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


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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



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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 Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 7:24, Matthew 7:15-21, Matthew 7:24-28 | 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.


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.



Posted in 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 | Leave a comment

Required to Reconcile

MP3 Audio: WS330368_Dn-Joseph_Required-to-Reconcile.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.


Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:20-26

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

Those of you who are parents, have you ever had a day when each of your children gave you a hug in the morning and said, “I love you,” but then they proceeded to fight with each other? There is nothing that so grieves the heart of a father as having children who are at odds with one another. A good father, a good mother, desires peace in the family and peace in the home.

Likewise, there is nothing that so grieves our Heavenly Father’s heart as having children who fight with one another. God knows that sibling rivalry is what led to the very first murder, when out of envy, Cain killed his brother Abel. And throughout history, every murder, every war, and every act of violence has happened for the same reason: as God’s children, we are not loving one another and reconciling with one another.

To harbor anger in a relationship is to harbor the seed of murder. That is why Jesus includes His command for reconciliation in His passage where he speaks about murder. If lust is equivalent to adultery, then illicit anger is equivalent to murder. Whether you are the one who did wrong, or whether you are the one who has been wronged, Jesus says it is your responsibility to urgently seek reconciliation with your brother.

We all know that Scripture says this. Yet, so often, this command is not obeyed. Why is that? What reasons do people give for not obeying this clear command of Christ?


Some people simply respond by saying,

“I don’t like confrontation. It makes me uncomfortable.”

Yet God commands it! Saying, “I don’t like confrontation” is comparable to saying, “I don’t like honesty. I don’t like chastity. I don’t like being faithful to my wife.” Christians obey Christ. They do not determine the course of action based on what they don’t like.


Another reason people give for not obeying Christ is:

“It won’t work. You don’t know my family like I know my family. You don’t know my friends like I know my friends. Jesus gave a good command here, but in this case, I already know it won’t work. So I won’t do it.”

God knows all things, and He commands you to do it. You know few things and have determined that his commands don’t work?

I remember one time I sat down to talk with someone about something that they had against me. I suspected ahead of time that it might not go very well. Indeed, much of the conversation did not go well. I sat and listened as they got angry, raised their voice, accused me of doing horrible things, and even threatened to kick me out of their home. I did not respond in anger. I listened. I explained reasons why I was not guilty of doing the things they accused me of. Eventually, they cooled down. They said they were not upset with me, that everything was okay between us. They even promised to talk directly with me in the future if they were ever upset with me again.

Here’s the point: Even if you go into it thinking that it will not work out well, you may be wrong. You are not God, so you are not as good at predicting the future as you might think you are. Even if the person you confront responds with anger initially, everything still may work out well in the end. Even more importantly, you need to do what God commands you to do, regardless of the results. Christians do not base their actions on what they think will work. Christians base their actions on the commands of Christ.


Another reason people do not obey this command is probably not a reason that they will verbalize to you out loud, not something they will say. But inside, they will say,

“I don’t want to admit that I was wrong.”

You may realize that the other person has the right to be angry at you, because you are the one who is guilty of wrongdoing. But if you are unwilling to repent of your sin, and you are unwilling to ask your brother to forgive you, then how can you expect God to forgive you? If you are willing to repent of your sin, but you just can’t bring yourself to tell your brother that you were wrong, then pride is getting in the way.

There is nothing that repulses God more than pride. If you want to have a close relationship with Jesus, then you are going to have to humble yourself, not only before God, but also before your brother. Have the humility and the courage to look your brother or your sister in the face and say, “I was wrong.”

Delayed Obedience

“I don’t like confrontation” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not base their actions on what they like. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

“It won’t work” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not base their actions on predicted results. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

“I don’t want to admit I was wrong” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not avoid repentance, and followers of Christ do not harbor pride. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

After considering all this, we may finally admit,

“Yes, I need to sit down and talk to that person and seek reconciliation. I just don’t have time for it right now. In a few weeks, when the time is right, then I’ll do it.”

This is where we need to remember that delayed obedience is disobedience. If Dad tells you to clean your room, you are not being obedient if you say, “I’ll do it later.”

To be obedient to God, you must not only do what He tells you. You must also do it when He tells you. In regard to reconciliation, Jesus says it is extremely urgent. You must do it now. You must do it immediately.

Prior to the death and resurrection of Christ, people worshiped God with animal sacrifices. They’d bring their sacrifice to the altar, confess their sins in the presence of the priest, and then a blood sacrifice would be offered to God. This pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus said that reconciliation was so urgent that you should actually interrupt your worship of God just to make sure your brother doesn’t have anything against you.

Jesus did not say, “go ahead and offer your sacrifice, and then reconcile with your brother as soon as it is convenient for you.” Instead, Jesus said to leave your gift at the altar, go reconcile with your brother, and then return to the altar to complete your sacrifice to God. The point here is that God will not accept your worship if you are at odds with your brother, and you are refusing to reconcile.

After the death and resurrection of Christ, we have the Eucharist. We feast upon the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. The Eucharist has taken the place of the Old Testament blood sacrifices. If reconciliation with your brother was a requirement in order for God to accept your animal sacrifices, then how much more reconciliation is a requirement now, in order for God to welcome you to His table to take the Eucharist? Jesus is teaching us that reconciliation is so urgent that we must do that first, before we take the Eucharist.

Imagine a church community where every person is so diligently seeking reconciliation, that even when the smallest tensions arise in relationships, there are multiple house visits and phone calls throughout the week as each and every person urgently rushes to make sure all of their relationships are entirely at peace, before they dare to partake of the Eucharist on Sunday morning. This is not some far-off ideal. This is not just a church that would be nice to have. This is the only kind of church that is being faithful to Christ!

If you are a Christian, then being content with broken relationships is not an option. If you claim to follow Christ, then you must seek reconciliation with your brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what God requires. To avoid reconciliation is to avoid being a Christian.

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, July 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.


Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 5:21-26, Reconciliation, Spiritual Living | Leave a comment

Commanded to be in Unity

MP3 Audio: WS330367_Dn-Joseph_Commanded-to-be-in-Unity.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.


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

Our Epistle reading for today starts with a command: “Dearly beloved, be ye all of one mind” (cf. 1 Peter 3:8). This is not a suggestion. Saint [Peter] is not saying that this is something that would be nice to have theoretically. It’s a command! He says, “Do this. Be ye all of one mind.”

What does it mean to be of one mind? It means that you think the same way; you reason the same way; you understand in the same way. Being of one mind is the opposite of division, of sectarianism, of individualism. To have a whole group of people be of one mind is to say, “I need to conform to the truth.” It’s not to say that the truth needs to conform to me.

This is not the only place in Scripture that we see this requirement, this command given to us by God. It is throughout Scripture. We see it in today’s Epistle [in 1 Peter 3:8].

  • 1 Peter 3:8: “finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous”
  • Romans 15:5-6: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
    — He doesn’t say “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with many different ideas, many different minds, many different mouths.” He says to do it with one mouth and one mind.
    2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you”
  • Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”
  • Philippians 2:2: “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”
  • Ephesians 4:4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism”
    — There are not many bodies of Christ; there is only one. There are not many Lords; there is only One. There are not many Christian faiths; there is only one. There are not many different baptisms; there is one.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10: And as if all of that were not clear enough, Saint Paul really drives the point home in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Listen to this: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

This is the word of the Lord. This is the word of God. This is Scripture. They are not suggestions. They are commands. Unity of belief, unity of faith, even unity of thought and understanding and judgment, is actually a requirement from God.

So when we look out across this country today, and we see 30,000 different understandings, different faiths, different ways to understand God, and Christ, and the Scriptures, and the faith, when we see people radically disagreeing with each other over how baptisms should be done, radically disagreeing with each other over how sins are forgiven, how salvation is obtained, whether the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ or merely symbolic. . . We have the Baptists arguing with the Presbyterians, arguing with the Lutherans, arguing with the Anglicans, arguing with the Catholics, arguing with the Orthodox. This is division. This is sectarianism, and it is direct disobedience to what has been commanded in Scripture.

God never left the option open to us to come up with our own ideas for what the Christian faith is supposed to look like. He didn’t leave it up to us. He taught the Twelve Apostles the same doctrine. He gave them the same practices. He started one Church, not 30,000 different churches. And throughout Scripture, as we have just read, over and over and over, we are commanded by the Word of God to be of one mind, to think the same way, to believe the same things, to speak the same way, to understand the same way.

There is no point at anywhere in the Bible that you can turn, where Jesus or any of the Apostles say, “Hey, do whatever is most comfortable for you. Believe whatever you want to believe, and God will be with you.” That’s not biblical. That’s not scriptural. Scripture says that if we are to be Christians, then we are all to be of one mind.

Now, according to the Word of God, if everyone in the Church is supposed to think and believe the same, that means everyone — including me, and including you — has to change. Thus, we see two radically different versions: one on this side, and one on this side. Two versions of thinking:

One [says], “When you get a church going, what you need to do is bring everybody in, realize that they’re from different backgrounds, realize that they have different ideas, different interpretations, different understandings, and just don’t worry about all that. We just get together for fellowship, to be kind and nice to one another, to eat together, to be friendly, to go quilting together, to go hunting together, to play basketball together. We enjoy our face-to-face time. We enjoy our fellowship. We enjoy worshiping together. Oh, but everybody is still going to believe differently, because everybody has different ideas; everybody thinks differently.”

Then you have what Scripture says, where everybody is supposed to be of one mind, one doctrine, one faith, one belief. Unity — no division whatsoever!

To stay this way, like some churches think that we should do, where everybody just has different beliefs, different faiths, different interpretations: that’s disobedience to God’s Word. To leave a congregation or to leave a church in that state is to say, “Division is fine; difference of thought is fine; different beliefs are fine. It doesn’t really matter.”

Scripture says, “Be of one mind; think the same things; speak the same things. Let there be no divisions among you.” And the only way that you’re going to get from here [division] to here [unity] is for everybody to change, because naturally, when you bring 20 or 30 or 50 or 500 people into a single room, are they all unified? Do they all think exactly the same things about baptism, and the Eucharist, and salvation, and family life, and marriage, and child-raising? No! The only way that we are going to come to this unity of belief — this unity of faith that is commanded by God — is for every single one of us to be willing to change.

It is not a club where everyone hangs out and enjoys each other’s company while continuing to believe whatever they individually want to believe. Instead, each one of us needs to be challenged to repent so that our beliefs and thinking come into agreement with what the Church has historically taught on all things.

How are we not supposed to do this?

Personality Cult

We are not a personality cult. You should never, ever just say, “Here’s what I think, and here’s what I do, because we should do whatever the preacher says.” That is how cults get started. That’s where get the Jehovah’s Witness. That’s where we get Christian Science. That’s where we get Mormonism. There are many, many more examples that I could give. When you allow one person to stand up in front of you, and you simply [say], “I’m just going to do whatever the leader says. I’m just going to think whatever the preacher thinks. . . .”

That’s not how we do this, because he himself may be wrong on some things. Indeed, if we are all to be of one mind, that means that even the preacher needs to be humble enough to repent, humble enough to change his mind and bring his own mind into conformity with the truth. That means I don’t get off the hook; you don’t get off the hook. Every single one of us is challenged and required by God to be humble enough to change your mind and to repent.

Partial Agreement

We are also not supposed to think alike in the sense of the “least common denominator.” “Well, we may disagree on 98% of things, but at least we agree on two or three basics. I mean, you know, Jesus is God; the Bible is God’s Word; and Jesus is the only way to heaven. We have perfect unity on those three things. Isn’t that great?”

Paul did not say, “be of one mind on three basic things.” The Word of God does not say, “be perfectly in agreement and thinking on two or three basic things.”

What does it say in Scripture?

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He didn’t just say “no divisions on the basics.” He says “no divisions on anything.”
” . . . that there be no divisions among you but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

That is what Scripture says. As far-out as that seems, as unattainable as that may sound at first, that is what Scripture requires. That is the goal that we work towards.

So how do we do this? If you can’t just listen to me and do whatever I say, then what do we do? Scripture gives this high and lofty command. It gives this command over and over and over. How do we fulfill it? How do we do what God requires of us?

Look at Scripture

One of the things that we do is that we look at Scripture. But there are two different ways to look at it:

Interpret for Yourself?

You can take all of your own backgrounds, and prejudices, and ideas, and you can sit in a corner by yourself with the Bible and not pay attention to anybody else but just read the Bible for yourself and come to conclusions. Then Betty can do the same, and I can do the same, and Jon can do the same. If all of us in this room do that, we’ll come up with thirty different interpretations of what the Word of God says. Just reading the Bible for yourself, setting yourself up as the interpreter of Scripture, is how we got into the mess in the first place. That’s how we ended up with the divisions between Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians. So that can’t be the correct route.

Interpret through the Church.

The way we must read Scripture and interpret it must be in line and in agreement with how the Church historically has interpreted Scripture, even before these divisions took place. That means that you go back and you say, “In the first thousand years of the Church, before any of these divisions existed, how did the Church interpret Scripture?”

In the first thousand years of the Church, did the Church interpret baptism as being efficacious? Yes. Did the Church interpret Scripture as saying that baptism should be given, not only to adults, but also to infants? Yes.

This is how we do it on every doctrine: We read Scripture. We study Scripture. But we make sure that we are seeking Scripture as it in interpreted historically by the Church – not just in our own minds when we are reading it by ourselves, but reading Scripture in line with how the Church has historically interpreted it.

Ecumenical Councils

There are also seven Ecumenical Councils. It’s not only in the fourth century that a group of godly men got together, and the Holy Spirit led them to say, “Okay, which books belong in the New Testament, and which books do not? Which books belong in the Bible, and which books do not belong in Scripture?” But the Holy Spirit also, during that same period of time, drew holy men of God together into what are called the “Ecumenical Councils.”

In the first two Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople I, we receive a clear articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. If you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, you can thank the men at the first two Ecumenical Councils. If you believe the Nicene Creed, you can thank the men full of the Holy Ghost at the first two Ecumenical Councils.

But there are not only two. There were seven of them, and all seven were centered around “who is Jesus Christ?” and “how do we receive Salvation through Jesus Christ?”. The first two councils focused on His deity, putting down the Arians, putting down this blasphemous idea that Jesus is not God, lifting Him up as the second Person of the Trinity, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father.

The first two councils focused on his deity, and then the next five councils focused on different aspects of Christ’s humanity — that Jesus is one person, not two; that Jesus has two natures, not one. He has a divine nature and a human nature. He’s fully God, and He’s fully man. He has two wills: a human will and a divine will. Then finally, in the Seventh Council: if you are human, then you have a physical appearance; and if you have a physical appearance, then your image can be painted. To say that we cannot or should not paint icons, have images of Jesus Christ, is tantamount to denying His full humanity.

The first two Ecumenical Councils focused on the deity of Christ. The next five Ecumenical Councils focused on the humanity of Christ. They directly affect our doctrine in a number of ways. There are multiple doctrines in which we can go back to these seven Councils and say, “Here’s what we decided.” For example, in the Third Ecumenical Council, Mary is called the Mother of God. This wasn’t even intended to be an exaltation for Mary.

Calling Mary the Mother of God is a protection of the deity of Christ, because Who was born of Mary? Jesus. Well, is He God or not? If she is not the Mother of God, then Jesus is not God. You cannot fully believe in the deity of Christ if you’re not willing to call His Mother the “Mother of God.”

Now, does that mean that she is pre-existent and that she gave birth to God the Father? Of course not! Calling Mary the Theotokos, calling her the Mother of God, simply means that the Person she gave birth to in Bethlehem on that first Christmas is God. When you call her the Mother of God, you are making a statement about who her Son is.

In the Fifth Ecumenical Council, she is called the Ever-Virgin Mary. She was a virgin both before and after giving birth to Christ.

In the Seventh Council, there is an anathema given to iconoclasts, to anybody who says, “No! Absolutely no icons, no paintings. We don’t need any of that.”


We look at Scripture the way it has been interpreted by the historic Church. We look at the seven Ecumenical Councils through which the Holy Spirit has spoken to His Church. We also look at the writings of the early Church Fathers.

Now, who are the early Church Fathers? These are simply early Christians who were faithful to Christ and followed the teachings of the Apostles. Examples would be: Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was ordained to the priesthood by Saint Peter the Apostle himself. There’s Saint Polycarp. He was a disciple of John the Apostle. Honestly, who are you going to trust more: preachers who knew the apostles face to face, or some random guy when you turn on the TV? As for me, as for this church, we will trust the guys who knew the apostles and their disciples — those first few hundred years of faithful Christians who were so near in time to the apostles that they faithfully kept what had been taught.

An example of this would be a book that was written about the year 120 AD, called the Didache, “The Teachings.” You look throughout Scripture, and you find that Christians are commanded to fast. We even see the indication in Scripture that the example set in the early days was fasting twice a week. But search the whole Bible, and you will never find out which days it’s supposed to be. Do we fast on Monday and Tuesday? Do we fast on Saturday and Wednesday? If you read the Didache, in the year 120 — written just a few years after the passing of the apostles — it explicitly says that our fasting every week is to be on Wednesday and Friday. There are numerous other early Church Fathers that write the same thing.

So we know from Scripture that we should fast. We assume it should be twice a week. But it is from the writings of the early Church Fathers and through the traditions of the Church that we learn which days of the week. It’s Wednesday and Friday.


We are also brought into a conformity of belief in the truth by looking at the historic liturgies of the Church. The Holy Spirit speaks through His Church in Scripture, in the Councils, in the writings of the Fathers, and in the liturgies that we use every week to worship God. As one example of this: What do we believe about the Eucharist? Well, you can go to Scripture and see that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s clearly set forth. But you can also go to the liturgy.

In almost every Orthodox liturgy that is used on Sunday mornings throughout the world, there is this prayer: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess . . .”[1] Do you remember the rest of it? In this prayer, we confess that this is “truly [Christ’s] own precious Body” and that “this is truly [Christ’s] own precious Blood.” We confess that in our prayer with our mouth every Sunday before we come to take the Eucharist. This is the Body and Blood of Christ.

It’s not only in Scripture; it’s not only in the writings of the Church Fathers; but it’s also in our liturgies.

Ancient Hymnography

We can also look at the ancient hymnography of the Church — the hymns, the songs that the saints of old have written and that have been sung for hundreds of years in the liturgies of the Church.

This is one example: A few weeks ago, I preached on the Ascension of Christ, when Christ Ascended into Heaven. Remember, I told you that for the thirty years prior to that, the Father and the Spirit were not twiddling Their thumbs up in Heaven just waiting for the Son to get back home. No, the Trinity was never separated. As God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were always together in Heaven. Even when Jesus became Incarnate and walked on the earth, the Son of God was not absent from Heaven; He didn’t leave Heaven. At the Ascension, it was not a return of the Son of God to Heaven. At the Ascension, as deity, He was already in Heaven, but His human body was on earth. What happened at the Ascension was that his human body, his humanity, was taken up into Heaven.

I didn’t just make that up. One of the main sources I went to for understanding this and talking about it were some of the ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church, which explicitly say this: that the Son was not absent from Heaven; but that it was in His humanity, His human nature, His human body, His human will, His human mind, His human soul — the humanity of Jesus was caught up into Heaven at the Ascension. This is something we learn doctrinally from the very hymnography of our Church.


We are also brought to a oneness of faith, a oneness of mind, and a oneness of understanding of the truth through the icons — the historic iconography that has been used throughout the history of the Orthodox Church.

Just as one example, think of the Harrowing of Hell. After Good Friday but before Easter Sunday, before Pascha, on Holy Saturday, Jesus was in Hades preaching to the spirits in prison. Ultimately, He conquered death, and hell, and the grave, and there are many people who were in Hades that he took with him out of Hades as he conquered hell, and many people of old, trusting in Christ, went to be in joy in Paradise.

In the icon of the Resurrection, there is a painting of Jesus Christ clothed in shining white, standing above the broken gates of hell, utterly conquering death. With one hand, he is pulling Adam up out of the pit. With the other hand, he is pulling Eve up out of the pit. This isn’t just a pretty picture. This is our faith! This is what we all, in unity, believe.

God commands us to be of one mind. He commands us to have one faith. The way that He does this is to give us the Scriptures interpreted historically by the Church. He gives us the seven Ecumenical Councils. He gives us the writings of the Church Fathers. He gives us the liturgies of the Church, the ancient hymnography of the Church, and the historic iconography of the Church. That is why you can go to Orthodox Church after Orthodox Church across the world and find people who are of one mind, who believe one thing.

Now, some people would say, “This all sounds very good, but if you’re looking at the historic teachings of the Church about Scripture, you’re just looking at the teachings of men. If you look at the seven Ecumenical Councils, they’re impressive, but those are just the teachings of men, and we know men are fallible. Yes, it’s wonderful that you have all these writings of the early Church Fathers, but after all, they were just men. The liturgies of the church, those were written by fallen men. The hymns of the Church were written by men, and the icons were painted by men. So how can we really trust any of it?” They try to take the high ground by saying, “All I’m going to trust in is the Word of God. I don’t want the words of men. All I want is the Word of God.”

So I invite you on a little experiment. Get your Bible out, and read it from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation. As you go through the Bible, I want you to keep a big notebook, and I want you to write down everything that was written by God. I mean, where did God, with His own hand, actually write anything?

I only know of two places: One was with the Ten Commandments. The finger of God wrote in the stone, and the children of Israel received the Ten Commandments. Okay, that counts. God wrote that for sure. He sure did! Then in Daniel chapter five, at Belshazzar’s feast, when he was committing idolatry, lewd acts, and blaspheming God, this disembodied hand appears in the wall and writes, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”[2] That very night, his life was taken from him, and he died, and the kingdom passed to someone else. I’ll count that. God wrote that.

You may say, “But the rest of it is God’s Word, too! I mean, there’s a lot of things that Jesus said.” That’s true. Jesus said a lot of things, but He didn’t write them down. Look throughout all of Scripture and you will not find any case in which Jesus wrote something, except when he wrote in the sand, and we don’t even know what he wrote.

So there is the second category: Every time that God said something, but somebody else wrote it down, we’ll put that in a different category. God didn’t write this, but God did say it, and somebody else wrote it down, so we’ll count that. Okay. It will be sort of like a red letter Bible. Go to the Sermon on the Mount where somebody is taking a transcription of what Jesus is saying.

Well, the first notebook was very, very thin. There are very few things which God Himself wrote with His very own hand. This second notebook is going to be a little thicker. It’s going to include all the things that God Himself said that somebody else was writing down.

But by far, the thickest notebook is going to be the third one: where somebody else was talking, and somebody else was writing. Read through most of the New Testament. Read the Epistles of Paul. Read large portions of the Book of Revelation. Read large portions of the Gospels. In much of that, it is not God talking; it’s not Jesus talking; but it’s His followers. It’s his apostles. It’s men! Fallen, sinful men!

Then you say,

“Wait a minute! That’s still the Word of God! Scripture is still trustworthy. It’s still the Word of God.”

And I say,

“How is it the Word of God? God didn’t say it. God didn’t write it with His own hand. How is it the Word of God?”

Then you say,

“Well, those men were filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, they may have been sinful, fallen men, but they were full of the Holy Spirit; and when they were speaking, when they were writing, God made sure that they said the right thing.”

And I say,

“I rest my case.”

That’s exactly how it works. A group of men wrote the books of the Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to write it correctly. That’s why we believe it’s the inspired Word of God. A group of men put the books of the Bible together so that we would have a Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to do it correctly. That’s why we trust in the Bible. And a group of men met together in each of the seven Ecumenical Councils. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to come to correct conclusions. If you can trust in the majority of the Scriptures because you believe that the Holy Spirit is able to keep fallen men from speaking error or writing error, then we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead people into truth under other circumstances too — such as the compilation of Scripture or the seven Ecumenical Councils.

In Scripture, God commands us to be of one mind in unity of faith with no divisions among ourselves. We are all commanded to believe and teach the same things. We cannot fulfill this command as long as we hold on to personal pride. The only way we can come to a unity of belief is by humbly submitting to what Christ has taught through His Church for the past 2,000 years.

In this country, it is common for people to say, “I’m looking for a church that believes the same way I do.” In other words, they are saying, “I am right, and for a church to be right, that church has to agree with me.” That is pride.

What should we do? What we should do is join the Orthodox Church, and then ask the Church, “What do I need to believe?” In other words, the Church is right, and we are the humble students who are coming to learn. This is the humble path.

1 Corinthians 1:10:

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

1 Peter 3:8:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind”

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


[1] A prayer of Saint John Chrysostom before receiving Holy Communion. Text available here: etc.

[2] Daniel 5:25, translated thus in Daniel 5:26-28 (KJV):
MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.

Posted in 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Ephesians 4:4-5, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:2, Romans 15:5-6 | Leave a comment

Did Jesus Lie?

MP3 Audio: WS330365_Dn-Joseph_Did-Jesus-Lie.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.


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

“Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:39-40).

I’d like to read a prophesy from the Book of Isaiah which has a very important part throughout the Gospel of Luke. In Isaiah 61:2, it says:

“the spirit of the Lord is upon Me because of which He anointed Me. He sent Me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

[This is] a prophesy of the Messiah, a prophecy of Jesus Christ. And centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it was prophesied by Isaiah that Jesus would preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, preach liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. In the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus Himself reads this prophesy from the Book of Isaiah, and He says that it is a prophesy of He Himself:

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

Jesus quotes Isaiah’s prophesy and says that He Himself is the fulfillment of that prophesy. Then, throughout the rest of the Gospel of Luke, whenever Jesus heals blind men, He demonstrates that He is the fulfillment of that prophesy.

In the 7th chapter of Luke, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus about His identity. They say, “Are You the coming one, or do we look for another?” They weren’t asking if Jesus is an amazing person. He could have proven that with just any old miracle. They were specifically asking whether Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophesies in Scripture. In the same hour that they asked this question, Luke 7:21 says that Jesus “cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Luke 7:21-23).

Just like Jesus had done in the synagogue earlier in the Book of Luke, Jesus again points back to Isaiah’s prophesy which said that the coming Messiah would preach the gospel to the poor and give recovery of sight to the blind. In response to the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus refers to Isaiah’s prophesy and demonstrates the prophesy’s fulfillment by healing blind men before their very eyes.

In the 18th chapter of Luke, as Jesus came near Jericho, there was a blind beggar by the side of the road who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38) Jesus again heals the blind, demonstrating that He Himself is the fulfillment of the messianic prophesy in Isaiah.

In Luke 14, Jesus gives a parable of the kingdom of Heaven where “the poor, the maimed, the lame, [and] the blind” are invited to the great feast. Of course, their invitation to the kingdom implies their ultimate healing. Jesus doesn’t invite the blind into His kingdom so that they can stay blind. He invites them into His kingdom so that they can receive their sight.

There is one more place in the Book of Luke where Jesus discusses blindness. That is in today’s passage from the 6th chapter of Luke. Jesus says blindness is not only a physical problem, but also a spiritual problem. Just as physical blindness can make one fall into a ditch, spiritual blindness can make one fall into heresy and damnation:

“And He spoke a parable unto them: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher'” (Luke 6:39-40).

He’s not only speaking of physical blindness here, but of spiritual blindness. Just as Ron here would not hire a blind man to be his guide, physically, to take him around town, so none of us should look to spiritually blind teachers to guide us around.

Imagine that you are blind. Multiple people are vying to be your teachers. How do you figure out which teachers are blind and which teachers can see? Get each teacher alone in a room and try some simple tests. Hold up a certain number of fingers on your hand, and ask them how many you’re holding up. Get a booklet that you’re already very familiar with, and ask them to read it for you. If you were blind, and a person failed simple tests like these, would you accept that person as your teacher? Of course not! Then you would have the blind leading the blind and both of you would fall into the ditch.

Now, in the world of Christianity today, there are tens of thousands of teachers, and they’re all saying different things. Take ten different Christian teachers, and you’ll get ten different stories about who God is, how you should worship Him, what salvation is, and how you can be saved. You don’t want your teachers to be spiritually blind. They may be very charming, sincere people, and they may speak with great confidence, but if they are blind, they are still going to lead you into the ditch.

How can you weed out the blind teachers? How can you find a teacher that can actually see? How can you stay out of the ditch?

I propose a simple test. Let us check the accuracy of the Bibles that they use. If you were faced with 100 different Bible teachers, you might become frustrated and confused trying to figure out which teachers are trustworthy and which teachers are just blind guides. But suppose that these teachers all used different versions of the Bible. You’d begin to look at them carefully, and 99 of these Bibles have verses in them which say, “Jesus is a liar.” Only one Bible says that you can trust what Jesus says. Would that help you narrow down the playing field?

Would you trust any teacher who uses a false Bible, or would you rather put your trust in the one solitary teacher who has an accurate copy of the Scriptures? In Luke chapter 4, Jesus talks about healing the blind, and He quotes from the 61st chapter of Isaiah. We know that Jesus is trustworthy. We can trust that he quoted Isaiah accurately. But when we review various versions of the Bible, are they in agreement with what Jesus said? Or are there certain copies of Scripture that would make Jesus out to be a liar?

Let’s compare Isaiah 61 in various translations of the Bible:

The King James Version [is] the most popular version ever printed in the English language. Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Did you notice something missing? It says nothing at all about healing the blind. It’s absent. It’s not in the prophecy. Yet when you turn to Luke chapter four in the same King James Bible, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, He says the prophesy does predict that the Messiah would heal the blind. Was Jesus lying? Was Jesus mistaken? Or do we have a false Bible on our hands?

The NIV [is] another very popular English translation of the Bible. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” That sounds very similar doesn’t it? Did you notice anything missing? In Isaiah 61:1-2 of the NIV, it says nothing about healing the blind. It’s absent! It’s missing! Yet, if you go to Luke chapter four in the same NIV Bible, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, it does prophesy that the Messiah would heal blind people.

When John the Baptist’s disciples came to ask Jesus for proof that He was the Messiah, what good would it do for Jesus to heal a blind man as fulfillment of a prophesy that didn’t even exist? There is something very strange going on here. We could look at numerous other Protestant translations of the Bible and find exactly the same problem. Isaiah’s prophesy in those Bibles says nothing about healing the blind. And yet in the New Testament, when Jesus quotes from Isaiah, He quotes Isaiah’s prophesy differently.

Now let’s turn to Isaiah 61:2 in the Orthodox Study Bible:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. He sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord.”

The book of Isaiah prophesies of Jesus Christ, telling us that one of His defining characteristics will be His ability to heal the blind. This prophesy is referred to again and again throughout the New Testament as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Yet, according to the King James Version, this prophesy is nowhere to be found in this passage from Isaiah. Likewise, according to the New International Version, Isaiah never prophesied this.

Was Jesus confused? Was the Son of God misquoting Scripture? Of course not! Jesus was not confused, and it would be silly to suggest that the Son of God would misquote the Scriptures which He Himself inspired. If Jesus reads a passage from the Book of Isaiah, then we can rest assured that He is providing an accurate quote from the Old Testament.

But if the words of Jesus are accurate, that means there are inaccuracies in the Book of Isaiah in both the King James Version and the New International Version, and a whole host of other protestant translations. Those versions of the Bible have tried to change the Word of God. Unanimously, every version of the New Testament agrees that the Orthodox Study Bible contains the correct reading from the Book of Isaiah.

There is more. . . .

In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 14. Yet when you check Psalm 14 in the King James Version and NIV, the full quotation is nowhere to be found in the Book of Psalms. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 4, yet the King James Version and NIV do not have this quotation. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. The book of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40 where the incarnation of Jesus Christ is prophesied. Yet in the King James and NIV, this prophesy is nowhere to be found. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In the Book of Acts, Deacon Stephen quotes from Genesis 46. Yet in the King James and NIV versions of Genesis, this quote cannot be found. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 53, but the King James Version and NIV versions of Isaiah read differently. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes from the tenth chapter of Isaiah, but the King James and NIV do not have this quotation. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right.

There are many, many other examples that can be given where people in the New Testament quote passages from the Old Testament, and the Orthodox Study Bible is the only Bible containing the correct Old Testament reading. So, who are the blind guides and who are the false teachers? If we accept the King James Version, the NIV, or any other mainstream Protestant version of the Bible, we would have to assume that the Apostle Paul was mistaken, Stephen was inaccurate, Peter was confused, and Jesus was lying. That is the logical result of accepting a Protestant copy of the Scriptures. But if we accept the Orthodox Study Bible, we are not faced with these difficulties.

When Saint Paul quotes from the Psalms, you can actually look in the book of Psalms and find what he was quoting. When Saint Peter quotes from Isaiah, you can read the Book of Isaiah and find the verse he was referring to. When Jesus Himself quotes from Scripture, you can read the passage He was quoting from, and it actually matches what Jesus says in the fourth chapter of Luke.

The Bibles are different from each other because they are translated from different sources. Historically, the Orthodox Church has always accepted the copy of Scripture which is known as the Septuagint, and the Orthodox Study Bible has been translated from this ancient source. Meanwhile, Protestants have consistently accepted the copy of Scripture which is known as the Masoretic Text. These two versions of Scripture do not agree with each other.

When Jesus and the Apostles quote Scripture in the New Testament, they quote from the Septuagint, and not from the Masoretic Text.

Fr. Joseph's booklet is now available in print.

Fr. Joseph’s booklet is now available!

So today, we are faced with thousands of Christian teachers, all of them competing for your allegiance. So many of them are nice, charming, sincere, and they display great amounts of confidence. Which teachers are you going to follow? Will you follow the teachers who only use false Bibles, or will you follow teachers who recognize the accuracy of the Scriptures as they have been preserved for 2,000 years in the Orthodox Church?

“And [Jesus] spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”
(Luke 6:39-40)

When it comes to the Word of God, choose your teachers carefully.

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, July 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Isaiah 61, Luke 14:7-14, Luke 18:31-43, Luke 4:14-21, Luke 6:36-42, Luke 7:19-23, Masoretic Text, Septuagint | Leave a comment

St. Athanasius on the Psalms

From a letter written by St. Athanasius:

The Book of Psalms has a certain grace of its own. For in addition to the other things in which it enjoys fellowship with the other books of the Bible, it possesses this marvel – that it contains all the emotions of each soul and their various changes. Thus, through hearing, it teaches us not only not to disregard passion, but also how to heal passion through speaking and acting.

There is also this astonishing thing in the Psalms. After the prophecies about the Saviour and the nations, he who recites the Psalms is uttering the rest as his own words, and each sings them as if they were written concerning him. And it seems to me that these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul. For in fact he who hears the cantor receives the song that is recited as being about him, and either, when he is convicted by his conscience, he will repent, or hearing of the hope that resides in God, and how this kind of grace exists for him, he exults and begins to give thanks to God. Therefore, when someone sings the third psalm, recognising his own tribulations, he considers the words in the psalm to be his own. And then when someone sings the fiftieth, he is speaking the proper words of his own repentance. If the point needs to be put more forcefully, let us say that the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtue and the truths of faith, while the Book of Psalms presents the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.

Such, then, is the help for mankind to be gained from the Book of Psalms. It is important not to pass over the question of why words of this kind are chanted with melodies. For some of the simple among us, although they believe indeed that the phrases are divinely inspired, imagine on account of the sweetness of sound that the psalms are sung for the sake of the ear’s delight alone. But this is not so. For Scripture did not just seek pleasant things; even these have been fashioned for the benefit of the soul. This is because it is fitting for Divine Scripture to praise God not in compressed speech alone, but also in the voice that is richly broadened.

Some things are said in close sequence; such as the Law and the Prophets and the histories, along with the New Testament. But on the other hand, some things are expressed more broadly, such as the psalms, odes, and songs, so that men will love God with their whole strength and power. Just as the harmony that unites flutes effects a single sound, so also, seeing that different movements appear in the soul, reason intends man to be neither discordant in himself, nor to be at variance with himself.

Reason intends the soul possessing the mind of Christ to use this as a leader, and by it to be a master of its passions. A man then becomes a stringed instrument and, devoting himself completely to the Spirit, obeys the mind of Christ, which acts like a plectrum in all his members and emotions, thus enabling him to serve the will of God. The harmonious singing of the Psalms is a figure and type of such order and tranquillity. For just as we discover the ideas of the soul and communicate them through the words we put forth, so also the Lord, wishing the melody of the words to be a symbol of the spiritual harmony in a soul, has ordered that the odes be chanted tunefully, and the Psalms recited with song.

St Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus, 10-12, 14, 27-29; CWS (1980) tr. Gregg.

Posted in LXX - Psalm 50, Psalm 3, Psalm 51, Psalms | Leave a comment

Taming the Tongue

MP3 Audio: WS330363_Dn-Joseph_Be-Sober-Be-Vigilant-(over-the-tongue).mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


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

In our Epistle reading today, we read a verse which is very familiar to us on a daily basis, for all of us who pray compline.

Be sober! Be vigilant! Because your adversary, the devil, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.

If you were just having some fun, having a camping trip with your family at a nearby lake — you don’t really watch out for lions around here, do you? — Because we’re in Illinois, we don’t have wild lions running around, as far as I know. So your guard is not up. Sure, you might see some wild squirrels, some deer, maybe even a skunk or two! But you really don’t worry a whole lot about running into wild animals that are going to come and kill you and your family, and eat you.

If you were going on that camping trip in Africa, how might you prepare differently? You might still go on the camping trip. You might still have a cookout. You might still have fun and enjoy fellowship with your family. But you would prepare just a little differently, wouldn’t you? You would make sure that if any lion comes anywhere near your tent, that you’re gonna be ready! You’re not gonna let your guard down. You’re not gonna walk away for even five minutes, if you know that a lion might come in and attack one of your children. If you know that there are lions around, you will be sober! You will be vigilant! You will be watchful, knowing that there are prowling lions out there, just waiting to devour you and your family.

It’s not the only place in Scripture, that Satan is called a lion. In Psalm 91, we read this prophecy of Christ and of all those who follow Him:

“Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder. The young lion, and the dragon, shalt thou trample under feet.”

Here we have one verse in Scripture that brings all these images together and calls the devil a lion, a snake, and a dragon. And it says that those who follow Christ will trample him under their feet. This is not just a battle for our physical lives. This is not just a battle for the lives of our children. This is a battle for their souls! This is a battle for eternity.

You see, when the devil prowls about seeking whom he may devour, he’s not merely seeking to kill your body. His goal is to drag you, your spouse, your children, and everybody else that he can, into Hell! So be sober, be vigilant, and don’t let that happen!

With that sort of sobriety in mind, I want you to imagine something very difficult, something devastating, something upsetting. But don’t just listen to my words; I want you to form a mental picture of this happening. Jesus comes and He talks to you. I want you to imagine that this is real. Jesus walks up and He talks to you, face to face, just like you’ve always dreamed of. You’ve looked forward to this day all your life, and finally, Jesus is standing right there. And He is talking to you face to face. Jesus looks at you and He says,

“For years, you have said that you love Me, and you have said that you are a Christian. You are in church every weekend. You tithe a tenth of all your income. You’re working hard to bring the rest of your family into the church. You pray twice a day. You study the Scriptures diligently! I just want to make sure you understand . . . your religion is worthless!”

How would it make you feel, emotionally? After all that you’ve said, after all that you’ve done, if Jesus himself looked you in the eyes, and said, “Your religion is worthless”? It cuts to the heart, doesn’t it? It would be a fearful, scary thing to hear from the lips of God.

Now, according to Scripture, religion can be a very good thing. The book of James tells us about a pure and undefiled religion which is pleasing to the Lord. So how much would it bother you if Jesus told you that your religion is worthless? If Jesus looked at everything you say and do, and then He told you that your religion was without any value, how devastated would you be? In James chapter 1, verse 26, we are warned of a very dangerous sin — a sin which is so vile, so wicked, and so destructive, that it can render your practice of Christianity to be without value. James 1:26 —

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

I didn’t write this. This is the Word of God. This is Scripture. “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

As it is written in Proverbs 18:21 —

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

You see, it’s not just killing, and stealing, and immorality, that we need to guard against and be vigilant against. Satan would love nothing more than for you to be living in chastity your entire life, to never kill anybody, to never hurt a fly, to be a fine upstanding citizen who goes to church every time the doors are open — and still to go to hell because you would not control your tongue.

Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, is a roaring lion who walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

What part of the lion’s body is it that devours you? It’s his mouth! I’ve never seen a lion devour anything, with anything other than his mouth. But this lion is unique. Instead of using his own mouth to devour you, he uses yours. By getting a hold of your tongue, the devil devours your soul, and destroys your family and your church in the process. We are going to look at a number of Scriptures in Proverbs, in James, in various places, where we see from the Word of God itself — from the Scriptures themselves — just how destructive the tongue is.

In Proverbs, we’re told that the tongue is destructive to friendships:

“A perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

“A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge, shall the just be delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9)

“Without wood, a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers, and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” (Proverbs 26:20-22)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father. And with it, we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:8-9)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath;
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
(Proverbs 15:1)

All of these are quotations directly from Scripture, telling us that if you want to destroy a friendship, you don’t have to steal one thing from them. You don’t have to hit them one time with your fist. All you have to do is open your mouth, and you can destroy a friendship.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to your brothers and sisters, whether in your family, or in your church family:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges them, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” (James 4:11)

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, for you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9)

According to Scripture, you don’t have to strike one of your brothers or sisters. You don’t have to steal anything from them. You don’t have to physically hurt them in any way. If you want to destroy your brothers and your sisters, all you have to do is open your mouth and speak evil of them.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to a marriage:

“A foolish child is a father’s ruin; and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” (Proverbs 19:13)

“Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.” (Proverbs 21:19)

“A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16)

You want to tear a marriage apart? You don’t have to commit adultery. You don’t have to squander all the money. If you want to rip your marriage apart, all you have to do is open your mouth. Whether you’re the husband or the wife, all you have to do is open your mouth and be quarrelsome, be nagging, be negative — using your tongue to tear your spouse down, rather than build them up.

According to Scripture, the tongue can be destructive to your very soul:

“He that keeps his tongue keeps his life;
but he that opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
(Proverbs 13:13)

“A fool’s mouth is his destruction;
and his lips are the snare of his soul.”
(Proverbs 18:7)

“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

And then that verse that we already looked at:

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet, do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
(James 1:26)

Using nothing but this one little muscle, this one little tongue, this tiny part of our body — if we’re negative, if we gossip, if we speak badly about other people, we can destroy friendships. We can destroy our brothers and sisters, and family and church relationships. We can destroy our marriage. And ultimately, we can destroy our very soul. And with nothing other than our tongue, we can drag our own souls to hell.

Why are sins of the tongue so deadly?

When you sin with your tongue — by speaking badly about other people — you are sinning against the truth, you are sinning against humility, you are sinning against love, you are sinning against relationships, and you are sinning against the very concept of repentance itself.

Sinning Against the Truth

When you speak badly about somebody else, it is rarely just a simple account of some fact that you witnessed. You add to the story by judging their motives, and pretending that you know why they did what they did. Whenever you judge incorrectly, your gossip becomes slander. And when you slander, you are speaking lies. If you want to know what their motives are, then ask them.

Sinning Against Humility

The reason that you can so confidently believe that you can accurately judge the motives of others, is because you have a pride problem. You are way too sure of your own abilities. The truth is that you are not as smart as you think you are. You can misjudge another person’s actions. You can think that other person is rude, unloving, angry, or upset, and you can be dead wrong. Stop trusting in your cunningness. Stop trusting in your own ability to judge the hearts and motives of other people. If you want to know whether they have certain motives, then humble yourself enough to ask them!

Sinning Against Love

Scripture says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Love is patient, kind, and seeks for the best in others. If you are running off at the mouth, tearing other people down, you are showing them hatred instead of love.

Sinning Against Relationships

Christians are supposed to build close relationships between spouses, siblings, children, neighbors, and fellow members of the church. But sinning with your tongue tears relationships apart. Consciously use your tongue to build relationships up, rather than tear them down.

Sinning Against Repentance

Walking with Christ requires repentance. But if you are spending time focusing on the sins of others, that indicates that you are not spending enough time focusing on your own sins. Stop confessing other peoples sins, and start confessing your own.

A lot of times when we speak badly about other people, when we spend a great amount of time talking about how evil this person is and how evil that person is, how wicked that person is and how terrible this person is, it’s because we are terrified of being silent for long enough to turn our thoughts inward, and think about how well we measure up to Christ.

I can talk about righteousness. I can condemn sin all day long, as long as it’s somebody else’s sin. But if I stop focusing on anybody else’s sin, that doesn’t leave anybody’s sin for me to consider but my own. And that’s painful. That’s humbling. That’s not fun.

But you cannot repent of your sin, until you close your mouth long enough to discover your own sin. Focus on yourself. Our sin-detectors work very well when we are trying to seek out sin in others. What we need to do is take that same ability, and instead of focusing on anybody else, we need to take our sin-detectors and point them at our own hearts.

When you look at other people, you don’t know their motives. But in your heart of hearts, you can look at your own motives. When you look at other people, you don’t know for sure what they are thinking, when they do what they do. But you can look at yourself and you know what you are thinking. If you want to be a good judge of sin, if you want to have enough information to judge a person guilty of sin, the person about which you have the most information is yourself. You don’t have to guess what you’re thinking. You don’t have to guess what your motives were. You can turn your sin detector inwards. And if you see that you fall short in this way, or in that way, you can be confident that you have something that you need to repent of.

True Repentance Requires Action

We need to remember that repentance is far more than just saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Repentance means you literally turn around, you start walking the other way, you do the opposite. If you fall on your knees before God because you’re a thief, and you say, “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented of your sin, until you return that which you have stolen, and you start giving, rather than stealing.

If you have walked down an immoral pathway with somebody who is not your spouse, and you say “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented until you turn your back on that relationship, and you have gone back to your spouse, and you are living a godly, pure life with them.

And so it is with our tongues. If we’re cursing other men, if we’re gossiping against other people, if we’re saying negative things about other people, we can ask God to forgive us all day long. But we have not truly repented until we take hold of our tongues, ask others to forgive us for our slander, and not only cease to use our tongues for wickedness, and negativity, but start using them for the opposite. The people that you used to speak negative of, are you intentionally starting to speak positive things to help build them up, to help draw them closer to Christ? Have you started using your tongue to start building up relationships, building up your marriage? If not, then you have not yet repented.

It says in James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.” Let us take this admonition seriously. Be sober and vigilant with your tongue, so that Satan does not use it to devour you and your family.

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, July 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:22-27, James 3, James 4, James 5, Proverbs 11:9, Proverbs 13:13, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 18:21, Proverbs 18:7, Proverbs 19:13, Proverbs 21:19, Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 26:20-22, Proverbs 27:15-16 | Leave a comment

The INs and the OUTs

MP3 Audio: The-INs-and-the-OUTs.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.


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

Have you ever been, or known somebody who has been, the teacher’s pet? The chosen one for the teacher? My grandmother went to be with the Lord in December of 2012, and was notorious for showing favoritism. For a long time it was my Dad who was her favorite son, and I don’t know what he did, but he was “in” for a while and then he was “out.” It ended up being his younger brother who was the favorite one. With her as well, I was her favorite grandchild, especially over my sister. My sister and my grandmother did not see eye to eye on a lot of things. And for the person who is out, it didn’t feel very good. Sometimes it didn’t feel good for the person in, seeing what they were doing to the person who’s out, but there is usually a favorite employee, usually a special child, somebody they treat a little bit differently – maybe it’s the baby, maybe it’s the only daughter . . . right? . . .

Typically what happens though, is when you have more benefits like that, or when you’re chosen like that, you end up with more responsibility too. You’re the one they go to if something needs to be done. You’re held to a higher standard. We’ve had many pastors growing up, that their children should have been held to a higher standard, and often they were the ones that were the most rebellious. Do you find that? They call that the pastor’s kid syndrome.

Well in Genesis, chapter 12 initially and then in 15, God makes a choice. We read in Scripture later in the New Testament that God does not show favoritism, but that’s not quite the whole story. God does show favoritism, but it is not based on anything we’ve done, not based on who we are. God’s favoritism is basically shown towards certain people based upon what His plan is. He’s executing a plan, and He needs certain people in certain places to make this happen, so He shows favoritism that way. But it’s not based upon who the person is.

Abraham met with God, and God created a covenant with Abraham. And some of the things that were promised to him were blessings, were land – he was promised land – he was also promised many descendants. [He was promised] that his descendants would number as the stars and the sand of the seashore. [There was] nothing Abraham had done; although when the covenant took place, he had faith in that, and that was credited to him as righteousness. But it was clear that Abraham was chosen out of everybody else who was on the earth at that time; he was the chosen one. Abraham had a wife named Sarah, and she had a handmaid, a helper named Hagar. And because Abraham and Sarah could not have children, because Sarah was barren, they concocted this idea that Abraham would be with Hagar. And he and Hagar had a son named Ishmael, probably a teenager at the time that now Sarah has a baby. Sarah has Isaac. And God going against local custom, did not choose the firstborn Ishmael, but he chose Isaac. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. And God did it!

Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first. Yet God chose Jacob, and it certainly wasn’t for anything Jacob had done, because he was chosen before he was born, and Jacob was a rascal anyway. God had a plan, though. God chose Abraham, God chose Isaac, God chose Jacob. Jacob’s sons created the entire nation that we call Israel, and Israel is Jacob’s new name, his name after knowing God. God re-named him basically. And Israel – the nation was chosen over every other nation, over Egypt, over Canaan, over the Assyrians and the Greeks and the Romans, on and on through the centuries, Israel was the chosen people. He gave them special favors, He destroyed nations and moved them out of the way so that Israel could move in.

But He also required more of them. It wasn’t to the Gentiles that the Ten Commandments were originally given. It was not with the Gentiles that God would come and meet with them in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle. It was not with the Gentiles that God required feasting and fasting, abstinence and laws for sacrifice. So while they were His chosen people, and He pretty well parted the waters for them – not just at the Red Sea, but their entire existence – He also had a higher standard for them to live in. And yet from Exodus, all the way up to Jesus’ time and beyond, they were continually rebelling. The chosen people were rebelling over and over again. You hear about it in the book of Judges. They are rebelling against their judges, and they sin, and God raises up a judge to try to save them, because they’ve cried out for help. They turn back to God and they live righteously for a brief period, and then they fall into sin again. Typically it’s idolatry. It’s one of the biggest problems that Israel had, was realizing that we only have one God. And they did it over and over and over again, killing each other, coveting each other, and doing things that all of those Ten Commandments were forbidding, and they were doing them anyway. They killed prophets, they disregarded anything that God had to say through the prophets, and through His angels. Ultimate rebellion was killing Jesus. Now we know that Jesus gave His life willingly. But those that are culpable, those who were responsible for committing the murder of the Son of God, were the chosen people, the ones who were in! [They were] the favorite ones; those were the ones that killed Jesus. And even in that, they were still called the chosen ones.

And we see this true even as Jesus goes through His ministry. The three years of His ministry, He has very little to do with anyone outside of Israel. Once in a while He’ll talk to somebody – a Samaritan woman at the well. He’ll heal someone that has faith in Him. But He tells people, “I didn’t come for you guys.” And even one woman says, “Yes, but even a dog gets to come and eat the crumbs off of the Master’s table.” The Gentiles were considered dogs, especially the Samaritans. The chosen people were Israel. Now, it’s important to realize this. Israel is “in” and Gentiles – which is everybody else – is out! According to God and His chosen plan, Israel is in and the Gentiles are out. Now how did one become a part of Israel? How did you become “in” in that day? Well, there was a couple ways. You could either be born into it, or you could request to join. You could be a Gentile that requests to join. Either way though, there is a process that had to happen.

Circumcision for the males. Whether you were born or whether you joined from the outside, you had to be circumcised. And once you healed up from that, you had to not just say, “I’m circumcised, so I’m in! Whoo!” No, you had to commit to keeping the feasts and the festivals. You had to participate in the fasts and the sacrifices. I was telling my family earlier today that there was one temple in Jerusalem. But Israel was big enough that everybody didn’t want to have to travel to Jerusalem every Sabbath day, so they placed synagogues in various cities all around. So on the Sabbath day, instead of going to Temple, you could go to synagogue. And you wouldn’t get the sacrifices – that happened at the Temple – but if you were going to be a part of Israel, you had to observe the Sabbath day and you went to synagogue, and you heard the prayers, you sang the Psalms and heard homilies, you were taught in the synagogue, and you took your whole family. And then several times a year, there were Temple ordinances that you had to participate in. This was what was required to be part of the chosen. So whether you were born into it or whether you joined, you had to be circumcised, you had to participate in the life of Israel. [That is] the way it worked. There were prayers and there were rules. And if you did all those things, you were in! If you didn’t do those things, they were out! So let me ask you, could someone who was out, become in? Sure. They just had to follow those rules.

Could someone who was in, become out? You sure could. How would they do that? How would they get out?

Well, a friend of ours told us that he lost his position as pastor of his church because he read too much Scripture in church. I hope you guys don’t. Well, I’m not your pastor anyway, so you can’t kick me out, so I’m going to read a lot of Scripture today. Our Gospel reading for today, there is a parallel — a parable as well — and we’ve read it recently, actually. I can’t remember how many weeks ago, but we read about the King whose Son was getting married, and he was having a wedding party for his son, and they invited people, but they didn’t come. Anyway, that is the parable or the comparable parable — I’m not even trying to rhyme, but it’s happening – to the one that we read today from the Gospel of St. Luke.

And if you remember, it says a man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come. All things are ready.” But they began to make excuses about why they couldn’t come.

“I bought a bunch of land, I gotta go check out my land, this is a nice piece. You know, I can’t leave and go to a party, I need to go tend to my land.” Someone just said, “I just bought this car . . . “ No, oxen — not only are they for work, but they were for transportation —  ” . . . and I need to go take care of my oxen.” “I just got married. I got a honeymoon, I gotta take care of my wife. It’s a good thing, but I can’t come, so would you please excuse me from coming?”

And the Master — the King — was very upset.

Let me tell you something on the side here. If a king invites you to a party, you go. You don’t turn him down.

These people are still rebelling. They are the ones who are in! They are the ones who are invited. They are the ones who he says to “come on, come to the feast . . .” And they make excuses after excuses about why they couldn’t come, and they were rebelling. And instead of the in coming in, at the end he said, “I say unto you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper!”

“You’re not getting any of it. You’re out! You were the in, and now you’re the out. And now the out — the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind — they are the in.” He invited them in, filled his entire party with these people, and said . . . “the in is out; you’re getting nothing. And the out is in, and getting everything.” Why? Because they rebelled and made excuses about why they couldn’t come.

Earlier this week — I think it was Thursday evening — during our regular prayer routine and prayers that we do in our homes, an interesting pair of readings came up during our Vespers service. The first one, and it totally ties in with this, was from Zechariah chapter 7. It says, “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah” — he was a prophet about 520 years before Christ — “saying, thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Execute true justice. Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’” The word of the Lord saying those great things, came to Zechariah, but they (Israel) refused to heed:

“They shrugged their shoulders and they stopped up their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of Hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of Hosts. Therefore it happened that just as He proclaimed that they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen, says the Lord of Hosts. But I scattered them with the whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them so that no one passed through or returned for they made the pleasant land desolate.”

God gives His word through His prophet and the people shrug their shoulders — they turn their hearts away — they stop up their ears, they say, “We’re not going to listen.”

So God says, “Guess what? I’m not going to listen to you either. When you pray, my ears are stopped up. And guess what else? That land that I gave you? Desolate! You’re gone.” And He kicked them out of the land of Israel and dispersed them among all those heathen and Gentile nations. Can the in become out? Absolutely! And how do they do it? Rebellion, excuses, not listening to God, not following His commands. The in became out.

The same day as we read Zechariah, we read Acts chapter 10. There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian regiment. Well, Cornelius is a Gentile, by the way, not an Israelite. . . . He is a Roman. And a centurion gets its name because “century” means 100 years, and a “centurion” is commander over 100 men. He had a pretty big entourage that he was in command of. But it says that he was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his household. He gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always about the ninth hour of the day. He saw clearly a vision of an angel of God coming to him and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when Cornelius observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it, Lord?” And the angel of God said to him,

“Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa. Ask for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with another Simon who is a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”

And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, immediately Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually, so when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. “Go get Peter. I don’t know who he is, but go get him.”

The next day, they went on their journey and they drew near the city. Peter was on the housetop, the roof. It was about the sixth hour. He became very hungry and he wanted to eat. But while downstairs, when they were making lunch ready, he fell into a trance. And he saw Heaven opened, and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth: wild beasts, creeping things, birds of the air, and all kinds of stuff that — if you’re in — you’re not allowed to eat. Israel was not allowed to eat certain foods. And yet this sheet comes down in front of him, and God says, “Kill and eat” . . . “Rise, kill and eat!”

Peter says, “Not so Lord! For I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” This was done three times. And then the object was taken back up into Heaven again. Now Peter wondered within himself what this vision had meant. . . .

Behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius showed up to the house and made inquiry of Simon. They stood at the gate, and they called and asked whether Simon Peter was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore and go down with them, doubting nothing. — Don’t doubt what you just saw in this sheet, what you just heard. — Go downstairs, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.”

So Peter went down to the men who had sent to him from Cornelius and said, “Yes, I’m he who you seek. For what reason have you come?” And they said, “Cornelius, the centurion, a very just man, one who fears God and has a very good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy Angel to summon you to his house and to hear words from you.” Then he invited them in and lodged them.

The next day, Peter went with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. The following day, they got to Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them. And he had called together his relatives and his close friends. He filled his house. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter said, “Stand up. I’m just a man myself.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. And Peter said to them, “You guys all know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to anyone from another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone common or unclean. Therefore, I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now I ask you, for what reason have you sent for me?” And Cornelius said,

“Four days ago, I was fasting until this very hour, and at the ninth hour — 3 o’clock in the afternoon — I prayed in my house and behold a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon Peter. He is lodging at the house of Simon, the tanner by the sea, and when he comes he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately and you have done well to come. Now therefore, here we are. We are here present before God, and we want to hear everything that you command us of God.”

So Peter, shocked, opens his mouth and says,

“In truth, I do perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation those who fear Him and work righteousness are accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ . . . He is Lord of all. That word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism — which John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses to these things which He did both on the land, of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us that ate and drank with him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge over the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

And while Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished — the IN were astonished — as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, on the OUT’s! For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. And Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these people should not be baptized, who received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. And the Bible says that his whole family — it might be that the whole group of people — that whole household was baptized.

Peter knows in, and Peter knows out. And God has changed his favorites. He says, “No longer unclean.” In is out, because they killed Jesus. And out is in, in this story. Israel kills Jesus, so the Christians — the new Israel — is now in. Traditional circumcision . . . out! Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit — which we call Chrismation — is in!

Cornelius was out. He was a Roman centurion, but the Bible calls him a “God-fearing gentile.” He feared God. How was he God-fearing? It says he was a devout man, he feared God with his whole household. He didn’t just do it himself, he taught his whole family. He got his kids, his wife, and his family involved. He gave alms generously. He prayed to God always, but he did not know about Christ. He did not know about Jesus. He did not know about the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. He did not know about Jesus’ ascension. He was out. But he was God-fearing, and he knew nothing about Jesus, and yet God heard his prayers. And his alms and his prayers came before God as a memorial. He was faithful to what he knew. And God heard his prayers. Was he a good man? Absolutely. Did he love God? Absolutely. Was he in? Nope. Can you love God and be a good person and be out? Yes. Why was he out? Because he wasn’t circumcised. He didn’t attend synagogues and the temple. He didn’t keep the feasts and the fasts. He was not in Israel. But God heard his prayers.

In Zechariah, God wasn’t listening anymore to the rebellious unfaithful “in” crowd. But God is now hearing the prayers of the faithful “out.” So now we have four different types of people that are shown:

First of all, of the Apostles and then Jews who are faithful to Christ, they were in, because they were in Israel. And when the new thing happened with Christ, they followed the trend and they stayed in. They became Christians. They joined the Church. They were baptized, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. So those in, stayed in, not by staying this way, but by changing. They stayed in when the change took place.

The second group of people we have, we hear about in Zechariah and Luke. They were the in, but they were rebellious. They stopped up their ears, they wouldn’t listen to God, they wouldn’t make the change, they killed Christ. They would not make that change over to the new, and so what was “in” is now “out.”

Group number one, in and stays in. 
group number two, in and kicked out!

Group number three: Cornelius, the faithful out who come in. They are God-fearing gentiles. They are devout, they give alms, they give prayers. Cornelius is a man to be emulated. And he listens to Peter. He listens to an Apostle and he changes. He doesn’t hold on to his beliefs and say, “This is new, I don’t understand that!” No, he listens to a man of God, an Apostle, and he changes. And he is baptized. And the Holy Spirit comes upon him. He changes his beliefs, he changes his practices. He has faith in Jesus Christ. He brings his entire household with him. He is faithful to the Apostles, not to the religious leaders that he grew up with. And God hears his prayers, and now the out is in.

The in stayed in.
The other in was kicked out.
And now the out is in.

Logically now, we have a fourth group of people. What if Cornelius hadn’t listened? What if Peter had come and told them all this stuff about Jesus, and Cornelius said, “That’s kind of outside my comfort zone. It’s really difficult. I have to do all these things? I have to change this stuff? You know, I was raised like this. I was taught by my parents this way. I’ve always been like this.” And he starts backing away further and further from Peter, making excuses. “I bought some land. I bought some oxen. I got married. I don’t want to come to the feast.”

Those excuses are worthless. And it doesn’t matter how devout you have been up until now. It doesn’t matter how many alms you’ve given up until now. It doesn’t matter how many prayers you have prayed up until now. When God was hearing you as a faithful God-fearing gentile — when presented with the truth — if Cornelius hadn’t listened, would God still listen to him? Absolutely not. And here’s where it applies today.

There are many people who are faithful outside the Orthodox Church today. They are out. But yet they pray, they attend church, they give alms, they are devout, they homeschool their children, they are kind and loving, and they keep His commandments. They work in their churches, and they love Jesus. But they have never heard of the Orthodox Church. And God hears their prayers. They are faithful “God-fearing gentiles.” But they are not in. They are out, but they are faithful to what they know.

But what happens when God in His great mercy and love, sends someone like Peter to them — to tell them about the Orthodox Church — a friend, a family member, a book . . . and they reject it?

Now I understand the turmoil. I understand confusion. I understand questions. I understand unrest. I understand fear. We all had that when we converted into the Orthodox Church, from outside the Church. When we went from “out” to “in,” we all had those questions and fears. I’m pretty sure Cornelius had some too. But he listened. I’m not really worried about the questions and the turmoil and the fear, because that’s part of the journey, the journey into the Church.

But what about downright rejection? If you reject Christ, there’s no turmoil, there’s no confusion, there’s no questions, unrest or fear; there is rejection. “I don’t have those things because I’ve rejected it.” What about rejection? What about rejection of baptism and Chrismation? The people who reject the Body and Blood of Christ? The people that reject that there is just one Church — The Orthodox Church. What about the people who reject veneration of icons, who reject prayers to the Saints,  who reject prayers for the dead? Who say things like, “We’re all on our own path. We’re just here to learn. We are all following where God wants us to go. At least you’re being obedient to what He’s shown you, and I’m being obedient to what He’s showing me. At least we’re all serving God. At least we all agree on the basics.” Blah, blah, blah!

If Cornelius had rejected Peter, he would no longer be considered a God-fearing gentile. He would have been considered a rebellious gentile. He would stay out, and God would not hear his prayers any longer. If Protestants and Catholics alike reject the Orthodox Church, no amount of devotion, no amount of prayers, no amount of alms, no amount of kindness, no amount of homeschooling, no amount of church attendance, no amount of being good, will matter. For Peter and for Cornelius, rejection of the Church was rejection of Christ. And it is the same today. A faithful Protestant or Catholic, before hearing of the Orthodox Church, is out, but still considered a God-fearing gentile. After hearing of the Orthodox Church and then subsequently rejecting it, they are now rebellious, and God does not hear their prayers any longer. And in Luke, it says, “None of them will taste my supper.”

So here’s the application. For those that are in the “in” today, in the Orthodox Church, you need to work to stay in. You need to stay faithful. You need to stay obedient, lest you be put out. And for the people that are faithful who are “out,” you need to get in! You need to get into the Orthodox Church. You need to come in through Baptism, through Chrismation. You have to join the Orthodox Church to remain faithful, lest you be kept out.

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


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.


Posted in Acts 10, Luke 14:16-24, Other Homilies, Zechariah 7 | Leave a comment