know this and already are living this way, you know the wisdom of what the Scriptures teach on this. If you have not lived this way before, and if you have not thought of it this way before, don’t beat yourself up about the past, but let today be a new beginning that you say,

“I’m not content just to set a good example. I’m not just going to show videos and read books to the sheep to tell them how bad the wolves are. I’m not just going to nag and tell them over and over and over again what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m going to be a good shepherd.”

“As a husband, I’m going to protect my wife from the wolves even if it causes tension between us for a while, because my wife’s salvation is more important than my consolation and comfort in my home.”

“As a mother and as a father, we are no longer going to sit idly by while our kids do all of these things that they want to do, as we fruitlessly try to convince them to do what’s right.  We’re going to realize that God has put these little sheep in our home to be protected. And even if the sheep want to eat poison, we’re not going to give it to them. Even if they want to go play with the wolves, we’re not going to let them. Even if they want to go have a conversation with the serpents, we’re going to stomp on the serpents. – Even if it makes my kids angry with me. – Of course I want my kids to like me.  Of course I want my kids to swarm around me and hug me. But I will make them furious with me if that’s what it takes for me to kill the serpent, for me to kill the wolf, for me to defend my sheep from anything that’s trying to destroy their souls. And then, maybe, when they get a little older, then they will recognize that Dad and Mom were trying to protect them. In the meantime, whether they like it or not, I’m going to protect them.”

Listen to this Gospel again. I’m going to read it again:

“At that time, Jesus said unto the Pharisees, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling and whose own the sheep are not sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf catches them and scatters the sheep. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and cares not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.”

You can either be a good shepherd or you can be a hireling. And how do you know the difference? The good shepherd protects his sheep even if it means laying down his own life. In other words, his own personal comfort is the last thing on his mind. “Well my wife’s not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it. My kids are not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it. My parishioners are not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it.” Your own personal comfort doesn’t matter.  You lay down your life for the sheep, even if it causes you discomfort. That’s a good shepherd.

But the hireling, the hired hand, the one who is not a good shepherd – what does he do?  He sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep, and he flees. And what he usually says is, “Well, I just don’t want to cause trouble. I don’t want to nitpick. I don’t want to impose my morality on them.”

I’m sorry . . . if you have some innocent sheep and you love them and you value them, I don’t care if they have a little sign and a tattoo that says, “I love wolves”, you get in between them and the wolves, and you kill the wolves.  If that makes them mad at you, too bad. You have a responsibility and a job to protect the sheep that are put into your care. If you’re a man, then your wife is your sheep. If you’re parents, then your children are your sheep. If you are a bishop or a priest or a deacon, then the people of God are your sheep. Lay down your personal comfort. Lay down your life. Lay down your excuses. You pick up your sword, you pick up your gun, and you go after those wolves.

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

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 4, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

 

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 10:11-16, The Orthodox Christian Family | 1 Comment

The First Sunday after the Resurrection

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

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

~

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

Posted in Sdn. Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

If You have been Raised with Christ

MP3 Audio: WS330347_Fr-Michael_Pascha-2014.mp3

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

~

Epistle Reading: Colossians 3:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

~

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

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