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
Amen.

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
Amen


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-Orthodox_Council

[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.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 1438 A.D. - Florence, 2014 Homilies, Christ the King Sunday, Colossians 1:15-18, Fr. Michael Keiser, G.K. Chesterton, Orthodox Homilies. Bookmark the permalink.

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