Fasting Rules

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

There are multiple reasons for the fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Virtue Precedes Reason

Clouded Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Virtue Precedes Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Truth vs. Public Blindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Homily on the Eve of All Saints Day

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

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

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

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

Saints and Sinners

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

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

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

Gremlins and Ferraris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lifetime of Repentance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Race of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He doesn’t keep secrets from us!

He tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Christ the King Sunday 2014

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

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

Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] This is planned for June 2016 in Crete. For more information, see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knitters of the Garment

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_17-Fr_Joseph-Knitters_of_the_Garment.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Epistle Reading: James 1:22-27

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Wise and Foolish Virgins

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

The first parable is of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

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

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

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

The Talents

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

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

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

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

The Sheep and the Goats

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vision of Heaven

Revelation Chapter 20, starting in verse 11:

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

Revelation 19 is also very interesting. It says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Turning All Thoughts Toward Christ

mp3 Audio:  Fr Joseph-Turning_All_Thoughts_Toward_Christ.mp3

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

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: John 8:46-59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Joy From Suffering

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_03-Fr_Joseph-Joy_From_Suffering.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: John 16:16-22 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassionate Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bitter Pill That Heals

mp3 Audio: 2015_05_02-Fr_Joseph-The_Bitter_Pill_That_Heals.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Christ is Risen!
-Indeed He is Risen!

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

The Right Medications

There’s something I want everybody to imagine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church is a Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

[There is laughter.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The whole room needs to be cleaned out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[response unclear]

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

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

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

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

[Someone says, “That would be mean!”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[response unclear]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Subdeacon Jeremy: Five minutes.]

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

[response unclear]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Defending the Faith, Ecumenism, Filioque, Filioque, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Heresies, Humility, Miscellaneous, Pride | Leave a comment

Following Christ’s Example in Suffering

mp3 Audio:  Following_the_Example_of_Christ_in_Suffering.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. “I don’t deserve this.”

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

2. “You don’t deserve this.”

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

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

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

4. “I don’t like the way this feels.”

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

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

I Don’t Deserve This

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Deserve This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Romans 12 beginning in verse 17:

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

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

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


Matthew 6:14:

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

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

I Don’t Like the Way This Feels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eighth Day

mp3 Audio:  2015_04_19-Fr_Joseph-The_Eighth_Day.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 20:19-23, Symbolism in the Church | Leave a comment