Tsar Nicholas I — on behalf of the orthodox faith

Wednesday, July 27, 1853


“By the grace of God,
We, Nicholas I,
Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias and Czar of Poland, etc.,
Inform all people.
Be it known to our beloved and faithful subjects,

The defence of our faith has always been the sacred duty of our blessed ancestors.
From the day it pleased the Almighty to place me on the throne of our fathers, the maintenance of the holy obligations, with which it is inseparably connected, has been the object of our constant care and attention; these . . . treaties . . . have ever been directed towards upholding the rights of our Church. . . .

But to our extreme grief . . . numerous willful acts of the Ottoman Porte have infringed upon these rights, and threaten finally the overthrow of all that ancient discipline so precious to orthodoxy . . .

we have deemed it indispensable to move our armies into the provinces on the Danube . . .

We do not seek for conquests; Russia does not require them. We seek to vindicate those rights which have been so openly violated.

We are even yet ready to stop the movements of our armies, if the Ottoman Porte will bind itself solemnly to respect the inviolability of the orthodox church; but if obstinacy and blindness will it otherwise, then, calling God to our aid, we leave it to Him to decide our quarrel, and in full confidence in the right hand of the Almighty, we shall move forward on behalf of the orthodox faith. . . .”

To the original of this document the own hand of his Majesty is signed. “Nikolai.”

A letter from Constantinople . . . announces that the greatest activity prevails among the Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ships-of-war are constantly leaving Sebastopol to maintain strict watch along the coast . . .




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The Religion which Conquers the World

In the early 1800s, after Napoleon’s defeat, Tsar Alexander I traveled to Paris, France, and wrote a letter back home. He refers to Holy Orthodoxy as “the religion which conquers the world, to the honor of its great head, Christ the Saviour, who gives and crowns the victory.”

It is inspiring when the leader of a nation gives honor to Christ and His Church. May the Lord grant us more world leaders who will do likewise.



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Cannot Be Saved Without It

MP3 Audio: WWS_30007_Dn-Joseph_Cannot-Be-Saved-Without-It.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 31, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.


Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14

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

Without this, we cannot be saved.
Without this, you cannot go to heaven.
Without this all of your virtues, become vices.
And all of your good works turn into dust.

This one thing is absolutely necessary, for your salvation.


And you say, “What is it? Is it baptism?”

Well, you could almost say that about baptism. We are told in Scripture that we need to be baptized for the remission of sins. Paul himself was told to go be baptized and have his sins washed away, calling upon the name of the Lord. It says in Mark that “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Truly, if you are anywhere near a Orthodox priest, and you have the opportunity to seek baptism, and you despise it, you reject it, you’re in trouble.

But what about the victims of abortion, the over 50,000,000 that have been slaughtered in this country alone, since 1973? They haven’t been baptized. And yet the Church looks upon them as Holy Innocents, carried into the very bosom of our Lord.

We also look at some of the martyrs, who for whatever reason had not yet been baptized. But in the heat of persecution, they were called upon to deny the name of Christ. They refused, and they went to their deaths for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. And they are now looked on in the Church as saints. It is called a “baptism of blood.”

So yes, water baptism is extremely important. It is normally the way through which God washes away our sins. But you can find these exceptions.


And you say, “Well, maybe it’s confession. Is this the one thing you have to have?”

Well, confession is very important. Again, if you’re anywhere near an Orthodox priest, and you have the opportunity to confess your sins to one of God’s priests and have absolution pronounced in your hearing, and you despise that, and you say, “Aww, I don’t want to have anything to do with that,” then you are in trouble. And you should fear.

And yet again, what about the unborn that die? What about the infant in the church, that has been baptized and has taken Communion, and has not reached an age when they can go to confession? What about the person who desires to take confession, but the priest just isn’t in town now, and you die before you have the opportunity? The mercy of God is great, so even with something as crucial and important as confession, there are exceptions.


And you say, “I know what it is. If it’s not baptism and it’s not confession, it has to be the Eucharist.”

In John 6, Jesus himself says, “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of man, you have no life in you.” Its very, very important. The Eucharist is what the Early Church Fathers call “medicine of immortality, which keeps us from dying.” It is such an important sacrament that we are told in Scripture itself that if you partake of it unworthily, that God himself will make you sick, or he may even strike you dead. The Eucharist is crucial; the Eucharist is important.

And yet again, what about the martyrs who were baptized not in water but in their own blood, and had not yet taken the Eucharist? What about the unborn children, who die before they have a chance to take the Eucharist?  What about the infant in the Orthodox church was baptized forty days after their birth — and let’s say it’s a baptism like our little Kelsey received — and the very next day that child is going to partake of their very first Communion. But after having been baptized, even after being Chrismated, what if that child before being able to partake of Communion has some sort of a medical problem and they die? Does that child go to hell because they were about to take Communion, but they just didn’t quite make it? No, the mercy of God allows for things like this.

The sacraments are very important! We need Baptism, we need Confession, we need Chrismation, we need the Eucharist. And yet even then, God recognizes that while that may be the way it works for 99% of the rest of us, there are those on the edges that God works with some other way.

Humility – Even Greater than a Sacrament

No, what I’m talking about today is not one of the sacraments. What I’m talking about today is something without which you cannot enter into heaven. It is something which God requires of you, even more importantly than he requires baptism, confession, chrismation, and even the Eucharist itself. If you don’t have this, you can forget about your salvation altogether. Its a little thing called Humility. If you don’t have a heart that is humble, I don’t care if you go to the Orthodox church for seventy years. I don’t care if you memorize all the Ecumenical Councils and their canons and the Old and New Testament of Scripture. I don’t care if you make a pilgrimage to every site in the world, and go to every monastery and every convent. I don’t care if you give all of your money to the poor. If you puff up your chest with pride and pat yourself on the back because of it, and feel that you have done God a favor by deigning to enter his kingdom, then you have not entered his kingdom.

A Story of Two Travelers

There’s a story told of two fellow travelers. They met up in a  particular town, and they chatted and realized that they have the destination planned, so they decided that they would keep each other company and travel together. As they were beginning to leave the town they passed a stockyard, a cattle feedlot. And cows constantly doing what cows do, the smell was horrendous. And the breeze was just right, not so high that it would blow it away, and not so low that it would stay where it is, but it was blowing in just their direction at a nice leisurely pace. The first traveler could hardly stand it; he was pinching his nose and kind of wincing like this. The second traveler just kept walking, acting like there was no big deal.

A little ways farther down the road, they got to the very edge of the town, and there was a particular house that had a septic system which did not work very well at all. And there was literally raw sewage, solid waste, pouring out on to the yard. I mean, you could see it. And you could definitely smell it. And the path went by it, and it was worse than the whiff they had gotten from the cattle yard. And the first guy just really winced up and was covering his face and was starting to lean over, just having a hard time with it. He picked up his pace and started walking faster. The second traveler just walked along, didn’t flinch, didn’t wrinkle his nose.

They walked together for a few miles. And as they neared the next town, there was something that made the first guy literally wretch. The path took them right beside this three-day-old, maggot-infested, rotting corpse of a horse. And it had split open, and the stench was just filling the air. And it was so much worse then the cattle yard, and the sewage, that the first traveler just began throwing up. He just couldn’t handle it. He almost turned back and went back home, but he just, he just pushed though it. The second traveler just kept walking; he didn’t even flinch.

They came into town. And as they started walking into town, this absolutely beautiful woman, with a big smile on her face, her nose up in the air, was just walking and strutting by. And the first traveler kind of turned his head a little bit and looked. The second traveler just bent over and began to throw up, just holding his nose. He just couldn’t take it. The first traveler turned to the second traveler and said,

“Who are you? or what are you? You didn’t flinch at all when we walked by the stockyards. You didn’t even wrinkle your nose when we walked be the open sewage. And when we walked by that absolutely disgusting corpse of a horse, you acted like nothing was wrong. But now this good smelling, perfumed, beautiful woman in a dress walks by, smiling, and you start throwing up. What is wrong with you?”

And suddenly the second traveler allowed his disguise to fade away, and he rose to two feet higher then his previous height. And the light of God gleamed and shone out from him. And then the first traveler fell down to his knees, trembling, realizing he was in the presence of an angel. And the angel spoke with a very deep voice and he said,

“There is no stench that is such an abomination in the nostrils of God as pride. And that woman that just walked by was reeking with it.”

Pride = Death

You can faithfully walk with God for seventy years, you can be in church every time the doors are open, you can partake of all the sacraments, you can study the Bible day and night, you can pray seven times a day. And it only takes this one sin called pride. You puff out your chest a little bit, you pat yourself on the back for being so faithful and so good to God, for being so much more righteous than everybody else, for being so much smarter, for having studied more, for being more generous. And the same sin that was able to turn the angels into demons, and an archangel into the devil himself, will turn you in an instant from a saint, into the dammed. And you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Similarly, you can spend seventy years of your life in dissipation, and wickedness, and sin, never setting foot in a church, never partaking of a single sacrament, turning your back on Christ your entire life. But while there is still that window of time, that window of hope, if the Holy Spirit still pricks your heart, and if — even in those last moments of your of your life — you respond, and you begin to weep over your sins, and you fall down on your knees and even fall down on your face before God, and you realize that you come before him absolutely empty-handed, not boasting of a single book that you’ve read, or a single church service that you’ve attended, or a single penny that you gave to charity, but empty-handed,  begging God for his mercy, because you know that you are a sinner and that you deserve hell, you could have spent your life in wickedness, you could be like the thief on the cross hanging there, knowing that you hang there because you deserve it because you’re a thief, and you simply turn to Christ and say, “Please remember me in your kingdom,” And in that emptiness,  in that brokenness, in that humility before God, Jesus will turn to you and say to you, “I tell you this day, you shall be with me in Paradise.”

Three Differences Between the Pharisee and the Publican

There are some important differences between this pharisee, and this publican. The pharisee compares himself with the tax collector, but the tax collector compares himself with God.

Who do you compare yourself with? Your neighbor, your mom, your sister, your brother, your kids? If you do that, you might look pretty good in comparison. Try comparing yourself with Jesus. How well do you match up now? Are there any areas in your life, any at all, where you fall short of Jesus?

You may be an academic.
Are you smarter then Jesus?
Are you better read than him?

You may be generous.
Have you given more than him?

You may be devout.
Are you more devout than God?

The pharisee pats himself on the back, because he was better then the tax collector. The tax collector beat his breast and looked down to the ground, because he knew he was nowhere near the holiness of God.

Don’t compare yourself with your family members, with your neighbors, with the sinners on the 10:00 news. Don’t compare yourself with ISIS, and the Muslims, and think that because you’re closer to God than they are, that you deserve to go to heaven. Compare yourself with Christ, and then fall on your face before him, saying, “I am not worthy. Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The pharisee and publican were also different, in that only one of them was humble enough to ask for something.

Did you notice that the pharisee in his prayer never asks for anything? He doesn’t ask for salvation, because he thinks he already has it. He just wants to go spend time with God in self-congratulation.

“Thank you, God, that I’m not like these Muslims over here, and these atheists over here, and these protestants over there, and these Buddhists over there. And even among the Orthodox, thank you Lord, that I’m not like all those nominal Orthodox that don’t really come to church every time that they can, and celebrate all the feasts. And you’re really lucky to have me. Thank you for making me so wonderful. I’m a really great part of your kingdom, Lord.”

He talked to God, and he thanked God, but he didn’t ask for anything because he thought he already had everything, which was only proof that he had nothing.

The tax-collector knew he was a sinner, he knew he deserved hell, he knew that if he were to take all his righteous deeds and pile them up, they wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the riches of heaven and communion with God. And so he didn’t even bring those up to God. He came with empty hands. He didn’t plead for a single righteous thing that he had ever done. He didn’t mention a single virtue. The tax-collector bowed his head to God and he asked for salvation. You can’t ask for something until you’ve become convinced that you need it. He knew that he needed God’s mercy. He knew that he needed salvation. He knew that he needed to be pardoned for his grievous sins.

Have you committed sins this week at all? Compared to Christ, how have you been for the past seven days? Is there anything you need to fall on your face before God and ask for him to forgive you for? If so, then do not approach him with the arrogance of the pharisee, but approach him with the humility of the tax-collector.

Its also important to notice another difference. Whereas the pharisee showed no mercy to the tax-collector, the tax-collector asked God for mercy.

And you say, “Well, we just talked about the fact that he asked for something.” Well, in prayer, we ask for things all the time. But its not always mercy that we are requesting. “Lord, please send me healing. I’m enduring such sickness, such pain, I can’t take it; please send healing. Lord, please fix my financial situation. I’m in such trouble, I don’t know what we’re going to do; please help.” These are all good prayers. We are humbling ourselves enough to ask for something. But it’s not enough to ask for healing, or to ask for money, or to ask for his blessings. We also need to ask for what the tax-collector requested. We need to ask for mercy.

For 2,000 years in its liturgy, the Church has prayed, “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.” “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” For 1,500 years the Church has been praying the Jesus prayer. “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. O Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If you belong to him, if you are a part of his kingdom, then constantly — because you compare yourself to Christ — because you are willing to ask him for what you know that you need, one of the things you ask him for is mercy.

Mercy is Only for the Undeserving

And what does it mean to ask for mercy? Mercy can only — by definition — be given to the undeserving. If you deserve it, then it is not mercy.

So many of our prayers are filled with requests for favors, when our prayers should be filled with requests for mercy.

I have sinned. Therefore any sickness, or pain, or physical suffering that I endure, I can’t say I don’t deserve that.

I have sinned against God. Therefore any financial struggle that I endure, I can’t say I don’t deserve that.

I have sinned against the Creator of the universe. Therefore any problems that I have with relationships, with friends or family, I’m partially to blame for that. I can’t say I don’t deserve that.

See, sometimes we do compare ourselves with Christ, and realize that we fall short. Sometimes we are humble enough to ask God for things. And yet we stop short of asking for mercy, because in the back of our minds we still think,

“I’m not that bad. I mean, I know I’m not as good as Christ, But God sets the bar pretty low. I mean, you don’t have to be perfect to get into heaven. And I’m way better than the Muslims, I’m way better then the Baptists, and I’m way better then the Episcopalians. And even among the Orthodox, I know more about Orthodoxy than most people in the church, and I show up at church more often then most people do in the church, so you know, I’m pretty good. For the most part.”

And so then we ask,

“Lord, please grant me salvation. Please grant me entrance into your kingdom.”

And its good that we ask for that. But we don’t quite think of it as “mercy”, because in the back of our minds we think,

“You know, I’m just good enough, I’m decent enough, I’m loving enough to my family and to my kids, and I do enough good stuff for them, that really God should let me into heaven. Really he should, because I’m not that bad.”

And as long as you are thinking like that, you are failing to ask for mercy. You may be asking payment for good works, you may be asking for a favor, but you’re not asking for mercy.

Mercy is only given to the undeserving. And the only way God is going to give you heaven, is if you recognize in your gut that you don’t deserve to go there.

It is not just, “Lord, do me a favor and let me into heaven.”
It is not just, “Lord, let me into heaven, because that’s really what I deserve.”

No, it is, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Are you willing to call yourself a sinner? Are you willing to say out loud that you don’t deserve to go to heaven, that you are not good enough? That takes humility to do that, and without humility, you will not see the mercy of God. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

We are told in today’s Gospel reading by Jesus himself, “Everyone who exalts himself will be put down, but everyone who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Do you want to be exalted?
Do you want to be justified?
Do you want to be saved?
Do you want to enter the kingdom of heaven?

The only way up, is down.
The only way to ascend into the heavens is by getting on your knees.
The only way to the Ascension is the Cross.
The only way to Mount Olives is Gethsemane.

You must humble yourself before the Lord.

And so going through all this, going through this parable of the pharisee and the publican, a person may say,

“What is the use of the whole Church then? You’ve just said that I could be a faithful Orthodox Christian for seventy years, and then near the end of my life I could get puffed up with pride and lose everything, sort of like King Uzziah in the Old Testament, who was faithful to God for 52 years, and then he got puffed up with pride and decided he was going to pretend he was a priest. And God struck him with leprosy and he was banished, and ended up been buried among the lepers, and not even buried with the kings.”

“And you’ve told me that you can be wicked for seventy years, and never set foot in church, never love God, never do anything good, and that if you still have a heartbeat, if you still have breath, and if God should send his Holy Spirit to prick your heart and convict you, even then, if you choose to humble yourself before the Lord and beg for his mercy and forgiveness, that you can be saved.”

You can enter into the kingdom of heaven, just like King Manasseh in the Old Testament, who spent his entire life outdoing the wickedness of all the former kings of Israel. Not only did he worship pagan gods and encourage the worship of pagan gods, but he brought pagan idols — false gods — into the Jerusalem temple. You think a statue of Baal or Dagon is bad? how bout a statue of Dagon and Baal in the temple where Yahweh is supposed to be worshiped? Manasseh did this.

And if that wasn’t enough, do you know what else Manasseh did? He murdered the prophet Isaiah. He ordered him to be sawn in two, and not this way [horizontally], but they started between his legs and they sawed up [vertically] until they finally got up — once they got up around the heart and the neck area, he finally died. They tortured Isaiah to death by sawing him in two at the command of King Manasseh.

And you know where Manasseh is now? In heaven. In Scripture, we read the prayer of Manasseh, his prayer of humble repentance at the end of his life, when he recognized his great wickedness, and he poured out his heart before God and begged for mercy, just like this tax collector. And God had mercy on him and forgave him all his sin. And I have no doubt now that Manasseh is with the saints in heaven, even after having lived such a wicked life.

So you may rightfully ask,

“What do we need the Church for?”

Faithfully serve the Church your whole life, and pride can still send you to hell.

Live like the devil your whole life, and if you humble yourself and repent before your heart stops beating, you could still go to heaven.

First of all, we need to remember that you don’t know how much longer you have to live. God has given you no guarantee that you will spend seventy years on this earth. My niece Ashley was killed in a car accident at the age of seventeen. My brother Preston was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of twenty-one. Our son Quincy died halfway into the pregnancy. He was dead before he was born.

There is nothing more presumptuous or arrogant than to say,

“Well, I’m going to live my life for the devil. And at the end of my life, before I die, then I’ll give the crumbs to God.”

If you were that prideful , if you were that arrogant, I wouldn’t bet any money that you’re going to make it to age seventy. You may die very quickly and unexpectedly. And then it will be too late for repentance. So the concept of turning your back on the Church on purpose, and living in sin on purpose, so that maybe you can repent when your old , that is only a path taking by the very arrogant. And as we have already said the very arrogant are those who do not enter the kingdom of God, unless they repent.

But there is something else that those of us who have chosen to be faithful, those of us who have chosen to be in the Church, those of us who believe that baptism washes our sins away. We believe that Chrismation gives us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ that washes away our sins, and is the medicine of immortality. We believe all these things. What can be said to us?

I would simply remind all of us that everything the Church does, from birth until your death, is calculated to help you on this path of humility. The Church knows how critical it is to have humility, how necessary it is to have humility. And everything the Church does for you is calculated for the sake of your humility.

Infant Baptism

The Church doesn’t say,

“Well, as soon as you decide you’re ready, as soon as you decide that you’ve learned enough, as soon as we agree that you know what you need to know . . . Ok, now that you’re twelve years old . . . now that you’re fifteen years old . . . Ok, we’ll let you join the Church.”

No. Your mom and your dad are Orthodox Christians. And they come together in love, and they have this child, and this child is born. And before the child learns its own name, before the child learns to speak, you give that child the name “Christian”. You baptize that child in the water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that child grows up in the midst of the Church, never presuming to say,

“Well, I’m Orthodox because I was smart enough to become Orthodox!”

Now, we who are first-generation converts have to struggle with those kind of thoughts. And we must struggle against them! But the normal life of the Church is for you to be born into the Church, and baptized in the Church as an infant, while you still have that helplessness, while you still have that humility. So that even when you’re a fifty-year-old man, you can’t say, “Well, I became Orthodox because I was smart enough,” or “holy enough.”

You can say,

“No, this is a great gift that was given to me, before I was even old enough to know what was going on.”


And then all of us, from the three year-old, to the seventy-three year-old, to the hundred-three year-old, can come down every week to the rail. And we don’t presumptuously walk all the way up to the altar and grab the chalice with our own hand, grab the Eucharist with our own hand, and feed ourselves. No! What do we do?

All of us, like little baby birds . . . we come forward, and it doesn’t matter if you are three year-old Kelsey, or if you are Russ. You come forward, and you kneel, and you open your mouth like a little bird, and you wait for somebody to feed you. Is there any humility in that?

There’s a reason the priest feeds you. That’s Christ feeding you. You don’t feed yourself. You don’t presume to touch the Eucharist yourself, or to go shovel it into your own mouth. You wait, like a little child, for Christ to feed you with his body and his blood. It is meant to teach humility.

Biblical Interpretation

It’s not just about learning what the right doctrines are. It’s also why you believe those are the right doctrines. I mean, is it possible that without help from the Church, you could sit down by yourself with Sola Scriptura, and just by reading the Bible, come to your own personal private conclusion that “Baptismal regeneration is true; we need baptism to be forgiven of our sins”? Yeah, you could do that.

On your own, could you study Scripture and come to the conclusion that we need to have infant baptism, and young-child Communion, and we need Bishops, Priests, and Deacons? Yeah, you could come to all these conclusions on your own. Many people have done so.

And those conclusions could be just as correct as the conclusions that the Church has come to, doctrines that the Church teaches.

But there’s still a big difference. Are you believing these things because you trust in your own reasoning powers, and in your own powers of study, and in your own brains, so much? Or do you believe these things because — just like you take the Eucharist — you also allow the Church to feed you the Word? You allow the Church to feed you the teachings of the Apostles.

Let’s just assume that by the grace of God, every person in this room has perfect theology, no errors whatsoever. That’s still not good enough. It’s not just a matter of knowing what the right answer is to a test question. It also matters why you think you got the right answer.

If your answer is, “I got the right answer because I studied enough and I’m smart enough, and I’ve got this figured out, and the Holy Ghost is with me,” then you’ve still got some work to do.

But you say,

“This is what the Church has taught for 2000 years. This is part of the Deposit of Faith handed down to us by Christ and the Apostles. I am not trusting in my own brain. I am not trusting in my own studies. I humble myself on my knees, before the teachings of the Holy Church, and that’s why I believe it’s true, not because I became convinced of it, but ultimately because I submit myself to the teachings of the Church.”


What about all this talk in the Orthodox Church about obedience? Now there’s an unamerican word if you ever heard one — unless we’re demanding other countries to obey us!

Americans are all about “independence” and “self sufficiency”. We’re “preppers”. We do it ourselves. We take care of ourselves. “I don’t need anybody else . . . ”

That’s fine and well if you’re just talking about stocking your freezer with deer meat, and canning corn and vegetables and pickles, and putting them away, so that you have food to eat. That’s fine.

But it’s not fine in the kingdom of God. You can go to hell alone, but you only get to heaven together, with each other. You can’t do it yourself. You’re not smart enough or holy enough to get yourself close to Christ and in heaven.

So it is built into the very fabric of the Church. You’re not supposed to come up with your own daily rule of prayer, but you go to your spiritual father, and you get it approved, and you talk to him, and he says, “Ok, this is what your daily rule of prayer should be.”

You don’t just decide for yourself, that you’re going to be a bishop or a priest, or pastor a church. No. You become a bishop or a priest or a deacon, you pastor a church, if the bishop tells you to.

We have the Church teaching us obedience to the leaders of the Church. We have the Church teaching us about obedience to the powers-that-be within society. We have the Church teaching us about obedience of wives to husbands. (There’s an unpopular topic!) Obedience of children to parents. (By what I’ve seen in America, that’s also a very unpopular topic.)

The Church teaches obedience, obedience, obedience. Why? It’s certainly not because the Church is trying to puff up the pride of the bishops and priests, even though that unfortunately happens all too often. The reason we are all put under obedience in the Orthodox Church, in so many different contexts, is because God is trying to teach us humility. And there’s nothing quite so humbling as taking orders.

Humility is Necessary for Salvation

So the next time you run into one more aspect of the Church that makes you feel humbled, one more thing about Orthodoxy that makes you feel like you’re taking orders rather than giving them, one more thing within the Church that makes you feel like, “They’re trying to make us submit to some authority, rather than decide for ourselves what to believe,” that’s because the Church knows that without humility, not one of us will enter the kingdom of heaven.

It’s not just about answering the questions right on a doctrinal exam.
It’s not just about the sacraments, even though they are very important.

It is about having your heart humbled before God, humbled before your brothers and sisters, so that — not just reeling it off your tongue by rote memory — but from your heart, you can actually participate in this liturgy, and in that prayer just before Communion, where we call ourselves the chief of sinners. Whenever you pray that just before Communion, do you actually believe it? Do you actually think of yourself as the chief of sinners? Or are you just saying words?

If you can’t look in the mirror and see a sinner, see somebody who is undeserving, if you can’t think for a second about actually humbling yourself before the teachings of the Church, doing what the Church commands, being obedient, letting the Church interpret Scripture for you instead of you just trusting in your own devices, if you can’t imagine doing any of this for a second, then it might be a pride problem.

And just remember, pride is the only sin it took to convert angels into demons, and an archangel into the devil. For pride, the angels lost heaven. But through humility, St. Augustine tells us, even lowly men can become like the angels.

Do you want salvation?
Do you want forgiveness?
Do you want joy?
Do you actually want to go to heaven?

Then in your mind, and in your heart, and even with your knees, humble yourself, for it is only through humility that we will see the face of God.

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, August 31, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 18:9-14 | Leave a comment

Submitting Our Emotions to Christ

MP3 Audio: WWS_30006-Dn_Joseph-Submitting-Our-Emotions-to-Christ.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 24, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Christa Conrad.


Gospel Reading: Luke 19:41-47

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

Jesus wept.

Just as we have much to learn from Jesus, in regard to humility, in regard to love, in regard to mercy, and in regard to sacrifice, we also have a great deal to learn from Jesus in regard to the proper exercise of our emotions.

Jesus was no stoic with a hardened blank stare. He didn’t sit by, unmoved by sorrow and suffering. He felt so deeply, that tears poured from His eyes, on three different occasions recorded in Scripture. At least three different times, Jesus wept.

And we are moved by His humanity. We are moved by His emotion. We are moved by His tears. But He did not always cry for the same reasons that we do. We do not always cry for the same reasons that He did. And because of this, we have a lot to learn.

Jesus did not cry over His financial situation. He was in poverty. He said the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. But He did not say that, weeping. When thousands of people rejected His words and turned their backs on Him and walked with Him no more, Jesus did not cry for His loss of popularity.

And yet when I look at the things He did cry about, I have to wonder, would we cry in those same situations? If you knew that you had such a direct line to God, that you could perform fantastic miracles, and you knew for a fact that you were about to raise somebody from the dead, and that as a result of that, many people would come and have faith in God, would you cry? Would you weep?

You see, so often, we weep because we feel helpless. Someone or something that we love has been taken away from us. And there’s nothing we can do about it. So we weep. That’s why we weep at funerals.

It’s not why Jesus wept at the funeral of Lazarus. Jesus had no thoughts going through His mind, such as, “Oh, I will never, never see poor Lazarus again! I’ll never hear his voice again! I’ll never be able to talk to my friend Lazarus again!” He knew that He would be talking to him that afternoon. He knew that Lazarus’ sisters and friends would have their crying turned into joy, in a very short period of time.

I still have a long way to go. If I knew that I had the ability to raise somebody from the dead, I would be grinning from ear to ear! I’d walk into this funeral, everybody would be weeping, everybody would be crying, and I wouldn’t be able to hold it in! I’d just be smiling, because I’d know! “I know something you don’t know!” I would know that their tears are about to disappear! I would know that once he comes out of that casket, everybody is gonna rejoice!

Jesus knew what He was gonna do with Lazarus. Indeed, when He gets the news of Lazarus’ death, that is not when He weeps! That is not when He cries. He knew about Lazarus’ death. He goes on a journey to be near Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. He has a conversation with one of the sisters. And then, near the tomb, it says in Scripture that He heard the weeping of Lazarus’ sisters, and of Lazarus’ friends. He saw their pain, He saw their hurt. He saw their love for Lazarus. And in great compassion, He joined with them! He hurt with them! He wept with them! So much so, that even the people nearby looked at Jesus, and saw how He was crying, and said, “See how He loved him!” Because He had compassion on Mary, and on Martha, and on Lazarus’ friends, and because He loved Lazarus, Jesus wept!

In today’s Gospel reading, “Jesus wept.” Not over His friends, but over His enemies.

This judgment that was pronounced on the city of Jerusalem, was not a judgment upon Christians. It was a judgment that had been set forth upon those who had rejected Christ. Jesus knew that in just a few days, the crowds would be yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! His Blood be upon our heads and upon our children!”

And indeed it was upon them and their children. For in less than one generation, less than forty years later, in 70 AD, the Roman armies encamped around Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. And in torment for the next several months, the people and the children of that city endured such abject starvation, as the world has rarely seen. It is recorded in the writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian, that mothers even ate the flesh of their own infant children. A couple of hungry soldiers realized that this one particular woman was cooking something. And they demanded that she share with them. She said, “Fine”, and she opened the lid, and they recoiled in horror as they saw the partially-eaten body of her child. The love had grown so cold! In rejecting Him who is Love, in rejecting Him who is Life, even the proverbial love of a mother had so disappeared that she was able to cook and eat her own baby.

And after this dragged on for months, eventually the Roman armies destroyed the entire city, destroyed Herod’s Temple, destroyed the walls. Not one stone was left upon another. And we cannot even say, at least from a human perspective, that it was to a good purpose. For when the Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and sacked and pillaged and looted it, and spilled the blood of over one million people, even when they carried the riches out of that city, it was not for a good purpose. You see, the Romans hated Christ just as much as those Jews did. It has been said that the money taken from Jerusalem in 70 AD, is the very money used to build the Coliseum — in which, in the successive centuries, Christians would be thrown to the wild beasts and torn limb from limb, as Rome expended it’s wrath, upon those who served Christ.

How many of us would weep and cry to hear of the destruction of our enemies? The death of our friend? Sure! But when somebody mocks you and spits upon you, and treats you horribly, and you find out that finally they are going to get what they deserve, how many of us would weep over that? Many would smile! Many would throw a party! Many who would laugh and say, “It’s about time!”

You see, in the death of Lazarus, Jesus wept for His friends.
And foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus wept for His enemies.
For, you see, He loved them both!

And if we are to follow Christ, then we too must love –not only our friends — but our enemies, not rejoicing at their downfall, but weeping at it.

The third time that it is recorded that Jesus wept, is in the fifth chapter of the book of Hebrews. Many commentators believe it’s a reference to Gethsemane. But in His flesh, Jesus loudly wept and cried tears as He poured His heart out to God the Father.

The first two times Jesus wept, He was showing love for His friends and for His enemies. In this case, He himself is experiencing personal sorrow, and anguish, and suffering.

In the same situation, we might say, “Well, I would cry too!” But why would we cry? Where would we cry? For whom would we cry?

We might cry in front of our family and friends, hoping for sympathy, hoping that they would either remove the problem or at least give us some comfort by weeping with us. But you don’t see Jesus crying when the lash of the Roman whip comes down upon His back. You don’t see Jesus crying, from the cross, when people are mocking Him and cursing Him. You don’t see Jesus crying for the sake of the Disciples, waiting for them to have sympathy for Him. When Jesus cries out in His sorrow and in His anguish, He cries out to the One, and Only One, whom He trusts to do something about it, and to carry Him through it. He cries out to God, the Father!

In no case was Jesus helpless. Even on the day of His Crucifixion, Jesus said that He could call upon His Father, and twelve legions of angels would come and rescue the situation. Jesus, at all times, was in control. Jesus was never an unwilling victim or a helpless victim.

When Jesus wept tears, it was never out of selfishness. It was never out of self-centeredness. It was never out of helplessness. It was never out of a lack of trust in God.

Jesus wept for Lazarus because He wept for those whom He loves, those who are His friends. Jesus wept for Jerusalem, because He also loves His enemies. And Jesus wept in Gethsemane, as He prayed to the Father, for it was the Father alone to whom He entrusted His tears, His sorrow, and His future.

If we are to follow in Christ’s footsteps, let us not be stoical. Let us not be unfeeling. Let us feel emotions deeply! Let the tears pour from our eyes! But let it be for the same reasons that Jesus wept. Let us cry, not out of selfishness and helplessness, but let us cry in compassion for other people, who we love, people who are our friends, people who are our family. And yes, even weeping for those of us who are our enemies. Not seeking their destruction, but seeking their reconciliation and their healing, too. And when we do find ourselves in anguish, and strife, and turmoil, and sorrow, let us not merely weep before other people, who can only give us comfort by joining with us in our sorrow. But even moreso, let us pour out our tears before God in prayer, trusting that He alone is able to help us and to save us!

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, August 24, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Christa Conrad.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 19:41-47 | 2 Comments

Overcoming Trials

MP3 Audio: WWS_30004_Fr-Michael_Overcoming-Trials.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 17, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.


Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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

From today’s epistle, which is out of Corinthians:

“Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such is as common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it.”

I offer this mass this morning with a bit more of joy and relief then I sometimes do. Since we got the word yesterday that Metropolitan Joseph had blessed the ordination of Deacon Joseph to the priesthood, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’ve had a hard slog, and as a community we have been tested and tried by disagreement, by discouragement, by frustration, by anger, and by the sense of wondering if this thing’s going to make it at all.

The thing we keep forgetting in this, as with everything else, is that God is in control. Whether this community stands or falls is not my responsibility, it is not his [Joseph’s] responsibility, it is not your responsibility, it’s His will.

Now, we are required to do the best we can, with what we got, and I’ve got to tell you we’re doing that. You know, we’ve still got more things to learn. The fact that he’s ordained doesn’t mean I’m going to disappear from your midst, however much I would like to take you off the tight schedule, because he’s still got training to do, liturgically. We’ve still got, you know, chanting and that sort of thing.

But when I heard the psalms being chanted this morning, by not a couple of chanters back and forth, but by the entire congregation, when I hear the canticles and the hymns sung, when I hear a mass sung in Gregorian chant, to a large degree by children, more certainly enthusiastically by the children — you know, you need to work on volume control a bit, but you know — you know there’s a living breathing real community here. The fact is, things come and things go. That’s life.

It occurred to me as I was traveling up here this time, and it has only occurred to me — which indicates how slow I am sometimes — talking about my own situation back home, we’ve gone through so much, you know with my son’s death, and you know, family going off and doing whatever. And now I realize I’m sitting there and watching my wife die daily. Not physically. In fact my big fear is that she’ll last another ten years, frankly. But mentally, a piece falls out almost daily now. She is dying to the life that she and I have had for forty-six years. She doesn’t remember.

The other day I got a email from my sister who lives out in San Francisco, who was laid off over a year ago and has been in a state of depression and anxiety and panic ever since — San Francisco is not a cheap city to live in — that she had gotten a job. It wasn’t a great job, but it was a job with a paycheck, and there were other things she could develop from that. And I told Angie, I said, “Janet’s gotten a job.” And she said, “Janet?” And I said, “My sister.” She said, “What sister?” I’ve got two, and she does not remember them at all. My mother is dead and has been five years; she thinks she’s still alive. And so I sat there for about twenty minutes and tried to reconstruct my family for her. ‘Cause sometimes that helped, we strike brains somewhere in the conversation, and it didn’t. And there are mornings where I think, “God, if its better to take her now, take her.” And they texted me Saturday morning and said, “We’re taking her to the hospital by ambulance.” I said, “I didn’t mean it literally, you know.” She’s doing ok. She’s fine.

Yeah, you reach that point, as individuals. Churches can reach that point — if you allow that to happen — because sometimes it does seem like one bloody thing after another, both in life, and in the life of the community, and in the world which God knows I increasingly understand less and less. I really don’t know whats going on out there.

I’ll tell you why I feel that everything’s okay now. We’ve been tested again, just recently, and there was no group panic. There was no great group anxiety. I mean, there’s disappointment, there’s love for people we care about, but there was no knee-jerk reaction. There was frustration, but nobody’s mad. Everybody’s grieved, but hey, it’s what happens in churches, and what happens in families. And we will work very hard to restore anybody we need to restore. But I knew when not everybody freaked, that we had turned the corner in this community. Whether you see it or not, I do. During the last four years there has been a lot of growth. Now, you needed a lot of growth. You still need a lot of growth. But there has been a lot of personal, and for lack of a better term, community growth, spiritually and emotionally, that we can build on in the future.

That is why you have to “Take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall.” Joseph is going to be greatly tempted, during the period between now and his ordination. You people, are going to be greatly tempted in this period now, before he becomes your resident priest. That’s simply the way of it. The reason so many Christians fall, is that they didn’t count the cost of what following Jesus means. There are people in Syria who can explain that to you, there are Christians in Iraq who can explain that to you, there are Christians in Egypt who can explain that to you, because they have already given up their lives, because they professed Jesus Christ.

We get disappointed if there’s only decaf at the coffee hour. But we have not yet been tested, as it says in Hebrews, “with the shedding of blood.” None of us have had, you know, blood. — Well, I almost did when I fell in the bathroom yesterday, but that was not . . . — We really do need to get sense of perspective here people, you know, we really do. So between now and his ordination, there well be more attacks by Satan. Not big, horrible ones, because those usually don’t destroy communities. I don’t know if you’re aware of that or not. But most big church fights begin from something very small, from literally something like only having decaf at the coffee hour. And so we have to be sober and watchful, and prepared and forewarned.

If you’re going to follow Jesus Christ, you’re going to be tempted, sometimes very subtly, and very creatively. Sometimes those who are closest to you will provide the greatest temptation to frustration, to anger, to resentment, to a desire to strike back, or as in my case, though their gradual debility in which, yeah, there are times when I want to grab her, shake her, and say, “Snap out of it,” but for her there’s no rolling back. For others of us, there is.

We’ve got to be willing to walk that road, we’ve got to be willing as in the parable of the prodigal son, if we see someone who is the son for us, coming down the road to us, what does the father do? He doesn’t wait for his son to get back; he runs to him. Now, imagine this. A Jewish patriarch, you know, an honored wealthy man in the community, sees this son who was made a absolute fool of himself coming back, rehearsing a speech, “Father I have sinned against heaven . . . “

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He doesn’t wait for any of that. He runs. He runs from his house, he runs through the village, past the women at the well, through the marketplace, he runs to his son and brings him back to himself.

This must be your way, this must be the way of the this church in any and other circumstance, to bring people to Christ, to his healing, to his acceptance. Most people in the world don’t care about ecumenical councils. They want to know, “Does God love me? Will he accept me? Will he forgive me?” And to those questions in our own actions and in the life of this church we say, “Yes, yes, yes.” That’s how we take heed that we don’t fall when we think we’ve made it — “We’re okay now. It’s going to be smooth sailing.” — No, it’s not going to be smooth sailing. On the Christian walk it is never smooth sailing. But there is — if we seek it — joy, peace, and love.

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, August 17, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.

Posted in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, 2014 Homilies, Fr. Michael Keiser, Orthodox Homilies | Leave a comment

Cut to the Heart

MP3 Audio: Cut_to_the_Heart.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 27, 2015,
at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Mission in Carbondale, Illinois,
by Fr. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Janelle Sipes.


Epistle: Acts of the Apostles 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60
Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23

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

I was thinking earlier as we were commemorating one of the martyrs for the day, Saint Stephen. He’s called the Protomartyr, the first martyr, the first after the Resurrection to shed his blood for Christ, the first of many millions who have done likewise in the 2,000 years since. And I look at a foretaste of this in the gospel reading today. Jesus has not even become an adult yet. He has not even begun his public ministry. He is an infant. He is not even speaking yet. Nothing has been written down about him yet, at least not in the New Testament. And even in his infancy, his presence is so disconcerting to the powers of this world that Herod demands the blood of children. And so, thousands of holy innocents are slaughtered.

These are not the kinds of things that the world wants to think about during the twelve days of Christmas. During the time of Advent, during the time of Christmas, the world wants to think only positive happy thoughts, only uplifting things. We don’t want to think about martyrdom. We don’t want to think about pain, suffering and the shedding of blood. Stephen, out of all martyrs, has the distinction of being called the Protomartyr – first martyr. And God has a way throughout Scripture and throughout salvation history of setting an example.

The first time you run into something in Scripture or in the lives of the Saints, you see this is the precedent, this is the example that God is setting to point forward what will come after. And so we ask ourselves, “Why was Stephen martyred? Why did they become so angry at Stephen? What made people so upset?” So you turn in the Scriptures and you read in Acts chapter 7, and he ended his life with a sermon. And indeed, I know of some people who have heard sermons that have made them mad enough to want to kill.

You read in this, and he walked throughout salvation history. This man was well catechized. He understood the Old Testament. He understood his history. He understood where he came from. He understood who Messiah was, and he talked through salvation history as if he was to be the Protomartyr.

Then shall we call these the “Pre-martyrs,” the men who shed their blood for God prior to the coming of Christ. God sends prophet after prophet after prophet to call his people unto repentance, that the bride of God – the people of God – might be sanctified and purified  and conformed into the image of the Messiah to come. But one after the other they killed the prophets. They slaughtered those whom God sends to call unto repentance, and Stephen recounts this.

And then as the grand finale for his sermon in Acts chapter 7, he looks at his audience and he says, “You killed Christ. This is your fault. You did this. You have committed murder. You murdered the Holy One. Yes God sent the Messiah and you killed him. And this same Jesus, this same Messiah that you killed, God has raised up and has made both Lord and Christ.” And it says in Acts chapter 7, they were “cut to the heart.”

And you look back and you see similar phrases throughout Acts. In Acts chapter 2 the apostle Peter preaches to thousands of people and he says the same thing. “You killed him. This is your fault. You did this. You murdered the innocent one, the Holy One. And God has raised him up and has made him both Lord and Christ.” Then again in Acts chapter 5, Saint Peter again is preaching to a group of people and he says “You killed Christ. You are murderers and God has raised him up and made him both Lord and Christ.” And then again in Acts chapter 7, the Protomartyr Stephen. The Deacon. Deacons can preach; let us never forget that.

And so this is repeated over and over. This same sermon is preached over and over by different godly men. And the result is always the same. It is biting. It pricks the conscience. It cuts to the heart.

We say, “Is this what we want from a preacher? Is this the kind of preaching we want to hear? It doesn’t sound very encouraging. It doesn’t sound very uplifting, does it?”

Let me ask you something. You’ve heard this saying about the church that it is not a court where you go for condemnation; it’s a hospital. Well, working along those lines, let me ask you if you’ve ever been to a doctor? Anybody?  How many of you are a doctor? Would you rather have – now be honest – would you rather have a gentle doctor or a harsh doctor?

Gentle. I agree. Absolutely. If somebody at the hospital is going to come take your blood, you don’t want them to be randomly poking around and not paying attention. You want them to give you gentleness, to give you care, to watch out what they’re doing. They have to get the blood, but you want them to do it with care. You don’t want the doctor to be rude with his bedside manner. You want him to be gentle and look you in the eye and talk to you as a human being and as a person. So you want gentleness.

So I have a question. Is it possible for gentleness to go too far? Maybe a question you’ve never thought of. Usually that’s not the type of thing we complain about. “Oh that doctor was just too nice to me. . . .”

So let me ask you something. Imagine that you have heart disease. Very serious heart disease. The prognosis is not good. You realize that you are in desperate risk of heart attack and that if you have a heart attack your chances are 50/50 that you’re not going to wake up. And knowing this, you go to a skilled heart surgeon. And the heart surgeon tells you, “I have to tell you the truth. You’re in bad shape. You’re heart is sick. I’m going to have to cut you open from here to here. I’m going have to slice your chest open and rip you apart.” That doesn’t sound good, does it? “I’m going to have to cut into your legs and I’m going to have to get blood vessels so I can do what’s called a bypass surgery. And I’m not just going to cut your chest open, I’m actually going to cut your heart.” Sounds terribly scary, doesn’t it?

And he says, “There’s going to be a lot of stay in the hospital. There’s going to be a lot of different medications you’re going to have to take. There’s going to be a lot of sleepless nights. There’s going to be a lot of pain. There’s going to be risk of infection. But you go through this. I’m one of the best heart doctors around, and if you go through this we will take care of your heart disease. We will take care of the problem. You will be okay. You will be healed.”

And you say, “Man this is way worse than what I was expecting. This sounds absolutely terrifying.” So you go for a second opinion. And you go to the next doctor. And the next doctor says,

“That first doctor wanted you to do what? You don’t want to be cut open do you?”

“Well, no.”

“You don’t want me to cut into your legs?”

“Well, of course not.”

“You don’t actually want me to cut your heart, do you?”

“Well no, I don’t want that.”

“And you don’t like staying in the hospital?”

“Well, no. I hate staying in the hospital.”

“Look, you don’t need to do any of that. I have some medication right here. All you have to do is take this medication and I guarantee instant results. You’re going to feel better right away. The pains that you’ve been having in your heart, those pains are just going to disappear. You’re not going to have to have any surgery. I’m not going to have to cut you open. And you’re not going to need any hospital stay either. And there’s no chance of infection.”

And you say, “I like this doctor. This sounds way better!”

But you find out a little bit more information and you find out that this doctor specializes in hospice care. And the medication he’s going to give you is morphine. Oh, it will take the pain away until you have a heart attack and die. You’ll be comfortable at home until you die.

Now, with that information, would you rather have doctor number one or doctor number two? I’d rather have doctor number one. The one that is going to cut to the heart. And he better know what he’s doing. He better be a heart surgeon.

Well, keep this in mind. The church is not a courtroom where you come for condemnation. But it’s also not a hospice care, where you come for morphine to make you feel comfortable in your sin. The church is a hospital where you come to be healed of your sins, and sometimes that requires cutting to the heart.

Now, I said there’s a lot of similarities between these three sermons in the book of Acts, but there is one significant difference that I left out. The apostle Peter in Acts chapter 2 preaches to thousands of people and he says, “You killed Christ. You murdered the holy one that God sent. You are guilty. And this same Jesus whom you crucified, God raised up and has made both Lord and Christ.” And they were cut to the heart. But how did they respond to the fact that they had been cut to the heart? They responded by saying, “What shall we do?”

They’re desperate. They want to know, what do they do? What’s the godly response to this? How can we be saved? And you know what? Peter was a heart surgeon. He had cut their heart, but he was gentle in his response. When they said, “What must we do?” He didn’t say, “You’re lost. There’s no hope for you. What you did was too bad.” No, he cut to the heart. But he was gentle when he said “Repent. Be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There’s where gentleness comes in. Gentleness comes in when the person responds in terror at their sins and responds, “What must I do to be saved?” Peter wasn’t gentle about, “Well, I don’t want to cut to the heart because it might make them feel bad.” But he cut.  And when they said, “What must we do?” He responded by saying, “Just repent and be baptized. Wash your sins away.” And three thousand people joined the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem that day after he preached a sermon that cut to their heart.

Three chapters later, in Acts chapter 5, we have the same preacher preaching the same message to essentially the same group of people. It’s just a different group of Jews in Jerusalem and the apostle Peter says the same thing. “You killed Christ. You’re murderers. You have slain the holy one of Israel. You put him on the cross.” And it says in Acts chapter 5, they were cut to the heart. But how did they respond to this cutting? It says they became angry and they began plotting how they might put him to death.

See, that’s the way it works sometimes. A faithful priest of God preaches against sin and cuts to your heart. But you have no desire for repentance. You have no desire to be cleansed of that sin. You like that sin. You like it a lot. But he has cut open your heart, and laid it open to yourself and to all of the world, and this makes you angry.

And so that’s when the backbiting begins. That’s when you go home and you have the priest for lunch.

And then we have Acts chapter 7, where the first drops of the blood of the martyrs was spilled. Deacon Stephen preaches and he says, “You killed Christ. You put him to death. You are guilty. You did this. You stiff-necked, uncircumcised-hearted people.” Read Acts 7. That’s exactly what he says to them. And it says the same thing. It says they were cut to the heart.

He’s a heart surgeon just like the apostle Peter was. And after he has cut the heart, how do they respond? Do they respond with repentance like the people in Acts 2? Do they get baptized and join the Church? No. They don’t even respond secretly, like the Jews in chapter 5 say they have to plan how to get rid of this guy. In Acts 7 they are so infuriated from having their hearts cut open that they rush upon him screaming, with their hands over their ears, and they pick up stones and they stone him to death on the spot.

These are three very different results to the same sermon, three very different results to having one’s heart cut open. And the same options are presented to us every time we step foot in an Orthodox church, and a priest happens to preach against sin and it cuts to our hearts.

The flesh within us wants to become angry. The flesh within us wants to hold onto that sin, and strike out, and lash out in anger at anybody who would dare to reveal it. But if we have soft hearts that are open to the Spirit of Christ, then our first response must be, “What must I do? How can I have this sin taken away?” And a gentle priest will not respond with condemnation but will say, “Repent and be baptized and wash your sins away calling upon the name of the Lord.” You say, “But I’ve already been baptized.” Well, then come to the confessional. Keep short accounts. Confess your sins to God in the presence of the priest. Let him pronounce absolution over you. Then come to the Eucharist with a clean conscience.

It is a godly priest, a good priest, that preaches against sin – even directly – and cuts to your heart. This liturgy that we celebrate today is the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. And just from a worldly perspective, he is not what we would call a success. Now, he was for a while. He was very popular. But keep in mind that Jesus was popular for a while until he ticked off the wrong people and they crucified him.  The same thing happens with Saint John Chrysostom. He preaches, and crowds follow him and they listen and hang on every word, but he dared to preach against sin. He kept annoying the empress Eudoxia.  Finally she has him exiled. Well, people put in such an uproar that they let him come back. He’s back to being the Bishop in Constantinople, preaching. Then the empress puts up a statue of herself, and there’s supposed to be these secular games that are performed out near that statue.

This really upset Saint John, the Bishop, and he preached against it. He preached against the empress by name, to the point that everyone knew exactly who he was talking about. And do you know what he called her? By some accounts “Jezebel”, and by other accounts “Herodias.” (Herodias was the young shapely woman who danced for Herod and convinced him to cut off the head of John the Baptist.) [She was] vile, base, wicked, and this is the woman that he compares the empress to.

That’s dangerous. She had him exiled a second and final time. And in exile with no parish, no congregation, no stipend – being guarded by a Roman soldier – he dies. From a worldly perspective, a complete failure by the end of his life, and yet it’s his liturgy that we celebrate around the world. It’s his sermons that we preach. And of all Orthodox preachers that have ever been on this planet in the past two thousand years there’s only one Golden-Mouth. They gave him this saying “Chrysostom”, which means, “Golden Mouth”, preacher of preachers, the one who’s speaking, who’s golden. He, like Peter and Stephen, was willing to preach in such a way to cut to the heart.

Now, why am I preaching to you about preaching? It seems like an odd thing to do. Most of you are saying,  “I’m never going to be a priest. I’m never going to preach a sermon in an Orthodox church. Why do I need to hear this?”

There are two very important reasons. First of all, whenever you hear Fr. James, or me, or any other priest preach against sin, you need to be like the first people we talked about – not like the second or third groups. You need to be in Acts 2. When your heart is sliced open and it’s bloody and raw and your sin has been exposed, don’t respond in anger. Don’t respond in fury. Respond by saying “What must we do to be saved? How can we be cleansed of this sin?” That’s the only humble Christian response that you can give, to having your heart cut open by the Word of God.

And secondly, Fr. James and I are not going to live forever. And even if we do, you may decide at some point that you’re going to relocate, and at some time you’re going to decide, “What Orthodox Church am I going to go to? There’s a Greek one over there, there’s a Russian one over there, and there’s a Serbian one over there. They’re equal distance. . . .” Not all priests are equally faithful. You’ll find some that really preach against sin and cut to the heart, and find others that avoid it like the plague.

Don’t be afraid to go to the priest that cuts to the heart. That’s what Peter did, that’s what Stephen did, and that’s what Saint John Chrysostom did.

Or even here – twenty years from now – the day comes that, God forbid, you should get a new priest because this one has moved on somewhere else. Well, you may have different candidates, different people to choose from. Don’t be afraid to pick the one that preaches against sin and cuts to the heart. That is what Saint Peter did. That is what Saint Stephen, the Protomartyr did. That’s what Saint John Chrysostom did.

The church is not a courtroom where you come for condemnation. The church is also not a hospice care, where you come to be made to feel comfortable in your sin. The church is the hospital, and the priest is the heart surgeon. Let him do his work. For that is where the Holy Spirit steps in and does his work.

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


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 27, 2015,
at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Mission in Carbondale, Illinois,
by Fr. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Janelle Sipes.

Posted in Acts 2, Acts 5, Acts 7, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 2, Preaching | Leave a comment

May We Hope for Universal Salvation?

God desires for all people to repent and be saved. And if we are faithful Christians, we desire the same thing. Love compels us to pray for the salvation of each individual, and the idea of universal salvation seems very attractive.

Yet God gives free-will to every man. No one is forced to be condemned, and no one is compelled to repent. This is why Universalism and Calvinism are two sides of the same coin. Ultimately, both deny man’s free-will.

Over the past 2000 years, the Orthodox Church has consistently warned us about the grave realities of hell. The torments there are real, and they never come to an end. This teaching may not be pleasant, and it may not be popular. But the Orthodox Church teaches it nonetheless, for at least two reasons:

  1. It is true.
  2. It is spiritually dangerous to believe otherwise.

This article will focus on the question of hell’s duration. Are the torments of hell unending? Are there some people who will never escape? Or will the torments of hell eventually come to an end for everyone? It is possible that hell eventually will be empty?

In this article, we will demonstrate the Orthodox Church’s teaching on this subject by reviewing a number of sources:

  • The Testimony of Scripture
  • The Testimony of St. John Chrysostom
  • The Consensus of Numerous Saints
  • The Synodikon of Orthodoxy

Then we will consider some objections to this teaching which have been raised by certain people within the Church. We will consider how these objections are a matter of wishful thinking, and how they fail to reflect an Orthodox mindset.

Finally, we will consider how this teaching is necessary for good spiritual life in the Church. We will look at the reasons why it is spiritually dangerous to believe in a “temporary hell”.

The Testimony of Scripture

In the New Testament, Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven. And his testimony is not ambiguous. He says the torments of hell will never come to an end.

In one passage of Scripture, Jesus says the pains of hell are unending, and he says so eight times. Fr. John Whiteford makes this same observation. In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus states five times that the fires of hell (gehenna) will not be quenched, and he speaks three times of the worm that will not die:

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43-48)

As Fr. John points out, Christ is probably alluding to Isaiah 66:24 and Judith 16:17, when he speaks of hell in these terms:

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (Isaiah 66:24)

Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever. (Judith 16:17)

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ addresses the wicked (the goats) and says:

Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:26,46)

And St. Paul wrote:

since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Jesus and the apostles speak of hell in many more places, but the passages above are a good sample. The consistent message is that the fire and torment are unending. And if the torment does not end, that doesn’t leave any room for universal salvation.

The Testimony of St. John Chrysostom

Throughout the world, St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) has been accepted as a preeminent Orthodox Saint, and as one of the most faithful preachers in the Church. Initially, he was simply known as “John”. But over time, his preaching was so welcomed and praised by the Orthodox Church that people started calling him “Chrysostom”, which in Greek means “Golden Mouth”. According to Orthodox tradition, the apostle Paul himself appeared to St. John Chrysostom, ensuring his accurate interpretation of Scripture.

In this section, we will review several statements made by St. John Chrysostom, where he comments on the duration of hell’s torments.

While some universalists do not deny the existence of hell, they suggest the possibility that hell may not last forever. They hope that hell may simply have a cleansing effect on souls, and that the torment may eventually come to an end.

St. John Chrysostom, in his 6th homily on the Gospel of John, provides a response to people who make such conjectures:

For though we have all faith and all knowledge of the Scriptures, yet if we be naked and destitute of the protection derived from (holy) living, there is nothing to hinder us from being hurried into the fire of hell, and burning for ever in the unquenchable flame. For as they who have done good shall rise to life everlasting, so they who have dared the contrary shall rise to everlasting punishment, which never has an end. (St. John Chrysostom, The Gospel of John, Homily 6)

Commenting on a passage in 1 Corinthians, St. John Chrysostom talks about the duration of hell fire:

This is no small subject of inquiry which we propose, but rather about things which are of the first necessity and which all men inquire about; namely, whether hell fire have any end. For that it hath no end Christ indeed declared when he said, “Their fire shall not be quenched, and their worm shall not die. . . .” (St. John Chrysostom, 1 Corinthians, Homily 9)

In the same homily, he talks about specific types of unrepentant sinners, and he discusses the eternal nature of their destruction:

As I said then; that it hath no end, Christ has declared. Paul also saith, in pointing out the eternity of the punishment, that the sinners shall pay the penalty of destruction, and that forever. “Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, shall inherit the the kingdom of God.” (St. John Chrysostom, 1 Corinthians, Homily 9)

In his treatise On the Statues, St. John Chrysostom warns us of the difference between temporary suffering on earth, and never-ending suffering in hell:

For the things present, whatever they are, are endurable, and have an end; but the torments there are immortal, and interminable! (St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues, Homily 17, paragraph 15)

And in his commentary on the book of 2nd Thessalonians, St. John Chrysostom explicitly says that the torments of hell are not temporary:

For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction. How then is that temporary which is everlasting? (St. John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians, Homily 3)

As Jesus had already done in the New Testament, St. John Chrysostom spoke many times about the unending torments of hell. And his teaching was not ambiguous. There are many people who will suffer in hell for all eternity, and will never escape. They will never inherit the Kingdom of God.

These teachings are not provided to make us feel comfortable. These teachings are provided to warn us, so that we will be diligent to avoid the eternal fires of hell at all costs.

The Consensus of Numerous Saints

Of course, we must not base our beliefs on the testimony of an isolated saint. To be confident that a given teaching is truly Orthodox, we must be satisfied with nothing less than a full consensus of the saints. We must believe that which has been received and believed by Orthodox saints throughout the world, and throughout time.

Therefore, let us consider the voices of many Orthodox saints who have spoken on this topic. Do the torments of hell last forever, or do they eventually come to an end? Is hell eternal, or is it only temporary?

St. Clement of Rome (27-97 A.D.)

So, then, if they were sure of this, that the punishment of eternal fire awaits those who do not worship God, when would they cease warning and exhorting?
Recognitions – book 7, ch. 35

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107 A.D)

Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him
Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 16

St. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.)

And that no one may say what is said by those who are deemed philosophers, that our assertions that the wicked are punished in eternal fire are big words and bugbears, and that we wish men to live virtuously through fear, and not because such a life is good and pleasant; I will briefly reply to this, that if this be not so, God does not exist; or, if He exists, He cares not for men and neither virtue nor vice is anything, and, as we said before, lawgivers unjustly punish those who transgress good commandments
Second Apology, ch. 9

St. Theophilus of Antioch (120-190 A.D.)

Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Scriptures] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. . . . [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire
To Autolycus 1:14

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (125-202 A.D.)

[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire
Against Heresies 1:10:1

The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever
Against Heresies 4:28:2

St. Hyppolytus (170-236 A.D.)

since to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. And the fire which is un-quenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which dieth not, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them
Against Plato – On the Cause of the Universe, paragraph 3

Minucius Felix (~226 A.D.)

I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them
Octavius, chapters 34–35

St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-270 A.D.)

An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life”
To Demetrian, paragraph 24

Lactantius (290-350 A.D.)

We therefore speak better and more truly, who say that the two ways belong to heaven and hell, because immortality is promised to the righteous, and everlasting punishment is threatened to the unrighteous.
Divine Institutes, book 6

St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 A.D.)

Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity
On Infants’ Early Deaths

St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

If therefore all those works “shall not possess the kingdom of God” (yea not the works, but “they that do such things;” for such works there shall be none in the fire: for they shall not, while burning in that fire, be committing theft or adultery; but “they that do such things shall not possess the kingdom of God“); they shall not therefore be on the right hand
Exposition on Psalm 81, paragraph 19

For neither is eternal fire itself, which is to torture the impious, an evil nature, since it has its measure, its form and its order depraved by no iniquity; but it is an evil torture for the damned, to whose sins it is due. For neither is yonder light, because it tortures the blear-eyed, an evil nature.
— Against the Manicheans, ch. 38

St. John Cassian (360-435 A.D.)

For whoever after baptism and the knowledge of God falls into that death, must know that he will either have to be cleansed, not by the daily grace of Christ, i.e., an easy forgiveness, which our Lord when at any moment He is prayed to, is wont to grant to our errors, but by a lifelong affliction of penitence and penal sorrow, or else will be hereafter consigned to the punishment of eternal fire for them, as the same Apostle thus declares: “neither effeminate, nor defilers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous persons, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God.”
Conference 23 – ch. 15

St. Justinian the Great (483-565 A.D.)

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.
Liber Contra Origen, Anathema IX

The fires of hell are not temporary, and the pains of hell are never-ending.
The consensus of the Saints is clear.

The Synodikon of Orthodoxy

Along with the testimony of Scripture and Saints, it is also important to learn from the Liturgy itself. Over the centuries, the Holy Spirit has inspired many Saints to bring it to its present form, and it has shaped the worship of hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians. If a particular teaching can be found in the Liturgy, and in the liturgical calendar, then that teaching has been accepted by the Orthodox Church worldwide, and is therefore trustworthy.

Every year, on the first Sunday of Lent, the Synodikon of Orthodoxy is read in Orthodox Churches worldwide. Thus, its teachings are authoritative for Orthodox Christians. It is a document which summarizes some of the most central beliefs and teachings of the Orthodox Church.

The Synodikon of Orthodoxy is unflinching in its condemnation of universalist heresy:

To them who accept and transmit . . . that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!
Synodikon of Orthodoxy

It is important to notice that the Synodikon attacks the heresy of universalism from two different directions. From the negative direction, an anathema is pronounced upon all those “who accept and transmit . . . that there is an end to the torment” of hell. And from the positive direction, the Synodikon states, “we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending”.

There are some who would try to get around the Synodikon’s anathema, assuming that it is only directed against the followers of Origen. (He taught the preexistence of souls, and the ultimate universal redemption of all souls. His teachings were condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.) And since modern universalists don’t believe in the preexistence of souls, some assume that this anathema – the Synodikon’s negative pronouncement – doesn’t apply to them.

This is where it becomes important to consider the positive pronouncement made by the Synodikon. Quite apart from anything it says about certain heresies, it also explains what the Bible itself teaches. And according to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, Scripture says that “torment is unending” in hell.

And if the torments of hell are truly “unending”, then every form of universalism is a false teaching – not only Origen’s particular version of it.

Modern Objections

Holy Scripture is clear, the consensus of the Saints is clear, and the Synodikon of Orthodoxy is clear. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming consensus, there are still some individuals who balk at this teaching. Some people simply want to believe that hell is temporary, and to justify their desire, they are willing to go to great lengths.

Bishop Kallistos Ware is a prominent example of someone who takes this unfortunate approach. The final chapter in his book, The Inner Kingdom, is titled, “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” To support his idea, he focuses primarily on three voices from the early church: Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Isaac the Syrian.

The author spends seven pages — nearly a third of the chapter — focusing on the teachings of Origen. He considers him a valuable resource, even though the Orthodox Church officially condemned Origen as a heretic, at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

He spends the next two pages talking about St. Gregory of Nyssa, claiming him as an advocate of universal salvation. Yet it is disputed whether St. Gregory actually believed such a thing. While his writings may have certain excerpts which entice universalists, there are other passages which they seem to avoid. In St. Gregory’s treatise regarding the early deaths of infants, he does not talk like any universalist I have ever met. Nor does he express any hope that Judas Iscariot will ever experience salvation.

In agreement with the words of Jesus Christ, St. Gregory says that Judas would have been better off if he had never been born. But if Judas is eventually going to be saved, then how could such a statement be true? St. Gregory says, “that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin.” With sobriety, and with great gravity, we need to reflect on the awful fact that the chastisement of Judas “will be extended into infinity”. Here is the full quote from the Saint himself:

Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity . . .
– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants’ Early Deaths

After discussing Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, Bishop Kallistos Ware spends four pages talking about the writings of St. Isaac the Syrian. He was a 7th century ascetic, and most people agree that he believed in the possibility of universal salvation.

Having introduced us to these three men, the author makes this statement:

Within the tradition of the Christian East, then, we have identified three powerful witnesses who dare to hope for the salvation of all. (The Inner Kingdom, p. 210)

Thus, in a 23-page chapter, this author spends over half his time — 13 pages in all — focusing on the writings of Origen (a condemned heretic), St. Gregory of Nyssa (who may not have believed in universal salvation), and St. Isaac of Syria. These are his “three powerful witnesses” to this teaching.

Of course, cherry-picking a few minority quotes is not an Orthodox approach. As one priest noted,

Those who advocate for this heresy are forced to place all their weight on the supposed advocacy of a few saints of the Church, while ignoring the clear and unambiguous teachings of all the other Fathers, the Councils, the Apostles, and even Christ Himself. This is not how Orthodox Christians approach such matters. We affirm that which the Church has consistently taught — we do not go hunting for theological exotica.
– Fr. John Whiteford, Is Universalism a Heresy?

Instead of giving a significant amount of space to the countless Orthodox Saints who taught a traditional view of hell, Bishop Kallistos Ware spends an inordinate amount of time talking about a small minority of people who happen to agree with him. At least he makes the following admission:

Yet it has to be admitted that in East and West alike . . . the voices raised in favor of universal salvation remain a small minority. (The Inner Kingdom, p. 210)

And in another book, Bishop Kallistos Ware admits:

“It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will” (The Orthodox Church, p. 262)

He admits that the doctrine of universal salvation is a heresy. Yet he continues looking for some way to believe that maybe everyone will be saved anyway. This approach seems neither wise nor safe.


Within the Orthodox Church, the consensus is clear. The Scriptures, the Liturgy, and the overwhelming majority of Saints have taught a traditional understanding of hell. The sufferings there are unimaginable, and the torments there do not come to an end.

Ideas have consequences. Universal salvation is a dangerous teaching. According to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, when people promote that teaching, they “both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others”.

This destruction comes in two forms:

  1. Evangelism is endangered. Why go to the trouble of introducing other people to Orthodoxy, if everyone is eventually going to heaven anyway?
  2. Personal salvation is endangered. Why go to the trouble of struggling against sin, if you will eventually go to heaven anyway?

Perhaps the best warning of all comes from the lips of an Orthodox Saint:

Struggle with all your power to gain Paradise. And do not listen to those who say that everyone will be saved. This is trap of Satan so that we won’t struggle.
– St. Paisios of Mt. Athos


Posted in Universalism | 1 Comment

Having Ears to Hear

St. John Chrysostom comments on Paul’s all-night sermon:

“Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

See how everything was subordinate to the preaching. . . . Not even during night-time was he silent, nay he discoursed the rather then, because of stillness. Mark how he both made a long discourse, and beyond the time of supper itself. . . . and talked a long while, even till break of day . . . But observe, I pray you, the theatre, how crowded it was: . . . Such was their eagerness to hear him!

Let us take shame to ourselves! “Aye, but a Paul” say you, “was discoursing then.” Yes, and Paul discourses now, or rather not Paul, either then or now, but Christ, and yet none cares to hear. No window in the case now, no importunity of hunger, or sleep, and yet we do not care to hear: no crowding in a narrow space here, nor any other such comfort. . . . But observe, I beseech you, so fervent was their zeal, that they even assembled in a third loft: for they had not a church yet.

~ St. John Chrysostom, Homily XLIII on Acts

Source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf111.vi.xliii.html


Posted in Acts 20:7, Preaching, Spiritual Living | 1 Comment

Cunningness versus Fruit Inspection

MP3 Audio: WWS_30002_Dn-Joseph_Cunningness-versus-Fruit-Inspection.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 10, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.


Gospel Reading: Matthew 7:15-21

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

According to the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, it is possible — in fact, it is desirable — for us to identify false prophets, sheep in wolves’ clothing, by looking at their actions.

From a distance, you may not be able to tell. It may be a very convincing sheep costume. Indeed, it’s probably a real sheep which the wolf himself has slaughtered and skinned, so that from a distance when you look, you see real wool, the real features of a real sheep.

But like every other sin that is handed to us by the devil, Satan is most unoriginal. He is able to invent nothing. All he can do is take the good things which God has created, and he twists them. He cannot invent any new, or unique pleasure. He simply takes the good of marriage, and he twists it and perverts it into lust, and fornication, and adultery. He takes the good desire to enjoy the good gifts of God as the reward for faithful labor, and he twists that into a desire to posses those things though theft. Think of any sin, and it is a sin which began has something good, and which Satan has twisted so that we pursue it in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or for the wrong motive. This is no different.

We are told by Jesus himself that, yes, it is possible to look at a persons words, to look at a persons actions, and to determine that they are in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I spoke of the wolf among the sheep, the wolf that is wearing a a very convincing sheep costume. From a distance, you can tell no difference between him and the sheep. The look is the same, the wool is the same, oh, but look just a little closer. Walk into the field with them and see what they are eating. You look closely at the mouth of the real sheep, you’ll see grass stains. You look closely at the mouth of the wolf, you will see blood stains.

“By their fruits you shall know them.”

It is good that we are able to look at the actions of the wolves, and identify them as wolves. But even this good gift from God — this ability to identify — even this good gift of God is something which the devil twists into a most insidious and dangerous sin.


One of the vices Saint John of the Ladder warns us about is the sin of cunningness. Kyriacos Markides, in his book Gifts of the Desert, elaborates on this particular sin:

A cunning person makes false conjectures and projections, and fantasizes he that he understands the thoughts of others on the basis of what they say. Cunning persons try on the basis of external signs to presume to know the secrets of people’s heart. I hear people say, “Such a person dislikes me,” and I ask, “How do you know?” “From the expression of her face,” is a typical answer.

There are many examples of cunningness that he gives:

He sold a certain plot of land to deal with some debts that the church had. Rumors started, and he heard from somebody, “I know the real reason you sold that land. You’re just wanting to use that money so you can grease the wheels and become archbishop. You just want more power.”

This particular man, having spent a lot of time on Mount Athos, had become accustomed to giving a particular blessing in which the priest simply says, “May God forgive you.” He gave that blessing to a particular person in this church, and she was in tears later, so distraught that he thought she was just some poor common woman who needed God’s forgiveness.

He was giving communion to a large number of people. And this one particular man, he gave him the Eucharist, and he just didn’t mention the man’s name when he gave him the Eucharist — a simple oversight, no ill will, no ill intent — It turned out this man was just tortured for the rest of that day. He told somebody else that obviously this priest just thought of him as a nameless nobody.

Someone says,

I just don’t like that look that you gave me.
I don’t like that look on your face.
I know what you’re thinking.
Obviously you’re judging me, ’cause I can tell by your look.
Obviously you don’t like me; I can tell by the look on your face.

You see a look on somebody’s face, and you presume that you know exactly what they are thinking. A person might just have a headache. A person might have a stomachache. A person might be thinking of something painful that has nothing to do with you. It could be that you walk up and spend time with a particular person, and no sooner do you get there, but that person is in a hurry to leave, and they get out of there. And so you say, “Ah, obviously he doesn’t like me. If he liked me, he wouldn’t have left in such a hurry,” not realizing that he simply was running late for an appointment.

You offer to help somebody with some errands that they are running, and they graciously turn you down. And you say, “Now there’s proof that they don’t like me. I even offered to help, and they said no!” It may be that the other person is trying to be polite, and not to burden you down with this extra work.

This is illicit judgment of another person’s heart, based on these outward actions.

Now, the cunning person may use Scripture in an attempt to justify what he does. After all, doesn’t Jesus himself tell us that you can judge a person’s heart, just by looking at their actions? Doesn’t Jesus say, “By their fruits you shall know them?”

Fruit Inspection

As we read in the Gospel today,

Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, nether can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

What kind of fruit is Jesus talking about here? Is he saying that we have the ability to judge each and every word and outward action of our brother? Or, is he only referring to a certain number of specific behaviors which serve as a litmus test? St. Paul in the book of Galatians says,

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, descensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, against such there is no law.

The Church Fathers wrote quite a bit on this topic. St. John Chrysostom says,

It does not seem to me that false prophets here refers to the heretics, but rather to persons who live morally corrupt lives while wearing a mask of virtue. They are usually called frauds by most people. For this reason Jesus continued by saying,”By their fruits you will know them.” For it is possible to find some virtuous persons living among heretics. But among the corrupted of whom I speak it is no way possible. “So what difference does it make,” Jesus says in effect, “if even among these false prophets some do put on a hypocritical show of virtue? Certainly they will soon be detected easily.” The nature of this road upon which he has commanded us to walk is toilsome, and hard. The hypocrite would seldom chose to toil, but would prefer only to make a show. For this very reason the hypocrite is very easily detected. When Jesus notes that there are few who find it, he distinguishes those who do not find the way, yet pretend to find it. So do not look to the mask, but to the behavioral fruits of of those who pursue the narrow way.

St. Cyril of Alexandra said,

There may be some who in the beginning believed rightly, and assiduously labored at virtue. They may have even worked miracles and prophesied and cast out demons. And yet later they are found turning aside to evil, to self-asserted deception and desire. Of these, Jesus remarks that he never knew them. He ranks them as equivalent to those who were never known by him at all. Even if they at the outset had lived virtuously, they ended up condemned. God knows those whom he loves, and he loves those who single-mindedly believe in him and do the things that please him.

St. Augustine says,

But from their actions, we may conjecture whether this their outward appearance is put on for display. For when by any temptations those things are withdrawn or denied them which they had ether attained or sought to attain by this evil, then needs must that it appear whether they be the wolf in sheep’s clothing, or the sheep in his own.

Then finally St. Gregory,

Also the hypocrite is restrained by peaceful times of the holy church, and therefore appears clothed with godliness. But let any trial of the faith ensue, and straight the wolf — ravenous at heart — strips himself of his sheepskin and shows by persecuting how great his rage against the good.

We have saints of the church telling us that we can know people by their fruits. By looking at their actions we can identify the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and thus distinguish them from the true sheep. We also have saints of the church telling us to avoid the sin of cunningness. We are forbidden to judge the hearts of other people, merely based on their words and outward actions.

Are the fathers of the church sending us mixed messages? Are they contradicting one another? Let us take a look at the differences between sinful cunningness, and godly fruit-inspection of those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

We were given a list in Galatians 5. The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, descensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and revelries. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

The fathers were not contradicting each other. Fruit-inspection is very different from cunningness. And we can see at least four ways in which they are different.

God’s Commands vs. Personal Preferences

Fruit inspection involves cases were the wolf in sheep’s clothing has violated clear commands of God: adultery, lying, unwillingness to forgive. These are things which are not based on our own opinions, these are things which are not based on our own reasonings, these are things which are revealed in holy Scripture as being works of the flesh. God himself tells us that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. If God says that adultery is a work of the flesh — then if you find out someone is practicing adultery, and yet they pretend to be a christian — you know, there’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Cunningness is not a violation of a clear command that God has given. Cunningness is a violation of your own personal preferences. “I don’t like that look on his face.” “I really don’t like that tone of voice that she gave me.” There is nothing in Scripture, or in the teachings of the fathers, which tells us that it is direct violation of God’s commands for you to make a particular look with your face, or to use a particular tone of voice, or to buy a piece of land or to sell a piece of land, or to stand and talk for a while, or to hurry and run off because you have an appointment. In these cases, the cunning person is not getting upset because a clear law of God has been violated. The cunning person gets upset because his own preference has been violated.

Sins Against Others vs. Sins Against You

When you are inspecting the fruit of the sheep, to find out whether they are sheep or not, it’s usually a case in which that person has sinned against God and their neighbor. It’s not necessarily a case were they have sinned against you yourself.

If I find out that somebody has committed adultery, in most cases that’s not going to be a situation that I was involved in personally. They certainly didn’t commit adultery with me or my wife. Maybe it was nobody in my family. I just find out that they have done this thing which God has commanded not to do.

But when a person is cunning they get angry, because,

Ah, they have violated me, they have upset me, they have hurt me. I wanted them to talk with me longer and they didn’t talk with me longer. I wanted them to give me a different look with their face, but they didn’t. They gave me this other look with their face.

Now, there are exceptions to this point, because obviously somebody may violate God’s command, and be attacking your personally. But the distinction is still very important. The person who is looking for wolves in sheep’s clothing is going to be just as upset over somebody violating God’s command, to hurt somebody else, as they will be upset with that person for violating God’s command, to hurt them. The cunning person is self-centered. Their anger at the other person’s actions doesn’t flare up when that other person gives those actions to other people. The cunning person’s anger flares up whenever they take it as a personal affront to their personal pride.

Humility vs. Pride

When you are inspecting the fruit, you humbly see that God’s commandments reveal another person to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But when you are cunning, you arrogantly subject another person to your own personal judgments and preferences. Again, it’s that question of “What’s your criteria?” Is your criteria for judgement the commands of God, or is your criteria for judgement your own personal ideas and opinions and preferences?

Godly Counsel vs. Gossip

Godly fruit-inspection is done with godly counsel. You seek advice from other godly people. Even if somebody has apparently violated a clear command of God, you still check with other people you trust, other people you know to be godly, and you say, “Are you seeing the same thing that I’m seeing?” And you agree that Scripture and the Church prohibit this particular activity, that this is a sin against God. You are humble enough to seek counsel from other people, before you confront.

Cunningness can be done without counsel, for you have made your own mind up, and you need no advice from anyone. Or if you do it with counsel, it is merely gossip. Instead of intentionally seeking out godly people and looking for their advice, you seek out other people who are cunning just like you, and you seek their affirmation.


  1. Godly fruit-inspection is something you do in relation to people who have violated clear commands of God. Cunningness is where you seek out people who have violated your own personal preferences.
  2. Godly fruit-inspection involves people who usually have sinned against God and their neighbor. Cunningness usually involves people who have upset you personally.
  3. Godly fruit-inspection is a case where you are humbly seeking what God has commanded, what God has revealed. With cunningness, you arrogantly are subjecting another person to whatever your own opinions are.
  4. Godly fruit-inspection is done with godly counsel, where you seek advice from godly people. And cunningness is done without counsel, or it’s done with gossip, where you seek affirmation from other cunning people.

These are some of the ways that we can see a clear difference between cunningness, and the inspection of fruits that Jesus commands us to do. As we read in one of the readings during matins this morning, Jesus himself says to “judge with righteous judgement” (John 7:24). Righteous judgement is not something to be avoided; it’s something to be pursued. Its the cunning unrighteous judgement that we are to avoid.

An Antidote for Cunningness

In the book, Gifts of the Desert, Kyriacos Markides discusses humility as an antidote to the sin of cunningness. He says,

Cunningness is the enemy of humility. The humble individual is ready and willing to listen to others and hear their advice. Even great saints who became witnesses to reveal truth that descended directly from God sought the advice of others because they did not rely exclusively on their own perceptions. The humble person always seeks a dialogue, and is not rigidly trapped in his own opinions and ways of thinking. He leaves space for a conversation with others; he is always ready to listen. The humble person does not believe blindly in his own thoughts. He always places a question mark at the end his thought and seeks the advice of others.

As we have learned from the saints, wolves in sheep’s clothing are revealed in the midst of labor, toils, trials, and temptations. St. John Chrysostom said that wolves in sheep’s clothing will not walk the road which is toilsome, and hard. St. Augustine said that wolves in sheep’s clothing cannot stand up under temptations. And St. Gregory tells us that when peaceful times cease, and trials of faith come upon the church, wolves in sheep’s clothing will be revealed, and they will show their true colors.

So, true sheep — those who truly are Christ’s sheep — will be the opposite of this. If you are a true sheep, then you will walk the road that is toilsome and hard. You will be able to stand up under temptations without falling. And even when peaceful times cease and the trials of faith come upon the Church, you will still demonstrate though your words and your actions that you are faithfully following Christ.

Chrysostom talks at length about true sheep. Chrysostom says,

Whereas his teaching has up to now largely focused on the future kingdom, its unspeakable rewards and its consolations, now he shifts his focus to the present life, its current fruits, and how great is the strength of virtue within it.

What then is its strength? It is living with security, not easily being overcome by any of life’s terrors, and standing above all those who treat others maliciously. What could be as good as this? For not even the one who wears the royal crown would be able to furnish this for himself, but one who pursues the way of excellence can have this stability. For that one alone is possessed of this equilibrium in full abundance.

In the crashing surf of the present circumstances, such a one experiences a calm sea. This is amazing! It is when the storm is violent, the upheaval great, and the temptations continual, that such a person is not shaken in the slightest. This is not a way of living that applies to fair weather only, for he says, “The rain came, the floods came, the winds blew and they beat against that house and it did not fall, because it was founded on the rock.”

In referring to rain, floods, and winds, Jesus is speaking about all those human circumstances and misfortunes, such as false accusations, plots, bereavements, deaths, loss of family members, insults from others, and all the horrid things in life about which one could speak. Jesus says that a soul that pursues the way of excellence does not give in to any of these potential disasters, and the cause of this is that this soul has been founded upon the rock.

Now, “rock” refers to the reliability of Jesus’s teaching, for his commands are stronger then any rock. They place one quite a bit above all the human waves of life, for the one who guards these commands with care will excel not only over human beings when treated maliciously, but even over the demons themselves in their plots.

This is from one of the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom on the book of Matthew.

We are to be true sheep, not wolves in sheep’s clothing. We know what the works of the flesh are. If we are to be true sheep, then we must avoid those works of the flesh, lest we deceive ourselves. We know what the fruits of the Spirit are. If we are to be true sheep, then we must diligently seek those fruits of the Spirit in our own hearts and minds and lives.

True sheep receive strength from God, enabling them to stand in the midst of trials, and to enjoy peace in the midst of the storm. The cold winds will howl, the storm will rage, and the waves will crash, but our house will remain steadfast and unmoved, because we have built it upon the rock of Christ.

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


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 10, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Katie Gleason.


Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 7:24, Matthew 7:15-21, Matthew 7:24-28, Orthodox Homilies | Leave a comment

Replaying the Exodus with Loaves and Fishes

MP3 Audio: WS330369_Dn-Joseph_Replaying-the-Exodus-with-loaves-and fishes.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 3, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Gospel Reading: Mark 8:1-9

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

About three-and-a-half thousand years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of slaves in Egypt. God called them His people, and by a miraculous hand, he saved them out from under the burden of Pharaoh’s whip. He brought them out of Egypt. By a mighty hand, he took them across the Red Sea. He led them to a mountain in the wilderness. They heard the Word of God, and they received the Law from God at the mountain. There in the wilderness, without any sowing, without any reaping, and without laying up anything into storehouses or barns, God fed his people bread from heaven called manna, and he satisfied their hunger for meat with quail.

In today’s Gospel reading in the Book of Mark, and in its parallel in the Book of Matthew, we see Jesus Himself to be Yahweh, Jesus Himself to be the Creator, Jesus Himself to be God, as He Himself recreates the Exodus. He did not multiply the loaves and the fishes in the city. He called them out from their spiritual oppressors — the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the false teachers in Israel — just as Israel had been called out from under its pagan oppressors in Egypt.

So now, [the city] having spiritually become Egypt and Sodom, God calls his people out of the city once more and into the wilderness. We are told in the same Gospel reading in the Book of Matthew that Jesus sat on a mountain. Just as God had called His people out of Egypt to the wilderness, to Mount Sinai, now Jesus calls His people out of the city into the wilderness to a mountain. For three days, they have followed Him. They have heard His Word. They have heard His teaching. Just as the Israelites had heard the Word of God from Mount Sinai and had received the Law, so now the people who have come out of the city into the wilderness to the mountain have received the teaching of Christ who is Yahweh in the flesh.

But having left everything behind, having been freed from this pagan spiritual oppression, having entered the peace and tranquility of the wilderness — which is still untouched by the sinful hands of man — having heard the voice of God, having sought the Kingdom of Heaven first, God, still knowing the physical needs of man, takes care of these needs. 3500 years ago, out in the wilderness, God fed His people with bread from heaven, with manna, and with quail. In this recreation of the Exodus, these people neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and Jesus multiplies the bread, and He multiplies the meat — the fish — so that those who have sought Him first would also have every physical need taken care of.

He breaks the bread, and what began as only seven loaves fills every belly of over 4,000 people. Then seven baskets full are picked up afterwards. So the leftovers are more than they even started with. The fish are also divided among everyone, and there is more left over than they started with. He has called His people out of the city into the wilderness to learn from the Word of God on a mountain, and to take care of their physical needs, he miraculously provides bread from heaven and meat from heaven. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus is the Creator. Jesus is the God of Israel.

These miracles performed by Him encourage us. They set us in appropriate awe of who He is. But in some cases, we are also left with a little question mark:

“Yes, He is God. Yes, He can do this. Yes, He did do this! But will He take care of me like He took care of them? If I am hungry, will He feed me? If I am in need, will He meet my needs? Or was this just a big song and dance so that Charlton Heston could eventually make a movie about it? Was this just an impressive miracle so that it could end up in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew?”

Jesus makes a promise to all of us in his Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Oh ye of little faith! God feeds the birds of the air. They don’t sow. They don’t reap. Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them, and you are of more value than many sparrows. Look at the flowers of the field. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. How much more will He clothe you, oh you of little faith? Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things – food, water, shelter, clothing – all these things will be added unto you” (cf. Matthew 6:26, 28, 33). Jesus promises this to us.

Jesus does not promise that if you seek after a paycheck, and food, and water, and clothing, and shelter, and paying your mortgage, and shopping at the grocery store, and cooking meals, and doing all of these “necessities of life,” and then try to shove in a little prayer and worship here if you have time . . . Jesus doesn’t promise that if you do that, that your needs will be met. People in the world then, and people in the world now, do starve. People do go thirsty. People do get sick. People do go homeless. Jesus does not promise that if you seek after the things of the world with your whole heart and then throw a few crumbs to Christ, show up for an hour on Sunday, pray now and then, drop a dollar in the offering plate . . . Jesus doesn’t promise that that will result in your needs being met.

Jesus promises that if you put the kingdom of Christ first, then God will add all of these other things to you. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

God did not send down manna in Egypt. He sent it in the wilderness. That means if you want the manna, first you have to get out of Egypt. Are we willing to get out of Egypt? After all, they have onions there; they have garlic. They’ve got all the best restaurants. They’ve got all the best music. They’ve got all the best entertainment. You know  — “Egypt’s kind of nice. It’s the cosmopolitan place to be. It’s New York. It’s Chicago. It’s Hollywood.” — Before you can get to the mountain in the wilderness where God speaks, you have to get out of Egypt.

Jesus didn’t multiply the loaves and the fishes in Jerusalem, or in Capernaum, or in Decapolis. He went into the wilderness on the mountain, and the only people who got to see and participate in that miracle were those who left the city, went into the wilderness, climbed a mountain, and faithfully were there for three days to hear the Word of God.

If we want to expect Christ to meet our needs this miraculously, we need to get out of Egypt. We need to dedicate ourselves to learning the things of God. Jesus said, “they have now been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” There were many other hungry and homeless people on earth that day. The only ones He fed were those who had been with Him.

You see, it’s not enough to leave Egypt. It’s not enough to go into the wilderness. If you left Egypt and went into the wilderness and just pitched your own tent to camp out, you’re on your own! You need to find the mountain He’s on. You need to be with Him. You need to be seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Before they received this blessing from Christ, they left the city. They climbed the mountain. They were with Him, learning from Him, seeking to learn what He had to speak. And then, Jesus didn’t just call down bread to fall from heaven. Jesus didn’t do what he could have done, and take one loaf and one fish and multiply it for everybody. He had the ability. He didn’t say, “You keep six of your loaves; I just need one. You keep all these fish, except give Me one of them, and I am going to do this magic trick.” No. He required it all.

It doesn’t matter whether you come to Him with five loaves and a few fish. It doesn’t matter if you come to Him with seven loaves and a few small fish. He’s going to ask for it all. It’s not that the number five was so significant, or that the number seven was so significant. The point in both cases was that they had to give up everything to Him. He could take one loaf and multiply it for everybody, but He’s not going to.

He could take a half-way commitment from you, and do something amazing. But you know what? I think He’s not going to. Whatever you have, however little — however insignificant — however insufficient for the multitudes, don’t hold back anything, but give it all over to Him. For only when you give 100% does He take it, and break it, and multiply it so that He may have compassion on all and bring a blessing to everybody.

It is also important to notice in this case that when He miraculously met their needs, they were NEEDS. They were actual needs. See, there is another place that you read in the Gospels that His apostles were walking with Him. He had been talking to them. They had been learning from Him, and they were hungry, and He performed no miracle. He performed no miracle because there was grain right there. They were hungry, so they went and started picking the grains of wheat off the plants and eating the kernels of grain right there. (Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23)

The people out here in the wilderness are not people who had a restaurant they could go to to get fed. They didn’t have their refrigerators and their pantries full. They were not near fields at harvest time where they could even go glean what grain was left after the harvesters had been through the field. They truly were in a state of need. In all too many cases, we pray for God to miraculously supply our needs when, in truth, we’re just asking God to enable our laziness. We’re hungry, not because there’s no food, but because we don’t want to go through the effort of harvesting. We have nothing to harvest, because we didn’t want to go to the effort of planting. We didn’t plant, because we didn’t want to go to the effort of plowing.

When the food was right there at there at their hands, Jesus didn’t call down bread from heaven. Jesus told the apostles, “pick some grain.” But when it is a true need, when you are truly doing all that He says to do — when you are truly seeking first the kingdom of heaven — and because of His command (not because of your laziness, not because of your foolishness, but because of His command), you’re out in the wilderness, and having heard His Word for three days, you look around and there is nothing for you to eat, there is no food for you to harvest; you’re going hungry. . . When you truly are following Him, and you truly find yourself in need, He truly will meet your need.

This story is a replay of the Exodus. If we are going to seek the blessing of God, then we too need to be willing to leave the city, turn our backs on Egypt, turn our backs on the false teachers, turn our backs on all the comforts and conveniences of civilization. We need to be willing to follow Christ into the wilderness. We need to be willing to seek first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness. We need to be with Him wherever He is. We need to be diligently, consistently, daily learning from His Word. We need to be willing to work to meet our own needs in whatever ways that He provides for us. When going through all of that, if we still find ourselves in actual need, we can trust that He will meet our needs. And even then, in that case, we need to expect that He is going to ask us to give Him all that we have so that He can bless it and multiply it. Just like with the loaves and the fishes, the leftovers after that blessing — the leftovers after that meal — will be even more than you gave Him in the first place.

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


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 3, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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



Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Mark 2:23-28, Mark 8:1-9, Matthew 12:1-8, Matthew 15:32-39, Matthew 6:25-34, Numbers 11:4-6, Orthodox Homilies | 1 Comment